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ShareMondays2020 – A Feast Of Thistles

ShareMondays2020 – A Feast Of Thistles

Only a few photos this week! I had a very brief spell outside with the camera last Wednesday, but the goldfinches at Heather Farm put on a good show for me, feasting on the thistle seed heads. On Thursday evening I started coughing. It was a bit concerning! I followed the guidance and immediately started the process of booking Covid tests for both myself and Simon. It is a bit of a process, but you just have to stick with it and keep refreshing the booking site, until you are able to get a nearby drive-through appointment, or order a home testing kit.

Simon got straight in touch with his employers, to arrange working from home, and I contacted my care agency and the carers I had seen that week. Although they all wear PPE and observe good hand hygiene, they have the closest contact to me (after Simon!) so I needed to alert them to the possibility that I may have contracted the virus. After a while I was finally able to book us tests close to home for the following day. I’ve got to say the test centre was really well run, staff did everything possible to make us feel reassured, and we were all done in just ten minutes. Our results were emailed and texted to us on Saturday morning, just under twenty four hours later, and I am delighted to say that we’re both negative!

Goldfinch on thistle seed heads

I still have no idea how, or where, I have picked up this virus. I have been sticking to strict social distancing ever since shielding was paused. I’ve not been meeting up with lots of people, going to pubs or into shops. I’m still classed as extremely clinically vulnerable to complications if I catch Covid-19, so I’m not ready to take big risks. The fact that I am already taking so many precautions, yet have still managed to pick up a virus, just goes to show how easily they can be spread. None of us should start being complacent, especially as the Winter flu and cold season approaches and more sectors are being opened up to the public.

Even if you’re not in a high risk category yourself, there are plenty of clinically vulnerable people out there, around you, who need your help to stay safe. You can’t tell how vulnerable a person might be from looking at them. Some known risk factors like age, gender and ethnicity might be more obvious, but you can’t see chemotherapy, radiotherapy, immunotherapy, COPD, diabetes, severe asthma, organ transplants, certain blood disorders, to name but a few!

Bull Rushes ICM

The person standing behind you at the checkout for the supermarket could be vulnerable. Did you wash or sanitise your hands before you touched any of the surfaces they might then be touching? Maybe you thought it was okay because you’re wearing your mask? Hand washing is still the most important thing we can all do to protect one another! The next most important thing we can do is to get tested as soon as possible if we develop symptoms: a fever, a new, continuous cough, a loss or change in sense of smell or taste. Self-isolate as soon as symptoms appear and follow procedures for contact tracing if you receive a positive result.

For now I am clear, but I am still feeling pretty rotten with the virus I have! I hope my depleted immune system can deal with it soon, so I can get back outside with the nature and wildlife I cherish so much. Take care and stay safe everyone x

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ShareTwoMondays2020 – Taking Terns

 

ShareTwoMondays2020 – Taking Terns

I short-changed you all last week, many apologies! So today you get two weeks worth of news and images. Above is my entry from last week, a composite of a common tern in flight over Heron Pond in Bushy Park. My entry this week is this female juvenile stonechat, in the brambles, at Papercourt Meadows. Such precious wildlife encounters, during challenging times, have been incredibly uplifting!

Female juvenile stonechat

I had two appointments with hospital consultants the week before last! The first was a long-awaited follow-up with my specialist gastroenterologists from St Mark’s Hospital. Simon drove us all the way up to Northwick Park hospitals, where St Mark’s is based, only to find that their off-site admin had sent out the wrong letters! It was a phone appointment. I had it with the senior registrar on the journey home lol! He was great, very comprehensive with his explanations on what is actually going on with my guts, and gave me clear information on the possible treatment plans. It was a long call! Almost an hour in the end and bless Simon, he took me straight to Heather Farm on the way home so I could process everything!

There were so many gatekeeper butterflies! Such a joy to see them. I really identify with the butterflies that I have always loved so much. Their resilience just astounds me! Such delicate and vulnerable creatures, but there is so much strength in them. Many species have very specific habitat requirements. The right food sources for adults combined with the right food sources for larvae. My own diet has been getting more and more restricted over the last few years.

I had an MRI and an ileoscopy (camera into the small bowel through my stoma) just before we went into lockdown. I have two areas where the bowel is narrowed from adhesions (scar tissue) and this causes “hold up” or obstructive problems. Food can’t pass through easily and causes distension, or bulging, of the bowel just behind these obstructed areas. Yes, it is rather painful! I’ve been managing it by cutting out more fibrous and indigestible matter from my diet. The part they’re most concerned about is the section leading to the stoma. Where the bowel is passed through the abdominal muscles and wall, it has become tortuous, like a really bendy road, stuck together with scar tissue, and part has prolapsed through the abdominal wall itself. No wonder it’s become so painful and I have been having more frequent partial obstructions!

