Saturday, 28 March 2009

Garden in Late March

A definite change in the weather this week, with a drop in temperature and the return of high winds accompanied by rain. In these conditions bird sightings have been less frequent and our garden visitors have not been hanging around long but quickly taking a snack at the feeders and then returning to their hideaways.

Blackbird (male & female); Robin; Blue Tits - there is a strong suspicion that they are using the oldest nest box on the back of my shed again this year. Anita says she saw 4 in the Hawthorn this morning, presumably eating the new growth!
Great Tit - Male calling "didger, didger" constantly so lets hope he has a mate again;
Long-tailed Tits; House Sparrows; Collared Doves; Feral Pigeons; Starlings:
Greenfinches (I've just had to buy more sunflower hearts just to satisfy their ;
Magpies, Parakeets & Carrion Crows flying over.
Plus a possible brief sighting today of the Goldcrest but it didn't perch to enable us to confirm!

A brief visit to via Downside to Hundred Pound Bridge at Bookham Common on Wednesday morning on the way to work provided me with sightings of:

Yellowhammers (4) perched on the roadside hedges; Jay; Grey Heron; Blackbird; Blue, Great & Long-tailed Tits; House Sparrows; Song Thrushes announcing their territories with their repeated phrases that sound like "that's me...that's me...that's me"..."I'm here...I'm here..etc;
Lapwings (6+) calling "pee-wit" as they danced above the fields;
Chiffchaffs (7+) all calling their name "chiff--chaff" repeatedly and signifying their recent return to the UK from Southern Europe & Africa, but no sounds of Blackcap yet! Hopefully during the next 7 - 10 days I may hear the sound of a returning Willow Warbler.

The back garden is now showing a full array of spring colour with Hellebores in full bloom accompanied by self seeded Cypress Spurge (Euphorbia cyparissias 'Fens Ruby'. The cherry tree (prunus sp. ?) that I heavily pruned a year ago is now in full flower and the candyfloss pink blooms are providing a strong focal point for early visiting bees. Underneath you will see the Summer Snowflakes (Leucojum aestivum) that grows up to 60cm high and seems to flower earlier and earlier very year. In the bottom right hand corner you might have spotted the resident Kingfisher (I only wish it was real!) You will no doubt recall an earlier post 'Garden Visitors Today' that included a picture of the Spring Snowflake (Leucojum vernum 'Carpathicum') that only grows 20cm high and has yellow nibs on the petals. During a recent visit by Johan (our Dutch friend & bulb expert) we discussed this plant as I could not recall seeing it in flower last spring. With the help of one of his bulb books we identified this individual as Leucojum vernum 'Podpolozje' which was supplied by bulb expert Janis Ruksans from Latvia two years ago. Johan told me that it was not unusual for this bulb to take one or even two years to produce flowers, so I consider myself very fortunate - I just hope it reappears next year. The right-hand picture below is L. aestivum that has green nibs on the petals.
[Clink link to read about Janis Ruksans & his book 'Buried Treasures' which is a fascinating account of his bulb collecting adventures scouring remote and dangerous regions of Europe & Asia to bring back the botanical treasures that he offers through his nursery, often contending with corrupt government agents, armed rebels, drunken drivers, and even (before the fall of the Soviet Union) the KGB.]

I have never been very successful in growing the taller garden Tulips on our heavy clay as the bulbs often rot off through our wet winters but the smaller, early flowering botanical types (specie hybrids) seem to cope much better and are now beginning to bulk up.
Above is Tulipa humilis 'Persian Pearl' and below is a clusiana type flowering earlier than expected in a pot (note to self - I must check it's correct name!).
Behind the shed in a shady spot Anemone nemorosa 'Robinsoniana' is starting to come into flower.
At the bottom of the garden the ornamental quince Chaenomeles speciosa 'Yuki-Goten' is starting to open its semi-double white blooms and should produce even more aromatic fruits in late summer.

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Skywatch Friday - Sunset in Morocco

This sunset was captured at the Sous Estuary, Morocco in Nov 2005 whilst listening for and then briefly seeing a Red-necked Nightjar.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

FAB The Earlybirder reaches 21 again!

