Category Archives: bird table birdwatching

Where’s the birdies?

IMG_9607As some of you will be aware HWIOO and I have become keen kitchen bird watchers.  It seemed only reasonable that we should venture beyond the comfort of our own kitchen table to see  more of our feathered friends and what better location to start than on the coast?  I was assured fine views of terns, birds with bills like an item of cutlery , avocets, redshanks, sanderlings and common seals – there might, I was informed by the handy brochure, also be small woolly Hebridean  s-eep (animal that tastes good after grazing on salt marsh. Remember that letter between o and q that’s missing on my keyboard).  I mean what’s not to like?

The sun was shining when we arrived and since some habits are clearly hard to break the first thing we did was have a mug of tea in the beautiful cafe and viewing deck which opened last year according to the brochure.  I can thoroughly recommend it.  The setting was delightful, the sun shone, staff were very friendly and the views out across the salt marsh were stunning. And it ‘s less than two miles from Skegness to Gibraltar.

So far so good.  You may be wondering at this juncture why I’ve not flooded this entry with images of dancing lovers (add the missing letter to the front of the word), a chorus line of linnets and sky larks and of course the much vaunted spoonbill (I’ve just discovered that predictive  text can add the missing letter (hurrah and why didn’t I work it out sooner? However I’m not changing the first two paragraphs- so that you can share my joy in having all twenty-six letters in place again.

The answer  is very straight forward to both questions and one of them casts doubt on my intelligence.  But back to the birds.  The avocets were stand offish.  Even the gulls were a bit on the snooty side. Everyone else was on their holidays having hatched their eggs and reared their young.  The waxwings and gold crests  seem not to have yet returned to these shores despite the brochure – unless they were all hiding.  There were a few starlings practising small scale murmuration but that was about it.  You’d have thought  that there would have been a professional stunt spoonbill on hand to pose for pictures at the very least. Clearly more careful reading is required if we are to see more birds and take pictures of them.  I did spot one bird watcher carrying a camera with a lens that looked as though it would need a team of porters to move it.

What there were, however, in numbers and close at hand, were these dragonflies who were very obliging on the photographic front. Further reading reveals that they are common darter dragonflies.




Hattie, Harvey and Hopton Hall

IMG_8376.JPGA list of three! And they alliterate.  What more could I want?

First of all, an apology to Hattie.  We arranged to meet one another last week and she was hoping for snow.  It was a beautiful weekend but no hint of snow.  Today on the other hand it hasn’t stopped snowing all day.  We’ve had field fares, a linnet and ten blue tits at the feeder.  All I can say is that I will try and plan better next time!

Beatrix_Potter,_Two_Bad_Mice,_Frontispiece.pngHarvey is our lodger.  He’s small, brown and lives in the garage.  Naomi feels that I’ve travelled into a parallel Beatrix Potter universe on account of the fact that I see our bachelor harvest mouse as living a solitary winter existence before scampering back out to the meadows in the spring to find himself a lady wife.  Naomi, who offered me the mouse equivalent of zyklon b, is of the opinion that where there’s one mouse there are probably many more and I don’t think she was envisaging Hunca Munca or Tom Thumb, though I could be mistaken.  She has a point but he- and until evidence proves otherwise Harvey is a he- does look harmless as he scampers across the back wall of the garage when we take the car out.  He has very elegant tapering feet, a white tummy and a big ears.  My original plan was that as soon as the weather showed any sign of warming that HWIOO would be on hand with wire wool to block Harvey’s return after he exits one warm morning before a mouse’s fancy turns to whatever mice minds turn to in the spring as even I’m prepared to concede that two mice is one too many mice.

However, Hattie having seen Harvey had a tale to tell and I would have to say that just as soon as the snow goes, so does Harvey.  Apparently Hattie’s son had a mouse in the garage but rather than making himself snug – possibly in a miniature box bed with hand stitched quilt during the cold season- his mouse made himself at home in the workings of the car, had a gnaw on some rather expensive cables and eventually popped up one morning, through an external air vent,  as Hattie’s son was driving along the motorway.

The sight of a mouse scampering up the bonnet of the car before being spreadeagled, arms outstretched, nose whiffling on the windscreen must have been disconcerting.  There followed a mano a mano or rather mano a mouseo face-off until the vehicle was halted, a photo taken as proof that it wasn’t a hallucination and then the stowaway was ejected into the hedgerow – where it presumably needed a lay down and a strong cup of tea.

