Every year I am fascinated by the way plants have evolved to flower in a very specific order. The hedgerows start with blackthorn, then hawthorn, followed by elder and dogwood. The change is almost seamless and timed to perfection. The wild flower patch in Munday's Close started when the grass was short with the cowslips, then a foam of cow parsley, followed by ox-eye daisy. It makes sure the plants are not competing against taller growing species or for the attention of insects for pollination. The insects also benefit as there is a constant supply of flowers to provide nectar. There should be a huge crop of blackberries this year as there are bramble flowers everywhere. The verge on Mickley Lane is still turning up some surprises. I found two more plants, drooping star of Bethlehemand common cammasin amongst grass and nettles. These must be garden escapes or have been planted at some time. Both seem to have naturalised. The milk thistlehas attracted some attention with visitors from outside the area coming to
look at it. I must admit it is quite impressive at over six feet, covered in flowers and seed heads. Well worth the effort to protect it.Local birds seem to be doing well. At one point it seemed as if chiff chaffs were everywhere with their distinctive call from which they get their name. Christine Wheatley reported visits of song thrushes, great spotted woodpeckers and tawny owls to her garden. I hear the young tawny owls in the trees at the back but it is always too dark to see them. I love being outside at one o'clock in the morning. Sometimes it is so quiet that you can hear the snails munching away but often the night is filled with all sorts of calls, the owls contributing many different tweeeps and tweers along with quavering hooooos. I have also seen the barn owl at close quarters. For the first time I have had wood pigeons stripping the young buds and leaves from plants in my garden. They have always been about but have never done so much damage. I put up a special woodpecker nest box in the field a couple of years ago. The hole was chipped away around the edges but never used. This year it was commandeered by a family of great tits which was not what I had in mind. No pheasant chicks have been spotted this year and I have not seen even one adult moorhen. One pair of swallows nested in the barn and hatched three eggs. Sadly over a couple of days the babies were found dead on the ground below the nest. This was at the time of the very hot weather and I think they must have succumbed to the very high temperatures under the barn roof. Hopefully there is still time for them to have another brood. The young jackdaws fledged around the middle of June and soon a flock of fifty or more were marauding noisily around the village like a party of revellers after a particularly good night out. Fortunately they will soon disperse out into the fields.May saw more butterflies on the wing, a red admiral on the 22nd. and a painted lady on the 30th.. The first Comma was seen on the 25th of June. An easily overlooked but quite colourful spider is the cucumber green orb spider. They are only about 5mm. long and rely on their colour for camouflage. They catch small flying insects in their webs. Whereas butterflies life cycles are egg, larva, chrysalis, adult other invertebrates, such as the locust, have a life cycle of egg, nymph, adult. The nymphs have to grow but because they have an exoskeleton (hard skin) they have to moult several times, growing rapidly before the new skin hardens. The stages between the moults are known as instars. The picture on the website version of this article is of the final instar of the red legged shieldbug.I have not seen any muntjac deer recently but Ruth Burdett reported one in her wood. Mike Frisby reported seeing several bats in his garden and there has been the odd one catching insects attracted by the street light. A pair of grey squirrels kept me amused for a while running backwards and forwards along the wall as they collected food from the bird feeders next door.The banana tree in the garden failed to make it through the winter. It was not the cold that killed it but it rotted of from the inside. I made the mistake of packing the straw insulation too tight so the moisture could not escape. Some plants that have done well are the sisyrinchiums which have self seeded into the cracks between the paving. Only a few inches high with stiff, grass like leaves they have pretty blue flowers. I grow a larger relative with yellow flowerswhich is short lived but readily self seeds. The Daturas have just started to flower. They have spectacular flowers and are often called "Angels Trumpets". There are two main types, the annual varieties are usually known as Datura whilst the more shrubby perennials are Brugmansia. All parts of the plant are toxic. They are related to the American "Jimson weed" used by native american shaman to induce a trance like state. I remember reading a book in the late 1960's entitled "The Teachings of Don Juan: a Yaqui Way of Knowledge" by Carlos Castaneda which was supposedly part of his study of anthropology at U.C.L.A. and gave accounts of his experiences with one such shaman. Whatever their reputation they are certainly spectacular plants in their modern form.