Wagtails on the moor

IMG_3103 Last Tuesday the regular volunteering task with the Box Moor Trust was to clear the river Bulbourne.  As we started our afternoon stint after a picnic lunch in the meadow, a little bird caught my eye. It was trying to distract me by leading me away from its nest. I decided to bring my camera on Sunday to find out more about it.

IMG_3112One of the other volunteers identified the bird as a grey wagtail. It had made its nest in an overflow pipe in the canal bridge by the pub. I hope that it doesn’t get inundated by a passing storm! Both parents were busily catching insects and bringing them to their nest. We couldn’t see how many chicks there were, but they were certainly hungry!


There seemed to be no shortage of prey for the birds in the culvert and surrounding common land, though they were working very hard to keep up with their chicks’ appetite. Here’s one flying under the bridge to get some more. It was great to see them catch the prey on the wing.

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They had quite a range of items from damsel flies to hover flies so the chicks had a nicely varied and nutricious diet.

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Grey wagtails are quite commonly found in rivers and streams. Male and female look similar except for the male’s black bib. Their cousins the pied wagtails are everywhere nesting on buildings in city centres, and the yellow wagtail is a smaller and yellower bird. They all share the mannerism that gives them their name. They were aware that we were sitting on the bench in their territory but didn’t seem unduly worried by our presence, although they did shout at us when their beaks weren’t full of unfortunate insects.  IMG_3118IMG_3114

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Tulips, bluebells and may blossom


Mayday bank holiday. A lovely warm day for a stroll in the countryside.
We put on our walking boots and head for the park, stopping to admire the tulips in the ancient walled garden by the church, site of the Charter Tower, where Henry VIIIth was said to have handed down the document that authorised Hemel to hold a market. Actually the building is slightly more recent, but never mind.


Clematis drapes delicately over the wrought iron gates.

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The river Gade flows fast and clear under the bridge, and the Iris is just coming out.
We cross the road through the underpass and up the hill to Warners End Wood.

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The gnarled and cracked horsechestnut tree8_gadebridge
flowers exuberantly with delicate pinks and yellows. On the slope where the cow parsley hides the traces of daffodils, we hear green woodpeckers calling, but we can’t spot them today.


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We pause to admire the view of Marchmont House, now a pub, and the beautiful May blossom on the hawthorn bushes.


Frilly white Queen Anne’s Lace lines the woodland path to invite us in.
Here are the bluebells, though we’re almost too late to see them.
Everything is so early this year.


The path leads us through the wood with enticing views of buttercup fields through gaps in the hedge. The forest floor is dotted with ultramarine bluebells. These are native wild ones with the flower on one side of the stem so they lean over when all the flowers are out.

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Brimstone butterflies, folded like leaves, forage in the brambles, and a family of long tailed tits waits patiently till the fussy parents feed them.
Rotting trunks of fallen beeches provide a home for wildlife and a contrast for my photos!
Wild garlic flowers light up the undergrowth like little white stars.

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Now we are deep in the wood, and the glades are full of the flowers. The new beech leaves are acid green in the dappled spring sunshine. This is the furthest part of the wood, and the loop path has fewer visitors so the flowers are amazing.


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We decide to take a different route home, crossing the wood through a gate to the path that leads past the farm and down to the old mill. The new oak leaves are multicoloured and have not yet turned dark green. Near the bottom of the hill we look back along the path to the wood.

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The route home takes us past Piccotts End Farm, where house martins are busy in the eaves, swooping low over our heads as we walk past. The daisies on the bank at the edge of the old town are a wonderful surprise to delight us on our way home.

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Another sunny Sunday and the bluebells are out

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By the river Bulbourne the buttercups bloom in the water meadow and the willow has bright green new leaves.

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Oxlips turn the hillside to gold up on Roughdown common.

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Ladybirds and butterflies warm themselves in the bright sunshine and sip the nectar from sloe bushes and apple blossom.

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All the hedgerows are bright with spring colour. I remember the A.E Housman poem, from the Shropshire Lad

“Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
is hung with bloom along the bough,
and stands about the woodland ride
wearing white for Eastertide”

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Forget me nots and primroses bloom in the lane as we cross the bridge.

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The steps beckon us through the woods and over the old golf course.

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The bluebells in Bury Wood carpet the forest floor, and violets and kingcups peek through the leaf litter. All around the birds are singing at the tops of the trees to claim their territory and warn off rivals.

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We cross Box Lane and sit in the field by Ramacre wood drinking coffee and watching the butterflies. The clearings we made when we cut the laurels down last month have created lovely patches of light for the bluebells here.

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Near the old barn we look back at Bury wood.

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Butterflies dance above our heads and the oxlips flourish.

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We stroll through Hay Wood to see more bluebells, and buzzards cry above the trees.

