Friday, 31 May 2013

Sparrows in the Brickwork, Pigeons in the Wisteria and a Toad in the Vegetable Patch

We've suddenly gone nesting-bird mad here. It's probably because of all my worrying earlier that there were none.
J (daughter) said she could hear lots of chirping from inside her bedroom and further investigation discovered the house sparrows have drilled a hole in the brickwork and made a nest under the eaves above her window. Given their sorry state in much of the country, and the fact there were none here when we moved seven years ago, I am completely thrilled at their presence and have been watching the nest avidly ever since.

You can just see the male sparrow leaving the nest after feeding the chicks

Mum arriving with food

I think this is possibly an "encouraging the babies to leave the nest" dance- he puffs himself up, wiggles his wings and chirrups to them

More puffing, chirruping and wiggling...

 Arriving with food in beak for the children...

Negotiating a way in to the nest...

The nest hole...

Leaving the nest at speed....

The pigeons, meanwhile, have set up home for the third year running in the wisteria beneath our bedroom window, so the house is starting to feel a bit like a bird nursery...

If last year is anything to go by they'll raise several broods of two chicks at a time in there right up until September. Unlike the sparrow children, pigeon babies are extremely quiet and remain in the nest until pretty much full grown. We like having them there, and Ted in particular is beside himself with joy at their return because he like to chase them. Luckily he has no hope of catching them at all: he makes far too much noise, and a complete spectacle of himself, all that excited yapping and leaping about. He never learns. 

The other thing he never learns is NOT TO LICK TOADS. I've just rediscovered our resident toad under a sack in the back veg patch (thought I had a photo but can't find it now). Teddy made himself very sick indeed a few years ago by licking this toad. He spent the night foaming at the mouth and retching and was a very sad and sorry doggy indeed. You would have thought that would have been enough to put him off toad-licking forever, but no- two nights later we discovered him in the garden beneath the apple tree looking very guilty with a wet toad at his feet.
Fortunately it appears the toad has more sense- he has moved into a fenced off dog-proof area of the garden where Ted can not get to him.

A couple of miscellaneous articles to finish off with: finally I have photographic evidence that we do indeed have a woodpecker pair. Here are pics of the female (no red bar), and the male (red bar at back of head- thanks to Jessica for telling me that). Given that there are two of them I wonder if children be far off  and if so, will they bring them to the garden as everyone else seems to do with their offspring?

 Finally, I am happy to report that the Goldfinches, who have been noticeable by their absence these past few days, have made a return to the garden....


Normal service has been resumed.

Have a good weekend all,

CT x 

Thursday, 30 May 2013

Visiting an underwater world

It's half term this week and everyone's been home so posts have been a bit thin on the ground (or non existent) as a result. A house full of teenagers is not conducive to thoughtful post writing. A quieter day today so having been out for a restful dog walk with my friend Hilary and her son (a good mate of L's) on Canada Common (where my mother's dog Dougal completely disgraced himself first by eating and then, as if that wasn't bad enough, rolling in a cow pat for good measure, before being forcibly dunked into a pond in lieu of washing under the hosepipe at home) I now have some time to write. 

I say time, rather than peace, because L and his friend W are currently lying flat out on the floor at my feet noisily trying to kill each other on an "open platform creative minecraft multi-server". I have absolutely no idea what that means, but they seem to be enjoying themselves judging from the blood curdling war cries and yells of glee that keep piercing my ear drums.

As balm, I thought I'd post some pics of one of our Half Term days out.

L and I used to be regular visitors at the Blue Reef Aquarium on Southsea Seafront when he was a tiddler but we haven't been for years. It was pouring with rain on Tuesday (typical, the one day we had ear-marked for a day out). Spirits dampened but not undaunted, we altered course away from the very much outdoor Corfe Castle and  Swanage Railway trip and diverted the troops instead to the far more sensible and decidedly under cover aquarium. 

To my surprise everyone was up for it (no mean feat with two boys and a girl all at different teenage stages) and it turned out to be well worth the visit. We all had a great day and the sea creatures were fabulous. Even the smell in the otter enclosure (which can only politely be described as "unique"), didn't diminish our enjoyment. We'd missed seeing them being fed by half an hour so by the time we reached them they were all dozing in a ball and carelessly picking at each others ears.  L said this was his favourite bit.

There seemed to be a lot more to look at than I'd remembered and we didn't (with the exception of L who takes everything at a break-neck pace basically so he can lounge about at the end and pretend he's bored) get round too quickly. The centre now includes a breeding programme with eggs and baby fish on display which was totally fascinating because it's not something you would ordinarily see. They also had a jelly fish display which was spell binding.

