Wednesday, 24 February 2016

 The Sounds of Spring Stirrings

 It was a rather overcast but dry day in February, about a fortnight ago.  That morning found me and my two dogs walking up the hills and forest near our home in Auldgirth, Dumfries and Galloway.

The rugged tracks take you through a mix of spruce, oak, birch, and alder, with intermittent areas opening up to marshy habitats abundant with bracken and heather. In the depths of winter, it can be very silent up in these parts, except for the whoosh of the wind through the trees, which also seems to whistle in your already numb ears.

The path we often take leads us up and up and up, but after a while, the path begins to descend. Suddenly we enter a magical, little hidden treasure trove. The dark spruce trees begin to fade away and instead the path is delineated with beautiful big beech trees. Their far reaching branches create an archway over the path. Still bare from the winter months, I can see the trees all the way down the valley where a large burn flows powerfully, and the beech trees cling on to the steep slope.

The path is carpeted in a burst of copper and rusty red, brightening up a rather grey mood. A little stream, so clear and fresh, hugs the edge of the pathway.

I frequently stop and stand in awe at the surroundings I find myself in. I take a deep breath and listen.

The area is not as silent as you are first lead to believe. I hear the sound of the beech leaves, fallen from the previous autumn, as they flutter across the forest track, kissing the air in their fluttering motion. The caw of a crow echoes hauntingly in the distance, as the wind carries it up the valley.

I hear the creak of trees further away, as they huddle together, bracing themselves in the brisk wind.

The soft padding of my dogs’ paws on the leafy ground makes me smile.

Closer by, the soothing babble of the little stream fills the beech archway as it flows down the hill, venturing towards larger rivers and bigger and brighter horizons.

A gush of song fills the forest, in spates, as various passerine birds flit and fleet from tree to tree.

As the days of February go by, the natural world around us begins to come to life. New growth can be seen, and the deadly silence of dark winter begins to be replaced with the sanguine sounds of the promise of spring.

That simple walk made me dream of the coming of spring and filled me with the hope of new beginnings that were stirring in the wind. Those sounds that broke the winter silence became my muse for this new blog entry.

Since then, I have had my ears to the ground and to the skies, in search of the sounds signalling the coming of spring.

Over the past week, here at Fox Cottage, our early morning stirrings have been accompanied by the drum roll of the greater spotted woodpecker. This dawn hammering in February symbolises the commencement of the territorial displays by these male woodpeckers. Both the lesser and greater spotted woodpeckers are known for their dawn drumming displays in early spring, as the males mark their territories and perform for potential mates. It is a rather charming way to rise in the mornings. The drumming a reminder that spring is nearly fully upon us, and that there are things to be done in preparation for new beginnings.

My recent February country jaunts with the dogs, have allowed me to notice the increase in activity by songbirds. The forests appear to have sprung to life over night, with an explosion of beautiful song soaring through the atmosphere. We have certainly noticed an escalation of song during the dawn chorus in our garden. The blackbird’s song, the most distinctive, becoming more rich and flamboyant as February progresses and their breeding time nears.   Be sure to listen out for their fluid and mesmerising song at the dreamy times during dawn and dusk.

The afternoons are filled with the familiar creaky gate call of the great tit. Chaffinches and robins have been visiting our feeders regularly too, and filling our garden with their beautiful chirping and charming songs.

If we are fortunate enough, the skies above Fox Cottage may be graced by a skein of geese. Frequently, the dawn can be enlivened by their cackling and honking, and the sound of their immense wings as they power themselves through the air.

During this time of year, barnacle geese, pink-footed geese, and greylag geese are taking to the skies at the break of day, leaving their roosting sites at Caerlaverock National Nature Reserve to go in search of foraging sites for the day, before returning at dusk. If you live in the surrounding area, why not set your alarm clocks a little earlier and maybe, just maybe, you will be blessed by these graceful flocks taking to the skies.

Although nature is now rousing from its winter slumber with spring in the air, February can be one of the coldest months of the year. We know it all too well here at Fox Cottage, awakening to snow just this morning. So be sure to continue to top up your bird feeders. Robins in particular struggle in the frozen conditions as digging for worms proves to be a big challenge.

 I promise that in return you will be rewarded with the most beautiful sounds that will lift your soul and will help you move forward on to new beginnings and new challenges.

Meanwhile at the Bee Hive Studio......

Things have been a little slower here at the Bee Hive Studio, as I am now 37 weeks pregnant! Yes, New Beginnings certainly are coming, I have, however, been extremely busy with cottage work and looking after our animals. But do not fret, I have managed to create some new pieces of artwork. 

Here is beautiful Limited Edition prints of my recent watercolour painting 'On Guard', which I created recently Printed on gorgeous high archival Somserset cotton printmaking paper. 

