Tuesday, 27 May 2014

An Alpha Mare and Forest Flowers

 One afternoon last week, on our nearby Forest green, a small herd of New Forest mares was grazing on short new grass. Forest ponies usually live and graze together in small groups. Sometimes two lifelong friends will form a pair bond and will seem quite independent of a larger group. During the winter months, family groups of around four to six mares are a common sight.

 It is May and the mares may have a foal at foot or may be coming into season and will be receptive to a stallion. This is the time when small groups band together. If foals are around, there is safety in numbers. In a larger group, the dynamics of herd behaviour come into play.

 This group comprises several smaller families. The little threesome of young maiden mares who live around here have joined the older mares. Throughout the day, the older mares had been sorting out their pecking order and a fit, shining bay mare had proved to be the Alpha Mare who would lead and discipline this little herd over the coming weeks. She is the one with her back to the camera in the next photograph.

The young mares put up little resistance to her, but some of her older companions needed reminding who was the boss. With swishing tail, ears back and her face contorted into a threatening grimace, the Alpha Mare would chase, bite and round up anyone daring to wander away or to ignore her instructions. The body language of horses is fascinating to those of us who watch and handle them regularly. Being able to watch a native pony herd coming together and working out their relationships is something quite remarkable.

Although the junior mares were grazing, they were far from relaxed. Their tails constantly swished and  one ear was always locked on to the direction of Alpha Mare, in case she should approach them and issue some instructions!

This year, a relatively small number of selected stallions are being released to serve the New Forest mares and they will be running on the Forest for just one month. The financial recession has lead to a crisis of equine welfare in Britain. There is little demand for foals and the New Forest Commoners do not want to breed unwanted ponies.

If our little herd meets a stallion, they will join up with yet more mares and the competition for the role of Alpha Mare will be played out again. The Alpha Mare has a great responsibility. She is the one who will lead the herd to new pasture, to water or out of danger while the stallion will bring up the rear of the herd, gathering his mares together and herding them into order as they move onwards.

As there was a lot of unrest among the ponies, I decided to turn away and find some of the wild flowers     growing in the lanes and on the heath. 

In the hedge bottoms, greater stitchwort was growing among emerging honeysuckle leaves.

A few late dog violets were still in flower.

There are a few non-native purple rhododendrons up on the hill. Many have been taken out by the Forestry workers as they are invasive and not good wildlife habitats, but while they are in flower, they do look lovely amongst the creamy white, blossoming hawthorn.

Young bracken is beginning to arch its fronds out of the earth and the bright yellow stars of tormentil are a sure sign of summer on the heath.

Sunlit hawthorn

Natural adaptation - on the cropped grass of the valley floor, bluebells grow small on short, stumpy stems.......

......but protected in shady hedges, they grow tall and slender, upwards towards the light.

Back on the green, the restless mares still grouped and regrouped, testing each other out and moving the younger ones around, but the bay Alpha Mare won the day. Later I saw her leading her mares along the lane and up towards the good grass on the hill.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

May on the Heath

Life is busy here. There is a lot going on in our village and we have had old friends to stay. The garden and the animals need time and the weather has been lovely.

Out on the heath, at the bottom of the hill, crab apple blossom has fallen but the hawthorn (May) is at its best.

This old hawthorn has branches draped in lichen and a secret bunch of mistletoe that has been there for years.

Late on a sunny afternoon, the May blossom is beautiful against blue skies.

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

A Seaside Walk After the Wedding

Thank you all for your good wishes, which I have passed on to last weekend`s Bride and Groom!

Despite a evening party at the wedding, with very late bed times for all, a hardy bunch of guests joined the newly weds at midday on Monday, for a walk around Hengistbury Head to blow away the cobwebs. Lots of the guests were old university friends who are now scattered across the country ( one couple even flew in from Australia for the wedding). It seemed a great idea to get together  before everyone dispersed again.

We all set off across towards the sea path......

....and turned towards Warren Hill, the highest point of Hengistbury Head.

The Natterjack Toad conservation pond is well established now, but the toads were in hiding.

Between the Iron Age Double Dykes, is an area where wild flowers can grow, protected from tramping feet.

Some of the wildlife that lives on Warren Hill. We saw sand martins, newly arrived from Africa, swooping into their nest holes in the sandy clifftops.

The westwards view, along the miles of sandy beaches stretching towards Bournemouth and along the bay to Poole Harbour.

A weary group of wedding guests, trudging up Warren Hill!

Bluebells on the hill slopes seemed paler than those in more sheltered spots.

Waiting for me to catch up........

A schooner was hugging the coast on its eastward journey.

We passed the freshwater lake in the Victorian ironstone quarry.

The little ship continued on its way.

After a wonderful walk across sandy heathland on the top of Warren Hill, we reached the viewpoint where the sands of Mudeford spit stretch towards the narrow mouth of Christchurch Harbour. Highcliffe, Barton and Milford are on the distant coastline beyond. This is the coastline that was so badly battered by this February`s Valentine`s Night Storm.

In sheltered waters, Christchurch Harbour is the place where Dorset`s River Stour and the Hampshire River Avon meet the sea.

Down the steps to the beach, and a chance to catch up with old friends.

This patient Border Collie was waiting for someone.

The rust of iron in a fragment of ironstone on the beach.

When we reached the Beach Cafe, we were all in need of a hot drink or an ice cream. We rested for a while, watching people, dogs and small boats.......

.....before we set off again, walking back along the narrow road that flanks the southern edge of Christchurch Harbour. 

Saltmarsh and mudflats are a haven for feeding seabirds. We saw shellduck, oystercatchers, egrets and numerous gulls.

The newly painted Noddy Train passed us along the lane. It is a tradition that total strangers on the little train and the walkers they pass all wave happily to each other!

With our walk almost at an end, Christchurch Priory Church came into view at every gap between the trees.

A weary group arrived back at the car park and we went our separate ways. It had been a lovely way to end the wedding celebrations. A seaside walk in hazy sunshine and another chance to be with friends and family, before we all went home and the busy excitement of the past few days gave way to a need for a very early night!

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Flowers from a Wedding Day

After our son`s wedding, the flowers were shared around family and friends, so the pleasure they gave on the Wedding Day carried on well into another week. 

A village friend, who is a trained florist and loves doing wedding flowers, did the bouquets, buttonholes, the long arrangements for tables and fireplaces and the posies in ribboned jam jars on every table. She did a wonderful job and her love of flowers shone through. The rooms were alight with soft, pastel colours and the vintage feel complimented the creams worn by the bride and her bridesmaids. It was a wedding in a country venue and the relaxed flower arrangements looked like a cottage garden in bloom.

Below is one of the long arrangements in the main colours of purple, yellow and cream. The taller bouquet was my gift as Mum of the Bridegroom and the Bride`s Mum had a matching bouquet. We were both thrilled by our flowers.


Scented stocks and fresia

Below are the beautiful and intricate sugarcraft posies that decorated the wedding cake. 
The Bride`s Mum made both the cake and the decorations. She has made jewellery in the past and is a talented embroiderer. Her fine, tiny sugar flowers showed another aspect of her amazing skills and the results were exquisitely made and gave the simply iced cake a real elegance. 

The cake itself was delicious. A traditional family rich fruit recipe for the lower tier and a lighter lemon drizzle sponge ( gluten free) for the top, all covered in smooth white icing and decorated with the flower sprays and a simple ribbon.

For the Bride`s Mum, this was a real labour of love.