In 1906 Edith Holden started a Diary, now known as ‘The Country Diary Of An Edwardian Lady’. In it, she observed Natures cycle through the months of the year, writing simply about the weather, the birds, the flowers and the natural world around her. All the pages are beautifully ornamented with her original artwork and favourite poems. In this Blog, I’m going to try to emulate her Diary in a modern way. For a start, this is a blog on a computer, not pen and ink lovingly written on paper! However, I hope that the end result will have some similarities, in that I want to capture day by day, month by month the steady rhythm of Nature through the year. For although our 21st century lives are hectic, chaotic, noisy and deafened by electronics, the beat of the natural world, which is the backdrop to all our lives whether we notice it or not, remains ever the same. So take a sedate, gentle and steady-paced journey with me through the next year, observing the natural world. Our way of life may have changed almost beyond recognition since 1906, but nature is doing what it always has done, the cycle of nature remains constant and reassuringly predictable. In that respect, nothing has changed. ‘ No Winter lasts forever; no Spring skips its turn.’ (Hal Borland)

Thursday, 30 May 2013

May 29th and 30th.

It's been rainy, blustery and cool the last few days. There's been a lot of miserable looking fledglings  crouching in the hedgerows waiting for the very busy parents to come back with mouthfulls of worms or insects. Saw a family of greenfinches yesterday in Castle woods. The blackbirds that successfully nested in the garden have unfortunately had two of the young taken by a sparrow hawk which often this time of year swoops over the hedge, and in a blink has a small bird in its claws and is gone, the house sparrows too fall prey frequently. It really is a fight for survival everyday!
 Walked up into Castle woods and into the hills beyond, the sun came out half way through the walk and the birds suddenly started singing like a radio had been switched on! Saw a lovely pair of blackcaps. The bright yellow fields that were dandelions a couple of weeks ago have been replaced by buttercups, and the hawthorn bushes are thick with may blossom. Also all the banks are covered in cow parsley, which is I think another under-rated plant, it is very delicately pretty. The ramsons are in full flower and making a very appetizing smell as you walk through them.

The pipistrelle bat that comes to my garden every year came back a few nights ago, like everything else this year, it's late. Every other year it's very predictably returned on May 1st. Also saw two red kites in the area, one by Little-Mill and the other by Clytha, I don't suppose it will be too long before they return to colonise this area again.

Some days in May in the Usk Valley.

Sunday, 26 May 2013

May 26th.

Walked up the Usk river towards Llancayo; an absolutely stunning summers day. There were clouds of gnats and other insects on the water and so lots of fish were jumping, and the swallows were swooping low over the river scooping up mouthfulls of food. There are a few birds that have been conspicuous by their absence from the river and brook this year, but saw them all today; Kingfisher, dipper and grey wagtail. They're not about in their usual numbers as the flooding last year I think destroyed their nests, but it was lovely to see some today, the turquoise flash of the kingfishers feathers was a welcome sight. A pied wagtail was busy collecting food at the waters edge, and a few pairs of mallards with chicks were about.
Another bird that I hadn't seen until today on the river this year is the common sandpiper which is a usual summer resident, but saw a couple on the  small pebble beaches.
Also, was surprised to see a metre long grass snake swimming across the water from one bank to the other. I know they are good swimmers but this is the first time I've witnessed one doing it.
The red campions are out in beautiful bloom at the moment as are swathes of greater celandine.
Illustration available here

 The Windmill- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
Behold! a giant am I!
Aloft here in my tower,
With my granite jaws I devour
The maize, and the wheat, and the rye,
And grind them into flour. 

I look down over the farms;
In the fields of grain I see
The harvest that is to be,
And I fling to the air my arms,
For I know it is all for me. 

I hear the sound of flails
Far off, from the threshing-floors
In barns, with their open doors,
And the wind, the wind in my sails,
Louder and louder roars. 

I stand here in my place,
With my foot on the rock below,
And whichever way it may blow,
I meet it face to face,
As a brave man meets his foe. 

And while we wrestle and strive,
My master, the miller, stands
And feeds me with his hands;
For he knows who makes him thrive,
Who makes him lord of lands. 

On Sundays I take my rest;
Church-going bells begin
Their low, melodious din;
I cross my arms on my breast,
And all is peace within. 

Thursday, 23 May 2013

May 23rd.

The Magnificat-Volume LXVIII- Helen Maring.
May is so beautiful: 
Orchards are fair; 
Branches of fruit trees 
Make gardens of air.
Flowers of fragrance 
Bloom in the light; 
Fall like the snowflakes 
Showering white.
Orchards of heaven 
Grow with a grace, 
And like a blessing 
Perfume the place.
Each tree in blossom, 
Each lovely spray, 
In this month of Our Lady, 
Bring glory to May.

