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  • Writer's pictureIan Cognito

Through the window - August 2021

There can be many interesting things to see around a local area if only we take the time to look around. That includes looking up, as well as side to side. I say that because there was a time when I regularly had to drive down out of Norfolk and across rural Suffolk. One of the interesting things I saw on the journey were the old farmhouses and larger houses (not so much stately homes, as those were normally hidden away from the hoi polloi behind tall hedges or walls). It got to the point where I used these buildings as way markers, checking off stages on my journey. Eventually even that got slightly boring so I looked at more details on the structures, such as the height of the chimney stack and the intricate brickwork on some of them.

These old buildings had a proportionately taller chimney stack than more modern structures. And that applies in Necton as well. While walking the dog around the village I’ve been looking out for the older houses that can be seen from the street. Some of the older houses do have taller chimney stacks. For some reason that came as a bit of a surprise, and I questioned again, why do these old buildings have tall chimney stacks. The only answer was to ask that font of all knowledge, Wiki. I didn’t really get an answer to that question directly but by deduction I think the height is due to the number of fireplaces within the building (most rooms, including bedrooms had fireplaces). If a lot were in use at the same time, there would be a large volume of smoke to disperse at the same time. Even if more than one flue was in use. To determine the height seems to be a factor of the air pressure difference between the fireplace and the outlet of the chimney to suck the smoke out. Additionally, a taller chimney would distribute the temperature up its length better than a short chimney, as the more fires burning, the hotter the stack. This would reduce the risk of a fire in the roof space. However, I read that if the chimney stack is too tall a reverse action can occur and smoke would get sucked into a room.

The old reading room, fine example of high chimneys

Having solved the mystery of chimneys another one of my all-time mysteries came to mind, and that is ‘where do all the flies go in winter?’. Although that was not really the question. In a wildlife article that question had been expanded to ask; ‘where do all the birds go in summer?’ That was an interesting question. My wife and I have noticed that after the spring-time rush of birds and their fledglings visiting the bird feeding station the numbers of birds using it decreases. But we’re not too sure why. According to this article there are a number of reasons why. One being that more natural food is available during summer and so birds will more readily feed off that. Only returning to the feeder as their food source becomes depleted. Another reason given is that the physical stress on the birds caused by mating has an adverse effect on them. Their plumage suffers and they tend to hide away while it recovers. There were more reasons listed but I’ve lost the article and can’t remember what the others were.

We have tried to make our garden more bee and butterfly friendly by encouraging wild flowers to take a more prominent place. There was a time when I would attack wild flowers, such as cow parsley, with a vengeance. Get rid of them. They are wild. They are weeds. Why have them in the garden? Then it was spoken about on one of the gardening programmes on the tele about how important they are for all sorts of wildlife. So, I now find it interesting to see what flowers appear in the garden if an area is left to go ‘wild’. All kinds of flowers spring up. We have even had an apple tree start growing. Purple loose strife is spreading around the pond and rose bay willow herb has a firm foothold. Has it worked though? Well, we certainly have had more butterflies in the garden this year. Although not as many as the number we saw on a walk around Ashill common on 18th August last year. We walked into a path section made by bushes encroaching on a boundary hedge. As we turned a corner we were confronted with a swarm of brown butterflies. There were so many we gave up counting them. We guessed there must have been well over a hundred of them. It was a unique sight. We had never seen the like of it before, and we’ve never seen the same since.

It has been good to see wild flowers around Necton. On the long walk around the allotments there is a large patch of Meadowsweet, now sadly past its prime at the time of writing this. In the sheep pasture there is a large patch of what looks like it could be red coloured sedge. Seen from the air it could be quite magnificent.

Flowering hibiscus

Cultivated flowers shouldn’t be forgotten though. Our hibiscus has given us the best blooms this year than ever before, and I believe herbal tea can be made from them. But the strangest thing is the Sea Holly that’s growing around the lip of an embankment. Where did that come from? Necton is a long way from the coast….

So far this year we’ve had the usual wildlife visitors to the garden. Some have stayed a while, whereas others just made a brief guest appearance. However, there is one creature I would like to see that so far has not shown up, and that is a grass snake. We had quite a surprise when we discovered a discarded snake skin at the edge of the pond last year. Up till then we didn’t know we had grass snake’s in the garden at all. Apparently snakes have to discard their skins every now and then. They hook a bit on a stone (or something similar) and slowly squirm their way out of the skin. It is possible to see details, such as eye sockets, on the skin. There are some fascinating videos on U-Tube showing snakes discarding their skins. Even huge Anacondas are shown doing this.

The only one time we saw snakes in the garden there were two of them side by side swimming/squirming across the oxygenating plants in the pond. They both had a ‘neck’ raised above the water, with their heads pointing forward. They strangely resembled the sketches of the Loch Ness Monster. This proves beyond all doubt that the Loch Ness Monster is really a giant grass snake. Perhaps.

The discarded skin of a grass snake

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