I have also completed this mixed media Brown Hare piece, drawn and painted on my favourite super eco bamboo mixed media paper. This is the first of pieces that I will be making in to a new range of cards. I plan on working on a pine marten over the next few days. For more updates and if you would like to purchase your very own piece of Bumble Bee Artzzz please visit me here.

Thursday, 13 August 2015

To All the Wishes Made

So I am sure many of you have heard about the spectacular meteor shower that the Northern Hemisphere is treated with at this time of year. This is known as the Perseid meteor shower, and it occurs every year in the warm late summer month of August.

Now, I am not even going to pretend that I understand or know a lot about astronomy and the Wonders of the Universe, in fact it hurts my brain to ponder the universe for too long. Needless to say, I am not one to miss such a breathtaking show, and this year we were blessed with a clear sky here in rural Dumfries and Galloway. After getting home from agility training on Wednesday evening on the 12th of August, I took advantage of a warm(ish) clear night and sat out on our front steps at 11 pm. Snuggled up in my cosy dressing gown, flip flops on, and one of my dogs, Red, for company, I sat, gazed up....and waited.

The sky was strikingly clear, and the stars seemed to hang closer to the Earth, I felt as if I was enveloped by the vast starlit sky. I was already spellbound by the night sky, even though I had not yet caught sight of a meteor. A slight chill began to wrap around me, but I was not deterred. I reveled in the stillness, the quietness, the fresh air. It was dark, and almost eerily quiet, but I felt as safe and as content as can be.

Red's ears perked up. He heard some movement among the edge of our front garden. Rustling, and snuffling noses could be heard in the stillness. A little hedgehog had decided to join us in our stargazing. I went to investigate to make sure the little fella was ok. He was happily foraging around the rather untidy areas of our garden (all for wildlife!). We had let weeds grow rather messily, and have logs lying around drying. Perfect for our gorgeous prickly residents. I named the hedgehog Star.

Satisfied that Star was in good spirits, Red and I resumed our seating arrangements. The silence was now broken by the rustling of Star, and then the call of a tawny owl, which sounded as if it came from Blackwood estate just across the river. This was turning out to be a magical night. I was elated. I continued to raise my head to the sky and low and behold, a meteor traced across the sky. My eyes went wide in wonder, child-like. And yes, I made a wish, for in my innocence I still like to call them shooting stars. My wish drifted and rose up in to the Universe. Red missed this meteor as he was still rather preoccupied with our hedgehog friend. He did however see one fall from he sky in front of our eyes as it dipped behind the hills at Blackwood estate. He gazed up, intrigued and perhaps a little confused. Another wish was made.

We were then blessed with a stunning show of stars crossing the sky in all directions. By the time it reached midnight, my toes were getting rather numb. I know, I should have put socks on but I did not want to miss such a natural display. With sleep beginning to make my eyes heavy and my toes threatening to fall off, I decided it was time to make our way back inside. For that hour of stargazing I counted fifteen meteors. I am sure I missed many too, but I was over the moon with seeing so many. A lot of wishes were made that night, and I am sure many other wishes have been sent up to the stars over the past few days during this breathtaking shower of shooting stars.

Here is to All of Our Wishes Coming True.

Monday, 10 August 2015

Open Your Eyes on Your Travels

June finally approaches and with it the warming of the sun and the lengthening of the days. With my trusty dogs, I walk gleefully along the winding rural roads of Dumfries and Galloway, in the beautiful estate of Dalswinton. A breeze is channelled up the narrow roads, and carries the gorgeously delicious scents of the surrounding vegetation, most distinctive of all, the  hawthorn. The roads I travel along are extremely quiet and bordered with hedgerows and verges. The hedgerows and verges seemingly come to life over night as June arrives, bursting with colour, song and smells.

My walks along these rural roads always take a little longer than I first intend, there is just so much to see and take in. What first captivates me is the explosion of vivid ivory white, as the little white flowers of the abundant cow parsley form an array of umbrellas along the roadside. A scattering of lace amongst the green ferns. As an artist, I am mesmerized by the colour combinations and contrasts along a roadside and amongst the hedges. The reddish pink hues of red campion stand out boldly against the white lace of the parsley. 

In a growing concrete world, the roadside verges and heddgerows are a breath of fresh air. Nature’s tenacity to thrive is inspiring. Much like the ivy and brambles clinging to dry stone walls along a roadside, I cling to this hope that nature can win out in the end. Despite the devastation that humans cause: encroachment of urban areas; clearing of wild flower meadows and hedgerows to make way for larger agricultural fields and monstrous machinery. The ancient hedgerow systems of the UK have decimated disastrously since the Second World War. By the 1990s, an astonishing, 121,000 km of these habitats have been lost. If that does not induce heartache, I am not sure what will. 

