Folklore Thursday-Wren king of the birds

During the Big Garden Birdwatch, the wren was pretty much in the garden constantly reminding me of a folklore story. Once upon a time, the birds decided they would find out once and for all which of them was the king of the birds. They settled on a competition, the bird who could fly the highest would be named king of the birds. The birds all took flight, flying higher and higher. The small birds were the first to drop out and it wasn’t long until just the birds of prey were left. Finally, just the eagle was left. With no flight left in it, it started to descend. As it did a wren hidden in its feathers flew up higher declaring itself king of the birds.

The other birds were outraged with the wrens trickery and refused to accept the result. The wren laughed at them. It could beat them at any challenge. The eagle challenged it to swoop the lowest. The eagle dived and swept along the ground. The wren dived and saw a burrow it entered winning the contest. However, the birds of prey wouldn’t let it out annoyed at its deceit. It stayed hidden until one day while the owl was distracted it snuck out. From that day on the wren has stayed hidden low down in the bushes to avoid the angry birds of prey trying to take its title of king of the birds.

The wren used to be hunted on the feast day of St Stephen on the 26th December The wren would be killed and paraded around the village on a poll by strawboys. The wrenboys dress in suits of straw and masks and colourful clothes. Several folklore songs were sung as they paraded.

“The wren the wren the king of all birds

St Stephen’s Day was caught in the furze

Her clothes were all torn- her shoes were all worn

Up with the kettle and down with the pan

Give us a penny to bury the “wran”

If you haven’t a penny a halfpenny will do

If you haven’t a halfpenny/ God bless you!”

For a tiny little bird, it has played a large part in the folklore of the UK. For a tiny bird it has one of the loudest songs. Well worth spending time watching and enjoying.

Follow me on Twitter.

Nature Book Club: Review-Kathleen Jamie Findings

This week I finished reading Kathleen Jamie’s Findings. I’ve seen this book recommended regularly over the last few years and thought I’d give it a try as it was priced at 99p. Primarily known for her poetry this is a collection of writings covering nature, landscape and history. There is no particular running theme through them apart from taking pleasure in much of the natural world.

The prose has been very well written. The descriptions of her subjects are very evocative taking you along for the journey. The chapters each cover a different subject. We see descriptions of peregrines, of salmon, Neolith cairns, anatomical museums, whale watching and more. The book is fairly short and could be read over a few nights or as each chapter is separate dipped in and out of. Some people might find this a bit annoying. You have no running theme more extended pieces of journalism. This is not writing to inform you. You will find no great factual depth. But each chapter is well written, contemplative and enjoyable enough to lose yourself in. I would possibly have been disappointed in this if I’d paid full price but at 99p it was an enjoyable read over about two hours. I would be willing to try her other books or her poetry.

 

Follow me on Twitter.

 

Big Garden Birdwatch 2020

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been talking about my preparations for the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch and yesterday we carried it out. The day was a bit overcast but not too windy and no sign of rain. Alice was helping out as it has been set as her school homework for this month. She helped prepare by making pine cone fat feeders.

We tied the string to the pine cones.

Then we mixed seed and lard.

Then we moulded it around the pine cones and placed in the fridge to set.

Then these have been placed hanging off the back gate. I don’t think the birds will be that bothered for them but I like to make something with Alice so she’s been involved. We made the Cheerio feeders last year so fancied something different this year.

We set ourselves up inside with notebooks and field guides and binoculars ready to record our sightings. Alice was very excited to write down her sightings using her My little pony multi-coloured pen. She wanted to choose colours to match the birds.

I had discussed in an earlier blog my hope that I might have the greenfinches or blackcaps in to add something different to my list but it wasn’t to be. That said, we did have a good number of birds coming in and in large numbers. The results are as follows:

  • Common gull 2
  • Wren 1
  • Starlings 6
  • House sparrows 17
  • Wood pigeon 3
  • Blackbird 4
  • Blue tit 2
  • Collared Dove 3
  • Crow 1
  • Robin 1
  • Dunnock

Of the regulars, the finches were noticeably absent and the great and long-tailed tits. But we still saw double figures of species and a good number of each. Next doors cat was patrolling the garden for much of the time so I don’t think that’s too bad a number. When I first put the feeders out I didn’t have anywhere near the number of birds visiting.

There is still time to do a count today and tomorrow if you haven’t already taken part. Even if you have you can still submit multiple counts. Having done one count with Alice I may try for one on my own so I can focus better in case I missed anything on this one. Alice had good fun though and she is naming more of the birds correctly which at the age of three I think is good going. Hope you all enjoy the rest of your weekends and if you are taking part in the count you get to see plenty.

Follow me on Twitter.

Six on Saturday: 25.1.19

Today’s six on Saturday is a post of two halves. The first half coming from a family friend’s garden, the second half is from my own garden. Last weekend we went to visit one of Amy’s friends whose garden we had seen on open gardens last year (garden 4). I was interested to see it in winter as it has a lot of foliage I’d assumed was evergreen. But it was all still looking great. The mass carpets of cyclamen foliage covering lots of ground, alongside hellebores coming into flower looked great.

