365daysofbiking

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June 3rd - I found myself riding home through Walsall Wood and on through Brownhills in a gorgeous golden hour. The coos of Jockey Meadows were waiting at the gate, and keen to investigate me as I stopped to take their picture. 

On the canal, the greens are still magnificent, and something about the light and water interacted and made the evening precious.

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May 28th - I got to the floating market at Fazeley about 3:30pm, when the sun was out and conditions were good. It was a much smaller event than the year before, but still quite lovely, but I was struck by the lack of visitors. I have no idea why folk weren’t here; maybe the local advertising was poor. Perhaps earlier showers had put them off. Perhaps previous years had been disappointing.

Whatever the cause, it was sad as it was a nice event that I think potentially could have been larger and better attended. As usual, the boater dogs were the stars of the show and were charming and funny.

The boaters too were welcoming and friendly and I’d love to see this event prosper, but serious work is going to have to be done somewhere to make it happen.

4

August 13th - More oak wasp galls, which I’ve gone all out to find this year for no other reason than they fascinate me.

On a small sapling by the canalside track at Hopwas, hundreds of thousands of almost annular, ring-like growths on the leaves, looking maybe like fungus or some odd egg. These are the delightfully named common spangle gall for the flat ones, and silk button galls for the rounder, more sharply defined ones.

These are all created by the same mechanism - a small wasp injects an egg into the leaf, and a chemical coating the egg disrupts the plant DNA to grow the gall, which leaves a light patch on the upper surface of the leaf where nutrients have been leeched away by the larva growing underneath.

I’m not sure why galls like this captivate me so much but they are absolutely fascinating.

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April 15th - A better day, but with a keen wind and I headed out for a ride late afternoon. Passing along the canal in Brownhills, the local feline population didn’t disappoint: At Catshill just on Clayhanger Common, eyebrow cat cast a surly, but authoritative figure as it disdainfully regarded me, and on a canalside deck but the Watermead, an old puss had fallen asleep, seemingly unaware his tongue was still out.

I’m loving the cats at the moment…

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May 2nd - Many of us know the pain of an irritating sibling.

I spotted the charming grey cat near the Tannery flats in Birchills, Walsall. He was inspecting the flower border and very alert to me. Then what I assume to be his brother appeared.

They greeted each other with a nose boop, then grey fellow continued to stare me out, stalk me and generally let me know I was under intense scrutiny - while the brother rubbed his head on him, attempted to wash his tail, and generally didn’t take stuff seriously at all.

Eventually, Mr. Grey walked off in disgust.

A fine pair of cats. Someone loves these two very much.

July 17th - I slipped out of work early to get some time back, and with a wonderfully hot, languid afternoon in progress I rode straight up onto the Chase, and barely stopped except for a well-deserved ice cream at Birches Valley. Dropping down into Rugeley, I enjoyed the long, cool downhill, then hopped onto the canal - a peace green sanctuary where the weeping willows looked stunning.

A perfect afternoon.

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May 16th - I noted the cuddle puddle of goslings as I came back into Brownhills at Catshill Junction - the large brood of Canada goose chicks were all huddled together on the canal bank under the watchful eye of mum and dad having a communal nap break.

Couldn’t resist taking some pictures of this lovely group.

The parents weren’t aggressive today, either - which shows they must be getting used to me. Or are lulling me into a sense of false security.

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September 19th - I had to visit Telford and when I arrived late morning it was still quite misty with a soft, suffused sunlight. The cycleways and views of the new town are beautiful at this time of year in the right light and it’s one of the good things about autumn.

So nice to see a familiar place wearing such a pretty jacket, even if it does mean the end of the green for another year…

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September 4th - A slightly better day weather-wise, although rain was never far away.

On the canal on the way to work, herons aplenty, my favourite urban bird. I liked how one was sheltering under the M6 motorway flyover, an interesting juxtaposition, and the adult fishing by Bentley Mill Aqueduct had a spectacularly well-defined chest pattern.

Like cats, I’ll never tire of seeing these guys.

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September 10th - A cat on the patch I’d not seen before. It was chasing insects on the canal towpath by the smallholding at Newtown, and was embarrassed I disturbed a playful half hour. This jet black cat in lovely condition retreated to a nearby fence to glare at me and and like I hadn’t caught it being silly.

I love the way cats have such a well developed sense of self awareness.

4

September 13th - Also falling from trees now and altogether less of a hazard are the knopper galls, the genetically mutated acorn-cum-insect-cocoons that are bastardised from the normal oak fruit by the knopper wasp.

These seemingly dead, spent galls will most likely have larva inside them and they will overwinter in the fallen galls before boring their way out in spring - although those dropping in vulnerable positions like these on the footpath will be lost under feet, cycle tyres and to the wind and elements.

It’s not until you think about it you realise what a high rate of attrition there is with such things - just how many larva are lost and how this must affect the fecundity of the knopper wasp as a species.

Remarkable how they survive at all. 

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September 10th - A miserable, wet and grey day with high winds kept me hemmed in until late afternoon, when despite being caught by a couple of heavy squalls, the skies cleared and the sun came out for a while.

I contented myself with a loop of Brownhills and Chasewater and explored some things I’d been meaning to check out for a while, and it wasn’t a bad, but chilly and damp ride.

Some of the views - when the sun caught the spray and the rain sparkled in the light - were gorgeous.

It seems the Indian summer I was hoper for is not to be this year.

September 5th - A washout commute home, too. The traffic was murderous, I was tired and I wasn’t feeling the love. I took to the canals and cycleways, and wound my way back to sanctuary carefully and slowly.

In Goscote, I spotted a lovely apple tree, laden with rosy red fruit, glistening and dripping with fresh rain.

For a moment, I was spellbound by the sound and beauty.

Then I realised how wet I was, got back on the bike and rode home.

5

August 27th - I did a 75 mile ride out beyond Tamworth into Leicestershire. I hadn’t rode this way for a decade or more - and I headed for Barton in the Beans and Newton Burgoland through beautiful, sunny countryside on another warm, still day.

A great ride.

But those place names? Go home, Leicestershire - you’re drunk.

3

August 27th - The sunset from Salt Street overlooking the motorway and Austrey was gorgeous. I rode into a falling darkness, reminded of the advancing season and how this weekend always has a feeling of conclusive end to it, although summer rarely ends here, of course.

I’m not usually happy this weekend. This evening I was very content indeed.

I loved the bewitching weathervane on Cope’s Lodge at Fisherwick. Particularly the cat. How fab is that?

I needed this rest. So nice to be in the places I love, in good weather, even if the bike squeaks.

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September 11th - I had promised no more wasp galls. Sorry, just one more I missed. 

I’ve been looking at this type of gall for ages and not realised what they are - a small, coffee-bean sized growth, caused by genetic mutation provoked by an injected tiny wasp’s egg. These small, rough galls are tiny compared to the more familiar marble oak galls which are smoother  and rounder.

They function in the same way though, as a growth pod and foot source for the wasp larva that hatches within, and when ready, the wasp will eat it’s way out to freedom.

This poor tree at Darlaston had knapper galls, marble galls, common galls and cola nut galls. And plenty of acorns!