I had planned to spend my day off doing some tedious chores. Not too disappointingly fate had other ideas. We’ve had a few power cuts recently, yesterday following an inch of rain and a dramatic bang from an electricity pole a few hundred metres away we were powerless again. This time only for a few hours but I decided I should still do something useful. Well, useful-ish and slightly weird. I spent the day making pipe cleaner wings for knitted dragonflies and making legs for caterpillars.
With December fast approaching I am getting ready for tree dressing season. I always love and appreciate our trees but following the successful dressing last year we are doing it again. I decided it would be cheerful to cover some of our trees with bug decorations. Our fabulous sewing group and some other crafty staff and volunteers are sewing, knitting and crocheting as we speak to add to the collection. I am fairly sure they are making a better, more artistic fist of it but I don’t think they are bad for my first ever woolly snails. I’m sure the trees will appreciate it even if the aesthetic benefit might be dubious to the bipeds.
As you know, things down by the river can often have to be done a bit differently to the normal world. One of those is most definitely weeding. We have floating weeds, exploding weeds and gravity defying weeds. Most of what gardeners call weeds we call wild flowers so most get to stay and are actively encouraged. Today I was weeding those clinging on to our lock gates that needed to go. As you can imagine that doesn’t just require a kneeler and a trug.
Luckily as my company car is a boat, coming back after a morning with Steve’s lovely volunteers meant I was literally cruising by. Wooden lock gates that are constantly wet must be a great place to be a plant. The smallest gap can be infiltrated by enough water that a seed can float into and potentially become a tree one day. The soft mosses and liverworts get to stay but I removed dozens of tiny alder seedlings, a few tufts of grass, fought a few mini nettles and a hemlock water dropwort that thought they had found a place to grow up.
Another thing that is pretty unusual here is the journey home. This was mine today. Can’t say I miss the M1 and the Watford one-way system from my old life on a day like this.
I had a conversation with someone recently about the navigations and they made a comment about how great it would be if the river could speak and let us know what it had seen and how it was feeling. I appreciate that this is a bit of a random start but bear with me… I made the point that I felt strongly that the river did speak and it sounds different every day. I’m sure I’ve already told you that I can hear if the water level is wrong over the weirs at Walsham, so much so that the change in pitch can wake me up. Under normalish conditions if it is too high the tone and volume of the rumble changes and when it’s lower it is too quiet and higher pitched. Obviously the sounds change dramatically depending on where you are along the Navigations too. At Newark meadows the river is wide and peaceful and the main noise is the ring necked parakeets or goose flotilla. Below the lock at Newark you here the quiet rushing of the water between or under the gates. That is all without the human noises of the roads and pubs that intersect or back on to the river.
The first question I get asked without fail when people know I live in the cottage here is how can I get used to the noise. It always strikes me as odd that nearly everyone moments on it but I suppose it’s not really. We are less than 20 metres from some very noisy weirs. In reality is didn’t take long at all to get used to the noise and it’s weird to be away from it. The brain quickly filters out the noise when it’s constant and it means than other obtrusive noises like roads or aeroplanes never intrude. It also has other advantages. My husband suffers from tinnitus and it’s like having your own white noise machine all the time.
I decided to start a little project recording and measuring the sounds of the river. I’m not sure what I am going to do with it yet but the scientist and the hippy in me thought it could be an interesting exercise. Today I’ve got 15″ open on the weirs, which is means the river is relatively happy and peaceful. So far I’ve recorded the water rushing over the weirs and tumble bays, a swan and the workboat Hoe going past. The maintenance team very kindly called me to let me know when they were going to be passing. I’m planning to record at as many different locations down the river as I can.
It turns out with the window open it can reach 71 dB in the house, which is like a car passing you 25 metres away. On the weir bridge itself I got a reading of 82dB. That sounds like it should only be a bit louder but because of the way the decibel scale works, it is actually about twice as loud. That is the equivalent of a train passing you 25m away apparently or a normal day in a busy city. Not what you expect in the ‘peaceful’ wilds of Surrey.
You know me, wherever I go I’ve got half an eye open for bugs. Even in this cool, dank weather we’re having (it’s due to be bright again in a couple of days…yay) there are things to be found. This is a Common Plume moth that I encountered down at Pyrford on the bin store while I was getting rid of the litter I’d picked up yesterday. It’s a really rubbish shot (if you’ll pardon the pun) so I’m afraid you’ll have to take my word for it. They didn’t give me very long to sort the exposure out. While there are over 2500 moth species in Britain, most of whom are nocturnal, this is one of the 50 or so that are about commonly during the day.
While some butterflies have either migrated to warmer places or found a spot to hibernate already, you will still see a few out and about. This Red Admiral was watching me cut the grass last week, albeit on a nice bright day.
The damp must be keeping the worms happy too. The local moles are still causing consternation. This is the scene I returned to after a few days off.
After a couple of hours work it was looking like this.
I appreciate to the untrained eye that might actually look worse than before but it’s the best way to get the grass to recover. If you just take the soil away every time you are left with lots of dips and ruts. If you just spread it out and leave it you get bare soil where the grass hasn’t been able to penetrate the mud cap. This way in a few days it will be almost as good as new. Until the next time.
It was a beautiful day for a length inspection walk but clearly a good day for a paddle and a snack for some. One of the girls in the meadow this morning was having a good munch on the pennywort. They particularly seem to like it at this time of year when it is starting to break down a bit. I’m not sure if is because it tastes nicer later in the season (I’ve not tried it) or because the grass is slowing and they need a dietary supplement. Either way I’ll take all the help I can get.
As part of the national Moth Night recording project I am upping my light trapping frequency to get as many records as I can over the next 3 nights. They are particularly targeting migrant species this year but the River Wey moths clearly didn’t get the memo. That’s not to say I didn’t get some interesting visitors last night.
With over 2500 species living or visiting the UK, as you can imagine a trap full of brownish looking moths of various sizes and shapes is not unusual. While they are all beautiful in their own way, quite a few hide a more colourful secret. Last night I got a particularly good haul of Large Yellow Underwings. On first glance they are an impressive size but not necessarily lookers. They are still one of my favourites.
Some of you may well have seen more migrant moths today than I have despite all my efforts. If you saw a fabulous day flying Hummingbird Hawk Moth in your flower beds either they or their parents will have flown most commonly from the south of France. That’s pretty impressive with a wingspan of less than 2 inches and up to 70 wing beats a second.
This was one my husband and I bumped into in Dorset last week. I’m even bug hunting on my holidays!
With autumn officially one day old (in the northern hemisphere anyway) it has definitely arrived in Surrey. It’s been thinking about it for a while but after last week’s amazing weather, when we were lucky enough to be camping by the sea, today you can really feel the shift in seasons.
Last week …
As a Lengthsman who has weir keeping duties, you know I keep a closer eye on the weather forecast than most. I knew the rain was coming but after the dry winter, spring and summer we’ve just had it’s still a bit of a shock. For most of the summer not only have I had all my weir gates fully closed but also 5 summer boards in the tumble bays to hold onto the water. They all had to come out this morning when it was still dark and I’ve already opened up a weir gate a little. There will be much more of that to come I’m sure. As someone who works out doors I know how much things need the rain but as a Lengthsman I know how little sleep that means I might be getting over the next few nights. Not of course that I am complaining. I can almost hear my favourite tree Ernie breathing a sigh of relief.