Dressed trees – Tick

With the assistance of a willing husband volunteer and the passing family of Alfie the dog, but not really Alfie to be honest, trees at Walsham are now dressed. In honour and celebration of our wonderful trees it seems like the least we can do. Hopefully the visitors will appreciate it too.


Keeping it old school… to celebrate trees

I’ve been getting ready for Tree Dressing tomorrow and that had required some crafting that has taken me back. The tradition of dressing trees, in the non-Christmas sense, is something that many different cultures over the millennia have celebrated. The more recent incarnation started partially in response to the devastation in the wake if the 1987 ‘Michael Fish’ storm and has been gathering followers ever since. It also marks the end of National Tree Week. I’ve always been a fan of trees and the chance to celebrate them and do some baking is a win win.

The first time I made flour and salt paste decorations I can’t remember how old I was, but it required the use of a stool to reach the kitchen bench. Doing it again made me feel like a kid. As did the collecting and pressing of leaves.

Following the rain I can’t travel far from the weirs at the moment so the decorating will have to wait ’til tomorrow. I’m sure the trees won’t mind.

Atmospheric skies over Papercourt

Putting the flood boards out at silly o’clock this morning gave me the chance to spend a bit of quiet time before much of the world woke up on armistice day. The centenary of the guns falling silent has not be lost on us here at the Navigation or by me. The atmospheric skies only added to the somber but hopeful mood with the sun making its way through the clouds

I planted a woolly poppy left over from the barbed wire wreaths for Alfred Wye by the lock. He grew up here and would certainly have followed in his father and grandfather’s footsteps to become the lock keeper here had he lived. Instead he died as a teenager on the battlefield in France never to see home again.

As I’ve told you before, everyone who has worked on the river before feels like family, whether you knew them or not. My family have tried to do their bit to ensure he is remembered by organising to get a sign installed last week for his tree which was planted with the help of some of his actually family a couple of years ago.

If I’m honest my husband with his carpentry skills was far more use than my dog but he prefers to take pictures than be in them, as do I, and she doesn’t mind.

His service and sacrifice is commemorated by his neighbours on the village war memorial but now he has something closer to home too.

Night time visitors

After spotting the signs and knowing they were here for ages, I have finally caught my first Walsham badger on film. I’ve been finding the obvious scrapings in the lawn and set the camera up lots of times but mostly got pictures of mice, swirling leaves and my dog having a wee. Finally the trawling through countless grainy images and videos has paid off. There is something special about getting a look into what happens in your garden when you aren’t there to see.

This is my badger having a snuffle at my hedgehog door but deciding against it.

This is an unexpected night time visitor that was waiting for me when I opened the curtains the other morning. As you can see from the volume of…. let’s call them organic deposits, this bedraggled male kestrel looks like it’s spent the night for some reason.

He flew off into the trees after a little bit if a sit and think and I haven’t seen him struggle since so I’m hoping all is well. As a gift he left a couple of pellets which I’ll have a rummage through at some point to see what he has been eating. They are hard to find compared to the larger owl pellets so it’s a rare treat to have one to dissect. A treat for me can come in the form of something coughed up by a raptor. As I type that I realise I’m probably in a very small minority… story of my life.

Here, as you can imagine, we also have lots of nocturnal visitors that are pretty hard to spot. They don’t all just come and sit on your window sill. Moth trapping is a great way to find out some of the smaller ones, that can be investigated over tea and toast. Luckily my husband knows what I’m like and just got me a bat detector for my birthday so I can now hear what’s there but too quick to I.D. too. Yay.

Watery weeding

Normal people use normal things when they do a bit of weeding.

Usually a trowel and fork will do it. If you are really keen or over run you might even break out a hoe but here things are a little different. 

Today’s pennywort weeding was all of the bank side, dry feet variety. Through hard work and the help of Environment Agency this year is dramatically better than last year but that doesn’t mean I am being complacent. I go with the little and often approach and for that a grappling hook and extendable pruner come in very handy. With the smaller bits of weed you can’t surprise them. If you do the mats break up and one small raft can turn into dozens of big ones within a couple of weeks. The trick is to gently persuade it onto the bank to desiccate in the sun in one piece. At the moment that isn’t taking too long. With all the practice with the grappling hook my aim is getting pretty good, my netball teacher might finally be proud. 

Waking the neighbours and causing fights

With the warm weather and a physical job sometimes the best policy is a (very) early start. This morning it was strimming and mowing, aided by my glamorous assistant/volunteer/husband before 7.00. As well as being more pleasant working when it is cooler, it also enables picnickers to avoid having grass in their quiche and no petrol fumes and engine noises hen they have come to enjoy a peaceful day by the river.

The local Odonata however did get disturbed. They were sunning themselves in their scores this morning for another hard day of fending off interloping males and attempting to attract females. Until we upset their day.

To ensure the vegetation doesn’t get too tall and there is an elongated flowering season for the wildlife I strim down some of the taller plants. Sometimes I take them to the ground to create a visual gap and sometime I just decapitate them slightly to make them flower a little later. These tall waterside plants however are much favoured resting places for the local dragonflies and particularly damselflies and strimming is a little disruptive to say the least. The banded demoiselles are particularly plentiful this year, as ever, but wouldn’t pose for a photo. 

The males have been fighting and patrolling their chosen bits of riverbank that are particularly attractive to females for egg laying. For this the view from the prime, tall stems is vital. Unfortunately after my endeavours the plant landscape is somewhat changed and I might well have put a few damselfly noses out of joint. Metaphorically speaking, I’m not sure any of their facial features qualify as noses exactly. Some of those who had only managed to hold on to the lower stalked territories by default, were accidentally promoted to kings of the riverside castle. I like to think that some of the less aggressive males had the chance to reproduce when they might not otherwise have (there are always for more banded males than females). What is more likely however is that the poor downtrodden individuals got a pasting all over again and still didn’t get the girl. I’m trying not to think about the problems I inadvertently caused in the line of duty. That said the lockside does look lovely, from a human point of view.

Duck feet

Looks like Mrs Mallard has been using my punt as a landing pad again this morning. 

At this time of year she is much more likely to be in unusual places (for ducks) in search of a little peace from persistant males. When I lived on a boat it was not unusual to be woken by the slap of running duck feet trying to land and stay upright following a rapid exit from the trees. Something you will never have heard if you have lived all your life in a house like a normal person but I miss it. I don’t miss the early morning beak tapping on the boat from the swan mafia demanding breakfast with menaces. They never did get the concept of lie-ins on your days off. Now I just have a dog for that.