Friday, 13 July 2018

Garden Wildlife & The Week

I was sitting having a cup of tea outside on Monday when this fledgling thrush fell out of the willow beside me. Not in a terrifying oh my goodness, danger! sort of way, more in a comic, not-quite-got-the-hang-of-navigating-among-trees-with-wings way. There followed an undignified clumsy scrabbling to assimilate legs, wings and body into a workable unit and to get a purchase on the fence, after which she sat there quite happily, watching me and occasionally peeping in that soft, baby bird way they have. Her parent flew down and fed her a shelled snail, and then flew off, leaving the baby and I sitting companionably together. She was still there when I went indoors half an hour later.

On Wednesday, Pop and I went for a 20 mile run through the forest, stopping off at various fords, rivers and streams along the way. Seeking out and using natural water in this way reminded me of how much we take our on tap, fresh, clean, disease-free, instantly accessible water for granted. The landscape's water was essential to us on Wednesday as without it Pop would not have been able to do the run. As it was she did 16 miles. Game girl that she is. We did our usual trick of sharing jam sandwiches on the way. She was keen to have a jelly baby too but I decided it probably wouldn't have been good for her. I dropped her home on the way back and did the final four, which were without much shade and by then the tarmac was hotting up, on my own. I felt fine when I got back despite the heat and probably could have gone further. I had a raspberry lolly to cool down and refuel and Pop had a fresh raspberry, some fish squares and a bone made of dried fish which smelt disgusting but she and ted LOVE them.

This summer we invested in a fruit cage net to go over the frame M built in the winter. It has worked, for the first time ever we have fruit! I made an Eton Mess with it which we ate while watching the footie.

This morning, I took myself off for a bimble round the garden to see who was out and about. 

Woundwort shieldbugs are possibly my favourite members of their family. Very pretty, very small, almost always seen in pairs and reliant on this ancient hedgerow/ woodland edge flower which we encourage to grow freely in our garden. They are the poor man's orchid in my view.

The buddleia Globosa has come into flower and although there are none in this picture, it is festooned with bees.

The vicky plum has bountiful fruit this year after producing a grand total of two plums last year :o)

I'm glad to see red soldier beetles back on the thistles...

And this is the seal on a leaf-cutter bee burrow.

As for this fine fellow, he is a dark bush-cricket. Lovely, isn't he?

I thought all the crab spiders had gone from the garden, which just shows what masters of disguise they are. I found this one paralysing a hoverfly on the underside of a columbine flower.

This ringlet has been out for a while, judging from how ragged her skirts are looking. Shades of cinderella, I feel. Doesn't stop her flying though.

The flowers have really suffered in the heat. This photo makes it look more luscious than it is, although the rain has come at the right moment- all the honeyworts have popped out overnight in response and the bees are zinging away happily inside them gathering nectar and pollen. Praise be.

Hope you are all well and have a grand weekend ahead.


Sunday, 8 July 2018

Doing The Double

What do sane people do on the hottest weekend of the year during a 31 degree heat wave? They decide to run back-to-back races of course.

On Saturday, we headed off to the Serpent Trail with friend B to tackle a half marathon through the Greensands of the Surrey/ Hampshire border. The coach (no air con and an almost-accident on the way that had all the runners gasping and being generally flung about) picked us up at the finish and drove us the 13 miles to Midhurst where it dropped us off at a pub by the side of a dusty road, leaving the 100+ runners to make their own way back along the trail to Petersfield....

It was bloody boiling. Lots of stretches with no shade. Even hotter than last weekend's ten miler along the south downs way and that was roasting. Did I mention the race started at midday?

It wasn't massively hilly, but the undulations were enough to make me walk (as was the blistering heat at times). I didn't expect to do a particularly competitive time given the conditions so was astonished to come home 26th. Dead chuffed with that, especially as in the second half I was overtaking lots of people who were groaning that the heat had finished them off. Thank you, long mile marathon training in the heat :o) 

There were also 50k (30 mile) and 100k (60 mile) ultras going on. Not surprisingly, most of the 100k runners pulled out leaving just 14 hardy souls who completed the distance, having set off at 6am. Four of our friends did the 50k, including one who was running his first ultra. They got home in 6-7 hours. Full credit to them. What an amazing achievement! M blasted his way round into first place, hopefully signalling an end to his recent period of injury. We were all pretty thrilled with our achievements.

Cheering on our friends who were about to complete their 30 mile race at 4.30pm, having started running at 10am.
A nice race t-shirt to add to the collection
Oscar, who was chief support dog while his uncle ran the ultra

Today, because we hadn't had enough of running through the parched countryside in blistering heat, we made our way down into deepest, darkest, Dorset to do WSR's Piggy Plod 10k. I am a complete convert to White Star Racing ever since they looked after me so well at Dorchester.

We met up with friends Richard and Jackie from New Forest Runners at the start. Everyone was laughing cheerfully about the heat (the best way to deal with it was to not be scared. Not admitting to it, at any rate)....

White Star medal collection

Then we were off, running out of the farm yard into the golden fields. Somehow, I found myself in ninth place as the field began to spread out. I could see M way ahead leading the runners along the side of the field and thought to myself he's on for another podium place but, more excitingly (not really, but you know what I mean!) there was only one other lady ahead of me. She was way off though so I knew I wouldn't catch her, but still, to be in second position for the female half of the race was very cheering.