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The lambs we saw in the early spring have grown strong and stocky.

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Blossom peeks through the hedge we laid in March, and more forgetmenots bloom on the verges.

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Everywhere the blackthorn blossom froths exuberantly

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We reach the bottom of the lane and pause to look at another field sprinkled with oxlips, before crossing the road to take the towpath back to town.





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Looking for cowslips on Roughdown common

IMG_1685The sun tempted us out for a walk today but we soon realised there was a fierce nip in the easterly wind and had to dip into the pound shop to buy a pair of gloves.

On the moor the willows are in bud  and the river Bulbourne is flowing fast. A couple of retrievers, excited by the wind and the water, play a game of chase.

IMG_1686 IMG_1688Daffodils and buttercups are blooming in the meadows. We cross the road and take the path past the gasometers and over the railway to Roughdown common.

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The hedgerows are bright with new leaves and dotted with frothy white blossom.

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The first cowslips and oxslips of the year are just coming into bloom.

In a few weeks the field will be covered in light yellow, but for now we have to search them out.

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Violets have a very special colour, not blue, not purple. I search for them in the woods, but there they are in clumps in the middle of the common.  


The town looks far away through a gap in the trees.

We climb over the stile onto the track across the bypass.

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Across the bridge, primroses light up the banks beside the track, and trees blossom.

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We turn back down towards the station, listening to the exuberant birdsong but rarely seeing the singers.

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My garden in spring



My garden is full of colour . Crocuses are just finishing and the daffodils were out well before St David’s Day. Last year we had snow in March and the whole country was frozen by a biting North wind. This year there has hardly been a frost. Just incessant  rain. Now the sun is back and the flowers are out.




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These anemones are an exotic sight. I always thought they were a mediterranean flower but the blue ones have been out since February.

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I love the strong colours of these spring flowers: bright yellow polyanthus and velvety purple pansies.

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Every year the Tulipa Turkestanica spreads a little more. The more traditional ones in pots are also out to capture and reflect the sunshine.

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Walking the Nicky Line

1sloeThe Nicky line is an old railway that ran from Hemel Hempstead to Harpenden. There are many theories about the name, including the knickerbockers that the navvies wore to build it, but my favourite is an abbreviation of funicular railway, because of the steepinclines on elevated sections rising out of Hemel Hempstead, which must have afforded a wonderful view before the trees grew. Now it is a tranquil green corridor that winds through the new town estates. At its entrance, a flamboyant sloe bush waves its lacy branches.


In places, the path is interrupted where viaducts have been demolished. The first spring violets bloom on the steps up to the Queensway bridge.


Delicate white blossoms sway over the old parapets where trains used to cross the road.


A robin practises his trills quietly in the bushes. Later he will fly up into the canopy to impress all the surrounding birds with his amazing vocal agility. He has a lot of competition.


The path is carpeted with golden wild cyclamen and burgeoning shoots of other wild flowers. I can see violets coming through but most are not yet in bloom in the shady valley. Then I spot a wonderful patch of deep purple which covers the bank near the top of the hill. Wow!

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And a little further on there are white ones too.



This part is called Yew Tree Wood. It is still badly flooded after the winter rains. We watch a squirrel foraging, and a pair of long-tailed tits dart around the undergrowth collecting nesting materials. Although we had a very short shopping list, Aldi tempts us with bargains and we return with two full carrier bags, enjoying the sights in reverse, but ready for lunch when we get home.


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Bees, birds, blossom and butterflies


Today is gorgeously sunny so we’ve been for a walk to visit the lambs.
The blossom in front of St John’s church raises our spirits as we join the towpath, and a wren chirrups noisily from nearby tree. Too fast and small to photograph!

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The reeds grow tall in the river Bulbourne. We take the lane under the railway and cross the fields towards the Boxmoor Trust HQ. The field is still flooded, and the black headed gulls that have settled there are beginning to live up to their name.


The first lambs we see are in the field next to the barn, enjoying the sunshine. These are tiny and not yet confident on their feet. We cross the road and head up the hill to find the older ones who are at the top.

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Catkins and blackthorn light up the hedgerow, and birds call from the tops of the trees.

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Early butterflies have emerged from their winter


hiding places. A tortoiseshell and a peacock take advantage of the nectar on the blackthorn and bask in the warm sun.
In the large field at the end of the lane, older lambs have found their feet and are enjoying a lick of salt.  The ewes are nervous of us at first but then come nearer.

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Buzzards wheel overhead calling to each other.

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We take the path down to the stile, pausing to listen to the woodpeckers’ calls and drumming in the woods.

The half moon shines in the bright blue sky.
Tonight will be a good stargazing night.

More peacock butterflies float in the warm, calm air.



We loop back across the moor through the avenue of horse chestnuts, and back past St John’s church, coming home for a hearty lunch.

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