Having done my homework it appears that if you catch mice by friendly methods (and I’m not sure that the windscreen is an approved method) that you should deposit them at least half a mile from home or else they’ll probably get back before you do.

We’ve tried old fashioned moth balls which apparently act as a mouse deterrent and we have sonic mouse repellers – Harvey ignores them, apparently because harvest mice hear at a different frequency to the sonic devices.  I am equally informed that the garage will be a spider free zone at the moment. If blocking up the exit doesn’t work we will, as Fagin says, “review the situation” and perhaps consider Naomi’s solution, in the meantime the Mater has suggested that I might want to take pen and paintbrush in hand in order to tell the tale of Harvey. The Right Little Madam, on the other hand, is contemplating the hand stitched quilt and a bowl of food for our guest. We will not be mentioning traps, poison or even cats in her hearing.

Which brings me, last but not least, to our alphabet of delights – Hopton Hall in Derbyshire.  It has a rather lovely display of snowdrops and aconites during the early spring. We decided that we would go and have a look last Saturday.  The sun shone, pheasants showed off their plumage, birds sang – one of them sounded like a train going over points. I asked what it was and HWIOO said it was a lesser spotted ASLEF bird- and it was all very pleasant.  We shall return to look at the roses and to sample the delights of their cafe in due course.  There was, we noted, quite a substantial play park and we have added it to our list of possible places to take the Little Madams.




Big Garden Birdwatch 2017.

birdIt’s that time of year again and although we’ve already covered the letter G we thought’d we’d reprise it.  Last year we must have been visited by a sparrow hawk or all the birds in the neighbourhood had taken umbrage with us because we didn’t see a solitary bird for the entire weekend which was rather disappointing, not least because it turns out that the local WI has a serious game of bird table one-upwomanship going on – as in, “I have a pied wagtail who comes to my garden regularly.”

“My robin takes crumbs from my hands.”

“Robins are so common don’t you think? There’s a wren that visits me every day.”

“Oh, how fascinating.  I don’t suppose you’ve seen a waxwing.  There’s a pair in my garden.  I think they’re quite rare.  I expect our environment is just right.It pays to look after your garden don’t you think?”  It turned out that the woman the waxwing enthusiast was speaking to was her next door neighbour and come to think of it I’m not entirely sure that waxwings actually visit this neck of the woods.

Now whilst it was tempting to announce that I have a chorus line of fieldfares who cancan their way up the garden path and half a dozen firecrests performing acrobatic stunts for peanuts I couldn’t even claim a visit from Clarence our neighbourhood pheasant last year as we had been the birdy equivalent of Billy No-mates on the key weekend.

This year I had my coffee, notepad and pen at the ready having spent most of the 2016 providing assorted birdseed, sunflower hearts and remembering to melt the ice in the bird bath every time it freezes.  All I could hope was that my tweet rating had gone up and that the sparrow hawk would keep his distance.

I am pleased to announce that my bird table was well attended by goldfinches, bluetits, sparrows, dunnocks, a great tit, two nuthatches, a robin, four blackbirds, a startled looking fieldfare (of the non cancanning variety) and a chaffinch. The jackdaws even turned up to demonstrate their helicoptering skills on the peanuts and their emptying technique on the mixed seed feeder which is to swing on it like teenagers in the park until all the seed has been decanted onto the ground.  A collared dove flew into the window when it tried to taxi in to land but was unharmed (it does it on a weekly basis leaving me wondering where it got it’s pilot’s licence from). There was even a coal tit bouncing around like a pingpong ball with a mohican.  What more could a girl wish for?

Having sent off the online survey honestly and accurately, I’m now wondering if I should adopt the prevailing post-truth approach to information with the ladies of the WI in order to improve my standing as a domestic goddess in our local community. Apparently in these rural parts having a reputation for being on the same wavelength as St Francis of Assisi is inherently helpful if one can’t create a spongecake of appropriate lightness.  Do you think they’d believe me if I informed them that my garden is now home to a colony of dodos?   Perhaps a party of penguins?  An ascension of skylarks?  An asylum of cuckoos? A flock of albatross or even a scattering of herons? A parliament of owls carrying letters and scrolls?  I thought not –

In the meantime the RSPB’s Great British Birdwatch is running all this weekend – why not download a pack and start watching.  Double click on the image to open the RSPB page in a new window….happy birdwatching


From sparrow hawks to hot chocolate…

IMG_7075.jpgHWIOO is feeling grotty – so much so in fact that he took himself downstairs very early this morning and was treated to the sight of our resident killer raptor trying to turn a small blue tit having its breakfast into breakfast. It failed. The blue tit apparently scarpered into a convenient bush and refused to come out. The sparrowhawk took itself off into the nearby fir tree where it remained for a considerable length of time – probably sulking or doing its best Dick Dastardly impersonation.