There are two possible surgical options. Both are less invasive than the full open abdominal surgery I have had before but they will require a bit of time in hospital and recovery. It could be a while before I actually get to see the surgeons, as they’ve only just been able to start doing planned surgery again, and outpatient appointments are still mostly over the phone. Many patients who attend St Mark’s are immunocompromised like myself and will have been shielding. Even my consultant has been shielding! Getting services running again is a huge challenge for them, especially as Northwick Park Hospital was at the forefront of treating Covid patients in London from the outset of the pandemic. I have so much admiration for them all!

Flying ants

Flying ants emerging and climbing to the top of grasses to take flight and form new colonies.

We all face personal challenges in our lives, and at times like this, it can feel even more like a scramble to get the help that is needed to move forward. That might be getting financial assistance due to work loss from Covid disruption, getting an urgent surgery rescheduled, trying to get back to work safely as a shielded individual, or getting your education back on track after the disruption. The one constant in life is change! In many ways I feel that I was better prepared for the difficulties we have faced this year because of my experiences of living with chronic illness. When I watch nature and wildlife I am constantly reminded that we are not alone in facing change and challenge! Watching the newly fertile flying ants emerging from the ground, struggling up grasses and scrub to take flight and form a new colony was a real privilege. This is life, it is fleeting and in constant flux. It is wondrous, precious, strong and vulnerable.

Common Tern

Common Tern at Bushy Park

On the last day of July I had a more simple appointment with the dental surgeons at Guy’s Hospital. A quick check to ensure everything had healed well and I have been discharged! I will likely have to see them again in the future but the hope is that all the measures that have been taken, along with my special dentures, will delay the loss of other teeth as long as possible. Incredible to think that all the decay and loss of teeth stems from dry mouth! I only have four of my own upper teeth remaining. Our saliva is a natural defence against many types of harmful bacteria and fungi that inhabit our mouths. By the time the oral medicine team at Guy’s Hospital had seen me and diagnosed the condition, so much damage had already been done. All the specialist teams at Guy’s Dental hospital have done everything they can to treat my condition and help me manage my dental care to protect my remaining teeth. I can’t have dental implants sadly, as my bone density was impaired by years of steroid medication and my infection risk is very high from the current immune suppression therapies. The worst part of that appointment was the drive in and out of London! I have been advised not to use public transport still because of my extreme risk factors. That day was the hottest of the year, almost 38 degrees in London! The journey is about 30 miles but took two hours. I headed to Bushy Park on my way home for some fresher air and just to wind down a bit!

It did me the power of good! A breeze had started up and the wildlife was getting more active as temperatures finally dropped off a bit. It was late afternoon by the time I got there and so the park wasn’t too busy. It’s always a joy to watch the smaller birds flitting about in the bracken! Reed bunting, wrens, blue and great tits and stonechats all made brief appearances. There were lots of gatekeeper butterflies and the red-eyed damselflies were a real treat to see! I hadn’t expected to still see any terns around the pond so the sight of one adult tern circling and skimming the water to drink, was wonderful. I could have happily watched this incredibly acrobatic flier until the sun set! Capturing a series in flight, using burst mode shooting and continuous focussing, allowed me to put together the composite showing the tern making a turn in front of me. I was really thrilled with the response to the image in the weekly competitions on Twitter! Making shortlists is always a real bonus.

Long-tailed Tit

Long-tailed tit in an oak tree at Papercourt Meadows

Of course I am far from the only person dealing with physical or mental health difficulties at the moment! I’m sharing so much about my health in this blog, partly to update people on what’s going on with me, but also to let others in a similar position know that they are not alone. Over the last few months many of my family members and dearest friends have been battling ill health. Some of them have been in and out of hospital during the pandemic and I want to thank the NHS for keeping them safe and looking after them well, despite the difficulties they have been facing. The very hardest thing for us as family and friends, is the inability to be with our loved ones. It brought home the plight of the families of those who have sadly passed away from Covid 19 in hospital. My heart goes out to you all!

