Spring treasure 11: The Turtle Dove

4/6/2018 Almost two years ago I wrote of a sound that I associated with childhood summers in Suffolk, but that was now missing from my garden: the purring song of the turtle dove. I read, then, that their numbers had decreased by more than 90% since the 1960s; now, I have found a figure of 93% since 1994 . Forgetting momentarily that these are migrating birds that spend their winters in Africa, I thought it was yet another indication of the devastating effects of the changes in our farming practices in the last half century. These may have caused some of their problems, but clearly they are not the whole picture.

I have been listening out for the turtle dove ever since I became aware of its absence. Every time I thought I might have heard one and stopped to listen, I realised it was actually a wood pigeon: they also ‘purr’ sometimes, in addition to their usual cooing song.

Last year I may have seen a juvenile turtle dove. I couldn’t be 100% sure, but I did eliminate every other possible dove or pigeon from my enquiries. It was too far away to photograph, but I spent a long time examining it through binoculars and comparing it with photographs, and it seemed the only likely candidate. I didn’t hear any though, and adults are usually only heard, not seen.

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Suffolk churches 75: Earl Stonham, Earl Soham, Badingham and Walpole Old Chapel (May 2018)

It was my first church outing since my Badley concert the previous Sunday, and I was feeling achy – probably more from my week’s gardening efforts than any residual concert tiredness – but I went out for the day with the aim of ‘tinkering’: it felt like a pleasant change to be able simply to have a quick play through a few pieces that I would be preparing over the coming months, in order to establish what needed most work, rather than having to sit down with the intention of practising seriously in each church. It also meant I could enjoy more church visits with rather less effort than in recent weeks.

St Mary’s, Earl Stonham
Outdoor temperature: 22˚C; indoor temperature 13.8˚C, humidity 61%
Earl Stonham
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Spring treasure 10: The Month of May

bluebells

31/5/2018 I have resorted to partial cheating again. May possesses so many treasures that I could only get round to writing about a few of them, a problem that was exacerbated by the late arrival of so much that ordinarily belongs to late winter and early spring. But then growth and flowering caught up, and many weeks of flowers and blossom were condensed into just a few. This year there were barely two weeks, instead of two months, between the last of the blackthorn blossom and the first of the hawthorn; a very strange state of affairs.

May isn’t only the month of cow parsley, but also of wisteria, laburnum, wild garlic and bluebell woods, all of which I love. Due to bad weather, time constraints and timing misjudgments, I didn’t make the most of the woods this year. Bull’s Wood is my favourite place to go for oxlips in late April and wild garlic from April to early May, but despite my good intentions, I didn’t manage to get there. Bluebell woods are to be found in many places in Suffolk: Priestley Wood in Barking, Captain’s Wood in Sudbourne and Dollops Wood in Polstead (photo right), to name just a few. This year I went to Dollops Wood, but I forgot that my garden’s seasons are usually at least a week or two behind everywhere else. My bluebells were at their peak, so I thought I would be in time to catch them in the woods, but as soon as I arrived I realised they were on their way out. There were still enough flowers for me to enjoy them, but the blue haze would have been far more luminous a week earlier.

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Suffolk churches 74: Nowton and Ousden (April 2018)

St Peter’s, Nowton
Outdoor temperature: 16.9˚C; indoor temperature: 14.8˚C, humidity 66%
Nowton
It is rare that a church visit makes me cross – at least, if I manage to get inside. Nowton did, however. It reminded me of my potential for extreme irritability with both locked churches and stained glass.

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Spring treasure 9: Cow Parsley

cow parsley23/5/2018 On the radio the other day I heard cow parsley and nettles being referred to as the ‘thugs’ of the wild flowers. Apparently they thrive in the countryside and on road verges to the exclusion of other wild flowers due to added nitrogen from car fumes and agricultural fertilisers.

I was immediately indignant. On reflection, however, logic has permitted me to accept that this may be so. But it doesn’t stop me loving cow parsley. My garden, which has never been fertilised – except perhaps by goats and chickens in the last few years – has always grown into a jungle of cow parsley in May and June, reaching above my head as a child, and nothing makes me happier than seeing it everywhere in the May countryside. Without it, spring almost wouldn’t be spring.

