A lovely morning, with the usual lyrical voices and occasional bickering of goldfinches in the cherry tree. I always know when the bird feeder is running out of nyjer seeds, because the occasional squawk that signals a rare dispute slowly rises to an embattled ongoing staccato cacophony of discordance, as the goldfinches jockey for position and fend each other off in a great colourful swirl of wings and feathers. When silence falls it means that the bird feeder is empty, and that now sounds completely unnatural. Fortunately I refilled the feeder only a couple of days ago, and harmony currently reigns. For a sample of their more melodic song, try listening to the recording on the Bird Song UK YouTube site.
It was a good start to the day, which I needed. I went out a few days ago to find that someone had driven into my car and dented a door. I might have taken it in my stride a couple of months ago, because I have no great faith in human rectitude, but in the middle of all this chaos, with everyone talking about how people are really pulling together, it really upset me that no-one left a note. Nothing to be done of course, apart from wishing that sticking pins in wax dolls is a real thing. I did, however, find that it truly lifted my spirits to get out of the house and into the hills to walk off the pervasive melancholy and sense of disillusion. Fortunately, this particular walk would have challenged anyone to remain down, and it was delightful.
This is the longest walk I have done so far this year, and it was a joy. It had a bit of everything: The hills, the stunning views over the coast to the north and west, a beautiful farmyard pond, streams, valleys, wind blowing in the trees that sounded just like a waterfall, marshy flatland, sand dunes and the endless, beautiful beach with peat beds, sand drifts forming amazing shifting patterns and the walk back up Balkan hill with wild flowers in the verges.
Foxglove (Digitalis, meaning finger-like) has gone mad this year, with vast purple plumes dotted around hills, verges, hedgerows and gardens. Some are in full flower, others are just coming out, and all of them combine to provide a marvellous array of colours. In the 18th Century digitalis was found to have an impact on the heart and research has proved it to be useful in fighting heart disease. Foxgloves flower from June to September, so there is plenty of time to enjoy them.
The photo above shows Pond Water-crowfoot (Ranunculus peltatus) forms little networks of leaves and flowers on top of still water. An aquatic white version of the more common yellow land-based buttercup (also Ranunculus). The leaves are rounded and divided into lobes. On a pond, they look like tiny water lilies. Unfortunately this photograph is over-exposed, so the flowers are difficult to see properly.
Common ragwort (Senecio jacobaea), which is in the same family as dandelions (Asteraceae) is common around Aberdovey, and is a frequent colonizer of wasteland. Growing up to 150m in height, it is easily distinguishable from other members of the Asteraceae family due to its rather untidy, seaweed-like leaves. It is the food-plant of the orange and black striped caterpillar of the cinnabar moth (Tyria jacobaeae), which may strip its leaves completely. It can be poisonous for livestock. A biennial, it flowers from June to November, and the caterpillars start emerging in June, so if you know of a patch of common ragwort, it is worth watching out for the lovely looking caterpillars and the stunning red and black moths that follow. It flowers from June to November.
Yellow flag iris (Iris pseudacorus) grows in ponds and marshes, and loves to have its roots wet. There were only a couple in flower, but it should soon be a fairly spectacular sight. They usually flower between May and July/August. the Yellow flag iris is supposed to be apotropaic, something that wards off evil, but it often has a bad reputation for being somewhat evil in its own right, spreading so energetically that it colonizes whole areas, frequently becoming a thorough pest in garden ponds and lakes in parks. Its rhizomes (root system) spread out sideways and form dense masses that are really difficult to eradicate. In the wild, although they are wonderful to see, they can oust other wild species from the same habitats.
The Cuckooflower (Cardamine pratensis), also known as milkmaid and lady’s smock, is a member of the Brasicaceae (cabbage) family is found in damper areas such as river banks, reed beds, saturated marshland and damp pastures. The young leaves are edible and have a slightly peppery taste, that also extends to the flowers. It has a relatively short flowering period, from April to June.
Peat beds, that look like rock outcrops, on the beach between Tywyn and Aberdovey. When you find a bit that has come loose, it is rich, black and dense, highly consolidated. Near to and when the day is dull it is ebony black. In the sun, slightly damp, it reflects the sunlight and looks silvery.
Common or Large-flowered Evening Primrose (Oenothera erythosepala) is a lovely flower, smothering the sand dunes at the moment, but whenever I walked in the dunes the flowers seemed to have gone over, with none in flower. The answer to the puzzle is that the flowers open just before sunset and and begin to wilt by noon the next day. Their appearance is early this year, usually not flowering until June, and they last until September.
Ivy-leaved toadlfax (Cymbalaria muralis), once confined to southern Europe, was poking out of one of the walls on Balkan Hill in various places and crawling along the stone surface on long, red stems. They are thought to have been introduced into England first in 17th century and were so prevalent in Oxford that they became known as the Oxford weed. The leaves are edible and taste similar to watercress.
It is the longest walk I have done this year, and I enjoyed it so much. The emptiness of the hills is always, with or without Covid-19, something really rather special. A superb walk, a lovely day.