Two cygnets

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Back in May 10 cygnets  were born to proud parents at Waddon ponds. Now just five months later only two cygnets remain with their parents and I managed to catch up with them on an unusually warm day for mid October.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

To remind you of how small the cygnets were I have included a photo from my previous blog “ten cygnets”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

When we were young

On average cygnets stay with their parents for about six months before the parents push them away, forcing them to depart the ponds and find a flock of swans to join. At around four years of age they will find a mate and in turn have cygnets of their own.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Today though with the unseasonably warm weather there was no evidence of the swans pushing off the remaining cygnets they were all too busy preening themselves.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAInterestingly, there are new information boards around the ponds informing visitors of the different species of ducks and mammals you can find at Waddon ponds and warning of the dangers of dumping unwanted aquatic pets in the water. I include a selection of the boards for your information.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Advertisements

Apple tasting in the storm

The annual visit to the orchards at Heathfield to participate in free apple tasting got off to an inauspicious start when it began raining heavily. Fortunately a gazebo had been set up to protect the picked apples from the elements, so we began the tour by tasting a selection of the organic apples, all varieties of which were on sale after the tour.

Mick the volunteer orchard manager used his apple corer tool and knife to slice the apples into numerous segments and offered them to the group while he explained the history of Heathfield house and the development of the gardens that I have documented in previous open days 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

looking through the Arch Window – hoping that the rain will stop

Fortunately the rain abated, so Mick showed us the mock-up beehive he uses to explain to children on school visits how the bees populate the hive. The ground floor is the assembly room where the male bees do the “waggle dance” to attract the females to the hive. Mick added it might not be to the same standard as “Strictly”, but it seems to have the desired effect.  One queen, 200 boys to keep her company and the rest are female worker bees, including some princesses. They all congregate at the first floor for a networking event.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Mock up of a hive

The second floor houses the layer of  honeycombs which can take three months to fill with nectar and honey. In a good year, like last year, 3 lots of layers were added to match production. The top box is reserved for the nursery where the queen bee lays four thousand eggs a day. A hive can hold up to thirty thousand bees.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Library picture of hive in full flow as bees don’t like the wet and cold

As the queen bee gets older she is challenged for supremacy of the hive by the princess bees. The queen usually triumphs so the defeated princess will release pheromones that will attract up to half of the hive to leave with her and find a new home. The bees will swarm to a nearby tree before scouting for a new residence. Heathfield will alert the beekeeper that a new hive is required urgently and so grow the local bee population. The boy bees will then mate with the new queen and die.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

the quince apple

No chance of any bees swarming today so we moved onto the various trees in the orchard. The quince apple bears a remarkable resemblance to a pear, but the quince skin is hard and very bitter, a deterrent to eating it raw as it would give you a nasty stomach ache. Please always cook a quince. The American Mother looks like a cherry and the Lanes Prince Albert sounds like royalty .

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Crowds on the orchard tour – faces not shown for privacy reasons

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Once tours of the orchard have been completed, all the apples can be picked and juiced in good time for the apple day at Heathfield on Sunday 1st October.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Ben reluctant to show his face – perhaps the wet weather was making him feel a little sheepish!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Red Arrows Fly Over Addington Park

At the recent Biggin Hill Festival of Flight the red arrows flew over Addington. How do you photograph aircraft flying at up to 600 mph with a basic camera with 5x optical zoom? The answer is not very easily as you can see from the photo below.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It would be nice to see them to see them nice- my tribute to Brucie

I positioned my camera in the lower part of the picture hoping to anticipate when the arrows would appear, all I got was the vapour trail!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The white vapour is produced by injecting diesel into the hot exhaust at 400 degrees centigrade. This gives five minutes of white vapour. The red and blue colours are made by mixing dye with the diesel to provide one minute of each colour.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAddington Park itself is across the road from the Gravel Hill tram stop.  The park was acquired from the Addington Palace estate in 1930. The Palace was used as a summer-house by the Archbishops of Canterbury in the 1930 and the enclosed Palace is still standing today at the upper end of the Park, though it is not visible from the park. The Palace is not open to the public but its grounds contain a public golf course. I am sure the pilots got a good view!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Sun Flowers and Banana plants

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Sunflowers are tall and majestic at Coombe Wood Gardens.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The sunflower head consists of many tiny flowers called florets. The central ones resemble normal flowers, whereas the outside florets look like yellow petals to produce a “false flower”. After pollination every little flower produces a seed and there are nearly two thousand seeds on one sunflower.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The seeds are arranged in spirals around 34 in one direction and 55 in the other. You might think that is pretty random but these numbers actually follow the Fibonacci sequence. Every number after the first two is the sum of the two preceding ones: 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, etc.