When checking in tonight I noticed that the “Earlybirders” followers had reached the milestone figure of 21 thanks to recent followers Leedra and Liam. I have often marvelled at the number of followers on other blogs but never imagined that my humble postings would reach these dizzy levels. To everyone who has joined as an ‘Earlybirder’ plus everyone else that drops by I would like to take this opportunity to say THANK YOU for allowing me to revisit 21 again!

You will probably have noted that my postings have recently reduced to one or two a week and this is mainly due to work commitments. With hopefully a busy spring retail season ahead of us this trend of irregular posts is likely to continue for the time being but I hope you will all continue to drop by from time to time to see what I have been doing.

Some of you will no doubt have seen that I occasionally sign off comments on your blogs with ”FAB” and I promised one of my earliest followers that I would explain what this meant.

If you look up fab in Wiktionary, you might find answers such as:

F.A.B., a radio sign-off used in the Thunderbirds TV series;
From fabulous, by shortening;
Film Advisory Board;
FAB, the IATA airport code for Farnborough Airfield;
Flavoured Alcoholic Beverages, also known as alcopops ;
Federation de l'Automobile de Belarus, a member of the FIA.

Well the answer is very simple. I was and always will be a fan of ‘Thunderbirds’, as when I sat glued to the TV screen I always felt a direct connection as my initials are, yes you may have guessed, F.A.B. During my previous career my initials on a document were a clear indication of my involvement and as a result I became known as and was called ‘FAB’ by my closest associates and friends rather than Frank.
So by signing off as 'FAB' you will now know who it is but more importantly it also means that your posts are fabulous.

Saturday, 21 March 2009

1st day of spring and Buzzards

Having heard about migrants arriving this week in Sussex I decided to drive 40 miles south to the area around Greatham. My first stop was to park roadside and walk onto Waltham Brooks, an area of grazing marsh with areas of open water, managed by the Sussex Wildlife Trust.

Goldfinch and Greenfinch were calling from a nearby garden. The first sightings were of singing Chiffchaffs, Wrens, Robin, Blackbird and Starlings. I heard Water Rail as the first Common Buzzard flew over with large flocks of Crows and Jackdaws calling from the nearby farmland. After crossing the railway line a pair of Sparrowhawks flew over but too far away for a photo. Reed Bunting and then a male Stonechat briefly perched on a nearby bramble bush. Meadow Pipits appeared out of nowhere and disappeared into the dense grass just a quick. My attention was the grabbed by two more Common Buzzards soaring overhead. I haven’t tried to photograph moving objects with my new Cannon 450D and 70-300mm lens, so with a clear sky, this was an opportunity not to be missed. Auto focus was all over the place but I’m not totally unhappy with the ‘cropped’ outcome.
Common Buzzard
Other sightings were Mallard, Grey Heron, Green Woodpecker, a fast flying Kestrel and another Buzzard as I returned to the car.
With the possibility of Garganey, Little Ringed Plover and hirrundines I visited Pulborough Brooks RSPB. When I checked in at the Info Centre the lady said “I presume you don’t need a map?” – How did she know I’ve been coming here for well over 15 years!


Blackthorn blossom was everywhere, signifying the "start of spring".

I did the clockwise circuit and failed to find Garganey (nor did anyone else that I spoke to) or any hirrundines. I no particular order my sightings were: Greenfinch, Chaffinch, Wren, Robin, Dunnock, Linnets, Nuthatch, Blue & Great Tits, Starling, Crow, Jackdaw, Lapwings, Little Egret (2), Mute Swan, Canada & Greylag Geese, Moorhen, Coot, Mallard, Teal, Shoveller, Shelduck, Gadwall, Northern Pintail, Wigeon, Grey Heron, Redshank, Dunlin, Black-tailed Godwits, Common Snipe (12), LITTLE RINGED PLOVER (2), Black-headed Gulls, Common Gulls, Lesser Black-backed Gulls, Chiffchaffs, Skylark, Pied Wagtail, Grey Heron, Little Grebe, Pheasant, Wood Pigeon, Stock Dove, Magpie and Blackbird.

Eurasian Wigeon
Arriving at home mid afternoon, while enjoying a welcome cup of tea on the patio, Anita and I watched Blue, Great & Long-tailed Tits, Greenfinch and a female Siskin on the garden feeders with Parakeets flying overhead.

Long-tailed Tit

All in all, despite the lack of two of the 'target' species, not a bad day after all.

