Sunday, 10 April 2016

birdwatching without the beard

what does bear garlic do in the woods?

Cycling through Conkwell woods on my way home, I passed Kevin walking his dog. So I stopped, and noticed that the ramsons had begun to flower. The woods and the steep bank down to the Avon are carpeted with wild garlic. I dropped down towards the flowers, and slipped on the mixture of mud and shiny leaves. There'd been a lot of rain earlier. So I aimed at a tree and did a sort of controlled fall at it, which saved me from ending up who knows where.

Scrambling laboriously back up, I passed through great wafts of garlicky pong. "It's not real garlic, though," said Kevin.

"Isn't it?" I wondered; "There's all sorts of garlics and onions." I thought of the round headed leeks and keeled garlic we used to find on the Bristol Downs, and one whose sole habitat is apparently St Vincent's Rock by the Clifton suspension bridge (though I've found it elsewhere...)

With a smartphone, the internet is seldom very far away, and of course you can trust the internet.
So I looked it up. "Gosh, bear garlic" I said- its latin name is Allium Ursinium. "I suppose it's very handy for them, given what they famously do in the woods."

I love this time of year when everything is speeding up towards summer; it's getting hard to keep up with all the new things, though. Last week I heard a few tantalising notes suggestive of a blackcap; two days of that, and it had warmed up its vocal chords enough to go for a full song. It's been the same with the chiffchaffs a few weeks ago, and as I write this a chiffchaff is in the hazel tree right opposite my window, alternating its song with little fluttering flights. And yesterday I was sure I'd heard a whitethroat, though again only briefly and tentatively.

the first cuckoo pint

I stoked up the fire, because the day had never quite got warm. Presently the sun came out, and in the brief lull before the evening chill set in, I set to making a tortilla for dinner with my nice neighbours. Taking the potato peelings out, I noticed a white bird on the hill across the valley. The binoculars told me nothing much more than that it was a big white bird. But it didn't look very seagully. I set up the camera and watched.
After a while it flew across the field, and landed in a conifer. Its flight revealed decided bird of prey wings, with black bars on them. An osprey? I wondered. A passer-by wondered what I was looking at. When I told him, he explained to me that it couldn't possibly be an osprey, and looked at me as though I were simple.

Reader, he had a beard.

in the trees at the top of that far hill...
the mystery bird
Mind you, when I finally found my big book of birds, a hen harrier seems the likeliest contender.