Category Archives: birds and animals

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.

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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.

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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

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Gottcha…a pleasing adventure with a camera

IMG_7091The sparrowhawk likes our garden and some of you will be aware he had been a bit coy about showing his face.  Today, HWIOO was awake rather early and as this photo demonstrates the early bird not only catches the worm but is more prepared to have his photograph taken.  I think he may have been a bit optimistic as there are fewer and fewer birds feeding from the feeder due to the large number of insects providing food on the wing.

Then, when I got home from work we went purple orchid hunting.  Note to self: if possible photograph flowers on a still day!  And wear your glasses!  I took mine off when I was fiddling with the lens and consequentially half my photographs came out rather badly blurred because I forgot to put them back on but let me assure you that they were perfectly focused when I viewed the images before snapping the shutter.

DSC_0017I have now established that it’s an early purple orchid (Orchis macula) that I’ve been crawling around on my hands and knees trying to photograph.  Apparently these little flowers were used as ingredients for love potions during the seventeenth century and feature in Shakespeare’s Hamlet as part of Ophelia’s garland of flowers after she is found drowned.  As well as having purple flowers there are purple blotches on the leaves.  If you like your folklore this is because they grew at the foot of the Cross and are representative of the drops of Christ’s blood that fell on them.  Apparently two of its common names are Cain and Able  and Adam and Eve.  Sue Clifford and Angela King in their book entitled Journeys Through England on Foot identify the orchid as “Granfer Griggles.”

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Just for the record we also saw the mandatory dandelions, nettles, celandines, cowslips and the little blue flowers that I’ve always know as shirt buttons but which I think might be germander speedwell if I’ve matched them correctly with the image in my wild flower book.

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That was the week that flew

DSCF2185What a week!  From landscaping patios and gravel paths to rehoming snails followed by the Paston Letters, the Cumbrian coast and trying to locate a 26in television set at a moment’s notice.

So, it always rains on a bank holiday doesn’t it?  Why then did I suggest bank holiday Monday as the perfect day for re-landscaping the Number One Daughter’s back garden?  By three o’clock we all looked as though we’d been through a mud bath.  The Right Little Madam had demonstrated staying power, construction skills and a fellowship with David Attenborough and Gerald Durrell by rescuing snails from my fiendish attempt to relocate them elsewhere a long way from the remnants of the Number One Daughter’s tulips.  She was ultimately found with six, named, snails in her bedroom. “They’ve come to play because its raining.” They were escorted back to the wild with the Right Little Madam keeping a firm eye on me to make sure I didn’t give them flying lessons – apparently the adage that travel broadens the mind is not one that the child feels applies to snails.

She wasn’t terribly pleased to discover that her grandfather had accidentally killed a worm whilst digging the base out for the patio either so having deposited team snail in the shrubbery spent the next half hour or so working as a dedicated worm rescue team of one moving them from the line of the spade.  I’m not sure that HWIOO found it terribly efficient having to pause at the turn of every spade of earth in order for the Right Little Madam to sift through the mud but there you go.

Over lunch, as I sat dripping onto the Number One daughter’s Laminate floor I asked if the Right Little Madam might consider becoming a vet but she informed me that as much as she liked spiders she didn’t feel she’d be able to make one better as she wasn’t particularly keen on tarantulas.  I hadn’t noticed a stream of people taking their arachnids to the vets but what do I know? So I suggested that she could be like David Attenborough who has been all over the world studying animals.  The Right Little Madam peered at me over the top of her glasses, “Has he been into space?”

“Uhm, I don’t think so.”

“I’d like to go into space or make pots.”

So there you have it – a space going potter – which just about sums up the entire conversation. Mind you I’m about to add to her pet population with a watering can of nematodes just as soon as they arrive which should sort out the slug and snail problem without me being held responsible for their removal or causing a falling out with the neighbours.

The tv set?  You really really don’t want to know. Suffice to say we found one of the right size and make but the remote control is too small for my mother-in-law which means I need to find a large universal one with as few buttons as possible before she has the tv sent back to where it came from and summons us north to buy something else. At least HWIOO wasn’t required to go up onto the roof of her bungalow to fiddle with the aerial which is what the first idea revolved around. We wondered why she said it was a pity that he wasn’t wearing jeans and trainers when we first arrived.  I may need to work on the message about dizziness, vertigo and having arrived at an age where scrambling around on a roof trying to get the best signal for Coronation Street isn’t really an option so far as HWIOO is concerned.

Tomorrow the joys of fitting a new rubber seal to the washing machine.  Yes, there will be a post – assuming I’m not reduced to incoherent gesticulation by this time tomorrow night.  There’s also the small matter of Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves and the demise of Thomas Cromwell to occupy my time.

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.

 

 

Snail’s pace

The Littlest Madam was required to go on a Spring walk.  Consequentially we have peered at, listened to, prodded and sniffed spring today.  We’ve inhaled the aroma of stinky fields, damp leaves and daffodils; prodded catkins and moss; listened to birds, lawn mowers, tractors and crows;  and found all sorts of evidence of spring from passing Easter bunnies to leaves budding on brambles.  It was, in short, a lovely afternoon.

DSCF2169The Right Little Madam took the opportunity to form an attachment – well one hundred and seven attachments.  She is one of life’s collectors and today’s collection of choice was Cepaea nemoralis…no, not a spell from Harry Potter, a brown lipped snail or banded snail. Or as I rather mistakenly said, “Oh look at that pretty shell. I’ve never seen one like that before.”  That changed fairly rapidly.  It also turns out that they’re as common as muck unless you live in the north of Scotland.

Her teacher is going to be delighted tomorrow when the Right Little Madam takes a bag of snail shells in – at least there aren’t a hundred and seven gastropods slithering around.  She did once paint a dot of nail varnish on a more humdrum garden snail and give it a name.  Her mother wasn’t terribly amused given that it was eating its way through the vegetable patch at the time.

Arrival home meant that the shells were washed, arranged and photographed.  And it turns out she’s got a bit of a knack…because both of these photos are hers.DSCF2185.JPG