Permitted walk

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I’m fortunate to have a country lane at the end of my road, and it makes a nice 40-minute walk there and back to a main road. Outward yesterday I only took one picture, but on the way back I decided to capture a variety of views of Glastonbury Tor.

The one photo I took going out was of these ponies. The previous time I had been by they had been well-spaced in the field. This time they looked so sad, and I imagined that they were feeling deprived of human company, though I was sure that they were being well fed and watered. I stood and talked to them for five minutes.

On my way back though, a young lady was leading two more ponies back into the field. I told her – at a distance – of my romantic notion. She said that the three had indeed been eagerly waiting at the gate – but for their two companions to be returned. And indeed, I could see the joy of the three as all five gambolled (is that a good word for ponies?) off around the field together. Apparently, their lives haven’t changed a jot since lockdown, and their carers are working just as before. So what do I know about equine behaviour?

My first view of the Tor was taken from the deserted main road at the far point of my walk.

Now having turned round, these views are all to my right:

But my next picture was not of the Tor. I was entranced by this scene and stood and watched for a short while.

Zooming a little led me to think there were figures at he top of the Tor, which is on National Trust land.

Yup. It was probably quite blowy up there.

I wouldn’t be tempted to go up the Tor because the way up is, sadly, all concreted and lots of steps now, and passing people would bring one too close to those going in the other direction. (Quite apart from the fact that I puff a lot when I make the effort!)

I also admired the sky – which is often covered in contrails.

I did want a picture of the JCB, and if I wanted the Tor as well I had to put up with the building.

Where my road joins the lane there is a public park.

It remained just to take the Tor from the one corner of my garden where I can see it – when there aren’t too many leaves on the trees.

What are those white blobs?

It’s difficult to imagine what else there remains to write about right now…

Morocco 7 (finale)

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Having visited the ancient Anti-Atlas on Thursday, on Friday 13th March, our last complete day, we were off to the High Atlas mountains. These were much younger – formed by uplift over only the last 60 to 10 million years! We only went into the ‘foothills’, but they seemed pretty high to me, and they were certainly beautiful.

But first we stood in the garden of our temporary home, as some had heard the Black-crowned Tchagra. Sadly, we didn’t manage to see it at this time, but I took a picture of a Common Bulbul, (they’re everywhere), possibly the one which sang outside our windows every morning.

Some of the food serves at the Atlas Kasbah is grown in its garden.

Our first stop revealed some extraordinary folding, caused, as for the Anti-Atlas, by the crashing of the African plate into the Eurasian one. (That is still going on – the Alps are still getting higher. My 2007 OU geology course taught me that the Mediterranean will in due course disappear!)

Another dried-up river bed to the left

The next stop involved a short upward stroll.

The next, a longer stroll along a nearly dried-up river bed, in Paradise Valley. First a few steps downstream.

Moorish Terrapins
Red-veined Darter
Blue-eyed Pincertail

And then upstream, the flow having transferred to the other side of the road by going under it, and then apparently either diverting under the geological feature or just drying up, the rest of our walk being alongside a dry river bed.

Anticline
Blue Rock Thrush (Collins Bird Guide: ‘blue colour difficult to make out at long range, mostly looks all dark.’ Indeed!)
A Barbary Ground Squirrel, a long way from the ground, on the wall opposite
Black Wheatear
A geological fault
Black Wheatear
Mohamed waiting for us

There followed a long, climbing, drive to our lunch place.

We ate our packed lunch in the Café Restaurant Le Miel. (Again they were happy for us just to buy drinks) and were meant to wonder at the Cascades of Imouzzer. But they have not had the slight trickle of water for at least two years. (Here is a 3-minute video I found on YouTube about the Imouzzer region, made in 2015 when there were still trickles of water over the Cascades.)

Having eaten, we were driven up to much nearer them, for botanical reasons, but it gave a chance to look at the rocks more closely. From this angle, to me they look like a bearded old man, sitting with his wide sleeves dangling, his hands resting on his knees.

Looking down at the village where we had eaten

Two flowers were particularly sought.