We’ve not seen it for weeks and when Naomi asked if it had turned up again I said no. Turns out we were wrong – it’s a bit of an early bird. On the photographic front we’ve progressed to almost getting a full mug shot but I suspect I shalln’t be counting siskins and goldcrests today.


Meanwhile we are preparing for our second round of flying solo with the Little Madam and the Right Little Madam. Last week we were left in sole charge for a whole forty-eight hours. There was some tearfulness when their parents departed (no, not us – them) but this was soon soothed by an episode of Dad’s Army and a frothy hot chocolate. The following night whilst watching the next episode the Little Madam announced, “Where’s my hot chocolate?” (Clearly the service just isn’t up to standard). We appear to have created a new ritual and I must get some more hot chocolate before they return or I truly will be found lacking. I also need to get to grips with the frog method of subtraction which is not, it turns out, an insult to French mathematics but involves making leaping marks on a number line and there’s also the problem of doing multiplication by the ladder method…I don’t think it means sending the Little Madam up a ladder but I could be wrong and then there’s the grid method. Somehow maths seemed much more straight forward when I was at school, which probably means I’m getting old and grumpy.



An unwelcome guest at the bird feeder

DSCF2108This winter I’ve been treated to blackbirds, robins, a stray starling, goldfinches, chaffinches, blue tits, a great tit, a coal tit, a nuthatch, a woodpecker, sparrows, dunnocks and a trio of pheasants.  We have made good use Birds by Colour by Marc Duquet so that the Right Little Madam can identify them by their ‘underpants’ or even underparts.  HWIOO has seen helicoptering crows flapping their wings madly in order to get to the seed from the feeder that Hattie and Archie gave him for Christmas.


I’ve learned that ordinary bird food is not, in general, their preferred fare; that sun flower kernels are very popular and that it depends on which brand of suet ball I put out as to how rapidly it’s devoured. I have even gone so far as to buy a book entitled Cooking for Birds by Mark Golley. I know to use suet or lard and never to use turkey fat because it doesn’t set the same way as other fat if I make my own fat balls as it can leave our feathered friends incapable of flight if it gets in their feathers (thank you Gardeners’ World).


However, there are days when we see absolutely nothing and those days are getting more numerous. A couple of days ago The Number-One-Son-In-Law spotted the reason why. There in the fir tree that all the garden birds use as a staging post before landing on the feeder nearest the kitchen window, doing its best to blend in to the background  was something very beautiful and, for the garden birds at least, very dangerous – a sparrow hawk or possibly a kestrel (we can’t make up our minds despite trying to match it up to pictures elsewhere.) I’ve never seen one, of whatever it is, so close and as you’d expect with an assassin it kept its head covered at all times – this is the best picture I can currently offer.


So now we have a guest at the bird table that would like to eat all the other guests. I know that this is nature and part of the food chain etc. It’s a beautiful bird- outside my garden (Is this Nimbyism?)- and it needs to eat but I’d be much happier if it stuck to small scuttling rodents or even large scuttling rodents rather than my little birds which are developing identities and characters of their own.


Where’ve the birds gone?

DSCN6547.jpgIt’s been a while. Christmas and New Year have been and gone.   Fervent New Year’s resolutions have fallen by the way side, the door bell has been fixed, we’ve had a puncture that involved summoning the AA, I’ve started work and have been offered another contract (hurrah),  Storm Gertrude has arrived and its still not quite the end of January.


This weekend is the RSPB big garden birdwatch and up until today I’ve wasted hours gawping at gymnastic blue tits, cheeky sparrows, goldfinches, blackbirds, robins, a nuthatch, a pair of chaffinches, an elusive woodpecker and a very push coal tit not to mention several slightly gormless pheasants that we’ve called Clarence – thank you to Tatiana and Stan for sharing the name in the first place.  Today, I had my handy downloadable pack printed, pen in hand, mug of coffee at my side and there was nothing – not even a pigeon or a collar dove. A flock of crows flew over but they don’t count. The bird has to land in your garden for it to be in the tally. HWIOO has suggested that it’s much too cold for the poor little blighters. I pointed out that they need to eat their own bodyweight every day, so cold or not they should have been cavorting around our bird feeder availing themselves of the extensive range of bird food on the buffet that has been provided so that I can count them.