Friday, 20 March 2009

Forgotten Photo - Kestrel

This image of a male Falco Tinnunculus, quietly surveying his domain whilst perched atop a tree above the car park at Church Norton (Pagham Harbour) in Sept 2007, was my first successful attempt at digi-scoping. The sharpness of focus on the Kestrel was not perfect but I was pretty chuffed with the final result particularly as it took me some minutes to set up the scope whilst I silently prayed that he would not fly away.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Spring Colour on Battlestone Hill

On my walk through the car park this morning there were small mixed flocks of Goldfinches and Siskins flying around and two Great-spotted Woodpeckers were hammering away on Battlestone Hill and answering each others 'territorial drumming'.
Just time today for a 15 minute walk at lunchtime onto Battlestone Hill to look at the new spring blooms providing a riot of colour in this favourite part of my 2nd garden at RHS Wisley, which include just a few of the myriad varieties of Rhododendrons, an Erythronium tuolumnense, Corylopsis spicata and a clump of Trillium sessile (also known as Wood Lily, Toad-shade or Wake robin).

Whilst capturing these images I was seranaded with the sounds from Chaffinches, Greenfinch, Robin, Treecreeper, Blue & Great Tits, Wrens and a BLACKCAP, so I'll be re-visiting regularly to see if he takes up residence in the same location as previous years.

Saturday, 14 March 2009

Garden - Mid March

Today I was very lazy...failed to respond to the alarm to go out early and overslept...probably due to age and a hectic week at work!
So I spent the 2nd half of the day in the garden, pruning a large Buddleja, digging out a deceased Euphorbia, removing an unwanted Cornus and replacing with Alliums grown in pots and a Miscanthus moved from another location. From time to time I was accompanied by the inquisitive Robin, several Greenfinches, a single Goldfinch, the pair of Long-tailed Tits and a Blue Tit plus the noisy screams of Rose-ringed Parakeets flying overhead.
Evidence of spring colour is beginning to brighten up our lives, particularly from spring flowering bulbs and new growth on shrubs. Below are Scilla siberica & young leaves on a Spirea.

Other colour coming from various other plants - Clockwise from top left:
Bergenia 'Morning Red', Narcissus 'Itzim', Brunnera, Anemone blanda, Muscari armeniacum, catkins on the twisted Hazel, a very dark Hellebore orientalis and the first blooms on a potted Prunus incisa 'Kojo-No-Mai'.

Friday, 13 March 2009

Limited Birding this week!

Very little opportunities for birding this week but I did manage a short walk around the Great Pond on Epsom Common prior to work on Thursday.

Bird sounds are increasing with the repetitive songs of Song Thrush (2), loud bursts from the diminutive Wrens (3), the wistful Robins (5) expanding their repertoires plus plenty of Blue, Great & Long-tailed Tits vocalising their presence plus a scolding Blackbird. As I reached the bank below the pond the loud honking of Canada Geese battered my eardrums. There were a total of 10 on the water and all paired-up. Other water dwellers were Coot (4), Moorhen (3), Mallard (8), and Cormorants (4) plus I disturbed a Grey Heron and whilst trying unsuccessfully to get an 'in-flight' photo a pair of Mandarin Ducks called as they passed overhead and disappeared somewhere in the pond margins but could not be relocated. On the return walk to the car a Nuthatch called and showed itself very briefly with Great-spotted Woodpecker drumming & calling from within the woodland.

The only satisfactory photo was a Canada Goose - Are two heads better than one?

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

The Barn Owl by Ted Kooser

My thanks to Lynne from Hastybrook for e-mailing a 'Valentine' poem "The Barn Owl" by Ted Kooser (United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004 - 2006) which we think provides an appropriate link to the previous post, albeit a few weeks late!

High in the chaffy, taffy colored haze of the hayloft,
up under the starry nail-hole twinkle of the old tin roof,
there in a nest of straw and bailing twine I have hidden my valentine for you:
a white heart woven of snowy feathers in which wide eyes are welcome
open to you as you climb the rickety ladder to my love.
Behind those eyes lies a boudoir of intimate darkness, darling, the silks of oblivion.
And set like a jewel dead center in the heart is a golden hook the size of a finger ring,
to hold you always, plumpest sweetheart mouse of mine.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Barn Owl (Tyto alba)

It is not often that one gets the chance to photograph a Barn Owl (Tyto alba) here is another image that I digi-scoped over the weekend.

