Thursday, 19 January 2012


Fine, dry morning so we packed a few sandwiches and drove to Eyebrook Reservoir.  First stop was a tree favoured by Little Owls and sure enough within a couple of minutes we were watching two owls watching us.  The reservoir was surprisingly low for this time of year but there were plenty of birds.  I will put a full list at the bottom of the page but the best sight was three Red Kites sailing low over the fields.  They have a wing span of about 5 feet; a distinctive forked tail and they are a  lovely chestnut colour with white patches under their wings.  Even when we couldn't see them we knew they were around because of the alarm calls of the other birds.  Red Kites are primarily scavengers but they will take live prey.
We spent two hours scanning the reservoir for an elusive Green Winged Teal.  Andy has seen it on a number of occasions but we couldn't locate it today. Still it was an enjoyable couple of hours.
On the way to Rutland Water we stopped off in Uppingham.  It was lunch time and seeing the smartly dressed pupils of Uppingham School reminded me that Stephen Fry was educated here for a while.  We visited the Goldmark Gallery.  My first experience of a real art gallery event was at Goldmark some years ago now.  We walked into a Picasso exhibition.  The walls were filled with drawings worth thousands of pounds and beautiful girls were handing out wine and nibbles.  A man tried to persuade us to part with £60,000 for a drawing of a cat - a three bedroomed semi would have cost less at the time and would have been nicer to look at!  Today they had a sale so we could have picked up a half price Dali or a Matisse but I didn't like them either!
I bought two craft books in a second hand book shop ('The Original Annabel Fox' knitting book and 'Making Hand-sewn Boxes')  then we drove to the dam wall end of the reservoir.  It was cold in the wind; the water was choppy and there were few birds so we didn't stay long.

My list for the day (as usual Andy saw more than I did!)
Mute Swan                          Canada Geese                      Grey Heron 
Black-headed Gull                Great Black-backed Gull      Teal  
Tufted Duck                          Greylag Geese                      Pintail 
Crow                                    Jackdaw                               Rook 
Red Kite                               Buzzard                                Kestral 
Great Tit                               Chaffinch                              Peregrin 
Mistle Thrush                         Blackbird                             Goldfinch  
Widgeon                               Shelduck                              Lapwing  
Coot                                     Great-crested Grebe            Fieldfare  
Common Gull                        Pochard                               Goldeneye
Magpie                                  Blue Tit                                Little Owl
Mallard                                 Red Lg. Partridge                 Wood Pidgeon

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

"I am just going out now and I may be some time.”

Kerria japonica 'Pleniflora' (also called
 Bachelor's buttons and Japanese rose).

Last night was cold ... obviously Captain Oates would disagree with that statement but for my part of the world it was a cold night.  Despite the frost my Kerria Japonica produced its first bloom.  I have roses flowering and a lupin in bloom.  I expected the snowdrops to flower and the Hellebores but there seems to be a lot more activity than usual at this time of year.  It is lovely to see it but it is also rather worrying - this is climate change happening in my garden.

Even more worrying is the fact that the birds are joining in.  Last week a Great Tit was definitely checking out the nest box and I was amused to see a beautiful male Pheasant puffing up his plummage to impress a female who was totally ignoring him.  The frost has thankfully cooled their ardour. 
bear's-paw hellebore

Back in 1736 Robert Marsham of Norfolk began
recording the dates for natural events that he felt indicated the beginning of Spring. He corresponded with Gilbert White who was keeping similar records in Hampshire. This was the beginning of Phenology.  By examining this wealth of data modern Phenologists can tell us that Spring is beginning noticably earlier.  According to the Woodland Trust Nature's Calander Survey recent records kept by Dr Anne Phillips reveal that Blackbirds are nesting approximately 14 days earlier and trees are leafing 12 days earlier.  Whilst we are all happy to see the back of Winter these early indicators of Spring are a wake up call to us all. 


Places we hope to visit over the next few months:
  • Hodsock Priory to see the snowdrops
  • Gilbert White's House and Gardens to see the estate but also to visit the Antartic exhibition dedicated to Captain Oates (it was 100 years ago yesterday that Scott and his team reached the pole)
  • The Festival of Birds at Slimbridge Gloucestershire on 4th - 5th February. 

20th January 2012
PS:  Bryony Balen, a 21 year old student, became the youngest person to ski to the South Pole.  Brilliant achievement!  When Scott got there he said, "Great God!  This is an awful place."  He was facing the disappointing fact that Amundsen had beaten him there but also the knowledge that they had to trek all the way back.  Bryony got on a plane to return to Base Camp.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

On My Doorstep

Pheasant pecks up dropped grain
I picked up a plate for 75p in a charity shop.  A wooden plate through which Andy bashed a nail to attach it to the fence at the front of the house.  We added a few piles of grain and a couple of fat balls and waited for the blue tits to arrive.  That didn’t take long ... they were joined by the great tits; the long tailed tits; the house sparrows and the dunnocks.  Within a few days a family of pheasants found us but they had to fight off the marauding magpies while the collared doves hung around in the hedge waiting for their turn.  Our best visitor this week was a young sparrow hawk who flew in looking for his dinner!

Today brought us a brave blackbird.  It sat in a muddy puddle and refused to move when a car drove down the lane.  The driver slowed right down but the bird stood its ground.   The car went right over it and the bird continued to sit in the puddle!  A few minutes later it flew off and banged into a house wall  ....  obviously it wasn’t brave, it was blind!

Long-tailed Tit comes to eat the fat balls

My 75p was very well spent.  It will help to keep a few birds fed this winter, it is giving us excellent views of the wildlife and it has delighted one neighbour who is too ill to leave home but has taken up bird watching!

Great Spotted Woodpecker
We have already recorded 17 different species visiting the garden on a regular basis.  I will be taking part in:
·         The RSPB Big Garden Bird-watch on 28th to 29th January 2012.  It only takes an hour to count a few garden visitors.
·         The BTO Garden Bird-watch which runs all year.
I’ll let you know how I get on.

Goldfinches eat sunflower hearts

                 Birds in our garden.
Photographs copyright of Andy Mason