1. Alice and snowdrops

Alice was very taken with the snowdrops, though she is referring to them interchangeably as snowdrops and snowbells. I don’t think I have any coming up in my own garden anymore or they are lost in the foliage. I may have to see about adding a few in the front garden. Then Alice can enjoy snowbell hunting in our garden.

2. Pots

I’d seen this area of their garden in summer when the pots were filled with hostas and ferns. Even in winter without the hostas, the ferns still look great.

The semp pots and rock towers still looking good. All the found objects adding to the look nicely.

3. Pruning

Returning to my own garden I made the decision to give the Korean dwarf lilac a rather severe haircut. I’ve cut it each year but it has gradually been creeping up in size. The surrounding shrubs will be given a trim in spring. Though having cut the dwarf lilac and looking at the gap I think it may be better removing this completely and letting the hydrangea and choisya claim the space rather than having three shrubs fighting for space.

4. More driftwood

I’ve talked previously about my plans to use driftwood in the garden. I’ve managed to claim a few more pieces to start laying out in front of the pots just next to the Korean dwarf lilac. I’m loving the very knotted piece full of holes. A great find.

Then I’ve managed to get another big piece. I need to wash some of the sand and salt then I’ll probably look at putting it into the borders as I’ve done with the other large piece I found.

5. Iris reticulata

The iris are shooting up quickly with the mild weather. I think I may have an early show for many of these. I expanded my selection with a few different varieties Katherine Hodgkins, Katherine Hodgkin’s gold and harmony. Having seen some stunning purple ones in the last few weeks I’d like to add something like Pauline next year. They have stunning deep purple flowers.

6. Hydrangea buds

A number of the hydrangeas have foolishly put on growth beyond the old mopheads with the mild weather. I think they may regret this if the temperature drops as predicted. Rather strange looking things when you look closely.

I’m planning on carrying out my Big Garden Birdwatch so I’m looking to disturb the garden as little as possible this morning until that is done. Then the forecast is dry for today but rain for tomorrow so I’m going to be looking to tidy up the pruning work today. I’m cutting it down as much as I can and putting it down as a mulch under the hydrangeas. It will be slow to break down but it will provide for beetles and woodlice.

Follow me on Twitter.

Nature Book Club: Review-Get your Boots On

This week for Nature Book Club I’d like to take a look at a book I’ve been sent from another Nature Book Club contributor, Alex White. For those of you who don’t know, Alex is and up and coming naturalist. He’s been blogging about nature since he was 13. He is part of many nature groups including a focus on nature, the youth network for connecting young people interested in nature. In 2016 he appeared on Springwatch Unsprung and I do actually remember the segment despite this being before I discovered Alex’s blog. Chris Packham critiqued Alex’s photos. Anyone who knows the Springwatch photo segments will know Chris can be quite harsh in his comments, but he was very supportive, he did critique but was encouraging offering constructive advice. Alex has continued with his blog and working with different nature organisation. Then last year he released his first book, ‘get your boots on‘.

I am not necessarily the key target audience for this book as it is largely geared towards offering advice and support on gaining pleasure in nature to young people. That said, I’ve devoured the book over the last week. The book is split into advice on getting interested and getting out, making connections, gadgets and technology, get competitive, juggling wildlife and your life, activism, next-generation and be open to advice. You’ve got great advice that you can see has come out of Alex’s own experiences. The advice is wide-ranging there are tips on kit, photography, nature groups, exams and lots on being comfortable with yourself. Much of the advice most people learn the hard way such as don’t wear shorts on fieldwork. But here it is offered up for young people to avoid.

From such a young writer you will see many of the reviews of this book using words such as ‘inspirational’, ‘poignant,’ and ‘wonderful’. But these words all fit. This book would have been nice to have when I was a teenager, though I may not have listened to the advice as I was too wrapped up in music obsessions arguing with people over the merits of Black Sabbath and The Smiths and the lack of merit in listening to Coldplay. But we are now living in a period where young people are making their voices heard. The younger generation are very aware of the damage that has been done to our world and want to see changes. Having a book like this written by someone so young is great for showing anyone can make a difference. It is certainly filling a gap in the nature book market as there is no shortage of books aimed at younger children.

The book itself is a nice glossy paperback filled with photos, many taken by Alex himself. Having read it cover to cover I can dip and out finding lots worth rereading. The text is interspaced with sections from his blog and guest contributors adding their advice. Alex has drawn on an amazing list of contacts who add their words of wisdom. Chris Packham, Mark Avery, Dominic Dyer, Anneka Svenska, Kate MacRae and so many more.

It has inspired me to get my trail camera out again. I haven’t set it up in a while apart from just to see if the hedgehogs are visiting the garden. I haven’t seen any signs this year but I live in hope of them returning. My trail camera is just a cheap one from Aldi bought on sale at £15. They usually start from £30 up these days. The better quality ones can capture amazing footage but even a cheap one like this can show you what is in your garden. It gave me and the in-laws great pleasure seeing the badgers in their garden.