Narcissus cantabricus, the White Hoop Petticoat Daffodil. It’s tiny. I loved the way the sun was shining through its petals.
Polygala balensae, a milkwort – very pretty flowers and very fierce thorns

We moved on to this rather unprepossessing spot, (whose whereabouts we were told never to reveal, even were we able, because hordes of twitchers would drive away the bird we had come to see).

Which we did, at a great distance:

Tristram’s Warbler, normally only found at higher altitudes

Finally we moved to perhaps the most beautiful spot of the whole week (though that’s a difficult pick), high, high, high – in the (still only) foothills of the High Atlas. First our attention was drawn to several examples of the Moroccan Day Gecko.

And in due course to this dwarf iris, the Barbary nut (the tubers used to be eaten).

How’s this for a rockery garden? All natural of course.

And for the rest of the time, at this our last stop, we just enjoyed the views.

On the next day, Saturday, 14th March, we did not need to leave the Atlas Kasbah for Agadir Airport until late afternoon. Half the group had a cooking lesson in the kitchens, and the others went out with Philip and James, to review the first morning’s sightings, and to see some more. (They saw a Black-crowned Tchagra at last.) I did neither. I had not yet managed even to read the hotel’s own information folder, and really wished to do so, nor had I had a chance to wet the new swimsuit I had bought a few days before coming away. So, having achieved the former, I was then obliged to spend time here.

With its views outwards

and inwards.

For a long while I had the whole pool to myself. (In the event the water was too cold for me actually to wet the swimsuit.)

We ate the tagine our colleagues had prepared in the morning at lunchtime, and the afternoon whiled itself away. In due course we said a reluctant goodbye to those who had been looking after us so well, the more so for knowing what we were going back to.

I had a window seat again on the plane.

I feel so blessed that I was able to take that holiday, for which I had been longing for months, before the clampdown enforced on us by this horrible virus, Covid-19. As I said in the first post in this series, Morocco had already banned flights to and from 25 countries the day before we left. (We ten travellers knew about France, but not about how many countries the ban extended to. Our leaders did. Philip was looking at his screen constantly for news.) Two days after our return they added the UK and others to the list.

Now the Atlas Kasbah is shut down, like pretty well the whole world. Here on my own, thankfully with the company of my felines, I’m grateful for the telephone, and all the media, which allow me to be in touch with friends and family and the wider world. I have this extraordinary sensation of fellow-suffering, not just with those I know, in the UK, family on both coasts of the US, friends in France, the company both employed and holidaying which I so enjoyed in Morocco, but also with every single one of the world’s 7,800,000,000 people. Every single one of us is having to contend with the same fears and concerns and ignorance about the future, most of our fellows without even the resources that we have in the first world. I’m going to avoid a cliché, but this is something we do all, every single one of us, face together.

Morocco 6

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It was a gentler day on Thursday 12th March. ‘Oh good’, thought I as I started this post, ‘Fewer photos to share.’ Fail!

It was back in the minibus today, as we headed off, making several stops as ever, to the Anti-Atlas mountains. An odd name, given by a couple of British geologists in the 19th century. The rock formation is extremely old, dating back 300 million years, linked with the Appalachian Mountains, but coming to the surface only some 80 million years ago as a result of the collisions of the African and European plates, and heavily weathered since.

Throughout the week, we saw far more than I was able to capture on ‘film’, but this time at our first stop I took:

two European Bee-eaters,
a Margarita’s Fringe-toed Lizard,
and a tortoise in a (prickly) pear hedge!

Our next stop was for a drink at Ait Baha. ‘Ait’ means ‘tribe’ or ‘family’ in Berber, and appears in many town names. This one is best-known for shoe-making, and we wondered round a co-operative, some people buying. There was no aggressive hard-selling. I think this actually made one all the more likely to buy. The guilt I felt for not doing so would have been absent had I been pestered. (I would have bought if any of these lovely slippers and shoes had had supportive insteps.)

Moving on we saw, among other things:

a Bibron’s Agama, flattened to take full advantage of the sun’s rays.
another one, which has apparently lost its tail and regrown a stump – the vertebrae do not regrow –
and yet another, assuming a proper, dignified position.
A Spur-thighed tortoise, in full view this time.
Linaria ventricosa (a toadflax), manly confined to the Anti-Atlas
Sad-looking donkey
A shy Barbary Ground Squirrel
A bolder one, not easy to see against its background
I just enjoyed the gnarled roots and trunk of this tree, difficult to see where one ends and the other begins.

