Green

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Happy St Patrick’s Day! It seemed appropriate to honour St Paddy and those from the Emerald Isle with a blast of green today. I think Goethe got the feel of green exactly right in his Theory of Colours:

The eye experiences a distinctly grateful impression from this colour. If the two elementary colours [blue and yellow] are mixed in perfect equality so that neither predominates, the eye and the mind repose on the result of this junction as upon a simple colour. The beholder has neither the wish nor the power to imagine a state beyond it. Hence for rooms to live in constantly, the green colour is most generally selected.

And this is why walking in a forest of green trees, sitting on a grassy lawn, or strolling in a garden all make us feel happy. Now, where did I put that paintbrush?

Tracking Mr Redshank

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I first spotted this ringed Redshank on 27 January, near Penarth Marina in Cardiff Bay, and I saw it again, in almost the exact same location, on 11 March. I reported my initial sighting through the European Colour-ring Birding website – it’s really easy to do this and excellent for long-term research into bird behaviour so please do report any ringed birds you see. As the website is totally run by volunteers, it’s taken a little while to get information back on my bird but, today I got this email report from Emily at BTO (British Trust for Ornithology):

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This bird was ringed (DK10753) as an adult on 22/2/2016 at Peterstone Great Wharf, and has been re-sighted a number of times at/around Cardiff Bay (on 3/3/16, 3/1/17 and 22/1/17). It was also seen at St Thomas Head on 11/3/16. It was ringed as part of a study examining the winter movements of Redshank, Curlew, Dunlin, Wigeon, Teal and Shelduck in relation to the proposed tidal lagoon (see HERE for more details).

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So, my Redshank has spent his winter months – all the sightings were between January and March – in locations not very far from that initial ringing spot but I wonder where he goes in the summer to breed? Previous BTO research has shown that British-ringed Redshanks breed in Iceland and along the coastline of north-western Europe, so this little bird may soon be heading off on rather a long flight.

Salt as far as the eye can see

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I’m running out of world wildlife to share every Wednesday so I thought I’d simplify my theme to plain old world Wednesday instead, sharing little parts of the world I’ve visited but still with an overall ‘Isn’t Nature amazing?’ theme. The first lies near Uyuni, in Bolivia.

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Covering a massive 10,582 square kilometres, the Salar de Uyuni, or Salar de Tunupa as it’s also called, contains the world’s largest area of salt flats. In prehistoric times, this area was Lago Minchín, a huge lake with very high salinity levels, but, over thousands of years, a combination of no drainage and the super strong sunlight of the Andean Altiplano has caused the lake to dry up, leaving the salt pans, springs and seasonal shallow ponds that today bring tourists in their thousands to gaze in wonder.

The salt is still mined by enterprising locals, who also use blocks of salt to construct everything from furniture and buildings – I stayed in a salt-block hotel and slept on a salt-block bed – to artworks. You can read about and see more of my adventures in this area on my sconzani blog.

 

Fluttery things

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According to the numerous websites that list the various events, holidays and celebrations that happen around the world each day, today is both ‘Learn about butterflies Day’ and ‘Moth-er Day’. I do sometimes think these days are inventions to fill out their websites, as I’ve found no organisations celebrating either of these days in Britain and, though moths are around almost all year and butterflies are just starting to make their Spring appearance, this doesn’t seem to be the optimum time to celebrate either of these wing-ed species. Still, any excuse to share photos of some of my favourite creatures!

Mr Grumpy Robin

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It looks like Mr Grumpy is not at all happy with the food he’s been given – maybe it doesn’t have the fruity flavoured suet pellets he likes best.

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Perhaps Mr Grumpy doesn’t like the fact that the food has been tucked into a crack in the wooden post – maybe that makes it too hard to get at.

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Or perhaps Mr Grumpy is really Mr Fusspot or even Mr Lazy in disguise.

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Mr Grumpy is certainly glaring very rudely at Ms Happy.

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Unfortunately, Mr Tickler is nowhere to be found so there is no way to make Mr Grumpy less grouchy so I think Ms Happy will just leave him to wallow in his bad mood all by himself.

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Herb Robert

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One of the highlights of yesterday’s walk was seeing this little geranium in flower. Though thought to have an offensive odour – some say it smells of burning tyres, others that it emits has an unpleasant mousey smell, hence one of its common names, ‘stinking Bob’ – I admit I haven’t noticed its stink and instead find myself attracted to its delicate ferny foliage, its reddish stalks, and its pretty pink flowers.

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This is Geranium robertianum, most commonly known in Britain as Herb Robert but with a plethora of other common names which, in part, reflect the folklore around it: Storksbill, Crow’s foot, Death comes quickly and Red Robin are just a few of its 100-odd regional variants. The origins of the name ‘Robert’ are disputed – some attribute it to the abbot and herbalist Robert of Molesme, others to Saint Robert or Rupert of Salzburg, and there appear also to be associations with the German hobgoblin Knecht Ruprecht and the English equivalent Robin Goodfellow (Puck in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream). (You can read more in this excellent blog on the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s website.)

Herb Robert has long been valued by herbalists, for its healing properties – everything from wounds and toothache to its supposed ability to increase oxygen at a cellular level in the human body, thus assisting in the body’s fight against cancer. Personally, rather than ingest it, I think I’ll just continue to enjoy the dainty dabs of colour this pretty little plant adds to the countryside of my walks.

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p.s. Some of these photos were taken last summer.

Grangemoor Park: a first look

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I had my first wander around Grangemoor Park yesterday and I’ll definitely be going back, though perhaps when it’s a little drier underfoot. With an extensive area of grass and scrub that rises up to two central mounds (from which you get quite good 360-degree views over Cardiff), this land wasn’t always a park. You have only to look at old maps to see that, once upon a time, the River Ely meandered through Penarth Moors here but, once the river was realigned, the hollows thus created were used as one of Cardiff’s rubbish tips. When the tip was full, Cardiff Council had a load of underground drains built, as well as ventilation pipes to allow the methane to escape, covered the lot with tons of clay – hence the very soggy ground, edged it all around with a solid stone wall, and changed its designation to a park in 2000.

That may sound like a sad history but, according to locals, the park now hosts quite a broad range of flora and fauna, and I certainly saw many of the stirrings of Spring. There were bumblebees and flies, a butterfly and a ladybird, masses of primroses almost hidden under bushes, golden coltsfoot and dandelions in bloom all around and horsetail pushing through everywhere, as well as incredibly vibrant lichens and a healthy growth of Oak curtain crust fungi. I will be going back!

Floral Friday: Glorious geraniums

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No, summer has not come early to Wales – these photos of gorgeous geraniums were taken in New Zealand, at the Wintergarden in Auckland’s Domain, in October 2014. I think these are Geranium maderense, also known as Giant herb-Robert and the Madeira cranesbill (their original homeland was the island of Madeira). They are the largest of the many species of geranium and, as you can see, their pollen is much favoured by bees and flies. My photo of the blue-bottle’s bottom protruding from the flower always makes me smile. Happy Floral Friday!

Whiskers

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Most land mammals, and even some sea creatures and birds, have whiskers, or vibrissae as they’re more correctly known. Like hair, whiskers are nerve-less and made of keratin but, unlike hair, they are extremely sensitive because they grow from a special hair follicle that contains a nerve-filled capsule of blood. Those nerves mean whiskers are almost like having a sixth sense – they act as well-honed sensors that help with spatial awareness; they help animals detect movement and feel vibrations in the air; they assist with texture and shape discrimination; they help with exploration, especially in low light conditions; and they are believed to play a role in social behaviour. And, let’s face it, they can also be incredibly cute!