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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I thought for this weeks Nature Book Club I’d have a look at a story Alice recieved for Christmas. The storm whale was the first book by Benji Davies. He has since written several follow ups and many other lovely emotion filled books. Grandad’s island is regularly picked for the home time story at school and Alice has picked the Grotlyn numerous times from the library. His books have seen him win many awards and recognitions over the last decade. At the heart of all his stories are positive messages told with wonderful story telling filled with emotion. The storm whale currently has a theatre production touring which we are looking forward to taking Alice to next month.
Right from the cover you have an inviting story with the boy Noi meeting the whale. You’ve got friendship and care right there from the off. Even though Noi doesn’t have a mouth the illustrations strangely carry an evocative feeling to them with the feelings inferred. The illustrations of the settings are lovely and the details are spot on. The shacks they live in are just like locations I know along the coast and the interiors feel just right.
The blurb on the back tells you exactly what you are getting here and shows off Noi and his dad and where they live. Within the story there are nice little details like Noi and his dad have six cats, so straight away Alice wants to spot them all counting the hidden cats. The story focusses on the lonely boy Noi, with his father working leaving him alone. Noi’s empathy and compassion for the whale reunite him and his father. The story is very touching. The book itself is often available cheap in the supermarkets, but even full price it is well worth the money.
If you are interested in seeing the theatre production on tour mentioned here are the dates:
East Riding Theatre Sat 9 – Sunday 10th February
Eden Court Theatre and Cinema Tue 12 – Weds 13th February
The Guildhall Arts Centre, Grantham Sat 16 February
Stantonbury Theatre Mon 18 February
Theatre Hullabaloo Thurs 21st Feb – Sat 23rd Feb
York Theatre Royal Tue 26th Feb – Sat 3rd March
ARC Stockton Arts Centre Fri 8 – Sat 9 March
artsdepot Sunday 10th March
Theatr Clwyd 21st – 23rd March
Carriageworks Theatre 2nd – 3rd April
Belgrade Theatre, Coventry 24th – 27th April
The Key Theatre 28th April – 30th April
And so 12 days wild comes to an end. I always enjoy taking part in these online communal nature pushes. While I live my life this way much of the year it is nice to reflect on what we do. But blogging each day is a drain on time so don’t mind going back to my usual interspaced blogs.
We had a few trips for boring practical purposes to do in the morning. But we popped over Tesco’s carpark to have a quick stroll through the community orchard and along the railway track. Alice told me we needed to look for fairy doors and she was right.
A robin serenaded us from the shadows.
On the way back we saw a few of the ducks along the drainage ditch.
Then in the afternoon, Alice wanted to go down to the beach again. She did really well walking and we made it a good way down the beach. I had taken the bucket along to collect more driftwood. Alice helped out finding pieces she felt were worthy of coming home. The sanderlings were running about back and forth around us. I’ve rarely had them coming so close to us, so that was a joy to see on the last day of 12 days. I didn’t have my camera on me, but I may try walking that way again over the next few weeks to see if I can get some photos of them. I did have my phone though so captured a pic of Alice decorating one of her castles.
It’s been a good break off and I’ve enjoyed blogging about Alice and my nature experiences. The daiy blogging will stop but the love of nature won’t.
Welcome to a new year of six on Saturday. I made it through the last year and I think I managed to post each week giving me an amazing record I can look back through. I thoroughly recommend taking part. There is a great community through the blogs and Twitter and I’ve learnt so much. I am still off work currently so I’ve had a productive week tidying the garden and getting a few bits planted. I’ve still got my front garden bin tidy to do, but I’ve made lots of progress in other areas. I’ve also had a tidy of a few of the blog pages and started adding a gardening contents page as I’ve noticed lots of traffic to particular blogs. It needs more work but nice to have quick access to particular blogs I refer back to quite often.
1. Bargain tulips
We popped out a few days ago to the garden centre for a family trip out. The bargain bulb trolley is out now with bulbs reduced to £1 each. So each picked a bag. I thought Amy was going to go for the pheasant’s eye daffodils but she opted for the sealing wax daffodils. I’m not a fan of daffodils as they don’t offer much benefit to wildlife and I’m not a great fan of the colours. Most of the ones we have are wilco’s specials so these will be some of the few I know the names of. Alice went with the Red Riding Hood tulips. I’ve grown these before. They have nice stripy foliage and bright red flowers. The alliums were my choice. Three very tall summer drummers. I had said last week I was done with bulb planting, but what I obviously meant was done until I see a bargain.
Alice helped plant her tulips, then lost interest as the other bulbs aren’t her taste. The crowbar came in use again for making nice targetted holes in the border.
2. Muddy puddle
Then Alice got on with the more important work of making a muddy puddle. She used the rainwater from her mud kitchen to soak a section of the lawn.
The lawn is in a pretty bad condition after builders last year but Alice had fun jumping up and down in her puddle.
3. Homebrew nematodes
This week I had found the book outwitting squirrels was free through Kindle to borrow. The book tackles different ways to tackle different “pests”. On the whole, I let nature take its course and allow the wildlife to find an equilibrium. But I have planted several hostas I would like to protect. In the book, it talks about making your own nematodes. Nematodes are a microscopic worm that preys on slugs and snails. It’s a natural way to keep slug and snails down. It costs about £16 and needs applying about every 6 weeks. So it is quite a pricey way to combat them. By collecting up slugs and snails in a confined area you can create conditions for nematodes to build. The water at the bottom can then be added to a watering can to add the nematodes into your soil. It is unlikely to be that effective in the cold weather during winter but it’s free for me to try so can’t do any harm. If nothing else I’ve got the kit ready to try again when the seasons change.
A washbasin has been filled with a layer of water, then an island of plant material has been placed on top for the slugs to sit on.
Slug collecting has commenced.
Then the washtub is covered with a tile.
Earlier in the week, I’d made a kokedama. It is still sitting looking dumpy but I found a grey saucer which I think suits it better. While I imagine this doesn’t look that amazing to any of you I could see the process of making these being quite addictive. If I had enough materials I could easily encase many more plants in this way. I have one more fern and may dig out some of the ivy seedlings to try wrapping.
5. Fairy house
Yesterday I made Alice another addition to her growing fairy garden. The house has had a chance to dry overnight and I found it a space near the mushrooms put in last week. I think it’s looking quite nice if a bit rustic. Alice wants me to make more so I’m going to need to get the saw back out. Before long we’ll have a whole happy village going on.
6. Burgon & Ball photo competition
And for my final six some exciting news. I won the Burgon & Ball garden photo of the year competition. I will be receiving a lovely bundle of gardening bundles worth a few quid. I had a choice between a garden pack or an allotment pack. The garden pack had some nice secateurs and forks, but as I already own Niwaki secateurs I’ve gone for the allotment options.
So I can add an award-winning photographer to my egotistical over-exaggerated CV along with being a published poet. The photo I entered was one of my favourite dahlia pictures of the year combined with one of my favourite garden insects. I could happily watch the dragonflies for hours. When one landed on the dahlia, my favourite dahlia I grew last year, I went a bit snap happy. But I did get some stunners. So, I’ll be waiting on the postman to deliver me my Burgon & Ball goodies. Then I’ll be itching to get the dahlias started again, but that’s a good few months off despite what Gardener’s World magazine was advising this month.
It’s been a good holiday off and I’ve enjoyed plenty of time with family. Still shaking off my stupid cough, but gradually getting better. I’ve got a little time left to try and get a few more garden jobs done and we’re planning to get out for my dad’s birthday today and another walk on the beach. Enjoy your weekends. I hope the start of the year has been gentle to those who have returned to work.