We were heading for the hilltop village of Laatik, and its agadir. An agadir was originally a defensive grain store, but expanded its purpose to the storage of anything precious owned by villagers. Each family had one large cupboard/room in the agadir. This building was at least 600 years old, but there was apparently a more famous and larger one elsewhere dating back some 900 years. We were greeted by its guardian, though Mohamed gave most of the explanations.

This agadir was two storeys high, but some were higher.
The front entrance
Looking out at the modern village from the outer yard
Although not intended to be residential, at times of inter-tribal warfare and siege people would shelter inside the agadir. This was the kitchen
Inner door, leading to a corridor,
with seating and artefacts,
including one of those beehives
The guardian showed us…
… the workings of a well, which captured water off the mountains, for use in emergency.
A ‘street’ of storerooms, looking one way,
and the other. The protruding stones are steps to those in the upper storey.
A glimpse into one of the storerooms
The lookout tower still has internal steps, as proved recently by some small boys who made it to the top

It was intended that we should eat our packed lunch in that corridor, but in the event we had to beat a hasty retreat. Locals objected to our presence, for fear that we were bringing the coronavirus with us. At that point (I was keeping a very close eye on the national and international situation) only 2 cases had been declared in Morocco, each of those Moroccan residents in northern Italy, who had returned to Morocco for a visit. I don’t blame those local people in the least for wanting to be rid of us.

Our leaders found a lovely spot a few kilometres away on the way down for us to eat, including even a natural bench for those of us who couldn’t crouch on the ground. I was happy to be in the open air and not in that corridor.

This was directly ahead of me as I ate, and I was struck by the contrasting textures of rocks, trunk, green plant, and exposed roots.
The view if I swivelled slightly right.

We were then allowed 30 minutes to wander around at our will. I concentrated mainly on (those cactuses that weren’t cactuses, but) euphorbias. Hélène had told us the previous day that their local name was ‘Mother-in-law’s seat’. Some ‘humour’ is universal.

There were some beautiful trees as well.

Once we had moved on in the minibus, at last I managed to get a decent picture of a Barbary Ground Squirrel.

The sky had started clouding over as we had left the agadir, and we actually caught a glimpse of a shower in the distance at one point in the afternoon. This was the only hint of precipitation we saw all week.

More goats in trees. These are just a few of tte large herd which went by us, with goatherd.

Back to Ait Baha for afternoon refreshment. The kestrel was still there, but now on the windowsill.

The traditional method of building houses in Morocco is to plan for a next storey, should it prove desirable and affordable. So these houses are only unfinished in the sense that they may or may not grow in the future. Meanwhile, the floor of that next storey, with window spaces all ready, serves as a roof terrace.

These very modern apartment blocks on the outskirts of ever-expanding Agadir make no such provision.

Once we were back on the main dual carriageway towards Agadir, I was thrilled to see a woman in colourful dress driving a large colourful tractor, coming in the opposite direction. Unfortunately I had no time to capture the image.

Always good when our temporary hilltop home comes into sight.

Entertainment during dinner at the Atlas Kasbah

Morocco 5

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Wednesday 11th March was mammals day. For that we visited the Souss Massa National Park, and learnt something of its conservation work. We went in four 4x4s, so that each of us had a window. They put me in the front seat of the vehicle driven by Mohammed in case I needed to communicate urgently with the driver. (I didn’t.)

The Park was set up in 1991 in recognition of the area’s importance as a breeding ground for certain birds, including the Northern Bald Ibis. To quote Wikipedia, “Souss-Massa also holds captive-breeding programmes for four threatened North African ungulates: scimitar oryx, addax, dama gazelle [not on our target list] and dorcas gazelle, … The reintroduction of the North African ostrich – which is extinct north of the Sahara – is also underway.” With the exception of the Dama Gazelle, we saw all of these.