I was able to watch a beautiful family of stonechats at Papercourt Meadows last Wednesday, after having my routine blood test done. It was the first time I have been back into our local health centre! All my doctors appointments have been via phone and video, and nurses had been sent out to me to do blood tests while shielding kept us indoors. I think they’ve got everything set up well to keep patients and staff as safe as possible. It was very breezy at the meadows which I really enjoyed with the heat we’ve had! The stonechats had four juveniles who are starting to feed themselves but still getting a number of extra feeds from their parents. It was lovely watching them busily flitting from the hawthorn to the brambles, perching on the fenceposts and the tops of scrub in the tall grasses. It probably wasn’t the best conditions for macro (too windy!) but I did find a fabulous crab spider on a dog rose near the river bank!

Crab spider on dog rose

I have always loved being by the water, and Papercourt Meadows are bordered by both the River Wey and the Wey Navigation canal. It makes it a rich habitat for a real variety of plants and invertebrates. That brings in lots of birds, small mammals and some fabulous birds of prey too. The kestrel was out hunting but she was far too distant to photograph. Still, it’s such a thrill to watch them hover and then dive down into the grasses! I haven’t caught sight of the barn owls at all and I have to wonder if the extreme weather conditions this year have affected the numbers of voles present in the meadows. Just before we went into lockdown, the meadows were flooded. It was absolutely inaccessible even in wellies or waders! Since the heat of May, the ground of the meadows has dried out and become rock solid in areas that would usually still be boggy. Not great conditions for any small burrowing mammals that are the key prey species of barn owls!

Invertebrates are doing pretty well at the meadows. I really enjoyed finding banded demoiselle and common blue butterflies in the grasses and reeds along the river bank! The sunlight was picking up the iridescent colours on these little beauties. A perfect end to a glorious day by the river! Whatever challenges I am facing in life, I always manage to find peace and joy in the simple pleasure of watching wildlife. Good field-craft includes being still and quiet, which I find very meditative. Listening to the soft sounds of flowing river water, the rustle of leaves in the trees, the whisper of grasses in the breeze and the chatter and trill of birdsong. Every environment has it’s own soundtrack and it’s lovely to just get lost in it for a while. I hope everyone can find their own spaces of peace and tranquillity, to be still and mindful, to let a bit of nature into your soul.

 

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ShareMondays2020 – Caught In A Lightbeam

Juvenile Whitethroat

ShareMondays2020 – Caught In A Lightbeam

I had the most beautiful encounter with a family of whitethroat at Papercourt Meadows last Friday. I’d missed the arrival of these wonderful summer migrant birds while I was shut indoors, shielding. What a wonderful and welcoming return for me to one of the local birding sites, being greeted by these gorgeous fledglings! The adults are starting to look rather untidy (pressures of parenthood and the start of the moult!) so I will keep their modesty intact and not share their photos. The fledglings are doing quite well picking insects from the buddleja and brambles, but they’re still demanding plenty of feeds from their parents!

The meadows are looking wonderful! A great variety of grasses and wildflowers that provides such a fantastic habitat for lots of insects and birds. Distant, but wonderful sighting of the kestrel, hovering over the grassland, and so many wrens singing their little hearts out!

A fabulous array of butterflies greeted us too! Peacocks, red admirals, gatekeepers, commas, large and small whites, skippers and absolutely stunning ringlets! They have fabulous false-eye markings and really shimmer in the light.

I shall definitely be returning soon to collect numbers for the Big Butterfly Count for Butterfly Conservation! You can join in the annual citizen science survey HERE. Have a great week everyone!

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ShareMondays2020 – Nymph

Marbled White Macro

ShareMondays2020 – Nymph

What’s in a name? Melangaria galathea, the marbled white, sometimes called the half-mourner or chequered white, is actually a member of the Browns family. They are Satyrinae, a subfamily of the Nymphalidae, brush-footed butterflies. When Carl Linnaeus originally assigned names to the butterflies he had identified, he placed them into families and genus with distinctively Greek and Roman mythological origins. I love thinking of these beautiful insects as nymphs, sylphs and satyrs! It’s so very appropriate.

Marbled White showing mites on body

The name galathea most likely comes from the Nereid, Galatea. One of fifty sea-nymphs of Greek mythology, daughters of Nereus (son of Gaia) and Doris the sea goddess. Galatea means she who is milk-white. The name was also given to the statue of woman by Pygmalion of Cyprus, who came to life in Greek mythology. When roosting, these beautiful butterflies are most certainly statuesque! They are usually found on moist, chalky ground in southern England, were they can gather in large numbers in July. It really is an amazing sight! Another amazing fact about the marbled white is that they are drawn to purple flowers, usually seen feeding on wild oregano, knapweed and thistles.

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ShareMondays2020 – Admiration

White Admiral

ShareMondays2020 – Admiration

Admiration

Battle through brambles
White admiral bearing scars
Admiration grows

My admiration really has grown for these extraordinary, resilient, yet extremely vulnerable woodland butterflies!

