Sunday, 31 January 2016

Big Garden Birdwatch

We took part in the RSPB's annual Big Garden Birdwatch this morning, which is a citizen science project designed to monitor the numbers of our garden birds and provide valuable data to the RSPB. We stocked up the bird feeders, filled the bird baths, then spent an hour peering through binoculars, counting the birds that landed in the garden. For each type of bird, we recorded the most seen at any one time.

Whistlejacket, our back garden red kite, sat in his favourite tree during the count
It was a bit of a rainy, dreary morning, but we still managed to record 44 birds of 15 species, plus a squirrel. Our totals were:

  • 12 goldfinches - they were sat in the top of the silver birch tree in the garden
  • 2 blackbirds - a male and female - hopefully they'll nest in the garden again
  • 5 starlings
Starlings always remind me of viking raiders - they're such thugs and bully
the other birds, taking all the food
  • 1 coal tit
  • 1 blue tit
  • 4 woodpigeons
  • 2 jackdaws
  • 9 rooks - they were sat in the silver birch, occasionally coming down to the bird table one or two at a time to take some food
  • 1 magpie
  • 2 house sparrows - we usually have a large family of sparrows (about 12), but only 2 appeared today
  • 1 crow
  • 1 robin
  • 1 dunnock
  • 1 chaffinch
  • 1 red kite - whistlejacket was sat in his tree as usual
  • 1 squirrel!

The squirrels always make the most of a free meal

Bug Mad Girl is going to enter our results on the RSPB website this evening. You can find out more about the event at the Big Garden Birdwatch website.

Blog update and my #Challengeonnature photographs

First a bit of an update on the blog ... I'm going to be blogging less often for a while as my husband will be in hospital for the next six weeks. It's going to be a difficult time for all of us. I don't expect to have much time to do anything but visit him in hospital and look after the kids (and the dog), so the blog will have to take a bit of a back seat. If all goes well though the plan is to be back to blogging more regularly in time for the orchids and butterflies. Thanks for reading the blog and I hope you'll keep checking back as I plan to blog when I can!

And now for something more fun ...

Over the last week I've taken part in the #challengeonnature nature photography challenge, where you post one of your favourite nature photos every day for a week. It was lovely to look back over some of my old blog posts and pick out some favourite photos. These are the ones I chose (although it was really hard to pick and I could have done with more than seven days for the challenge to be honest):

Day 1 - Snake's-head fritillaries at Iffley Meadows in Oxford. These are such beautiful flowers and are a bit of a favourite of mine as I wrote a piece about them for a Wildlife Trust book about Spring, which is due to be published in a few weeks time.

Day 2 - Our beautiful back garden red kites. I feel so lucky to live in a part of the country where the red kites are thriving and just hang around in our back garden.

Day 3 - A silver washed fritillary on silver washed hogweed. I love this photo because it's so sparkly and summery. Reminds me of good times ahead.

Day 4 - Fantastic Mr. Fox. Bug Mad Girl and I met this fox when we were walking on Hayling Island. He stopped and stared at us for a couple of minutes before carrying on and disappearing into the bushes. I love his expression!

Day 5 - A walk in the Chilterns. This was taken on Whiteleaf Hill, one of our local woods, and reminds me of many wonderful walks up there.

Day 6 - Up close and personal with a hornet. It's not often you can get so close to a hornet, but she was very calm (after a bit of a tantrum when she was scooped up in some leaves and put in a wheelbarrow) and sat quietly while we took a good look at her before releasing her away from the garden. She was beautiful, very intimidating and surprisingly hairy.

Day 7 - A selection of my favourite orchid photos. I love the fact that these beautiful, glamorous flowers grow wild around us. It was hard to choose my favourite one, so I had to go for four of them.

Bee orchid - what's not to love about a flower
pretending to be a bee!  It even has hairy bees
knees and antennae!

Greater butterfly orchid - these are so tall and
graceful. Truly stunning!

Chalk fragrant orchids - As the name suggests, they smell wonderful and
look pretty good too.

Musk orchids - this one is very special. It may be tiny and green,
but it is extremely rare and a small patch of them grow just up the
road from us. 
Hope you enjoy a selection of my favourite photos. They all mean something special to me and remind me of good times ahead in the spring and summer. 

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Frosty reservoir

Weston Turville Reservoir was beautiful this morning. It quite literally took my breath away when I walked up the steps and caught my first glimpse of the view across the water. I was there early and it was so calm and peaceful. It was lovely!

It was very cold and frost covered everything like a dusting of icing sugar, making it sparkle in the sunshine.

Frosty bulrushes

Frosty burrs
I love the metalwork around the sluice gate

The water had frozen and the gulls were sat out in the middle of the reservoir in a huddle.

I watched a moorhen walk across the ice, almost from one side to the other. I thought it might slip, but it was very sure footed and didn't seem worried at all by the ice. It had the most enormous feet, not something you usually see so easily when they're in the water.

Look at those huge feet!
I walked all the way around the reservoir and saw lots of birds, including blue tits, great tits, blackbirds, a song thrush and a great spotted woodpecker. I watched a pair of blue tits dash in and out of a small hole in a tree trunk - maybe they were checking it out as a possible nest site. My fingers were much too cold to catch a photo of them ... so here's the hole they were in and out of!

I found a small cup fungus growing on a cut tree trunk in the wooded area. It was frozen solid!

There were also snowdrops just starting to flower. 

And finally, some fabulous bulrushes and reeds...

It's a beautiful place to visit at any time, but a sprinkling of frost and winter sunshine made it feel magical this morning.

Sunday, 17 January 2016

Chilterns Snowy Owl

I love it when you open the curtains in the morning and everything is covered in snow. The kids were so excited, but it was melting fast, so we went for a walk on the top of Brush Hill. It was the dogs first outing in snow, which she seemed to quite enjoy!

Finally some wintery weather! The wind must have been blowing hard last night as all of the tree trunks had a line of snow down one side and none on the rest of the trunk, making it look much more snowy from one direction than the other!

An extremely elusive Chilterns Snowy Owl put in an appearance (and posed for photos) - they're incredibly rare and we were very lucky to see one today!
The incredibly rare Chilterns Snowy Owl

Guess who ended up with the giant snowball thrown at them!

We spotted a tiny tree creeper on one of the tree trunks in the woods at the top of the hill.
On the way home we saw several redwings picking through the melting snow at the bottom of the hill.
Back home we broke the ice on the bird baths and filled them up and topped up all the bird feeders. When it's as cold as this the garden birds really need fresh water and plenty of food.

Sunday, 10 January 2016

Big is beautiful at Brush Hill

What a difference a couple of days can make. On Thursday I walked around a hill blanketed in thick fog and marvelled at the little things, such as cobwebs, fungi, moss and lichen, hiding in amongst the trees. In contrast, the sun was shining today and the air was cold and crisp, making it finally feel like winter. It was the big things, the huge trees and the sweeping views, that really struck me as I walked around Brush Hill.

Brush Hill is only a couple of minutes away from us and is one of our family favourites. It has some of the best views in the Chilterns from the top of the grassland slope and is a great place to pause and enjoy the sights and watch the red kites.
View from the top of Brush Hill, with Bledlow Ridge in the distance.
Pyrtle Spring is at the bottom of the hill, in the middle of the fields on the left.

Red kites can usually be seen over Brush Hill
The woodland at the top of the hill is a great place to explore. The kids love it because it's flat and has ponds to peer into, trees to climb, stumps to jump off and bugs to hunt.  There were plenty of robins, great tits and blue tits twittering throughout the trees and I could hear, but never quite see, a woodpecker nearby. The site is managed by the Chiltern Society and they've put a lot of new nest boxes up, both in Brush Hill and across the road in Whiteleaf Hill, which really seem to be making a difference. I'm sure the sunshine helped as well, but the trees seemed to be full of very busy birds.
The woods at the top of Brush Hill

The bluebells are starting to grow
I walked down to the bottom of the hill through the woods, then back up the steep steps (that Bug Mad Girl rather dramatically calls the 'steps of death') on the other side of the hill. There were some beautiful old trees in the woods that looked very dramatic, with their maze of bare branches standing out against the blue skies.

One of my favourite beech trees

Bug Mad Girl's best climbing tree

What a beautiful morning walking around Brush Hill!

Thursday, 7 January 2016

Foggy Pulpit Hill

It was a foggy, drippy sort of a day yesterday as I walked through the woods on the top of Pulpit Hill. I had plenty of time though, so walked slowly, checking behind logs and off the main path, and turned up all sorts of great little treasures.
The fog made the hill fort feel even more atmospheric than usual
Damp days like that make all the spider webs stand out, showing the great variety in their designs. They're such great feats of engineering for tiny little creatures and look so pretty sparkling in the gloom. It also means you can see them so don't accidentally walk through them!

Orb web

Sheet web suspended horizontally between two tree trunks
There are still a few nice fungi around, but my favourite was one which I believe is called a hare's ear, due to its shape. It's similar to the 'cups' (palomino cup or layered cup) but it has a rolled in slit down one side and is distinctly elongated at the other end. I only found one, sitting in the leaf litter in the middle of the hill fort.

Hare's ear

Hare's ear
As I was crawling around on my hands and knees in the leaves, I found several tiny orange toadstools (that I would almost certainly have missed if I was just walking past them). They were all attached to fallen twigs and had curved stipes with white fibres on them and a white downy base. I believe these are fantastically named scurfy twiglets.

Scurfy twiglet
About 10 days ago I noticed some peeling oysterlings just starting to grow on a fallen log. I had a look at them today and was amazed how much they had grown and matured. If you look closely you can just see the broken branch poking out of the fungi today, which just shows how much they've increased in size.
Baby peeling oysterlings

10 days later they've grown huge and are curled up at the edges
There were lots of variable oysterlings on fallen twigs. From the top they look like plain white blobs growing out of twigs and small branches, but then you turn them over and they are really very beautiful. They're very common, but always worth picking up and turning over.
Variable oysterlings
The moss is starting to really flourish in all this damp weather. You have to look closely but the structure of the leaves and their capsules are really quite beautiful and very varied.
Bank haircap, with very distinctive brown capsules

Common tamarisk moss - looks almost like miniature ferns

Hart's-tongue thyme-moss

Rough stalked feather moss covered in wine red capsules
I found a hart's-tongue fern growing in the woods. They don't look like the traditional ferns, as the fronds are undivided, making them look (a bit) like a tongue. A hart is a traditional name for a deer, so somebody must have thought they looked like a deer's tongue (not that I've ever seen one!)

Hart's-tongue fern

Spores in rows underneath the frond
A few of the other treasures from my walk ....

Some lovely lichen - looked like it was growing fingers!

An oak apple on an oak leaf - caused by a reaction to chemicals released by
the larva of a gall wasp

Slime mould - looked like bright yellow eggs
So it may have been foggy, muddy and damp and it may be the middle of January, but there is still loads of interesting stuff out there just waiting to be discovered.