Many other wildflowers can be found in the gardens.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYou will also find Banana Plants at Coombe Woods. The plants do not produce any actual fruit as the weather is still too mild despite our recent heatwaves. But they look majestic and give a tropical feel to the gardens.

A recent article by Monty Don, the TV gardener, in a weekend magazine explained how he grew his banana plants in pots but took them indoors for the winter. Terence the gardener at Coombe Woods says he likes Monty Don and that he talks a  lot of sense. Mind you he added “they have many advisers to ensure their programmes are factually correct”

Back at Coombe Woods, in the autumn the stems are cut back to stumps and wrapped in a hessian sack. A tarpaulin then covers the top to prevent the plants from succumbing to winter frosts

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

These stems will be cut back to prepare the plant for the winter

The lavender bushes are also popular in the gardens and are a firm favourite with the bees.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

Heron of Bramley Bank

I was privileged recently to see the Heron fishing at his home in the largest natural woodland pond in Croydon, at Bramley bank. The elusive heron is quite shy unlike his more gregarious cousin at Waddon Ponds.

When I caught up with the heron it was intent at fishing for his supper and did not mind my presence which usually induces a mad flurry of wings and a swift exit. The heron adopts two approaches to hunting , either standing still and quiet in the water waiting for a fish to swim past nearby or by moving around the pond snatching a fish at close quarters.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The heron adopted both tactics as you can see from the photographs. Whatever approach is used the sixth vertebra in a herons neck is longer than the others and pivots over to the seventh vertebra to permit a fast strike when food comes into range.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Heron arrives at his second destination, Heathfield

The heron finally became aware of my presence and flew the short distance from Bramley bank to a nearby pond at Heathfield. Hotfooting it, me not the heron, I caught up with the heron  while he was in the water, but again not much luck in catching any fish. Shortly afterwards he was spotted flying back to Bramley bank, although yours truly was too exhausted to mount any further catch ups that evening!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Heron flies home to Bramley Bank. Their wingspan can measure between 150 and 200cm.

Butterflies at Hutchinson’s Bank

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHutchinson’s bank is located five minutes from New Addington tram stop or off Farleigh Dean Crescent, Featherbed Lane, Addington. However, this road is narrow and there is no parking on site. If exploring the site please beware that the paths can be narrow and the gradient is very steep.

The bank is one of the largest areas of chalk grassland remaining in Greater London. It is found on thin soils over chalk rocks and was originally created by clearance of trees and shrubs and grazing of livestock over eight thousand years ago.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Kidney vetch

Photographing the small blue butterfly proved problematic as like most butterflies they don’t stay still for long. The blue is UK’s smallest resident butterfly although the blue colour is not very distinctive, it is more of  a tinge. The common yellow was, as its name suggests, easier to identify but the most distinctive butterfly was the brown peacock.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Yellow and blue butterflies together

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The brown peacock butterfly below has large eyespots that can startle predators and give it a much better chance of escaping foes than relying solely on camouflage. It can also rubs its wings together to produce a hissing sound that is audible to humans.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Volunteers at Hutchinson’s have spent much time clearing the area and fitting fencing and benches.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Overlooking Addington Court golf course with Heathfield in centre background towards Croydon.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Shorn sheep help to keep the grass mown. The two sheep in the foreground are Herdwick sheep the same type as at Heathfield.

Terrific Terabac Play at Heathfield

The organisers of Croydon Ecology Centre arranged for Terabac, a drama and dance group, to visit Heathfield to perform a play about insects, their life story and the effect that mankind has on them.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Due to the inclement weather, it was a bank holiday after all, the play was moved from the far rose garden to the walled garden immediately next to the side of the house. The backdrop of multiple trees and bushes at Heathfield provided the ideal setting for the play.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The unusual array of objects spread out across the lawn  represented an insect and served as props to be used throughout the play. The lead drama actor and  coordinator Vanessa welcomed us to the production . Atmospheric music and some ethereal singing set the stage.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The opening scene was a dramatic if sombre affair with the death of an insect and how its demise should affect us all. The players took us through the life cycle of a variety of different insects with humour and pathos.

The australian dung beetle, hope you are not eating while reading this, came in for a bashing as it was unable to deal with the cow dung that the imported european cow was producing. Initial blame was laid on the Australian sun that caused the beetle to only move in straight lines, but then it was remembered that the dung beetle came out only at night! The solution was to import European and African beetles to do the digestion and save Australia from the 12 cow pats a day that each animal produced.