I only had my phone camera with me so hopefully the pics won't be too poor in terms of quality. 

These fire shrimps were amazing- a really bright red

Extraordinary Jellyfish, luminescent and graceful in the water

An impressive and curious lion fish

Shark babies. You can just make out the live young in the egg sack on the far right. Shark eggs are called Mermaid's purses. I've seen them on the shore occasionally and had no idea they were shark eggs. I think these were my favourite part and I found them utterly fascinating.

M had a lovely (and rather long) conversation with the Rays. They were as fascinated with him as he was by them and kept swimming up and out of the water to have a closer look at him. Sadly I didn't get any pictures of this touching love-in, which we all found very amusing. He had the same effect on some fish near the entrance; they kept swimming back to stare at him and one stayed immobile in the water just looking at him for ages. It got quite embarrassing.

I have a real soft spot for Seahorses and these were beautiful. I find them endlessly fascinating.

Water seems to be a theme at the moment. Our pond is now dug out, lined, filled with water and even has plants growing in baskets. Rather pleasingly, it looks like it's always been there. I'm going to give the construction of the pond it's own post later. Oh, and we also have sparrows nesting in a hole (which they have made) in the brick wall of the house. More on that later too.....

Friday, 24 May 2013

More Long Tailed Tits and Making Sweet Pea Canes

Yesterday was a hive of activity in the garden department. I dragged L off to our local garden centre after school. It's run by a friend of ours called Roger, a jolly, bouncy person who wears shorts all year and looks like a man of the soil. I went mad again and spent another small fortune on plants and some new pots as well.
I am completely caught up with stuffing the garden full of bee-loving varieties, so ended up with a wallflower, a veronica and a tangerine Geum, which I first saw on Jessica's  rusty duck blog and fell in love with so I'm very pleased to have one of my own in the garden. 

I also had 12 sweet pea plants to put out but drew the line at spending £20 on a purpose-built posh cane set-up. We have a mass of black bamboo growing at the top of the garden so I figured that was a ready supply of canes just waiting to be cut and stripped.
I always ask plants/ trees before I cut them down or move them. It's part of the Taoist belief in respecting energy in all living things and I just think it's polite. So I asked the bamboo and was merrily cutting my way through about 12 canes. One of them I probably should have left in situ because it fought me and gouged a hole in my finger which then bled all over the canes.

 Still, we got there and in the end I had 12 reasonably-sized canes. They may not look as aesthetically pleasing as the pre-cut and perfectly manicured garden centre versions but to be honest we had one of those a couple of years back and it's already falling apart, and I'm rather proud of my endeavours, not to mention the fact it freed up twenty quid I can now spend on plants which has to be a good thing! I'm looking for a Hebe this weekend.

The girls were very interested in what I was doing and came over for a look

Pre-tidied up bamboo cane

Canes with all the feathery bits removed. I started off using the handsaw to do this job but soon found that a hand axe took a quarter of the time.

The smart garden centre variety (which is already falling apart)

A friend who came to help

 Sweet peas planted inside my new canes. The greenhouse is next to this pot and I was a bit worried the high winds yesterday might have resulted in a disaster. Never mind mice in the garden, if I'd smashed his greenhouse M would never have spoken to me again! Luckily they were well wedged and no movement occurred.

The finishing touches, the ends tied up with twine. The canes were a bit bigger than expected, but at least we're covered in the eventuality of monster sweet peas.

The assistant gardener was snoozing on his step in the sun

So all in all another productive day in the garden.

I was rewarded for all this hard work by the arrival of the LTT family just as I was downing tools. The babies are becoming increasingly independent (it's amazing how quickly that happens) and now fly down out of the willow and straight to the feeders with their beaks open waiting to be fed. One or two have even tried feeding themselves. They are learning... 

I'm also amazed at how they accept my presence. For the last two photos here the parent landed on the feeder while I was standing within reach and wasn't remotely concerned about me being there or the movement of the camera. Now you wouldn't get that with the woodpecker, the slightest hint of a human and he's off. 
With the LTT's you tend to hear them coming long before you see them- they make a right old racket- and they all descend at once on the fat ball feeder, the babies squabbling with one another about who gets to sit in the prime feeding location in the middle. Needless to say I am not getting a great deal of work done at the moment!

Have a good weekend all,

CT x

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Greenfinches, an Unexpected Beetle Visitor and Ponds

I was keeping an eye out for my mice last night as the gloaming was coming down and noticed that the greenfinches are back. There were two males and a female, but by the time I'd got the camera only one male remained. It's been a while since the greenfinches were in the garden and it got me thinking that I haven't seen the goldfinches for a few days either. Of course it may be that they've been in the garden and I just haven't seen them, but when you spend as much time watching the birds as I do that seems unlikely. I wonder where they've got to? They are usually very reliable.