The race was two laps round the farm's fields. Much of it was out in the open in the blistering sun with no shade and there were also two or three reasonable hills. I slowed my pace after the first couple of miles, remembering I had run a testing half marathon in 31 degree heat yesterday, but even so I was feeling pretty damn good, no sign of those 13 miles in my legs at that stage and all was going well (if baking hot). 

The heat was rising from the ground as well as hammering down on our heads and after a while I could hear breathing on my shoulder and a lady overtook me, panting heavily. Oh well, I thought, plenty of time to catch her.

I tried to settle down into finding my rhythm but it takes me 6-10 miles to warm up and get into my stride these days and this race would be over in 6 miles. My usual strategy with longer races is to start slow then when I've warmed up after a few miles pick up the pace and run the second half faster than the first. There just isn't enough time or miles in a 10K to do that, so the best I could do was to try and keep up the pace without killing myself with heat stroke. 

I had my water pack on so didn't need to stop at the water stations unlike the lady in front and twice I overtook her as she stopped to rehydrate, but each time she came back. Fair play to her. If I hadn't had the half marathon in my legs I could probably have fought back and overtaken her to claim 2nd place, but to be honest, a 10k race however lovely is not high on my list of target runs this year and to push myself too far in the heat for the difference between 2nd and 3rd would have been silly, so I contented myself with overtaking two tired chaps in front, checking to make sure lady #4 wasn't anywhere near and settled for 3rd placed lady which also turned out to be 10th overall.

Totally thrilled. 

Even more so when I discovered M had repeated his feat from yesterday and won the race! 


Our prizes were a choice of WSR race shirts....

And a hilarious piggy buff each....

I think this is the result of all the marathon training and enjoying the longer distances. It's made me stronger, fitter and more endurance-proof than I've ever been.

Hope all have had a good weekend? What about England and the footie eh? Fabulous! (even to a non football watcher for 99% of the time :o). Come on, lads! 

CT .

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Who Needs Purple Emperors?

So, off I trundle to Bentley Wood again this morning in much cooler conditions confident (as much as I ever am) of getting that elusive photograph of himself, or Iris or His Imperial Majesty or the Purple Emperor, all of which he is known by in the flutter world. I arrive and there is only one other car in the car park. Odd, I think to myself. Normally you can't move for people when the Purple Emperor butterfly is out in these woods. It's a little before nine and I have the place entirely to myself.

I wander down the paths and tracks, loving the solitary tranquility and the peace of this ancient woodland, imagining elves and faeries peering out at me behind the trunks of trees, feeling like I've been allowed in and trusted with a secret world.

It's cool and overcast and the only butterflies that are awake in any number are ringlets. I watch them flitting across the path and sitting on leaves.

Then the sun comes out and the wood comes alive. Golden Skippers wake as if the touch of the sun on their wings is a magic wand, bringing them to life after their night time slumber. I watch them chasing one another over the banks of bramble, furious in their pursuit.

I see the first Gate Keeper of the year, striking orange and brown, sitting quietly on a leaf by the path.

And a Meadow Brown, on a bramble flower.

I see Silver Washed Fritillaries, twirling round one another through the air, alighting every now and then on the earth or a flower to nectar or take mineral salts.

And then, something magical happens. I notice a small disturbance in the air at chest height, silver-grey-blue, and I think what could that be? Small Blue? But somehow I know it isn't. Somehow, although they are rarer than hen's teeth flying down here among us mere mortals, I know what this is and I know that, because of what it is, I will not find an Emperor today. 

The diminutive cousin of the Emperor, one who shares his elusive tree-top habits, but who, unlike the Emperor, rarely ventures to the ground and so is almost never seen without the aid of binoculars.

The Purple Hair Streak.

Three of them come to me and settle on leaves and ferns. Two of them watch me. I don't know how much time passes while I stand in a daze, watching these beautiful butterflies. Eventually, they fly away into the treetops and I wander on. 

It comes as something of a shock when, after an hour and half alone, suddenly there are other people in the woods. Any Emperors? they ask, hopefully. I shake my head. We've baited a log with fish paste, they say, hopefully he'll come down. 

He won't, I think, not for me, not today, not after the Hair Streaks.

As if reading my mind they say have you seen any Purple Hair Streaks?

For a moment I consider saying no. I want to keep that commune with those special butterflies private, to tuck it away in silence, so it remains sacred, a gift given to me, but then I remember all the times people have been kind and pointed things out to me and how my life has been enriched by their generosity, so I say yes, there are a lot of them flying low just up the way.

The Emperors do not come and I head back up the track. On the way I find my thoughts consumed with something unpleasant that I have been trying to find a way through. Dark thoughts, such as I am rarely given to. I know that they are not healthy, but I can not get rid of them. I stop noticing the wood, I turn inwards, I feel bleak and angry and frustrated. And then I feel the lightest breeze stirred by butterfly wings on my cheek and across my forehead and I look up and there is a brown butterfly with white chalk stripes on her wings floating in front of me. She flies down onto some brambles, the most elegant, gliding flight of all the butterfly species. She is a White Admiral. And I stop thinking the black thoughts, I stop feeling angry and upset. I remember that you can not control the behaviour of other people, only your own, and I forget about worrying, I watch the butterfly and I know that this is the wood's message for me. To let go, to stop worrying, to trust the universe, and this magical wood, to take care of the proper balance of things. And so when I go home, I leave lighthearted and restored.