For the technically minded I used my pocket Samsung Digimax through a zoom lens set at 20x on a Swarovski ATS 80HD scope (Auto exposure 1/180 at f4.1 ISO 200)

Sunday, 8 March 2009

Bloggers visit Holmethorpe

This morning 'The Early Birder', Anita and Tricia, a fellow blogger, visited Holmethorpe for a guided walk led by Graham (not really 'The Old Grouse') and ably assisted by local birders Richard & Gordon. We arrived early and were able to make a full circuit of Mercers Pit before the organised walk started and watched Rose-ringed Parakeets at their nest holes, probably stolen from the Starlings, a pair of Siskins, Great-crested Grebes, Green Woodpecker, Blackbird, Robin, plus Blue, Great & Long-tailed Tits.

During our walk Gordon located Peregrine Falcon, Common Buzzard & a Mediterranean Gull. We also saw Kestrel, Sparrowhawk, Reed Bunting, Shelduck, Gadwall, Tufted Duck, a male Shoveller, a flying Little Egret, Common, Black-headed & Lesser Black-backed Gulls, Little Grebe, Redwing, Moorhen, Coot, Mallard, Yellowhammer, Common Snipe, Goldfinch and Cormorants.

After a brief stop back at the car park for refreshments Richard then located Lesser Redpoll and more Siskin were also seen. But the "bird of the day" undoubtedly has to be the 'resident' Barn Owl, enabling me to get a reasonable photo by digi-scoping.

Once again our thanks go to Graham for an excellent few hours of birding around his patch at Holmethorpe and in those immortal words "I will return".

Saturday, 7 March 2009

Garden visitors today.

Garden sightings today started with a knock on the door by Fiona (our neighbour) to tell Anita that there was a very colourful Pheasant sitting on the fence in the back garden behind the Pittosporum. I was upstairs and on hearing this information I rushed into the rear bedroom just in time to see the Pheasant fly away towards the local pub, disturbed by Anita opening the back door! Well that's a first for our garden list.
I spent most of the day tidying up around the garden whilst being serenaded by the twittering of Robin, Blue Tit, Great Tit, the pair of Long-tailed Tits, Greenfinch, House Sparrows & Dunnock.

After a visit to the local re-cycling centre I heard two more sounds - Goldfinch and then Siskin (another garden first). Unfortunately he wouldn't show himself fully so only got a partial photo!

Other visitors were Blackbird, Starling, Collared Doves & the daily fly over of Rose-ringed Parakeets, Black-headed Gulls, Crow & Magpies.
Most of the colour in the garden is from Hellebores, a few Crocus, Snowdrops, early flowering Narcissus and this Leucojum vernum 'Carpathicum' which has yellow spotted petals as opposed to green-spotted on L.vernum (The Spring Snowflake).

Friday, 6 March 2009

Wildlife at Whichford Pottery

On Wednesday I visited Whichford Pottery, together with three work colleagues, to carry out my annual review with the pottery sales & production team. The outward two hour journey was uneventful with very few birds seen apart from Crows, Magpies, Starlings, Pigeons, one Common Buzzard and a single Yellowhammer perched by the roadside.
Even Elephants can be found in the overflow stock area!

While working in the office with Paula we saw a pair of Sparrowhawks & a Buzzard fly over.

While my colleagues were given a personalised tour of the pottery I spent time searching out some new designs. The centre picture shows the pots after the slip has been applied and drying out prior to firing in the kiln. The other shots show the final products as designed by one of the throwers.

Other new pots incorporate some wildlife - Bees on an Armscote Bee Pot & a Salamander on (yes you guessed correct) a Salamander Pot.

Breaking new boundaries Jim Keeling has designed and produced this Great Warwick Pot using a specially formulated black glaze to create this unique and innovative piece of work. It is a very, very expensive object (which I could easily hide inside) because all the embossed motifs have been painstakingly oil-gilded with several thickness 23.5 ct gold by a Master Gilder!

On the journey home we eventually caught up with sighting of at least six Red Kites.

Sunday, 1 March 2009

Konik Horses at Oare Marshes

As promised and especially for Kallen, Kelly & Jan here are more images of the Konik Horses that are used as a 'natural' method to manage a number of Nature Reserves throughout the UK.

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