Conductors

Over us, under us, giving instructions to the natural world’s chorus. The first is one that no human can fail to note.

Storm 13 Jun 20

Or maybe some can; I don’t know. Cities are good at pretending that the sky isn’t there, obscuring it with skyscrapers and masking stars with light. Rain is the grime on the pavement, the warning in train stations announcements that passengers might slip – but in the real world, it is life, teasing beautiful things from the soil.

Spotted orchid 14 Jun 20

Orchid season has finally sprinkled pink and purple beauties for the watchful to see. Rain has grown them, and it looks like we should get plenty more showers this week.

Other species are in bloom too, not least foxgloves.

Foxglove 14 Jun 20

And invertebrates take advantage of the suddenly lush vegetation. Small skippers lay their eggs on Yorkshire-fog and other grasses.

Small skipper 14 Jun 20

Grasses: we take them for granted. But the reality is that most of England has seen its plant cover severely degraded by recent changes in land use. This second conductor, the land, isn’t always easy for people to comprehend. A field that is overgrazed by horses can still look pretty, but it supports far, far fewer species than an old haymeadow.

Over us is the weather, and under us is the soil. Between them, they conduct remarkable things.

Fox resting 13 Jun 20

Romania: Daia – Storm Bells Ringing

June – August 2016

I’m not sure what Daia means in Romanian, but in my mental dictionary it is ‘authentic, beautiful, rustic, irresistible’ 🙂

Meadows at Daia

It is hard to remember that all the world used to be like this. No car noise – merely the sweet chirps of sparrows, and the whinnying of horses.

The streets are old, and stray dogs play in them.

Daia streets4

This is Transylvania at its purest. Daia is everything that a medieval village ought to be. And the transects! If there’s a more beautiful corner of agricultural Europe, I haven’t found it.

Daia transects1

Walking in these meadows is to be lost in a fragrant dream. Crushed thyme infuses the air with every step.

But like all the best parts of the world, Daia is moody – the weather spins on a dime from suffocating hot to something entirely else:

July 29th

Hear the loud alarum bells– Brazen bells! 
Bells, bells, bells! What a tale their terror tells of despair! How they clang, and clash, and roar! What a horror they outpour on the bosom of the palpitating air! Yet the ear, it fully knows, by the twanging and the clanging, how the danger ebbs and flows… (Edgar Allan Poe)

Bells cry from the church tower. Not continuously, but after each peel of thunder, and today there are many. I’m told it’s a ritual; people here believe it will drive the storm away.

The light levels are dropping although it is only 5pm, and wind is licking around the tent corners, but so far no rain. The thunder is more than weather; it sounds like the sky itself is rending like a –

Plastic sheet. I think that’s what I meant to write. In the middle of that sentence the wind slammed into my tent like a tidal wave. I was ready (in the sense of having footwear donned) so grabbed my laptop bag, slammed the laptop into it while running, and bolted for shelter. These clouds are painting grey blotches, circling overhead like aerial hunting creatures.  It’s like being inside a plughole watching the torrent circle.

Storm coming2

Lightning strikes, sheet mostly, and from all possible directions. The sky is a living thing that roars at us. Nearly the whole expedition huddle under the lecture room roof, save the botany team, who are getting a swimming lesson somewhere out on transect.

Bells, bells, bells! They’re still ringing…

The storm consumes itself, and the sky is given over to night.

Daia church at sundown

Romania: Richis Storms

June – August 2016

We were setting up hedgehog tracking tunnels on the woodland edge when the sky lost its light and the land turned emerald.

Storm coming RI 250616

Camera: off.

Survey: off.

We run, but the rain runs faster, and throws itself into hair and eyes with an almost human malice. I toss my beloved metal hiking pole into a bush because lightning couldn’t find a better conductor.

Somehow we reach the road, where the cows are waiting for evening milking and a foal grazes idly alongside his parents. The thunder and lightning are almost simultaneous. My boots have withstood the puddles but the insides are afloat. Camp is also awash, with students diving into puddles.

Morning brings sunshine – and bears, or at least their footprints, admired as we rescue my poor hiking stick. Richis is altogether rich in mammal sign. Roe deer, not least; unusually for deer, they scrape away leaves to create a sleeping space, leaving a bare patch about 60cm wide.

Roe deer bedding area

It is the roe deer’s rutting season, and at night their barks sound even over the endless yapping of village dogs. The early morning teams often spot them but most of my sightings are through the army of camera traps that I’ve deployed in these woods.

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Snapshot_7c

The cameras are also starting to catch some exciting carnivores. Pine martens are the larger of the two marten species that endlessly bounce, leap and climb through Transylvania.

Snapshot_7a

Amazingly, the same camera caught an edible dormouse! This is found in Britain too – it was introduced to Cheshire decades ago. It is a much larger species than the hazel dormice that I study in Surrey.

Snapshot_7b

Meanwhile, hawk-moths dazzle in camp.

Richis post7

Leaving Richis is difficult. But six more villages await.