November 2, 2021
  • November 2, 2021

Such natural beauty by the river that I almost got into poetry

By on October 11, 2021 0

Again, we are leaving early today. Rosemary drives us to Henley and pulls into the Mill Lane parking lot shortly before 10am.

We leave to take a look at the Thames, which seems to be in good condition.

We walk into town along the river, noting the strange beautiful boat and feeding the various ducks, geese and swans on our way.

Waterfowl are so fun and great to see up close. We especially like the resident tufted ducks. Whenever Rosemary gets ready to take a photo, they dive in – typical.

We head to the historic downtown market square to meet Greener Henley in their Big Green Bazaar.

First, we’ll catch up with Professor Richard Fortey and his wife Jackie to chat and review his mushroom roadshow, which is proving to be both entertaining and informative.

Some of the examples in Richard’s display seem to be strangely familiar.

We salute Linda Seward, another collaborator of the Henley Standard. Like Rosemary and I, she wants to know more about fungi, their identification, purpose, value and importance in the ecological scheme of things.

I’m happy to report that Richard’s display is getting the attention it deserves.

I spot Sally Rankin of the Henley Wildlife Group a short distance away. It is heartwarming to see her again after so many months.

She gives me a copy of Wildlife and its conservation in Henley-on-Thames, which was released by his group in 2003, funded by Naturesave Trust. I am very grateful because it is a wealth of scientifically described information in detail and a valuable reference book.

After a brief visit to the Argyll pub, we return to the bazaar and meet Alie Hagedoorn, from Walkers are Welcome Henley.

She represents the Ramblers Association with a colleague.

We then head to West Street for a quick lunch in the Row Barge, Rosemary’s first visit. Our cheese omelets and beer are superlatives.

Mrs. Fortey had advised us earlier to see Patrick Fleming, “the man with the trees”, so we do.

We get along well and have so much in common. Patrick informs us that Greener Henley, whom he chairs, is providing free saplings that can be planted in gardens, fields and paddocks.

The main species are silver birch, rowan, crabapple, hazel, oak, country maple, walnut and horse chestnut. Some of the proposed trees have been “saved” (Rosemary and I are doing the same), others have multiplied. Patrick shows us a small black poplar. We would love to take it home, but our garden in Caversham is not suitable as the species’ natural habitat is wet meadow on a flood plain.

If you would like a free tree to plant, email Patrick at [email protected]

We then head to Lower Shiplake, taking a left onto Reading Road, then down Mill Lane.

Having not walked the towpath here since July of last year, we think it’s time to come back.

After parking by the path to Shiplake Lock, we walk down the river past some quaint and incongruous buildings that seem out of place in this setting.

Lots of wild hops climb through small trees, mostly English elms. No such surrender.

There are many common hawthorns laden with bright red hawthorns. The central hawthorn (Crataegus laevigata) mingles with the common, its leaves are distinctly three-lobed.

Ivy is in full bloom, a magnet for a myriad of insects. German wasps (Vespula germanica) and various hoverflies are the main customers. One, a female Eristalis tenax, makes the most of the premium.

Much despised, ivy provides vital food for insects late in nature’s schedule and also a refuge during the cold months for a wide range of insects and small birds as they seek shelter and shelter.

It is a bit windy today, but it is not uncommon at this time of year, especially by the river.

We head to the railway bridge, walk below and turn right, passing a row of old plane trees to reach the shore. The river looks very healthy.

Across the meadow to our left, we see about seven house swallows hissing in the sky. This is not unusual as they often stay in October before heading south to Africa.

A brilliant blue insect, the alder leaf beetle (Agelastica alni) crawls on the leaf of an alder mite infested (Acalitus brevitarsus), the blisters turning rusty brown.

The teasel stems are reflected gloriously in the water and the dried stems of giant hogweed are framed by a clear blue sky.

Hops announcing their greenish, aromatic fruits with large lobes are tempting. I will probably come back and collect some to use in an authentic local beer.

The daisy of Saint-Michel, an escapee from the garden, grows along the river and is popular with many insects. It’s pretty too, with lilac and yellow stripe florets in the center. We also find a form with white florets.

The purple loosestrife and hempgrass seed heads are prominent as they dot their claim at the top of the river bank. The water figwort is fruiting.

The sky is a breathtaking blue, full of cumulonimbus clouds. They are not threatening and just look ornamental as they move slowly.

We enviously gaze at a property or two on the Wargrave shore – what a great place it must be to live.

Around a bend we find many more trees by the river interspersed with narrow animal trails that lead directly to the water.

I can only imagine these were created by badgers to quench their thirst and then adopted by other animals including dogs from humans.

The balm of the Indies (Impatiens glandulifera), another naturalized plant, proliferates. A flesh fly (Sarcophaga carnaria) is installed on one of the leaves.

There is a nice selection of riparian trees along the shore, including split willow, white willow, gray willow, and wicker.

The twigs of the cracked willow break easily, hence its name. If you feel like having one, take a twig home and poke it into the soil as you go.

A pair of pretty mute swans approach us and, as always, Rosemary obliges with bread.

A large common reed bed which also houses a large reed bed, or bulrush, is lovely.

I expect the reed warblers and reed buntings to return to nest next spring. Cuckoos too, so watch out for little birds.

The common toadflax grows to our left. A late flowering plant, it is also known as butter and egg and is beautiful. Oxford groundsel flowers nearby.

High above the prairie to the west, Canada geese harvest the lush grass, but seem eager to go (as Joni Mitchell would like).

On the now dry stems of giant hogweed, groups of what I imagine to be white-lipped snails (Cepaea hortensis) huddle together in small groups. They vary in color.

Two jays ring in distant trees.

Mugwort is still in bloom, a reminder of summer days.

I sit on a rudimentary bench adjacent to the old Lashbrook Ferry to take a break and soak up the views. We didn’t see any dragonflies, but the adults (imagos) are dead, their offspring in the form of ravenous nymphs lie underneath unseen, bracing for next year’s explosion of swift and skillful hunters.

We find them quite exquisite. I like the way they hunt.

We head north, as we did the last time we were here, through a pleasant patch of meadow with dark cattle wagging their tails. It’s such a bucolic scene that I feel like I can burst into poetry.

We pass under the railroad tracks and pass a private property leading to a side road that lights up splendid Edwardian houses. We turn left on a nice little bridge to look into the water.

Brilliant clusters of red fruits of the Gelderland rose greet us as we cross a wooden walkway.

We used to see and hear moorhens here, but today there aren’t any in the duckweed covered water.

We descend into a familiar meadow to meet a narrow path and return to the car.

Back home, my office (or playroom as Rosemary calls it) was overrun with boxwood moths.

First found in Kent in 2007, the butterfly caterpillars will strip boxwoods and bushes of their leaves.

They are cute little creatures, so I don’t know what to do with them. A difficult decision may have to be made.

Oh wait, I spot a kidney ladybug whose hungry larvae can provide the answer. Crossed fingers.

We have had yet another enjoyable day and look forward to many more.

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