I wasn’t expecting to see them this time of year but we did have a few visitors.

Alex is fortunate to have many people around him providing him with great chances to get out in nature. But I get the feeling he knows how lucky he is to have had so much support at such a young age. One lesson I’m taking from the book is to take the opportunities on offer.

Follow me on Twitter.

Six on Saturday: 18.1.19

We come to the end of another week and the garden has survived the worst of the storms. Only the one pot that is getting blown over so not too bad in the grand schemes. The predicted cold weather over the next week isn’t meant to be as severe in my area though it may be wet.

Burgon & Ball winnings

A few weeks ago I posted about winning the Burgon & Ball photo competition and now my winnings have arrived. For those of you who don’t know Burgon & Ball are a Sheffield based company established in 1730 working with steel. They have an established history of making quality tools and they received the RHS endorsement in 2012. So, it’s very nice to win a collection of their tools. I opted for an allotment set, despite no allotment, as it had more tools I don’t own in. I got two long-handled weeders. The weed slice is for quick work on surface weeds. The express hoe has an oscillating blade. This apparently makes it easier to pull across the soil as it angles itself to cut.

I think these will work well in the front garden where I get a lot of surface weeds that can just be scraped off.

The razor hoe should be good for some of the cracks in the patio.

Then finally, a mug. While I don’t have an allotment still good to have a garden mug.

2. Beach finds

I’ve tied up a few of my beach finds. Alice helped thread, then directed me to place them for decoration around the trees.

3. Further bargain bulbs

Morrison’s bulbs were down to a pound and less. I opted for some pink hyacinths ‘Jan Bos’ and ‘candy prince’ tulips I thought Alice would like. I don’t massively like hyacinths, but they are supposedly good for bees. The tulips aren’t particularly good for wildlife but have to make some concessions to beauty. The naturalising mix should be of more benefit to wildlife. It contains Tulip Tarda, Chinodoxa and Muscari. I already have patches on Chinodoxa and Muscari, but I’m interested to see how the Tulip Tarda perform. These are closer to the original wild form. I’ve gone with quite a lot of bulbs that can naturalise so I don’t have to spend as much each year. I may regret going for so many that can spread, but be a few years till I have to worry about that. For now, I can enjoy the show.

These have all made it into the ground. As I haven’t marked any of my previous bulb plantings I’m going from memory of what is coming up where so I could have some strange combinations. I’ve tried marking bulbs but Alice likes moving labels and there are too many bulbs now.

4. Blackcap

I posted a few weeks saying I’d spotted a blackcap in my parents garden. I’ve now seen one in my garden. I’ve not wanted to disturb it so I haven’t got a great photo yet, but nice to have a newcomer to the garden. Not a rare bird, but apparently staying overwinter more frequently and moving further north. This was followed by several long-tailed tits, which are becoming another more common winter visitor up north.

5. Big garden birdwatch preparation

During winter and in preparation for the Big Garden Birdwatch I’ve increased the number of feeders dotted around the garden. I’ve also put a few closer to the house so we get to enjoy a few birds at close quarters. I’ve got a few of the jars of fat food from Wilco’s. These provide lots of energy during the winter months. I’ve put the nyjer feeders back up. I haven’t bothered with them in a while as the seed was rotting away, but as I’ve seen a number of finches recently I thought I’d give it another go. The stands are rusty ones I bought cheap when I first moved in. The outer layer has almost all cracked away. I don’t particularly like getting rid of things or creating waste so I’m considering giving them a lick of paint. Looking online though there are lots of choices beyond the original black, so it’s tempting to jazz them up. On the subject of feeders, it is worth moving them around every so often as this stops the build-up of leftover food underneath and helps stop the spread of disease.

6. Cineraria

Having found a new source of peat-free compost last week I wanted to try some seeds to see how it performed as seed compost. This is the main reason I need compost for so if the seeds can’t germinate it won’t be much use. Cineraria is a plant I’ve used around the borders as it contrasts well with darker plants like the dahlias. But after a while, it gets too big and woody and loses some of its charms. I’ve used the compost as is. I’ve not mixed anything additional in so I can see how it performs as it comes. I’ve used a large seed tray, this has been placed on a windowsill and should take about two weeks to germinate. The bag of the packs says germination guaranteed. So Wilcos can expect a letter asking for my pound refund if they don’t.

Well that’s your lot. I’ve not much planned for the garden this weekend. I’ve got a bit of pruning to do. I want to cut the height of the shrubs nearest the house so I’ve got a view down the garden for the Big Garden Birdwatch. We’re off out to visit one of my Amy’s friends. They have a stunning garden that we saw at open gardens last year (garden number 4). While it won’t have the abundance of summer I’m still looking forward to seeing it and how it holds up in winter. I hope you’ve all not been blown away and enjoy your weekends. Don’t forget to check the links on the Propagator’s blog to see other six on Saturday posts.

Follow me on Twitter.