Friday, September 26, 2008

Over a week later and it's all change

Life stepped in the way and prevented me updating the blog within seven days of my previous post. It has been nearly two weeks since my last update. I was up in Wales and the contrast between natural life as I left it here in Rotherhithe and the status of counterparts in north Wales was quite an eye opener. Everything was so much slower to flower and ripen in Wales - the blackberries, for example, are only just ready for picking and many of the flowers that have been over for weeks now in the ecological park are still in full bloom. The blackberries here are now completely over. The small-bird life is much more voluminous in our part of Wales at an observable level, due to the prevalence of bird feeders in gardens and the richly damp environment. I wasted many happy minutes watching gold and green finches on my mother's seed feeder.

As usual, you can click on the small image to see the full-sized photograph if required.

I was away longer than I had intended and today was my first opportunity to race over the road with my camera. I was fortunate with the weather - a gorgeous blue sky, a bright yellow sun and a gentle breeze. I braved shorts but took a cardigan, and that turned out to be the perfect combination.

My route was one of my usual ones. First I walk up Onega Gate, cross Redriff Road and go into the Russia Dock Woodland, ambling up the winding woodland path that runs next to the old Russia Dock quayside. I then skirt the side of the green and head for the Downtown Pond, where I linger before going up to Globe Pond, taking the path along the side of it, and going up the steps towards the windmill. I cross in front of the windmill, turning left at the end and spend some time exploring that little area. I then head to the Stave Hill pond before going into the butterfly sanctuary, through to the rest of the nooks and crannies that dot the end of that area and then on back into the Russia Dock Woodland before proceeding home. With camera time, it takes me about an hour.

The first thing to strike me was that autumn really has arrived in the form of yellowing leaves. Most are a very light and bright yellow, with only a few turning slowly to a deeper and richer orange. There is a symphonie fantastique of berries and hips everywhere you look. The greens are still bright and alive, and altogether the effect in the light breeze was one of dancing colours and shapes. Lovely. I picked up a magpie feather - black along one edge, bright blue along the other.

Walking along the edge of the big green I could hear the sound of some fairly heavy machinery coming from the rough area of the Downtown Pond. Picking up my pace and prepared to throw myself, Arthur Dent fashion, in front of any premature Barratt Home bulldozers, I found that it was in fact a man on a vast sit-on lawn mower who was mowing all the green edges into submission. Elsewhere people with strimmers were cutting down the dead vegetation and generally tidying the area up.

At Downtown Pond I was quite simply overjoyed to see my old friend the heron back on his usual perch. It has been many, many weeks now since I last saw him. I looked like a statue, not moving a muscle, not a feather out of place.

Both sides of the Downtown Pond are looking a lot healthier, with much better water levels. Even where the water levels haven't recovered the sediments are very damp and muddy and not cracked and desiccated as they had been only a couple of weeks ago.

At Globe Pond there was a similar story - the water looked much healthier and there was the sound of water falling into it. There was a moorhen having a lovely bath and creating a tremendous din in the process, and there were a set of six Canada geese. Two of the geese were on the round pontoon preening and the others were propelling themselves gently around the pond in the sunshine.

The stream behind Globe Pond is still looking very sorry for itself with an unhealthy skin over the water surface, but a bit more rain should soon fix that. It is sad to see what little summer we had depart, but I hope that it will be a good chance for the waterways to recover.

There was nothing much to report up at the windmill, except for some very fine berry displays, all bright oranges and deep reds, lovely in the sunshine against the deep green of the leaves.

At Stave Hill pond there were a few dragonflies and damselflies, one of which obligingly stopped on a light stone for a brief moment. I have never been there when that stone is not hosting a bit of sun-worship by a damselfly. The waterlily has now gone over and its leaves have curled under and turned a deep and bright colourful orange/red.

My visits in the parks are never dull, but rounding the corner into the butterfly sanctuary in Stave Hill Ecological Park was something of a shock. I had read, when I was in Wales, that several breeds of butterfly have a second brood which emerges in August and September and can last until well into October. Ever the optimisit I was hoping to catch sight of some of these late-comers. I was also aiming to find the hypericum which, when last seen, was hosting a splendid knotgrass caterpillar to see whether or not he was still there - they can take weeks to form chrysalids. Instead of the wildlife exploration I had anticipated I rounded the corner to see that the entire sanctuary, except for a very small end at the far end, had been completely denuded of vegetation. It was a very severe crew cut. They hypericum was just one of an entire field of grasses, weeds and flowers which had vanished. Instead there are now cleared patches of earth, stringed off, with notices to inform that they have been seeded with flower species which will attract bees and butterflies.

I know nothing about wildlife management, but I do wonder if part of the objective of a butterfly sanctuary shouldn't be to preserve caterpillars and chrysalids which would have populated the place next year with a new generation, rather than trying to attract them in from elsewhere? It has clearly been a bad year for butterflies and I would have thought that the preservation of the habitat in which butterflies have laid eggs, and in which the plants feed caterpillars and support chrysalids would have been a good idea. The planting was clearly a good idea but wouldn't it have been better to clear a few patches rather than the whole area? I have probably missed the point entirely.

There were few butterflies around, and certainly nothing unusual. Likewise with the bees. Even the crickets, confined now to the small areas of longer grass, were somewhat muted.

As I left the ecological park I saw a fox moving across the path and into the undergrowth - another missed photo opportunity! I would love to know how many foxes live in the park and the Woodland.

After Stave Hill I walked home through the Woodland. It was all very beautiful with the bright sun filtering through the trees and the intense blue of the sky forming the perfect backdrop for the autumn colours. I saw several hoverflies and speckled wood butterfly, all soaking up the sun. There were a great many squirrels running around, many of them very bold.

Later in the afternoon I had to go to Tesco. It was an act of desperation. I have always thought of Tesco as something of a hell-hole but it has descended into unutterable carnage as the result of the expansion works. Walking along the edge of the dock along Brunswick Quay I looked out for any interesting bird life, but there was nothing unusual. There was the usual mix of ducks, Great Crested Grebes and coots, and a few seagulls bobbed around. The fishermen were out in force in spite of the breeze, which had become a lot stronger and was now very cold in spite of the sunshine. Quite suddenly a peacock butterfly landed on my leg before lifting off almost immediately to head off over the dock. I have seen very few of these this year, so even that quick glimpse was quite a treat.

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