I have fond childhood memories of holidaying in Cornwall. The hedgerows along the tiny windy roads of Cornwall were so tall, reaching up to the vast skies in every child’s dreams. My sisters and I would sit on the roof of our ford Granada estate through the sun roof, in order to see what lay beyond these giants of the rural Cornish roads. Will there be any hedgerows left for the future generation to gawp at? I hope so, for I plan to be mesmerized by them way in to my adulthood and beyond!

With closer inspection at the foliage in the verges, I spot the charming little plant, the greater stitchwort. These small white flowers have straggly stems and measure from 20 – 60 cm. With five petals, each one split. The greater stitchwort makes an early appearance and lights up dark woods and roadside. Like little stars, waymarkers to help guide you on your travels, but be sure not to pick them as you may find yourself being lead astray by elves or fairies!

A variety of trees and shrubs tend to make up a hedgerow system, with species such as hawthorn, blackthorn, hazel, elder, and oak. Climbing plants tangle across the hedges, intertwining. Climbers such as ivy and honeysuckle are often found. You can not walk past honeysuckle without being ensnared by its sensational smell.

Nevertheless on my June wanderings, the hawthorn, elder and beech trees are what I see, with twisted ivy wrapping around them. I spot the gorgeous and proud dog rose beginning to reach for the sun and bramble winds its way along the base of the hedgerow and verges. By the hotter summer days of July the roses will be in full bloom and standing tall, with their red, pink and white petals. 
A light drizzle of rain begins to fall as my dogs and I travel along. At that point my senses are overwhelmed, the sweet scent of the hawthorn seems to lift up and linger all around me. Even the smell of the nettles seems to be heightened, everything is so alive! What is more, the bird song seems to have become elevated in the dampness. I pick out the tune of a robin and then hear a blackbird that is perched high up up an alder tree.. To me they are singing just because they can! I am captivated.
With a decline in much woodland, the hedgerow system is believed to support up to 80% of our woodland birds. For many species of birds, these habitats are a lifeline, up to 30% or more nesting in hedges. The extremely threatened yellowhammer is associated with hedgerow systems. A well managed hedgerow with varying heights can support a rich range of bird species, the yellowhammer having a fondness for shorter hedges, whereas dunnocks, willow warblers and whitethroats favour hedges that grow to taller heights. The gorgeously minute wren can be found hidden in these habitats, nesting low to the ground. Tall grassy verges and bases therefore can provide protection to nests from predators. 

Hedgerows are rich in biodiversity, the nectar rich blossoms of spring attracting insects, with many bees buzzing and butterflies flitting from blossom to blossom. The wild flowers that grow along the road verges are equally attractive. The hum of insects in the thick vegetation during summer, provide food for other animals, such as bats and shrews. By the time autumn arrives, rich berries are abundant. Brambles sprawled along the roadside tempt us with their delicious blackberries. Hedgerows are like hidden treasure troves, full of rich life, colour, tasty goodness, and sweet smells.
Not only do these habitats provide shelter, nesting places and food for many animals, they are an extremely important system that helps connect other fragmented habitats, acting as corridors for various species. Such corridors can provide suitable foraging grounds for many small mammals. The cute European protected hazel dormouse both nest and feed in hedgerows, as do bank voles, the harvest mouse, and the aptly named hedgehog. In fact, these incredible natural borders may support up to 50% of Britain’s mammals. They truly are a haven in a harsh sea of human destruction. If you wait quietly you may hear a little squeak and a little rustle, wait a little longer and you could spot a vole or shrew scurrying through the vegetation. 

I could delve deeper in to the values of the hedgerow system, but this is just a little snippet, an anecdote to inspire you and to invite you to enjoy one of Britain’s natural landscapes. Hedgerows and roadside verges are extremely important for biodiversity and there are endless reasons as to why they should be preserved. Is it not enough though, that they are so beautiful and bring great joy to those who pass them by? They are wonderful places to learn about nature and how things are all interwoven. They certainly do have an aesthetic appeal. Why then do some people still insist on racing past them, car engines roaring, drowning out the bird song. Anyone who considers zooming along these rural roads be careful not to knock me flat, as I most likely will have my head stuck in the bushes watching a little wren or investigating the wondrous wild flowers. 

May I also ask you to refrain from throwing your cans and plastic bottles out of your fast cars? My heart sinks whenever I spot rubbish lying amongst the beautiful bright flowers.  A disease pumping in to the heart of a living being. Why not instead, roll down your window, drop a few gears, look, listen and breathe in the wonder that is the hedgerow!

Written by Beata, copyrighted.