The lifespans of a dragonfly enabled the dancers to show their prowess to good effect.  A dragonfly spends the first two to three years of its life as a larvae under the water. When the larvae are full-grown they climb up the stem of a plant and shed their skin. This metamorphosis was dramatically demonstrated by the dances who emerged together from a sack cloth. Further dances were performed with some acrobatics during the play with good choreography and some movement through the audience.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A lady dressed in black performed the role of the Black widow spider. She engaged the children sitting at the front of the audience and sent a shiver down their spines as well as some adults. Before we annihilate the more familiar  house spider, a fly popped up to remind us that without the arachnids the place would be overrun with flies like her! She then made humourous exchanges with the audience about the hazards of flying into windows; but she concluded that mainly it was a good bugs life.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOverall a most enjoyable performance with good interaction with the crowd and some sexual references  that were funny and appropriate for all but the youngest of children (of whom their were none in this audience).

A poignant moment came at the end when it was explained an elderly lady from Brighton who had cherished her garden could only have artificial flowers when she moved into sheltered accommodation. She watered the flowers everyday as it reminded her of  home.

The play, about an hour long, was performed free of charge although donations were requested and we were also invited to retire to the Heathfield pantry cafe for tea and cakes.

Afterwards one of the performers explained that the play had been two to three years in the making and the dancers were brought on board in the last two months.

Ten Cygnets

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The first “babies” of the year at waddon ponds belongs to the swans. Ten cygnets were born a couple of weeks ago, a good number considering that the average is around six cygnets and the maximum is ten. The swans at waddon ponds have done well and the parents mate for life so there is potential for a large brood every year.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

cygnets about to try the new slide

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Unfortunately, I am sad to report that a visit yesterday confirmed a sighting of only eight cygnets. The most likely culprits are foxes, crows, magpies and herons that may pick off the youngsters that stray too far from their parents sides.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I note the swans have moved to a more secluded part of the pond where I photographed the cygnets. I thought at one stage the cygnets were going to walk up the plank to afford me an even closer view, but the female swan sensibly discouraged their adventures by swimming away from the edge of the bank.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASwans reach maturity after 4 years but the parents encourage them to leave the area from around six months and you can see more pictures of older cygnets on my previous blogs.

The bees and the cedar

In the recent high winds a branch in the middle of the cedar tree at heathfield started to tear away pulling with it a number of lower branches that trailed close to the ground.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGarden contractors were quick to identify the problem and coned off the area as you can see in the photographs.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I am pleased to say that less than a week later the offending branches were trimmed back and the area made safe in time for the heathfield plant sale yesterday, sunday.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The cedar tree was planted by Raymond Riesco who owned the property prior to the council. It was a birthday present to his wife who opened the curtains one morning to find the majestic cedar tree planted in a prominent position in the garden. It had been transported there overnight that just goes to show you could have items delivered efficiently before the days of the express couriers.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Cedar tree still looking good despite its enforced trim

 

The orchards were also open on sunday and the female bees were hard at work pollinating the nearby trees that are all fertilised organically and are in flower. If you look closely at the base of the hive you can see the bees queuing to enter the hive.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The hive was manufactured by EH Taylor, crest at the top, the leading maker of beehives in the uk from the 1800s until they were taken over in the eighties by EH Thorne. The factory had its own siding off the main railway line at Welwyn station in Hertfordshire. The new owners still make beehives today.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Crazy Coots at Waddon Ponds

Now that the coots have finished their “easter eggs” they can get down to the serious business of finding a mate. Once found the difficulty the male has in holding onto his chosen bride is keeping away the other marauding suitors. Best to keep the head down but feathers up position ready to charge at a moments notice. As the following pictures show it’s a case of “sparks” will fly when two males meet and the pond is not big enough for the both of them. Hmm reminds me of a seventies pop group.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

guarding his mate

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Uh oh potential trouble spotted , best adopt head down , feathers up position

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I’m off on the attack

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Nearly caught the intruder

The Canada Geese are adopting a more serene pose , surprisingly, preferring to preen and clean their feathers whenever they come into land. They adopt an upright pose after coming to rest in order to carry out their ablutions.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

How they can stand up in the cold water , almost walking on water is beyond me. If we tried something similar, provided we did not sink first, hypothermia would quickly set in as the cold would be transferred by our veins straight to the heart. In contrast the goose has an artery next to the vein that warms the cold blood and takes the chill off as it reaches the heart.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA