Friday, 30 October 2009

Everything in the garden is rotting

Mrs K reported a sudden occurence around the compost heap - a couple of dozen large fungi (no names, but they're not hard to identify!). I picked a few, and discarded all but the one that was free of worms - very tasty it was too.
Looking around the garden, it seems that fungi are shooting up all around - a host on the so-called lawn that has been a dust-bowl for the past few months, and more in the borders and on the roadside.
The drive to work was 'top-down' with relish, as it may be the last this year.
"Nevermore" (OK, it's a crow, not a raven)

Thursday, 29 October 2009


Go and see the film Up.

Especially if your knees are starting to creak in the morning, and if you're getting a bit of a grumpy old man or woman.

Take children if you can (even if they're in their twenties). In fact, take anyone.

And be prepared for a roller-coaster of emotions.... weep like in Bambi, scare like in 101 Dalmations, aw like in Dumbo.
And there's even a rare bird (great snipe?), a keen bird-lover and an evil bird-finder....we all know them don't we?
It gets an astonishing 98% rating on Rotten T0matoes.

And if you can go to see it at an old, underused, art deco cinema like the Empire at Sandwich, rather than at a popcorn-smelling multiplex, so much the better.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Dover Castle - Elsinore

The Great Tower has just been refurbished, changing the dour(!) grey stone interior into a colourful recreation of King Henry's time. Note to self (and Mrs K) - must go! See here for illustrations.
Dover Castle is a spooky place, and a good site for hallowe'en walks. Even the chimneys look like cowled monks, looking down on Castle Hill. Zeffirelli used the castle as Elsinore in his film of Hamlet (though he placed the sea on the right-hand inland side for artistic effect).

Along the coast, a flock of 20 crows mixed with the resident jackdaws to give a scene reminiscent of The Birds.
And occasionally two ravens fly by, maybe part of the family raised on the cliffs a few miles away? These two passed me by, and I'm not convinced that they' art sure no ravens'.
Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,
`Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,' I said, `art sure no craven.
Ghastly grim and ancient raven wandering from the nightly shore -
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night's Plutonian shore!'
Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.'

Nothing further then he uttered - not a feather then he fluttered -
Till I scarcely more than muttered `Other friends have flown before -
On the morrow he will leave me, as my hopes have flown before.'
Then the bird said, `Nevermore.'

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Food for Free

Every year, two types of fungus appear on our lawn - they look similar from above, but one has gills and the other has pores.
The former is apparently poisonous but the latter (similar to a penny-bun) makes good eating, in this case with a side dish of freshly-picked sea beet, and a few roast chestnuts to follow.
A stroll in the autumn sunshine produced a comma, a few swallows still, half-a-dozen crossbills, a singing skylark and two twitched jack snipe, showing relatively well for the species and bobbing up and down constantly.While waiting for them to appear from the reeds, it was noted that the adjacent reed buntings have similar markings on their backs, giving a similar camouflage effect.

Monday, 12 October 2009

Under the spreading chestnut tree

Under the spreading chestnut tree,
Where I knelt upon my knee,

We were as happy as could be,

Under the spreading chestnut tree.

A simple ditty but one which clearly describes a certain pleasure to be had in autumn, kicking up the leaves to find conkers (if it's that kind of chestnut tree) or sweet chestnuts.
I was kicking around a wood with a few young sweet chestnut trees, when I noticed that most of the husks blown down by the recent winds contained relatively large nuts, in contrast to the shrivelled ones that we usually see - maybe the long mild Kentish summer has been good for them this year. So I collected a pocketful, noting that there are plenty for later in the year (and it's not a place that gets many visitors).
Such is the poor quality of chestnuts in Britain, the trees are invariably grown for timber, coppiced after about 20 years. When the great standards that stand proudly in the estates were planted, maybe summers were warmer and crops were better.
Under the spreading chestnut tree,
I'll kiss you and you'll kiss me.
Oh how happy we will be
Under the spreading chestnut tree.
That's the second verse, making me feel old, extolling the joys of foraging for nuts.

By the way, in case the bird-fanciers out there wonder how I missed the many rarities that have visited the cliffs this week, I can tell you that it's easy..... I was in all the right places, but not necessarily at the right times.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Plucked untimely from the air

A lovely day, with early morning benefiting from a north-easterly breeze which produced an almost constant flight of small birds north along the cliff-top - see Bockhill's site for a list, in which goldfinches are prominent.
I sat on the cliff watching the goldfinches, wagtails, pipits and finches flying in from the sea, and hundreds of swallows and house martins feeding along the edge, twittering constantly.

A painted lady butterfly was nearby, rather worn, but gamely it took off and flew towards the cliff-edge on its vast journey back to Morocco - proof at last, I thought that they do indeed make the journey back to the breeding grounds - and as it fluttered over the edge, over the sea...... it was snapped up by a passing swallow.
A party of six stonechats was along the path beside the golf course, accompanied by pipits and a couple of song thrushes.

In the afternoon I went foraging (but taking only photos, leaving only footprints) in Malmains Wood, which has a good mixture of conifers and deciduous trees, and which I hoped would have a new crop of fungi after the rain.
And so it proved. As usual I shall not name names to avoid poisoning (and because I don't know them).

Except this one, which I know to be Chicken of the Woods (it tastes just like chicken, no doubt, but this was an old specimen, and did not look appetising).
There was a good crop of this fungus, so if a reader can identify it as being edible, I'd like to try it.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Every one's a fluffy one

Viper's bugloss is facinating in the late summer, as its flowering takes a different form to the spindly plant that we see at midsummer. Fluffy it is not, despite appearances, for it has many spines which protect it from being picked or eaten. This site shows them well under a microscope.
Old man's beard..... sometimes called smoke-wood, because the vine is sometimes the first thing smoked by boys, instead of a cigarette. Myself, I started on the dry stem of cow parsley or hogweed (but not, fortunately, giant hogweed which grew nearby). I still curse the 'friends' who introduced me to smoking, consigning me to half a lifetime of poverty and bad lungs.
A party of long-tailed tits found the fat-ball feeder.....
...but the chiffchaff in the flock was bemused with their choice of food.
On one of the last days of a great Indian summer, two wall browns were seen along the cliff top, and a clouded yellow was basking and nectaring nearby. Although the clouded yellow flew along the cliff edge, we could see no inclination to fly south for the winter.
A little centaury still blooms on the cliff-side - is it a lesser? I should have examined the leaves.

Saturday, 3 October 2009

The luck of the Ibis

Not being a natural twitcher, I miss most of the important birds.
It takes more than luck, it needs time, dedication, patience and skill. Consequently, the only Ibis I've seen in this Autumn influx has been the one on my T shirt (a bargain at half price in Tesco).

As the ladies were off on a shopping/lunching trip to Rye, however, I thought I'd give ibises at Dungeness another shot, expecting a distant glimpse through someone else's telescope if I was lucky.
Imagine my astonishment, therefore, when one of the five Glossy Ibises flew over me as I walked to the hide, and landed in the small pool beside the path. Such things do not happen to me! I crawled to the opposite bank, hissing to another passing birder who followed me, and we stayed there, blessing our luck.
The throng assembled in the hide were soon alerted, and the bird unsurprisingly decided to high-tail it off to the lake, to less public surroundings.
The sea was rough on the point, one of my favourite places, and, apart from distant gannets and the usual gulls, three disoriented Brent Geese were the only interest when I was there. It didn't spoil my day when I discovered later that little gulls, shearwaters, skuas and terns were seen later on.