Meanwhile HWIOO has put in his new bird feeder– Hattie and Archie visited last weekend and HWIOO is delighted with his Christmas present. He’s located it so we can see the feeder from the living room window – and he’s started reading the book of Radio 4’s ‘Tweet of the day.’ Before you ask – no, I wasn’t looking at the wrong feeder.


He has also put together a flatpack chest of drawers from a well-known Scandinavian store. He wasn’t surprised by the instructions or the fact that things didn’t quite fit as they should do. Several hours later the Little Madams now have a bed each and a drawer each in the new chest of drawers. The Littlest Madam has three drawers under her bed and she was most irritated when her mother put clothes in them over the festive period. She’d had plans for them you see; one was designated the marble drawer (one marble- presumably for when she decided I had finally lost all of mine); the second was for her books and the third was for cuddly toys (tucked up under a blanket).   I have also sorted their toys into lidded plastic containers which reside beneath the beds.  Hopefully we have now ensured that all parties will have a sufficiency of storage to keep them all happy. We’re also going to get a bookcase for them as someone keeps buying them books.  Yes, I do need to change the curtains – preferably for the heavy duty blackout variety because being disturbed at dawn by a small wide awake person quite quickly loses its appeal. And I would also like to get a pretty rug for the room as the carpet doesn’t fill my heart with thrill but the thought of summoning the carpet gnomes to fit a new one isn’t one I want to contemplate for very long.


In short, progress is being made. Boxes are being emptied and things being allocated to their correct places. I wander from room to room swapping things around until I am satisfied that they are where they belong. I would particularly like to thank Hattie for sorting all my tapestry wool oddments from their bin bags into colour lots which are now bagged up in a huge plastic chest beneath the spare bed – she did offer – I didn’t kidnap her and force her to sort it all out, honest! Archie was speechless.  All the wool, for only one hobby, strewn over the living room floor made Hattie’s stash look positively dinky in comparison. HWIOO was speechless as well.  He never realised that I had so much of the stuff you see…unfortunately he is aware now.  In that respect moving my crafting items has been a bit unfortunate.  I started with several boxes of indeterminate size carefully packed, without supervision, as I emptied the wardrobe of doom.  Then approximately a year later I opened them.  Lets just say it was like pulling the ripcord on an inflatable lifeboat.

I’m very pleased with myself though.  I now have a basket of ufos (unfinished objects) by my chair which I plan to complete in the next six months and if I give it a couple of months perhaps HWIOO will forget all the other crafting related items now hiding beneath the spare bed.

I also have the beginnings of this year’s action plan (which will no doubt be audited by HWIOO – he found his clip board this morning).  Oddly enough I don’t plan to wall paper anything anytime soon.



January tweet

DSCF2085.JPGSo here we are -2016- the house is much quieter now the masses have returned to their own homes; our January coughs, sneezes and wheezes have settled in for the long haul and the weather remains appalling.

However, there is my new hobby – if only the rain would hold off long enough for them to come out.  The spotting of birds from the the warmth of the kitchen.  The Right Little Madam has joined me in the pastime each morning during the holiday, dragging her stool across to the window work surface to eat her cocoa pops and survey the feathered fraternity tucking in to the sunflower seeds and suet balls.  She also took a shine to my bird book which identifies books by colour.  “What’s that one?” she said pointing at a greenish bird.

“What colour are its underparts?” I did have my head in the fridge at the time trying to work out what I was supposed to do with an industrial sized bowl of cold bread sauce.

“Birds don’t wear underpants granny!”

“Underparts – though I do like the idea of birds in underpants.” I emerged frowning having swapped the bread sauce for a carton of milk.

And so apparently did the Right Little Madam because the birds that come to our bird table are now all being identified by the hue of their underpants.

She had real problems with blue tits though – not with the bird itself but with the idea that once upon a time milkmen used to deliver our daily pinta in silver foil capped glass bottles left on the doorstep.  She struggled with that concept and struggled even more with the thought that the cheeky little bundles of yellow and blue feathers would then steal the cream from the top of the milk by piercing the foil.

“I simply don’t believe it granny,” she announced peering at me over the top her glasses, “You really must stop making things up.”