Addax
These Addax females were being kept apart, for breeding reasons I think.
The North African, also know as Red-necked, Ostriches gather together here as they are fed supplementary rations at this spot. This sub-species is the largest living bird.
Isn’t there something about ostriches burying their heads in the sand?
Black-winged Stilt
A load of linnets
Dorcas Gazelle
Woodchat Shrike
(Through the windscreen) Oh! Ahead of us on our road (we were the first of the four vehicles). How sweet is that?
They moved out of our way, in a very leisurely fashion.
Ostrich photo overload? I think not. How often do you see a mummy and a daddy ostrich, with 14 babies?! Wow!
There’s the head of a hoopoe in there – ginger splash, middle slightly left.
Scimitar-horned Oryx
Dorcas Gazelle
Cream-coloured Coursers, about the size of a pigeon
(Through the Windscreen.) Bonelli’s Eagle, wingspan around 5 feet, 150 cm, which flew off…
… into a tree…
… to be mobbed by …
… a kestrel.
Golden Fringe-toed Lizard

We had our packed lunch standing in a shelter, and among other things, watched a sea mist…

… rolling in.

but, although we drove through a little mist as we left, it came to nothing. The drought continues.

A final sighting of Dorcas Gazelle as we drove towards the exit.
And a decent viewing of a Hoopoe

After a stop at a local pottery and café, where I had a much-craved ice-cream, we were driven to the mouth of the Oued (River) Souss, and stood on a bridge to see what we could see, hoping for flamingos.

Lots of gulls. We saw that day Black-headed, Mediterranean, Yellow-Legged and Lesser Black-backed. Two days earlier we had seen Slender-billed.
White Storks
Great Cormorants stay put.
And here are some Greater Flamingos
Ruddy Shelduck

For our final stop, we were driven over the bridge, and further downstream to a rather unprepossessing spot, where we could see a two-poled pylon in the far distance.

This had a smudge at the left hand end of the bar at the top.
Which we were reliably informed was an osprey.

Immediately to our left was a telegraph pole.

With two Moroccan magpies, their blue flashes visible.
When one flew off, the other obligingly turned profile for us.

A final look round revealed a Little Egret …

and some Sanderlings. Or so Mohammed said, and he was very good at his wildlife.

Before dinner, it was Hélène’s turn to invite us into the salon of the Atlas Kasbah. She opened her big wooden box, which like all Moroccan brides (she is French) she received on her wedding day. It was full of traditional health and beauty items, and she explained the purpose of every one. A question at the end (from me) about covering her hair at the school where she teaches (she doesn’t, though the fact that it is a French school may have something to do with it?) led to an immense amount of information about the role of women in Morocco – considerably more liberated than in many other Moslem countries.

Morocco 4

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Today was to be half urban, with a morning visit to ‘mini Marrakech’, a town full of character called Taroudant. We were briefed that the souk was a serious market for local people, where tourists just got in the way, and we should not try to haggle. The stated price was the price to be paid.

But I wasn’t sure I should be joining the party. I, who never have tummy upsets, spent half the night…. well, let’s just say I didn’t get much sleep. (I think I had just eaten far more than my system was used to processing the day before.) Five minutes before we were due to leave, having dared have, and feeling like having, no breakfast, I decided to take the risk, with fingers very crossed. I just about got away with it…

It was our driver and sometime guide, Mohamed, who showed us round the first attraction, the ‘Hotel of Peace’, once the palace of the local rulers, but now a hotel, which has clearly seen better days.

Don was by far the fittest among us, but clearly felt the need of a rest!
The salon, which we now knew was where guests were received. Ours seemed more comfortable and welcoming!
Spot the terrapin.
A Moorish Terrapin
A view of the palace/hotel from the outside
Philip encouraging us to follow him along the boulevard to go through the arch and up on to the walls.
Which we did, and I took this photo of White Storks some way away. But I felt distinctly uneasy. The walls were about 2 metres wide, with no protective railing on the interior edge! I was pleased that we did not walk along them, but came down quite shortly.

Mohammed then drove and led us to and through the souk, where we had strict instructions to be able to see one of our three leaders at all times. A wonderful array of foodstuffs. Some bought, I didn’t.

At one point I felt faint, I hadn’t slept much, I hadn’t eaten anything, and it was very, very, hot. I slid down to sit on a very low step, cushioned by some items that looked like boiler covers, but turned out to be donkey saddles for sale!

