Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Birding the campus

Aren't these guys the cutest ever? Today I led an 'expedition' around campus to look at the birdlife that shares this amazing environment with us. The sun was shining, the air was thick and muggy, and it was a lunchtime. What more could one want?

Well, with a troup of 11 other bird-interested colleagues with me, some birds would have been nice!

There were, as usual, no shortage of jackdaws, ducks and Canada geese, but of almost every other kind of bird (especially of the small variety) there was no sign. Not a robin tweeting, a blackbird singing or even a pigeon cooing! Where were they?

Well, maybe it was the weather, maybe it is the fact that there are people everywhere getting ready for Graduation tomorrow, but even so... the birds on campus are used to people are usually everywhere! I think someone told them: "Bird watchers coming, hide!!"

OK, a dozen people tramping along are not exactly quiet, but we weren't exactly noisy either. However, we did get to look at lots of habitat, and discuss the birds that - ahem - should be present! We know there are green woodpeckers, long tailed tits and even the odd tree creeper around, but none of these exotics graced us with their presence.

We walked on round the campus, looking at the ducks on the lake (and finding two tufted ducks) and eventually ended up in the car park. This is where I daily hear the goldfinches. Silence. Then, at last, one long songster at the top of a bush! We gathered round the cars and looked at the little chap singing his heart out. A bird worth seeing, with his lovely red face and gold striped wings.

We walked on, round to a more wooded area and stood silently beneath the trees. Once again... silence. Then, at last, another chirrup. Two more goldfinches appeared, and I managed to snap one of them with the camera. He was very visible and started to preen in front of us. Not only visible, but a show off too!

It was, if nothing else, a lovely walk in the grounds on a sunny afternoon, but I hope during the re-run next week, we see a few more birds.

Friday, July 15, 2011

The secret tea room

I've heard of geurilla gardening, but this was the first guerilla tea party I had ever heard of!

I received an invite from the Secret Tea Room and myself, and quite a few others, were given a rendevouz point (outside the Zest cafe on site) and arrival time. At the duly appointed 5.45pm a few individuals started to gather in the square as the light finally warmed the concrete squares that had been so shadowed by the clouds all day. And then I saw someone I know with a box full of plates. I followed!

Into the building - signs saying 'this way, shhh!' appropriately positioned along the route. I followed the box of plates and the signs until reaching a cozy common room. Lights low, soft 20's style music playing on the gramophone (well, ipod really), and coffee tables decked in white, lace, and with tiered cake stands laden with delectables.

One table held the most marvellous looking carrot cake - huge, square, moist, decked with icing and crushed nuts. Another held neat little sandwiches, filled with cucumber, cheese and qunice jelly. The scones were given pride of place with cream and jam as standard bearers, whilst fresh strawberries added a blazen of rich colour to the delicious scene. Pure white fresias, gently drooping on green stems, bowed to the scene.

A teapot bedecked in a colourful knitted cosy, complete with china lady, sat plumply expectant next to the crockery, awaiting the infusion and preparing to delighted the now-gathered company. A blend of special teas, served from the pot with a strainer.

From just 8 months old and squirming to dignified 70s, young and old, men and women, faces from around the world gathered to chat and 'take tea' in the old English manner. A delightful and enchanting evening, where the home-baked food surpassed visual anticipation and the company was varied and stimulating.

I do hope there is another one before I leave this wonderful and surpising place. And I wonder if I can track down the remains of that delicious carrot cake today?