Monday, 27 February 2012

This Mortal Soil

There were four female Pheasants feeding this morning and one lone male later in the day.  They tend to come in small groups but one day recently thirteen turned up: five beautiful males and eight females.  Unfortunately we were not the only people to be watching.  Whilst we were away last week two men came down the lane with dogs and guns.  I hope more than five birds survived.

The young hare has disappeared too.  People have to eat I suppose.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Dipping & Diving

Blandford Forum is a market town on the River Stour in Dorset. Last Monday I spent a few minutes standing on the new bridge over the river and could not believe the wealth of wildlife. I was within walking distance of a Morrison's and a busy carpark yet a kingfisher was sitting in a tree watching us whilst we were watching the otters.
 It is a well known urban site for otters ... even more so now it has been featured on 'Winter Watch'.  We were only there a few minutes when we spotted this one feeding near the bank.  It posed for a few shots then teased us by pretending it was swimming closer but dived every time my camera was focussed.  Suddenly a Black Headed Gull swooped in and screamed for re-enforcements and the otter had to swim for cover. 

A few minutes later we were watching a male swan lovingly mimic his mates movements until her tail went up and he was able to show the world how much he cared!
We were in Hampshire to see the Dark-eyed Junco -

Dark-eyed Junco

only the thirty-eighth recorded sighting for Britain so
quite a rare bird.  We made our way to the Hawkhill
Enclosure in the New Forest and joined a small group
of birders.  There were plenty of Chaffinches and
Reed Buntings and Common Crossbills ... but no
Junco ... until  we arrived!  If only it was always that
easy!  He is a first winter male who should be in an
American forest right now but somehow endured
the long flight and has been drawing the crowd since Christmas.

Then it was off to see the Spanish Sparrow.
Spanish Sparrow
I saw a number of these last October on Fuerteventura ... a long way from Calshot.  This one was in the middle of a housing estate.  A young woman had been feeding the birds and noticed a strange sparrow.  It is a stunning bird.  He looks magnificent in his breeding plummage .  Such a shame.
Before heading home on Wednesday we took a two hour detour to see a Common Yellowthroat. The rain began as we crossed the toll bridge into Wales.  We found the field and joined thirteen birders prepared to brave the elements for a view of this little North American warbler.  We waited two and a half hours in the wind and horizontal rain.  We had dipped out so we headed home.  It was a disappointed man who drove me back.  He is even more disappointed now because I found this blog from a man who saw the bird just thirty minutes after we left!  


Dale Farm Guest House, Dibden
We stayed in this cosy 18th century farm house at Applemore Hill near Southampton.  Surrounded by beautiful gardens and woodland it is a lovely, peaceful place to stay if you are planning a trip to the New Forest.

Old bridge at Blandford Forum

Common Buzzard

River Stour Blandford


Robin in the New Forest

Photographs copyright Andy Mason

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Back in Business

My finger nails are grubby and I'm slightly stiff .... but I'm back in the garden.

Trays of Snapdragons; Sweetpeas; Delphiniums; Lupins; Marigolds and Coreopsis are in the greenhouse and I have a pot of Hostas on the kitchen windowsill. 
Raking dead leaves uncovered loads of tulip and daffodil shoots.  Inspecting the over-wintering pots was like meeting up with old friends! New buds are appearing and it is time to get back out there, tidy up and plan the next show.

A great deal of time and effort went into the garden last year and I was happy with the result.  It was a tidy, colourful but very average garden.  This year I want to dig it up and redesign the place.  At the moment we have lawns and borders.  I would like a winding path and masses of plants instead!  Tons of work, loads of planting ....exciting!! 


Woodlouse House is on an unadopted lane.  It is a mud track that gets rutted and puddled  in Winter so every Spring we have to patch it up. Water drains off it naturally as it borders a farmer's field.  Each year he comes down and trims the Hawthorn hedge and mows the grass verge but the rest of the year it is left to grow wild.  

 For the last few years I have been planting a few bulbs each Autumn and throwing a few seeds at the ground each Spring.  We now have daffodils and tulips; aquilega and poppies followed by hellebores and sedum but I know we can do better!  I have 30 lupin plants over wintering ready to make an appearance together with red and pink oriental poppies and a few foxgloves.  Hopefully they will look splendid and the bees and insects will approve.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Bar-tailed Godwit

Andy took these photos of a Bar-tailed Godwit at Cley, Norfolk.