White AdmiralWhite AdmiralWhite Admiral

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ShareMondays2020 – Skipping Through The Meadows

Small Skipper

ShareMondays2020 – Skipping Through The Meadows

I ventured out of the house for the first time since March 22nd last Friday! I’m still shielding, but we have been advised that we can go outside once a day, for health benefits, as long as we follow strict social distancing. It was so nerve-wracking, but the wildlife at the Heather Farm Wetlands area welcomed me back with what felt like a huge hug to the senses. The sights, sounds, scents, space and the feel of the breeze was just the therapeutic boost I needed. It’s peaceful in the wetlands, with only a few visitors, who were all keeping a good distance. I felt safe and that was really important!

Skipper and Flower Beetles

I didn’t have to go far before seeing skippers flitting about all around me among the grasses. It was magic! A mix of both small and Essex skippers were so abundant in this perfect habitat. One obliging small skipper allowed me to get close-up with the macro lens and I hope this shows you why I just adore them. So fluffy, with the most enormous eyes! They were adorning the thistles along with thick-legged flower beetles, spiders and froghoppers (the larvae produce cuckoo spit!). See if you can spot them!

Skipper on Thistle

Grasses are so important to skippers! Small skipper larvae usually feed on Yorkshire-fog grass, and Essex skipper larvae will usually be found on Cock’s-foot grass. Both species will also use Timothy, False Brome, Meadow Foxtail and Creeping Soft grass. Aren’t they just the most wonderful names? Both the Woodland Trust and Wildlife Trusts have great information about grasses and sedges!

Essex Skipper on grasses

It’s really difficult to differentiate between the small and Essex skippers! It’s actually a bit early to be seeing the Essex on the wing, they would usually appear in July. Many of our butterflies have been emerging early this year, after the hot month of May. I am pretty sure that a number of the skippers I saw were the Essex, as a head-on view showed me the black-tipped antennae. The small skipper has an orange-brown tip.

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ShareMondays2020 – Squabbling Siblings

Squabbling Siblings

ShareMondays2020 – Squabbling Siblings

Watching the fledgling starlings every day is such a great way to observe their behaviour and how they mature. They’re definitely at teenager stage, so much shouting and posturing! They absolutely scream at the adults and I can’t help feeling a bit sorry for these hard working parents. There’s screaming to be fed, screaming when the adult is in the way, screaming when a sibling gets to the favourite feeder first. It’s just like any human household really! I’m just watching all the stages of adolescence at a much faster pace.

Adult Starling Plumage

Beautiful adult starling

June is the month when many of us take on the 30DaysWild challenge from The Wildlife Trusts. They have recently launched a campaign for a Wilder Future, something I have always been passionate about. Latest statistics show that 1 in 7 species in the UK is at risk of extinction now. Starlings are an at-risk species. There has been about an 80% decline in the species since the 1980’s! Much of this is down to habitat loss. This is both in relation to loss of winter roosting sites and a loss of suitable nest sites. Our starlings nest in cavities under our roof tiles. I really am truly privileged to have them here and I would hate for future generations to miss out on the pleasure of watching these garrulous characters! Please do read the statement and join the campaign if you can!

Here’s a bit of the action from the starlings and other birds at our feeder this week. Enjoy!

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ShareMondays2020 – I Predict A Riot!

I Predict A Riot

ShareMondays2020 – I Predict A Riot!

So much fun watching the fledglings this week! We have large numbers of juvenile starlings now and they really are riotous. Their antics at the feeder have been a source of joy and amusement, not just for me and Simon, but also for many of my neighbours. When they all flock in together, there is hardly enough room on the feeding station for the fledglings, let alone their parents!

The stare!

Staring Starling!

Fledgling Blue Tit

Fledging Blue Tit


Do a little dance!

Shake Those Tail Feathers!

Singing for supper

Singing for Supper

When the starlings aren’t monopolising the feeding station, the beautiful fledgling blue tits are now visiting. They are so dinky but very vocal! The ragged looking adults are being constantly harassed by the cute little fluffies. Actually seeing a feed is a real joy! Sometimes the blue tit adults bring food from the trees down to fledglings perched on the feeder. They’re all still going through my suet and seed at the rate of knots, but it’s wonderful to feel like we are contributing to the welfare of these new lives!

Feeding a fledgling Blue Tit

Dinner Time!

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#FeelGoodPhotoOfTheDay – Concealment

Concealment

#FeelGoodPhotoOfTheDay – Concealment

Concealment

Hiding in plain sight
Blending into the background
Belying beauty