Anyway, here's the male greenfinch enjoying the feeders.

One of the mice was out and about at the same time. I didn't get a photo because the light was fading and the camera would not have picked her up. She scampered about for a while before picking up a seed and sitting back on her haunches with it held firmly between her hands to enjoy eating it. How could you fail to find that endearing? M manages it. He does not share my fascination and fondness for these small creatures and the dark mutterings about mouse control are continuing. 

I was in sombre mood last night after the dreadful news from Woolwich and feeling pretty sad when we went to bed, as, I suspect, most people were in the UK last night. M had let the dogs out for a pee so I was upstairs before him, my thoughts with the poor man who had lost his life, when I discovered we had a visitor. We don't often get beetles in the house and I've never seen one upstairs in all the years we've lived here. He is a splendid person and my first thought was that he was stag beetle, with those marvellous pincers.

But further investigation (how did we manage before the internet?!) revealed him to be a Lesser Stag Beetle. They are about an inch long, so a reasonable size, mainly nocturnal, attracted to light (so probably flew in through the open window upstairs) and live on wood such as ash, apple and beech, all of which we have a plenty round the house.
I also learnt that a beetle studier is called a coleoptorist and that there are over 4000 types of beetle in the UK. I'm rather taken with him. When we tried to pick him up and take him outside he stuck, first to the carpet and then to our hands. He'll be much better off outside: there's nothing for him to eat indoors.

As a final pause for thought I was very shocked to hear yesterday that one in ten UK wildlife species are now under serious threat and it got me thinking about what more we can do here to help.
The upshot is we are going to think about putting a pond in the garden. I think we have room and it's one type of habitat we don't have (although the lake is only a few yards away). The beauty of a pond is that it needn't be big in order to make a substantial difference and provide a habitat that supports a broad number of species. I broached the subject with M who thought it was an excellent idea, so this weekend we will be putting on our pond-thinking caps and working out how we can achieve this. It's exciting. The creatures I would most like to see in the new pond are newts. We had them when I was a girl and my sister and I used to catch them (gently and with extreme care) in nets and then pick them up and look at them. They are amazing prehistoric-looking things. Anyway, I'll keep you updated on Pond Progress.


Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Creating a Bee-Friendly Garden

Yesterday I indulged in a blissful uninterrupted hour of pottering around our local garden centre.

Shopping for plants is my favourite kind of shopping and this year I have embarked on a crusade to fill the garden with as many bee-friendly varieties as I can find. This is made slightly more interesting by the fact that we don't have many actual flower beds to put plants in. The soil isn't great and rabbits have been known to make the occasional foray into the garden and eat everything in sight, plus the girls are allowed to free range most afternoons and chickens plus beautifully maintained flower beds don't go hand in hand. For these reasons most of my flowers are in pots on the patio, which is fenced off from the rest of the garden and therefore chicken and rabbit (although sadly not boy and football) proof. Having said that there are some areas in the garden where Hollyhocks bloom in abundance so I am planning on planting out some of my cottage garden seedlings there when they are big enough and keeping my fingers crossed.

I was chuffed to discover that many of the labels on the garden centre offerings now contain a picture of a bee, letting you know that the plant attracts bees and butterflies. So I went slightly mad and bought Scabiosa Pink Mist, Verbascum Clementine (gorgeous colour, a kind of antique pale orange), Viola Rebecca, Tagetes, Alyssum and a Lavender, as well as some fish blood and bones to feed them all with and a rather dinky mini watering can for my seedlings that I couldn't resist (cue raised eyebrows and smile from M when I showed him it later). Added to the two pots of nemesia I bought at the local market for £1.50 each (they were £4.99 in the garden centre) at the weekend plus a tray of 24 sweet peas from B&Q (for a fiver) and I had a pleasurable afternoon of planting ahead.

The B&Q (or boring and quiet as the boys call it, which is a lot more polite than the version M uses) sweet peas below were necessary when you see the photo afterwards.....

Yes. This is the grand total of seedlings from all the sweet pea seeds I sowed a couple of weeks back... One. Rather small and thin. Oh Dear.




Baby watering can...

All the little ones in the greenhouse are coming on well but are way too tiddly to offer anything more than the vague promise of colour to come, so it was lovely to plant out some instant colour. I've now refreshed the front wall (having finally got round to removing the tulips and daffs which had well and truly gone past their best and indeed wouldn't have looked out of place on Miss Havisham's wedding table), with various freshly planted pots containing nemesia (smells like bubblegum), the viola and some tagetes. The front step has the other nemesia surrounded by alyssum and on the patio the verbascum, lavender, sweet peas and other tagetes are snug in their new pots.