We left Taroudant, and arrived for a late packed lunch at a restaurant (where they were happy that we just bought drinks) at the Oasis of Tioute. They certainly know how to do cool in the midday sun.

Pet White Stork
Berber Toad

We went for a short walk, (well, they tell me it was short) meeting Mohamed and the minibus at the other end.

Ocellated Skink, its limbs, especially the front ones, evolved to near uselessness.
North African Water Frog
Spur-thighed Tortoise
The stunning but disused kasbah of Touite
Dramatic geology
More goats in trees. And in the distance to the right, a donkey ‘wearing’ one of those donkey saddles.

We made a short stop to have a guided tour round the Argana Tiout (I can find no website) women’s co-operative, where they made and sold argan oil products. I stayed in the minibus, and just popped into the shop to buy some of their oil – cooking, not cosmetic version, which I was told would substitute nicely for the olive oil I put into my (breadmaker) bread. We shall see!

I skipped dinner.

Morocco 3

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On the Monday (9th March), we took our first trip out in the minibus, with several stops along the Atlantic coast, to the north of Agadir. The first stop was at Cap Rhir, mainly to look at vegetation, though we saw fauna of interest too…

Yellow Scorpion. It’s only 2 inches, excluding tail, but it has a nasty venom.
Two Moorish Geckos taking advantage of the pipe’s warmth
I do so love dung beetles
Margarita’s Fringe-toed lizard, about six inches long, including tail

I got the giggles at this. Philip, Don and Alison take photos of the lizard, a young shepherd boy on his donkey looks on in puzzlement, and his sheep follow.

And the ovines catch us up.

Believe it or not, these two plants are both from the euphorbia family. The cactusy-looking one is not a cactus!

?
Thekla Lark
Common Bulbul

This is a Moroccan Lizard-toed Gecko, or three-quarters of one. Philip had picked it up, but it escaped, leaving its tail behind to wriggle and distract the predator.

Philip was mortified, saying that this had never happened to him before.

We moved further north to Oued (River) Tamri, in search of the endangered Northern Bald Ibis. The total world population (in the wild) is only about 800, and near here was a known breeding site. When we stopped in the car park, alongside the vehicles of some surfers, we knew we would see some of the birds, as one of our number had spotted some high on a cliff to our right.

They flew around a bit.

A Marsh Harrier came to join the party. Well, not really, but it was good to see it.

After eating a very copious packed lunch provided by the lodge, we walked further along the dunes to the mouth of the oued.

The ibis had got there first
Very far away, a raven and – not one of those beehives.
Even further away, a Grey Heron and a Little Egret, plus one of the seven feral dogs who had tried to share our lunches with us
Excellent surfing waves, Audouins’ Gulls, and picture irretrievably distorted by me – it wasn’t that dark!
?Frankia thymifolia?
Limonium

We enjoyed walking along the sand, with its fresh breeze and wonderful surfing waves, and were reluctant to leave, but our next stop was explicitly for us to enjoy even more some sea action.

Someone took a photo of me in rapt contemplation

Our route back to the hotel took us into Agadir, and we climbed and climbed, to our puzzlement. It turned out we were being taken to the Kasbah (fort), which was very severely damaged in the 1960 earthquake, especially inside.

The camels and ponies were for tourist rides

The views explained the setting.

Before our evening meal, we were invited into the salon of the Atlas Kasbah, which in a Moroccan home is a room near the entrance used only for entertaining guests. According to Moroccan tradition these can (and do) turn up completely unannounced, have the right to stay for up to three days, and it would be the height of bad manners to ask how long they were intending to stay. They sleep in the salon.

We stayed for about an hour, to be introduced by Hassan to the very elaborate traditional tea making ceremony. Ibrahim – or Hussein, I never did manage to tell them apart, as both were so charmingly smiley – assisted.

Hassan dressed up for us. Normally he was in western dress.

Morocco 2

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With some time to spare before lunch on the Sunday, I wandered round the award-winning Atlas Kasbah ecolodge. This was the brainchild and baby of Hassan and Hélène, our lovely hosts, and was opened in 2009. Here is a little more of its story.

