Summer afternoons picking elderflowers

A couple of weeks ago, I woke up on a Sunday morning convinced I had missed the elderflower season this year. I dashed out as soon as I was up, sure that I would have missed the best of the crop! I find time every year to make elderflower cordial, even the summer when Joe was born (full heartfelt story here).

A busy couple of weeks had meant that the elderflowers had to wait this year, but luckily opposite our house is the perfect lane for picking them. It’s quite shaded by lots of other trees, so a week or so behind the main season, and I was so happy to find that there were hundreds still in bloom, calming the elderflower anxiety (first world drama crisis, ahem).

It was also the perfect opportunity to try out my new to me Bobbin bike (committed eBay searching does pay off eventually!) and so I combined a cycle ride with elderflower collecting. The bike’s lovely wicker basket was the perfect thing for collecting and transporting the flowers safely home. Even if my family all laughed at me for being a massive blogger/IG cliche!

I hadn’t ridden a bike for over ten years and had forgotten how much fun it is; just complete exhilerating freedom, cycling down a country lane in the sunshine…it was a complete rediscovered childhood pleasure, just blissful. As Mia accurately summed up the moment, ‘oh Mummy, I didn’t know you could ride a bike…now we can cycle to the cafe together!’ She has only just learned to ride her bike after a long-standing lack of cycling confidence and some previous nasty falls. So we cycled along, collecting elderflowers like something from an Enid Blyton novel, wishing that every day could be like this. But if it was we would end up with a large amount of elderflower cordial and really achey legs!

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Experiencing A Mumuration Of Starlings

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It’s a lovely sounding word isn’t it, murmuration? My favourite collective noun (although a ‘plump’ of moorhens is pretty perfect too) and also the most amazing natural display. At this point in February, it sometimes feels like it has been winter forever and that perhaps spring might not ever arrive. Persuading yourself away from the warm indoors/cosy sofa and outdoors is not always easy, but is so rewarding. Winter’s natural beauty isn’t always as obvious as simple summertime pleasures, but just takes a little more effort to get out there and enjoy it.

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But the sun is still here, and the clear winter skies are stunning…even if multiple layers of thermal clothing are required to get outside and enjoy them! I am definitely not a hardy outdoorsy type person; I suspect my body’s circulation system is based more on a reptile than a mammal; I’m only truly warm having soaked up some warm sunshine for a few hours!

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Having visited RSPB Otmoor near Oxford to see the starling mumurations last year, I had to see this amazing display again. I waited weeks for good weather and a Sunday to happen simulataeously, and it was worth the wait. After walking a mile or two through the nature reserve I reached the reed beds where the starlings land to roost each evening. And was just in time; whilst the birds were roosting further away than last time I had seen them, the murmurations could still be seen in the far distance. Thanks to the super zoom lens I was just about able to capture some of their sky patterns.

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It was so incredibly peaceful, standing quietly with a small group of people all gathered for the same reason. Everyone wrapped up warm for the freezing cold, some with telescopes or binoculars and with cameras, and most with a thermos!

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Luckily we had packed hot chocolate supplies for the walk and settled down in a bird hide to enjoy our drinks and watch the starlings settle down for the night.

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The walk home as the sun set over the nature reserve was stunning; such pink winter skies and silhoutted bulrushes and trees. The mist was gathering over the water and the only sound was geese and ducks in the distance.

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Watching the starlings is a winter ritual that I am becoming very fond of, and one not to be missed. Since our trip to Otmoor I have seen coverage on a few tv shows of murmurations all around the country, and perhaps next year we will travel to the coast to see them gather and dance over the sand dunes!

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