Archive for March, 2011


Snake's head fritillaries - including the white form, painted by Rachel McNaughton

It always annoyed me that a fritillary could be both a flower and a butterfly, but now I know where the name came from I feel much easier about it…

This week I took a picture of our often forgotten snake’s head fritillary (Fritillaria meleagris) in the garden.

Every year it’s the same. I almost pull it out because I think it’s just some self-seeded grass – in all honesty I would have, if it hadn’t been slightly out of my reach on a raised bed.


Snake's head fritillary in the garden this week...

Then suddenly it’s in flower, so delicate, its purple pattern so chequered. Clever, that. Although it looks better en masse in grass, as it is in Oxford’s Magdalen Meadows…


Fritillaries in great number at Magdalen Meadows, Oxford, pictured by Alison Ryde

Then there is the butterfly – in fact a whole bunch of fritillaries, in the family known as Nymphalidae, which includes nymphalids and browns as well as the fritillaries.


Marsh fritillary (Eurodryas aurinia) photographed by Brian Stone

You can tell the fritillaries because they have a chequered pattern and that’s the connection between flower and butterfly – (more…)

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Long-tailed tit with a twiglet for the nest...

I’m a bit worried about “counting my chickens” but if I’m not mistaken the long-tailed tits have set up house in a conifer near my study window. For a week or so now they seem to have been taking in nesting materials and I have managed to snap a few pictures.


Long-tailed tit with some moss for the nest...

One has just gone in with a big fluffy white feather in its beak, having wandered around for a bit first as if the chirping from the bush meant hang on a minute, we’re not ready for you yet…


The final touch - feathers...

The long-tailed tits used to be a rarity in the garden but (more…)

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Lesser celandine (Ranunculus ficaria) on the wooded bank in the garden - its flowers close at night...

Hooray! It’s Spring here in the northern hemisphere, more or less. I always think the first day of Spring is March 21 but in reality the Vernal Equinox is on March 20 most years, including 2011.

I’m told by Meanderer that the lesser celandine was William Wordsworth’s favourite flower, which I hadn’t realised. He wrote three poems to the celandine and noticed (as I have) that the flowers only open in the sun:

There is a Flower, the Lesser Celandine,
That shrinks, like many more, from cold and rain;
And, at the first moment that the sun may shine,
Bright as the sun itself, ’tis out again!

Here are a few more pictures from my garden and the street nearby…


Primrose (Primula vulgaris) in a wild part of the garden


A robin singing in the garden on the first day of Spring


Prunus - white cherry blossom on a Cardiff street


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The Princess and the Pea illustrated by Edmund Dulac in 1911 - a real princess would feel the hard pea through 20 mattresses and eiderdowns...

I have been thinking of the fairy tale of the Princess and the Pea this week, as my husband couldn’t sleep – just because we had put the duvet cover on sideways.

And then what should I see on TV but an ad for Sky Broadband featuring the same traditional storyline of the super-sensitive princess. When the pea has been “deployed” all night and the picky prince goes to check on her, she has had a bad night because she can’t get high-speed broadband.


The demanding princess in the Sky Broadband ad from 76 Ltd - click on the image to see the video...

The imagery also takes me back to my childhood, when I craved the idea of bunk beds but at the same time had nightmares of falling off the top. Precarious!


The Princess and the Pea by Ashley Smith

In the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, first published in Denmark in 1835, a prince is looking for a bride but doesn’t know how to prove the credentials of a REAL princess. Then, when someone claiming to be a Princess turns up bedraggled in a thunderstorm, his mother comes up with the idea of putting a pea under the mattress to test her. A hard, dried pea, no doubt. In no way could it be a mushy pea.

A REAL princess could sense it, of course. Even elevated on dozens of mattresses the real princess destined to be the bride cannot sleep because of the lumpiness of the pea beneath.


The Princess and the Pea by Mortimer

According to Iona and Peter Opie (more…)

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An aggressive young female blackcap in a dead bush in the garden in February 2011

It doesn’t seem fair or right to me that we have to call such an obviously browncapped bird a “blackcap”, just because the male of the species has a black top.

Similarly with “blackbirds” – which brown female blackbirds are definitely not.

We have a couple of blackcaps (Sylvia atrocapilla) in our wooded back garden most of the year – these warblers like that sort of habitat, with tall old trees and plenty of cover. Last summer I noticed their young for the first time and watched one young female grow to adulthood.


A juvenile blackcap in August 2010

Traditionally British blackcaps go to Iberia or Africa in winter, but having read everything I can find about blackcaps, I have now concluded that here in mild South Wales the blackcaps are probably resident all year round, not bothering to migrate.

And why would they? Both insects and fruit are available year round at my bird table and the latest little lady blackcap will happily sit on the block of bird suet filled with insects and eat from it.

In fact, she is getting quite proprietorial about it and even drives off the robin, which usually rules the roost.

During the breeding season blackcaps usually eat caterpillars, flies and spiders, but they may also feed on berries, especially in winter. In some Mediterranean countries they are called “fig-eaters” and sadly they are sometimes illegally trapped and eaten, as are other little songbirds.


In a good season - this is April 2008 - the blackcaps love the Mahonia berries, but this year the harsh midwinter destroyed the flowers and there is no fruit

I was going to write about (more…)

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