From my door
Looking down into the internal courtyard
My room, called ‘Tigrite’, ‘Little star’ in Berber.
View from my room

One storey up was the roof terrace. Three of my companion couples had rooms in the corner towers.

Going down to the ground floor I took a peek unto the salon (French is the alternative language to Berber in Morocco), where if you enter you must remove your shoes.

Wandering outside, I found this lady, who had multiple roles in the establishment, making bread – heavenly to eat – in the traditional oven.

She turned it over and around every few seconds with her stick. It took a couple of minutes to cook one flat bread.

My last discovery was another roof terrace, this time covered, where I was told we would be having lunch shortly. Food for the week was Moroccan, copious and, I suspect, a little westernised. For instance, every time we came back from an excursion, we were greeted with a small glass of herb tea, only slightly sweetened, whereas the locals would have taken five times the amount of sugar.

After lunch we were to go for another walk, and I took this photo from the terrace in our intended direction, towards and into the older parts of the local village.

We set off. I just could not stop taking photos of our so photogenic home.

North African Chaffinch
Approaching the village
Moussier’s Redstart (male)
Sardinian Warbler (male), photobombed by some other flying creature
Moroccan magpie. Note flash of blue behind its eye.
Black Wheatear
Little Owl
Dried-up river bed, of which we saw more during the week than those running with water.
Why these ants are moving larvae around on the oleander, I have no idea.
Dried and drying prickly pears, mainly
A cactus from Peru, not native to Morocco
Turning back, impossible not to notice and take a photo of the lodge in the distance.
Castor oil plant and oleander
Castor oil plant flowers, and visitor
Sadly, there was a lot of rubbish around. Someone remarked that we used to live like that a couple of centuries ago. A couple of centuries ago we didn’t have plastic.

As I said to Philip, as we sat on a low wall waiting for the others to catch us up at one point, I felt it was good to start our week getting our local bearings, and not being isolated from the realities of Moroccan rural poverty. (I also felt it was good to get it over at the beginning of the week.)

Greenfinch. I snapped it because I never see them in my garden these days. They used to be so common.

Morocco 1

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Until a few weeks ago, ‘Agadir’ meant to me ‘just’ that awful 1960 earthquake which killed some 12,000 to 15,000 people. Other than that it was on the coast somewhere in North Africa, I couldn’t have told you its location. Now I know it is to the southern end of the UN-recognised part of Morocco, which itself is on the left-hand – as you’re looking at it – ‘shoulder’ of the continent. (I mention the UN because Morocco itself lays claim to the next country south, known to the rest of the world as Western Sahara.)

The improvement in my geography has come about because three days ago I returned from a very enjoyable week’s holiday in that Maghreb country, organised by Wildlife Travel for BBC Wildlife readers, and we stayed in a beautiful ecolodge half an hour’s drive from Agadir airport. We got back just in time. Last night, Monday 16th March, at midnight, the Moroccan government banned travel to and from the UK, having done the same to 25 other countries the day before we left.

It was a nearly four-hour afternoon flight from Gatwick to Agadir. With a window seat I had splendid views of:

the Spanish Pyrenees (I presume),
the High Atlas (I presume) in Morocco,
polytunnels (growing our tomatoes?) as we were descending,
and general landscape as we came in to land. Almost certainly these are argan trees, (more of those later)

It was late by the time we arrived at our ecolodge, but a welcoming meal awaited us.

Breakfast was always at 8.00, and we were out at 9.00. Here we are on the Sunday morning, 8th March, at our introductory briefing from Philip Precey, from Wildlife Travel, as big James Lowen, BBC Wildlife contributor, looks on reflectfully. Apart from these two leaders, there were ten of us, plus Mohamed, our excellent driver and sometimes guide.

(To help my future memory, the others here are Jill, Nick, Prue, David and Helen. Alison, Don, Pat and Keith not visible.)

Outside, Philip introduced us to the Argan tree, a staple of Moroccan life, and providing employment for women in co-operatives, as they make argan oil, and products for cooking and beauty from it.

We get our first proper view of the ecolodge where we are staying, the Atlas Kasbah.

