March 1st, being designated as St.David’s Day, celebrating Wales patron saint Dewi Sant, always challenges me to look at how spring is progressing. In particular how many daffodils are already out in the garden.
This year has ended up being one of the latest springs of recent years, with only a smattering of Narcissus ‘Rjinveld’s Early Sensation’ in evidence, as March 1st arrived. But I thought I’d include a medley of pictures of the rest of the garden to show that you don’t have to wait for these bulbs, to have early season colour. Before I switched off the radio to start writing this, the weather forecast predicts temperatures into the teens by Saturday (March 7th). This would be a delight after a lengthy fairly cold spell. Look closely and you’ll see almost no bees in these pictures – I still haven’t seen a bumblebee queen, though Fiona spotted a singleton on February 26th.
Just before March 1st, I’d taken a pause from internal decorating at dusk, to take in the flowers on the terrace garden and the scene over the distant copse, where only a handful of trees still remain, when I spotted the glint of late sun on the wings of a large flock of starlings across the valley. I’ve featured starling flocks before, but as this one flew down into the sloping field opposite, and below my standpoint, I had my first opportunity ever to see in some detail the movements which take within such a flock whilst working over a field, probing for grubs.
The flock was always incredibly tightly grouped, usually in a variation of an elliptical shape, rather than being spread out diffusely across the pasture. Periodically a few would leave the rear of the flock and fly fast and low to the leading edge, where they would land no more than a foot outside the existing flock boundary. And so the flock moved forward – I’ve upped the contrast below for clarity.
This type of probing for food involves the birds stabbing the ground and then gaping their beaks to widen the hole. Occasionally they’ll strike lucky and catch something edible. I’m guessing that a lot of the time, they won’t.
Periodically a bigger break away led to the whole flock taking off, and swirling around before landing nearby. By my rough estimates there were about 2-3,000 birds in this tight flock – over 250 observers were left, watching, on the electricity wires.
This movement pattern probably follows that of the in flight murmurations seen at dusk, where huge flocks swirl in apparently random patterns. In this situation each bird which changes direction or speed will only influence the 7 closest to it. But this quickly transmits through the whole flock, such is their speed of response. Click here for more.Finally for those thrilled by such displays, YOU REALLY MUST click here for a beautiful piece of dusk video by a French director and photographer- Castillon, and Touzeras. Apparently they were waiting to film a helicopter, when at dusk the starlings appeared on scene. They rightly forgot the machine, and filmed the birds, to capture this bird ballet. Amazing, uplifting stuff. And a lovely piece of accompanying music as well…
In this brief back problem affected post, I must record and help to promote, the wonderful venue at Rhos y gilwen. A privately funded arts venue just outside Cardigan, with a brilliant and diverse musical and theatre programme held in their stunning recently built oak framed hall. And all the result of the vision of the couple who bought the run-down property nearly 20 years ago, and have transformed it, and are in the thick of everything that happens there. We travelled down for their March 1st, St. David’s Day, concert. The music was memorable with the Cardigan Rugby Male Voice choir in good voice. Click below for the song which brought the house down on a historic rugby weekend (Max Boyce’s Hymns and Arias). An insight into the humour and rivalry against the old enemy.
This was interspersed with a range of songs performed by the Welsh tenor Rhys Meirion. An added delight was that his lovely and talented teenage daughters were also given a slot to sing in front of a packed audience. For any unfamiliar with Rhys’ wonderful voice, I’m including a couple of links to him performing, the first a fabulous duet ‘Prayer’ with Elin Fflur, the second a less polished recording of a moving song from a now forgotten musical about the first world war, which he has rediscovered, and reinterpreted for us in a bilingual version (‘Tell my Father’) which he sang for us on the night. Click here, and here, or below for a beautiful recording, simply sung with accompanying harp.
What makes Rhos y Gilwen even better, is that for many concerts you can book a pre dinner meal at the conservatory restaurant attached to the concert venue, and even a room in the mansion for bed and breakfast afterwards. And the whole thing (concert, dinner, B and B) will cost less than a night in a posh B and B. If you live locally or are ever visiting the West of Wales, I do suggest you check out their website by clicking here, and include a trip to this special place. It really deserves support.
I should also add my thanks for being allowed, for a small donation, to collect a small sample of the local Rhos y Gilwen snowdrops, to add to our collection, of Welsh origin snowdrops. Those below were photographed at a derelict location en route, amongst more contemporary detritus, and yet again show snowdrops’ ability to outlive their planters and thrive in adversity.
