Monday, 21 May 2012

Walk 28: Cow Parsley Cappucino - Steanbridge Mill and the duck pond (revisit)

We're well into the luxurious heart of spring, now, and I'm paying a second visit to the short section of stream which runs from the garden of Steanbridge Mill to the beginning of the Steanbridge Estate, via the duck pond. I can't really claim that this is anything but an indulgence, this walk, since I'm not doing it at a very different time of year from last time, but this little stretch was so lovely in late spring last year that I can't resist going to see it again.

I'm about a month earlier than last time, and the ground either side of the narrow path is almost waist-high in variations on the theme of cow parsley/wild carrot/Queen Anne's Lace - take your pick - plus nettles, goose-grass, wild garlic, ragged robin and all manner of other spring rampage.  If you crouch down on the path to take low-level photos, it feels like being in a miniature rain forest.  The variety of shapes, colours and patterns holds me spellbound for a while.  I'm particularly taken with a nettle-like plant with intricate yellow markings on the lower lip of its flower, which (with a bit of imagination) reminds me of a maharajah sitting under a ceremonial parasol. (Later I discover that this rejoices in the ethereal name of Yellow Archangel and is nothing to do with nettles.) The meandering line of the path stands out more clearly, cutting through the green shagginess around it.  Strong shadows tiger-stripe the ground and the trees stand up straight and dark like spoons in green coffee.  Must be a cappucino - there's a froth of cow parsley on top.

I remind myself to look up as well as down.  Above me, the canopy is a lacy, fresh spring green, that green which is as close to yellow as it can be and still be green, with the slender dark lines of branches scribbled against it.  And I can look out as well in; through the windows in the stream's cloak of trees, I can see white cattle grazing in the fields.  White cattle against spring-green grass, with a frame of dark branches, causes the camera to throw up its hands in horror and complain of too much contrast.

The stream itself is barely visible in the midst of all this richness, and it looks on the low side to me.  There is a good sized fringe of mud along most of its edge, attractively marked in some places with the prints of duck webs, like the scalloping on a pie crust.  I look for lampreys and find nothing but a determined-looking beetle dog-paddling in the shallows.  The duck pond, however, is satisfactorily full of ducks, including a party of newish ducklings.  While I'm wandering around its upper end, looking at the shapes and variety of the plantlife, one of them comes determinedly staggering up to me and almost runs over my foot, which appears to be in the way of somewhere he wants very much to go.

Maybe a murderer?
By the bridge that carries the footpath, someone has been throwing down grain, and mother duck and the rest of the brood are industriously hoovering it up, which makes them more amenable than usual to being photographed.  More ducklings are surging across the water to join them.  Just when the scene couldn't get more cuddly, I notice that one of the ducklings in the water is upside down and, on closer examination, clearly dead.  Not a heron or pike, presumably, since the body is still here.  Another duck?  A duckling is a very fragile thing to be, and according to nature, infinitely expendable.  Maybe it was the male mallard (I believe they are famously short-tempered) who is paddling around and flashing his irridescent green neck at me.

The ducklings aren't the only youngsters on the pond.  A trio of young moorhens, much shyer and less showy, are sticking close to their mother and hugging the island in the middle.

On my way back along the path, my eye is caught by an intriguing beetle, the same size and shape as a traditional ladybird, but bright orange with white spots.  Is this yet another example of the exciting but sinister harlequin ladybird, or something else entirely? Oh, the things I don't know would fill a library.  (And presumably do.)  There is so much to see here, even if you aren't actively looking for it, and so much to know.  Far more than anyone can feasibly discover in one lifetime.  You can't tell me that's right.

No comments:

Post a Comment