Here are the inner gates, with the name of the ecolodge written in Arabic:

and Berber, the language and tribe most widespread in Morocco.

We started walking down to the main gates.

Part of the water purification system
James was our moth expert/fanatic. This is an Amata Mogadorensis
Argan tree

We set off for a local walk, looking back at our kasbah.

Woodchat Shrike
Another (or the same)
Thekla Lark, blending beautifully with its surroundings
Drought meant that there were not the proliferations of spring flowers that I had hoped for, but botany expert (and fanatic) Philip knew the name of everything we saw, and there was much to please those who were happy to identify the many varieties of plants there were, many not in flower. I failed to get the name of this one.
Or this one.
A stock of traditional beehives.
Volutaria lippi (sunflower family)

We approached the sound of many sheep and goats, anticipating a delightful rural scene. We were very disappointed.

They were on and eating rubbish!
The fact that many of them were eating rotting oranges changed little.
A promise of some very dramatic geology to be seen later in the week.
Donkeys were the main agricultural support animal, difficult viewing at times.
A view from the outer gates.
Up the path
And a North African Water Frog

Snowdrops at East Lambrook Manor

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With two friends, each of them a keen member of the Royal Horticultural Society, I visited East Lambrook Manor gardens this Wednesday. This was my third visit, but my first at this time of year. They are currently holding their snowdrop festival. Here are some of the photos I (with one obvious exception) took.

The snowdrops were richly enhanced by other plants, particularly hellebores.
Top left is a small corner of plant sales.
The weather forecast had been indifferent. The actual was brilliant sunshine, which made these silver birches glow.
Yours Truly and Gill
Gill and Daphne as we move into the plant sales area. Every variety was labelled in this bed, and the varieties could be bought for between £3.50 – and £20!

Having kept our purses firmly unopened, we moved on to the rest of Margery Fish‘s wonderful cottage garden.

There will be further visits…

RSPB West Sedgemoor

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The day before storm Ciara was beautiful, just right for joining a group privileged to visit an RSPB hide not normally open to the public, (for complicated reasons). West Sedgemoor is just about the southernmost extent of the Somerset Moors and Levels, and much of it is an RSPB reserve, acquisition of which has been built up over the decades. This means the RSPB is now able to control the water levels, to the advantage of wildlife of course, by the management of sluices, these days remotely.

We were given this information en route to the hide, having stopped here to overlook part of the moor.

And before we reached the hide we saw, looking right,

A Great egret
A swan family, a species often seen on the Levels; sometimes dozens of them in one field
A field full of lapwings. I heard that there are 35,000 here some winters.
‘Common’ cranes. Not so common here though. There has been a very successful reintroduction scheme on Sedgemoor in recent years, and these were the first I had seen of them.

Also seen en route, looking left:

Burton Pynsent Monument. Pynsent was a successful 18th century cider businessman. To the great displeasure of his family, he left his estate to Pitt the Elder, in gratitude for the latter’s approach to cider tax laws! The monument was erected by the statesman, presumably to show his own gratitude.
The hide
The view directly ahead of me from my spot in the hide. Thank goodness for binoculars, and a zoom on my camera!

We stayed for about 90 minutes. Here are some of the dozens and dozens of photos I took. It should be said that nearly all of them were taken with my camera on its maximum zoom. The other caveat I would make is that there were too many people to make it easy to ask our expert leader for identifications, so some of them given here are tentative. I hope a knowledgeable reader may offer suggestions and corrections.

Just a few lapwings
Wigeon (?)
Greylag geese (?)
The glossy green flashes on the wing identify these as teal.
Great egrets, Canada geese
There are pintail ducks here
Not starlings, but lapwings…
… spooked by this, a marsh harrier,
Someone said that there were 35,000 lapwings wintering on the moor.
Two Marsh harriers, a raven(?), lapwings, and the village of Stoke St Gregory
There was said to be a Peregrine putting the birds up as well, but I think these (see also the flat one at 4 o’clock to the main one) are Marsh harriers.
(?)
Way over to my left, hundreds and hundreds of ducks of various kinds, impossible for me to identify at the distance, and blurred even more by the requirement of the blog host for a very reduced number of pixels
A final look at some Little egrets, and it was time to leave