And finally, after an out of the blue request from a well-known greenhouse manufacturer, Hartley Botanic, (in January), my 50 word tip for March on their website can be seen by clicking here. (Unpaid for those worried about the hypocrisy of any creeping commercialisation here). I really love the header quote on this page, which encapsulates our own thoughts of what we’ve been trying to achieve here over the years.
My blog attempts to capture the, often inadequate, results.
“Gardening is the art that uses flowers and plants as paint, and the soil and sky as canvas.” Elizabeth Murray.
(As a PS, having googled Elizabeth Murray, I can now see why this quote struck a chord with me. Click here for her website, where you’ll see that she’s been associated with Monet’s garden for many years. Our own ‘Garden Impressionists’ tag came from a single light bulb moment of exposure to this iconic garden, years ago).
Fortunately, or not, there are no such ‘just 50 words’ restrictions on my verbosity on this site.
What an impressive display of spring bulbs. Do the starlings invade your garden?
The biog winter flocks make a terrible mess and have other nasty habits like pecking the primroses and beheading the scillas. This year the winter flocks have deserted us as there is no seaweed on the beach – the insects from the rotting weed are their main source of food However the wind has done an equally good job of shredding the primroses and beheading any bulb daft enough to think it’s spring.
Hello Christine. As yet the starlings seem to just use our tall trees as gathering sites, and fly down into the neighbouring fields. The thought of them descending like a locust plague and trashing the spring bulbs leaves me cold, Perhaps a shotgun licence would be sought… We’ve so far only had flowers trashed by young magpies later in the year.
What determined gardeners you both are, coping with wind shredding of early bulb flowers!
Resigned and grumpy rather than determined! However, I remain optimistic that the weather will improve after the spring equinox, Easter or sometime!
I’m with you on the delights of being grumpy. Why not? A much maligned adjective, or in my case noun, since when our first grandchild was expected years ago, I thought about a preferred moniker for myself and settled on ‘Grumpy’, figuring that I would grow into the name as time passed. And so it has turned out…
Such a super Spring display of bulbs and then scores of starlings…all splendid as usual..thank you for sharing.
Thanks Marianne. I do miss the big starling flocks when they leave us soon, but perhaps I wouldn’t if they trashed the flowers, as Christine mentions they can do in her garden,
Have you ever been to Rhos y Gilwen?
Your garden is so full of colour and you have grape hyacinth which hasn’t come through here yet. I hope you can find room for your new snowdrops. Do you think you would ever run out of space for a new snowdrop ? Great video – I thought I had seen huge flocks of starlings but now I see what they mean. Amelia
Thanks for that, I reckon its my favourite time, and a bit more time to enjoy things than later in the year. Glad you had a look at the starling video -its a stunning short piece. Re the snowdrops, we’re some way off filling up yet. It’s just as likely my back/knees will tell me to stop planting before we run out of space, but hopefully by then we’ll have sufficient self seeding to fill in over the years. Sometime I’ll post something about whether you can ever overplant spring bulbs. Currently my feeling is that the answer is no, if you can manage to keep whacking them in. But we’re still working at the sequential emergence of bulbs to keep a display evolving through the season. And so we don’t have any grape hyacinths out yet. I’m guessing you’ve spotted the very pale blue flowers which are a Scilla (mischtschenkoana) which has become an early season favourite, which I was going to feature again next post, since its emerging slightly later this year than usual. Just to prove that all the best laid plans rarely work out quite as anticipated, all the time. But that’s all part of the fun?
Spring is here! Lovely post Julian, I did click here and the Starling film is wonderful, I had co-incidently read your other link last week whilst trying to understand murmurations. What a spectacle! I hope you had the predicted weather at the weekend.
Thanks for that Julie, glad you clicked on the starlings video, which was indeed beautiful. Weather not as good as forecast in the end, so I still haven’t seen a bumblebee, and a fabulous sky this morning preludes a deluge! Ah well, spring in Wales!
Another uplifting post! Starling murmurations are incredible; I’ve only witnessed smaller flocks at first hand but the videos and photos are beautiful. The thought of them ransacking your bulbs is justifiably worrying but I could do with a few to aerate my lawn 🙂
Thanks Noeline, I gather that a lot of these winter starlings are migrants from Eastern/Scandinavian countries, and will be returning home soon. So I’ll nip out before they leave and ask them to detour via your neck of the woods to work over your lawn!