Certainly doesn't seem like late May today! It was nice first thing this morning but May seems to have been replaced by November all of a sudden, with rain and a freezing wind! I hate bad weather in this month more than any other because this is the best month for wild flowers and blossom which are obviously at their best on warm sunny days, and this month is full of young birds and animals doing their best to survive all the perils of nature and I like it when the weather gives them a helping hand.
The birds were in fine voice this morning though, and I'm happy to see that the goldfinch population seems to be doing particularly well this year, there are plenty of them about. The skylarks up on Red Hill were also up and singing, their continuous stream of warbling as they fly  is remarkable. The hedge-tops too were alive with song; dunnocks, blackcaps, wrens, blackbirds and a couple of song thrushes  perched in the tops of trees.
Found a toad yesterday hiding under some black plastic. It obviously knew it was going to turn cold and was taking precautionary measures!

Illustration available here

Monday, 20 May 2013

May 20th.

Walked up along the Olway valley, a nice gentle warm day again. Not far along the brook there was a lovely pair of canada geese with five young fluffy yellow chicks, this is the first time I've ever known them to have bred and nested on the brook, so hope this will now be an annual occurrence. Stood and watched them for a while but the parents soon herded them into a huddle between their two bodies, feeling a bit threatened so I left them in peace. Lots of herons about, and a couple of cormorants.
Illustration available here

Lots of butterflies along the old railway track that runs along Factory Lane, its full of wild flowers and nettles and brambles, so a lovely habitat for them.
Heard and saw a green finch, and this is the first time in a long while, even though until recently it was very common along these hedgerows. The virus that they had has certainly decimated the population around here.
Also stumbled upon a sleeping grass snake which was coiled up sunbathing until it saw me, then it quickly disappeared into the grass.

Thou comest May- William Henry Davies.

Thou comest, May thou comest
May, with leaves and flowers,
And nights grow short, and days grow long;
And for thy sake in bush and tree,
The small birds sing, both old and young;
And only I am dumb and wait
The passing of a fish-like state.
You birds, you old grandfathers now,
That have such power to welcome spring
I,but a father in my years,
Have nothing in my mind to sing;
My lips, like gills in deep sea homes
Beat time, and still no music comes.

Saturday, 18 May 2013

May 18th.

After being away for a couple of days abroad , I noticed how much lusher and greener the countryside has become in just a few days with all the trees now in leaf. It was a perfect day for butterflies today with the gentle warm weather and the abundance of flowers and blossom. I saw tortoiseshells, peacocks, cabbage whites, orangetips and fritillaries all fluttering in the meadows and along the edges of the wood, also saw the first damsel fly of this year on the banks of the brook. Later on in the summer they fly up in clouds from the grass on the banks, and although they're not as impressive as dragon flies, they are nonetheless very pretty with iridescent wings.We're quite lucky in this area that there are still patches of natural meadow and they are beautiful this time of year with their mix of wild grasses and flowers, more preferable by far to acres of fluorescent green boring cultivated grass (and I'm sure much tastier for cattle!) and much more attractive to wildlife, especially insects.

Ode- William Wordsworth.
( lines from)

While Earth herself is adorning,  
            This sweet May morning
 And the children are culling  
            On every side,  
        In a thousand valleys far and wide,  
        Fresh flowers; while the sun shines warm,  
And the babe leaps up on his mother's arm:—  
        I hear, I hear, with joy I hear!
Then sing, ye birds, sing, sing a joyous song!  
        And let the young lambs bound  
        As to the tabor's sound!
We in thought will join your throng,  
      Ye that pipe and ye that play,  
      Ye that through your hearts to-day  
      Feel the gladness of the May!

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

May 14th.

Walked early in the morning up to see the heronry at the top of the woods, my house must be in their flight path from their nests to the brook, and I hear them at first light croaking as they fly overhead, and again during the day sometimes, and at dusk. There were a couple of birds perched up in their stick nests, but I don't think any chicks yet. There's something quite comical looking about a heron perched in a tree, certainly they look more comfortable crouching in the water meadows watching the water for fish.
A cold damp day with some sun at the moment but looks like it's going to get worse! The wild flowers are battling on though, buttercups are in flower, campions, vetch, yellow nettle, herb robert and greater celandine are all adorning the hedgerows, would be nice to have some sun to fully appreciate them.

Sunday, 12 May 2013

May 12th.

One of the best things about this month is the flowering of the bluebells in the woods. Went up to Evans' wood this morning, which is thickly carpeted in a haze of blue and smells heavenly! I don't think anybody can fail to be impressed and uplifted at the sight of a wood full of bluebells, they are beautiful. Sat for a while in the wood with a buzzard in the tree above me 'mewing' loudly to its mate and a lovely pair of goldfinches perched nearby. It's turned quite cold again with frequent heavy showers, but at least the hedgerows and woods are thickening up now with all sorts of wild flowers tumbling along the banks, and  providing much better conditions for the birds to nest. Found some more wrens nests, one had a thrushes nest just above it, the tree is a little tenement block for birds.