There were far more Black-tailed Godwits about but this one was showing off the barring on the tail very well as it came in to land.

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Quick Tick

There seemed to be a Smew invasion a few days ago. Andy asked me if I wanted to go for a walk round Hoveringham to see if any had landed there but I was busy.  Two hours later the report came in ... Smew at Hoveringham. 

It was freezing cold but we were wrapped up warm.  First tick was this Ruff ... poor photo but I just had my Lumix 10.  Andy did a better job on this Little Egret.

The Egret numbers are increasing there: we have seen eight together but a regular birder said he had counted twenty-eight.  Last year he was convinced they were going to breed in a small copse but it didn't happen ... maybe this year....

There was a sighting of a Great White Egret nearby.  It frequented this area last year so it didn't come as a surprised.

We found a Grey Plover looking sick and very sorry for itself.  There were four Dunlin and the Smew we had gone down there to find.

The main talking point was a Goosander that had been mistaken for a Red Breasted Merganser: apparently it was easy to see why but it was too far away for me to identify either way!! 

Last week we were looking at these catkins feeling Spring was here!


This beautiful book was delivered this morning.  No, we didn't win the Lottery so we didn't fork out £7,000,000 (the last sale price of a real copy of Audubon) but the photographs are wonderful. 

The  original Audubons are about 99cm by 66cm - much too big for my coffee table! It was publish between 1827 and 1838 and contained 435 life sized engravings of American birds by John James Audubon.  The cost in 1838 was around (£185).  It was published unbound to avoid the extra cost of issuing free copies to libraries and it is believed about 200 copies were produced. 

We purchased this one from The Folio Society.  It was a special edition for members and has sold out so we were lucky to get it. 

Here are some of the plates:

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Cold Weather Friends

A Waxwing (Bombycilla garrulous) was spotted in Notts today - the first of many now the cold weather has arrived. They are winter visitors from Scandinavia.  Some years they can be seen in large numbers or irruptions.  They eat berries - particularly Rowan or Hawthorn.  Last year I watched a group of about twenty stripping a Rowan tree in the middle of a comprehensive school playground ... they were totally ignoring the 1,500 kids milling around them but the kids didn't seem to be noticing the Waxwings either!

Another winter visitor from Scandinavia is the Redwing (Turdus iliacus).

These form large flocks with another migrant thrush, the Fieldfare (Turdus pilaris).

Figures from last week's RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch and the BTO Garden Birdwatch Survey reveal that the number of reported sightings of Fieldfares in UK gardens has increased by 441% over the past week!  Redwing sightings are up by 137% (information from Birdwatch Magazine).  Last Saturday just before the snow arrived the field outside the house was covered in Redwings and Fieldfares ...  far too many to count.  They were feasting on the insects and worms before removing all the berries from our Holly tree.

Photos by Andy Mason

Monday, 6 February 2012

Mad Hare

I will have two great memories of this snow-fall.  The first is of a young hare who had obviously never seen snow before.  We first noticed him in early autumn. He spent sunny days sitting in his form (a shallow depression) in the middle of the field safe from predators. Unlike rabbits, hares tend to be solitary creature who live above ground. He is a shy one and sticks to the far side of the field but on Saturday he came right up to the fence!  He was jumping about; frantically searching for any tuft of grass not covered by the strange white stuff; running and leaping and all but dancing in the snow.  Obviously there wasn't a lot for him to eat so I threw out some green veg and apples.  Something ate it over night but the footprints didn't look like hare prints.

My second memory of the snow fall is being outside at four o'clock in the morning.  Have you ever seen the Simon the Cat cartoon 'Cat Man Do'?  If not click here.  This was my cat on that Saturday morning.  There was no way she was going to be ignored ... I was forced out of bed!  In a way she did me a favour because I looked outside and realised my greenhouse heater had gone out!!  Of all the nights to run out of parafin!  Elegantly attired in my dressing gown and wellies I braved the snow to rescue the plants and that's when I heard the barn owl.  Ghostly white and silent it was hunting along the deserted road.  A beautiful sight ..... unless you're a mouse!