Elsewhere in the garden things are coming on nicely. I love this Japanese Maple. We had it in our old house and brought it with us when we moved and it seems to like living here.

I love the colours of this Iris against the brick work of the clinic. It looks as if it has been painted.

Everlasting sweet pea sown from seed a few years back. It shoots up the wall and explodes with creamy white flowers every year only to fall back again and provide cover for frogs and toads and centipedes in the autumn.

Teddy, looking like a ragamuffin

Dougal, smiling

Lilac, my favourite flower. It reminds me of my gran.

Veg patch No 1

Veg patch No 2

More lilac. Smells amazing....

Aquilegia, rather pleasingly self-sown

Broad Bean Flowers

Azalea on the bottom of the drive near the lane

Hawthorn flowers just coming out

Speedwell, lining the path to the front door

Dandelion clock

M's hanging basket tomato plants (tiddlers now but you wait)


My Hosta. We didn't see much of it last year, it being an early slug casualty, so it's lovely to be able to enjoy it this year. Another leaf that looks like it's been painted.

I worked in the garden till about 6, surviving a close encounter with Mrs Sparrow who has taken to zooming between the feeders in the back and front gardens via the most direct route, which is across the patio, and devil may care who gets in her way. Yesterday it was my nose that got brushed by her feathers, the day before it was the top of my head. I swear if I put my hands up as she went past I could catch her. As it is she doesn't even bother altering course: I'm the one who has to duck or fall over backwards, and then she lands on the fence nearby and gives me the kind of look that says "well, you nearly caused a nasty accident then. D'you think you could stand somewhere else while I'm flying?"  And she's not the only one. When we had the last spot of warm weather a couple of weeks back I was reading on the patio and Bumble (female chaffinch) whirred over my head lifting the hairs with the breeze of her passing not once but four times, going to and from the feeders. The Blue tits have stopped flying away when I walk past the fat balls and Beth (the female black cap) now barely bothers to raise her head when I'm near. I had assumed they were all just very used to people being around by now and would stay put regardless of who the human was, so it was rather pleasing to see them scatter when M put in an unexpected appearance.

I went back out at 9 with glass of wine in hand after cooking supper in the top oven (which took five times as long as it usually would because the bottom oven was blowing out only cold air and then L refused to eat his chips, which to be fair looked anaemic and damp. Yuk. The blooomin thing was only fixed last Feb. This means another day spent waiting in for the repair man, only to find out it either can't be mended, or it can but will require a second mortgage to pay for it, or (more likely) it can be fixed and only takes two minutes to do it).

Anyway, the boy cuckoos, who have been hiccuping recently, have got their mojo back in no uncertain terms and are now in fine fettle- they called pretty much solidly for three hours last night! I also heard a lady cuckoo wobbling/ bubbling somewhere in the vineyard at the back of the house, which I guess meant she'd just laid an egg. The moon came out and I stood on the patio surrounded by my days work, admiring the cloud formations and listening to the cuckoos calling and generally felt peaceful and content (despite the oven).

The day was topped off perfectly when glancing in the back garden when I went back indoors I saw that we don't have just one baby dunnock or indeed two baby dunnocks. We do, in fact, have FOUR!!!! Excuse the poor quality of the photo but it was a case of taking the pic quickly to grab some evidence before they all flew off.  

I am however slightly concerned that they are getting a bit above themselves. One of them was in the front garden on her own this morning, and she went for an adult blue tit who had the nerve to land nearby and peck quietly at some seeds. The dunnock was furious, and launched herself at the startled blue tit with her beak wide open. She drove it away!

A quick update on Mrs Massey's blackbirds then I'll leave you with our lovely nuthatch, who's keeping me on tenterhooks at the moment as to whether or not they actually have any babies to bring to the garden. Mrs M and I went dog walking this morning and apparently all the babies have fledged, so it was a good job I got the pics yesterday.
Finally, just in case you thought I was making it up, I got some pics of the baby Long Tailed Tits this afternoon. The entire clan (which is not insubstantial) descended noisily on the twisted willow just as I was leaving to pic up L from school. I rushed back in to get the camera and was consequently late for L. Are they not completely adorable balls of fluff?

Our lovely Nuthatch

Run ragged LTT parent with two blue tits

LTT baby No 1

LTT baby No 2

LTT baby No 3

LTT baby No 4 (this one might be an adult, I'm not too sure)

LTT baby No 5