The Bluebell - Anne Bronte
( lines from)

A fine and subtle spirit dwells
In every little flower,
Each one its own sweet feeling breathes
With more or less of power.
There is a silent eloquence
In every wild bluebell
That fills my softened heart with bliss
That words could never tell.

Before me rose a lofty hill,
Behind me lay the sea,
My heart was not so heavy then
As it was wont to be.

But when I looked upon the bank
My wandering glances fell
Upon a little trembling flower,
A single sweet bluebell.

O, that lone flower recalled to me
My happy childhood's hours
When bluebells seemed like fairy gifts
A prize among the flowers,

Those sunny days of merriment
When heart and soul were free,
And when I dwelt with kindred hearts
That loved and cared for me.

'Sad wanderer, weep those blissful times
That never may return!'
The lovely floweret seemed to say,
And thus it made me mourn.

Thursday, 9 May 2013

May 9th.

This morning started out sunny and pleasant although very windy, but the weather forecast proved right and this evening is a very different kind of day, with torrential rain and winds. It's amazing how the countryside can look so different in the same day, this morning everything was bathed in sunlight, the blossom beautiful and radiant and the banks of the lanes in full bloom of every colour , the birds singing happily even though they were staying close to the ground because of the strong gusty wind. This evening however everything's looking a bit bedraggled, blossom being blown off the hedgerows and flowers tightly shut, the birds crouching miserably under cover. The swifts returned two days ago, unfortunately to a change in the weather, today they are definitely not swooping around the rooftops with their high screeching calls. Unfortunately too, a house sparrow chick has fallen out of the nest in the roof and I can't return it to its nest, although I'm feeding it I don't think it has much chance of surviving.

Saw some orange-tip butterflies and a brimstone this morning, though I'm sure they're nowhere to be seen now!

Monday, 6 May 2013

may 6th.

Went up to the Brecon Beacons, though strictly speaking, stayed in the Usk valley, as I walked up in the high moors east of Llandovery to the source of the Usk river. A beautiful day up on the moorland, with many red kites overhead, and the grasses full of pipits, whinchats and skylarks. The Usk here is a babbling, meandering mountain stream which after a couple of miles across the moor ends in a spring , bubbling out of the sandstone in the side of the mountain. The lack of noise pollution was lovely, no distant hum of traffic which is the curse of the modern countryside in many places, especially in
south east Wales because of the many major roads through it, no dogs barking! Just the sound of the wind ,the running water and a sky brimmed full of lark song ; peaceful bliss! 

Several pairs of wheatears too, back for the summer to nest in the many rocky places along the river.

 ( lines from) The River-Thomas Aird.
Infant of the weeping hills,
Nursling of the springs and rills,
Growing River, flowing ever, 
Wimpling,dimpling, staying never,-
Lisping, gurgling, ever going,
Lipping, slipping, ever flowing,
Toying round the polished stone, 
Kiss the sedge and journey on.
Here's a creek where bubbles come,
Whirling make your ball of foam.
There's a nook so deep and cool,
Sleep into a glassy pool.
Breaking, gushing,
Downward rushing,
Narrowing green against the bank,
Where the alders grow in rank,-
Thence recoiling, 
Outward boiling,
Fret, in rough shingly shallows wide, 
Your difficult way to yonder side.
Thence away, aye away,
Bickering down the sunny day,
In the sea in yonder West,
Lose yourself and be at rest......

Saturday, 4 May 2013

May 4th.

It's been a really lovely start to the month, the hedgerows and meadows are turning thick and green with the friendly weather. The new leaves are a fresh bright green and the blackthorn is out in full bloom, beautiful big swathes of white blossom adorning the hedges. The cattle have been returned to the pastures after a very long winter inside, and with them flocks of starlings have also come down into the fields.
Walked up the Olway valley and saw a pair of stock doves perched in a willow, don't see them very often. Further along the brook, there was evidence that the otter had been there, with footprints in the silt on a small beach and droppings on a rock in the brook so I will keep a closer watch there.
Also nice to see the spotted flycatcher back for the summer in Factory lane, at a spot it returns to every year.
Also went up to Wentwood, it's the only place locally that I've consistently heard the cuckoo in recent years, but didn't hear or see one there yet, but did see some lovely partridges which again, have been a rare sight in this area in recent years.

 The new foliage is an almost luminous green, really fresh and beautiful as all new born things are, and every day it seems more flowers are starting to bloom. The dandelions this year are stunning! How can anyone think they're weeds!

The First Dandelion

Simple and fresh and fair from winter's close emerging,

As if no artifice of fashion, business, politics, had ever been,

Forth from its sunny nook of shelter'd grass--innocent, golden, calm as the dawn,

The spring's first dandelion shows its trustful face.

Source: "Leaves of Grass," by Walt Whitman