Friday, May 13

Grass snakes and elderflower cordial

But not at the same time!

The Curse and I took ourselves out of London this morning for a breath of fresh air and a bit of thinking time. We drove to the RSPB reserve Northward Hill which is on the Hoo Peninsula in Kent. Well worth a visit if you get chance. I've written about the heronry before, and we had come specially to visit during the nesting season.

That plan turned out to be a foolish one; naturally the trees where the birds nest were covered in leaves, and many of them were also populated with rooks making a dreadful din. We did see one heron exiting the treetops and flapping off into the distance, but no others bothered to show themselves.

Luckily there were many other exciting things to look at, and we were lucky enough to see two grass snakes basking in the sunshine on the side of a shallow ditch. Another visitor had alerted us to their sunbathing spot, and on the way past it we decided to investigate. Sure enough, I immediately spotted the large grass snake he had mentioned, it slithered stealthily into the water and hid beneath some foliage while it waited for me to go away. As the Curse approached, somewhat reluctantly, a smaller snake - perhaps the male of the pair - slipped off the grass and swam over to the other side of the ditch where it waited, eyeing us suspiciously.

My first proper sighting of a grass snake, and lucky enough to see two at once!

We listened to reed buntings chirruping away for ages, answering one another from opposite ends of the reed beds, and heard a cuckoo calling repeatedly from the woods. The grassland was alive with beautiful butterflies and moths, including a cinnabar moth whose stunning red and black wings looked dramatic against the green background.

Northward Hill had other, more predictable sightings, and the view across the Thames is always refreshing. The warm sun and gentle breeze made our two-hour stroll all the more delightful.

Back in London I got the first batch of elderflower cordial going. If you have elder bushes near you, do consider making some of this. It's incredibly easy and if you freeze a bottle of it, you will be able to enjoy the heady scent of early summer one gloomy day in the middle of winter.

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