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Suffolk churches 73: St Margaret Ilketshall and St Peter South Elmham (April 2018)

St Margaret’s, St Margaret Ilketshall
Outdoor temperature: 22.5˚C; indoor temperature: 18.1˚C, humidity: 62%
I was starting to struggle with the Ilketshalls and the South Elmhams. I wasn’t entirely sure which I was in, as my map, road signs and the church sign simply said ‘St Margaret’. I found out eventually though, from the various documents posted on the church noticeboard. It was a round-towered church, my first since my trip to the Beccles area in February. White doves were sunbathing in the gutter.

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Spring treasure 8: What’s soft, furry and nearly as sweet as ducklings?

14/5/2018 You would probably never guess that I wasn’t referring to an animal if I asked you this question. You might also legitimately reply, ‘nothing is nearly as sweet as ducklings’. You’d be nearly right. But not quite.

Beech leaves 1I’m referring to the best of all new spring leaves: beech leaves. If horse chestnut leaves are difficult to resist touching, these are impossible. I’m afraid that I might be diagnosed as insane if anyone caught me unawares in their presence; but as long as I was left to enjoy my insanity in peace, I wouldn’t mind too much.

I treat them pretty much the same way I treat my animals. As you may have deduced by now, they have a similar effect on me as ducklings. I can understand the evolutionary advantage in baby animals being sweet – assuming humans aren’t the only species capable of recognising this quality – but what possible advantage can there be for a tree to have adorable baby leaves? Surely they’d just get eaten more often.

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Spring treasure 7: New Horse Chestnut Leaves

chestnut leaves7/5/2018 This highlight should really have appeared two weeks ago, but due to the arrival of ducklings and swallows it had to be postponed. There was no question of leaving it out, however: new horse chestnut leaves are my second favourite spring leaf behind the one I hope will be featured next week, if nothing unexpected happens to delay it once more.

In contrast to the weeping willow, whose early spring glow I enjoy best from a distance, I have to get up close to appreciate the horse chestnut’s new leaves. I love seeing the sticky buds burst open and the leaves slowly break free of their spider’s-web-like covering; but my favourite stage is when the leaves are larger and have become more recognisably those of the horse chestnut. They point downwards like drooping hands. They are light green, almost translucent and oh-so-soft: touching and stroking them is impossible to resist. I can feel my heart leap when I do so.

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Suffolk churches 69: Horham and Wilby (April 2018)

I had missed a weekend over Easter, and I was also in desperate need of some serious cello practice for a concert in less than two weeks’ time, so I decided to treat myself to two nights away visiting churches. A friend’s parents who had recently moved from Felixstowe to Metfield – about an hour’s drive from my house, near Harleston on the Norfolk border – had asked me to let them know when I was planning to visit Metfield church as they wanted to come along to listen. I didn’t realise until later that they had moved to, and were going to run, a B&B in the village. What could be better than combining a stay there with church visits, I thought; so after lunch on a Tuesday, I set off, intending to visit Athelington on the way. It was a church which I had planned but failed to visit after Redlingfield the previous week.

St Mary’s, Horham
Outdoor temperature: 18.1˚C; indoor temperature: 12.8˚C, humidity: 62%
Horham

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Rhubarb ducklings

4/5/2018 Ducks seem to have an uncanny ability to combine sense with silliness.

I had made up my mind that the first urgent garden job to be undertaken when the weather became more clement was to weed the rhubarb bed. I could barely distinguish rhubarb from weed, but I knew it must be nearly ready for picking by now. So, as soon as the sun appeared, I made my way through the fencing designed to keep out goats but almost as effective in keeping out humans.

But before I had done more than cut out a couple of brambles, I bumped into a duck. Almost literally: I didn’t see her until I was standing right next to her, and she barely moved even then, except to lift up her head and look at me in slight alarm.

So much for that, I thought, after I had recovered from the surprise. But then I realised, as long as I kept my distance and left her plenty of cover, I could probably start weeding from the other end without disturbing her. As I started on my task, I reflected on her choice of nesting location. Sensible duck, I thought: she has chosen a well-hidden spot with extra fencing protection against predators. I’d never have found out she was there if I hadn’t tried to weed the rhubarb bed. Silly duck, I thought: how on earth is she going to get her ducklings out?

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