Winter feeding

The last month has been busy with Christmas preparations beginning. The disaster that is my Nativity play has begun. So blogging has been low of late. But now I’m getting past deadlines. Quite a bit has been happening in my garden and progress has been made on my school outdoor area, which I will try to update during the next few weeks.

After thick snow descended on Thursday the garden has been well coated with ice on snow. It had just thawed on Saturday. This has left the garden with lots of hungry birds struggling to find food.

Through Winter it’s important to help the birds. The water sources freeze, so I’ve been trying to get out to crack the ice in the bird bath. The food I put out disappears quickly. The seed goes in a few days. So as well as the seed I try to keep the peanut feeders filled with either peanuts or suet pellets. These seem to last a bit longer than the seed. So even when it’s been a busy week and I haven’t got out to replenish the seed I’m still leaving something for the birds.

Haith’s have been helping me out as they sent me a bag of their help to fly Autumn/Winter mix to review. This is a seed mix with high energy and oil content to  help give birds that fat and energy they need to survive the Winter. Haith’s bird food is put through a cleaner process. The grain dust created during harvest can be damaging if seed is not cleaned. Much of the bird food you buy won’t be cleaned in this way.

Haith’s sent me a bag of both the cleaned and the unclean mix. I wonder if from the photo you can spot the difference?

On the left is the cleaned and the right the unclean. I was surprised at how much of a difference I could see in the two batches. While I’m not able to do the test taste to appreciate  the difference I’m sure the birds will appreciate it at this time of year when food is scarcer.

Before filling the feeders I also gave them a good clean out. I’ve talked about it before, but it is important to clean feeders to limit disease spread.

Before I’d left the garden the birds were already sneaking in, clearly ready, for a feed.

Over the day I’ve seen a good mix of visitors: sparrows, great tits and blue tits got in to test it first. Then pigeons, starlings and jackdaws followed. Then had wrens, dunnocks and robins in and out.

Then a few herring gulls came in, although not for the seed.

Alice has enjoyed getting out to explore the garden again after several days of frost. She checked in on the bug hotel and gave the flowers a sniff.

Thanks again to Haith’s for sending the bird food to review. The birds seem to be enjoying it. It’s been nice to get out briefly into the garden and then sit in doing data input while looking up to see the birds enjoying the new seed.

Half term begins

The half term holiday has begun for me. Me and Alice got out for a wander yesterday.

We headed down to the Mere. Alice enjoyed the rather noisy geese and mallards.

It was a bit windy, but Alice enjoys the feel of wind.

Alice has started to imitate animal noises, so we got a good baa at the sheep.

Back home the garden is seeing more bird life. Next door decided they didn’t have the time for their cats. So the cats have been given to family. Suddenly we have much more bird action again. What a difference a cat makes.

The goldfinches have returned after several months of absence.

The birds are enjoying the feeders for longer, so the seed is disappearing quicker.

With the cats gone the birds are becoming more confident coming close to the house.

With the lack of cats and the leaves falling I’m getting lovely views of the birds now. I can sit in the kitchen and look out on a wealth of life.

A walk in the park

Yesterday I made it out for a walk in the park after several days in school working in a windowless room on my Early Years School Evaluation Form. This form is the schools judgement of how well we believe we’re doing. This is then presented to ofsted when we get the inspection phone call. So I was quite happy to be outside despite a bit of drizzle.

The hedges along the park were a ladybird hot spot last year, but so far I had not seen many. Yesterday they had returned in force with lots of signs along the whole of the hedge.

Amongst the trees we found a decorated rock. Decorating rocks, then leaving them hidden places has been a craze this Summer. When you find them you photograph them a tag on facebook/twitter. I have mixed feelings about this activity. I like that it gets children out. But living by the seaside I’ve seen people taking buckets of rocks away. There is a legal side to this that many of them shouldn’t be taking the quantity they are as well as dismantling a habitat. But this probably deserves a whole blog on itself. People have always taken rocks and seashells as souvenirs from beaches, but the quantity people are taking is a concern.

Amongst the long grass area a robin perched on branch serenading.

Conkers are now falling. It looked like they’ve already been scavenged through, but I did find a few to take into school for my discovery area.

Now it’s time to get back to writing my school action plan and evaluation form. A bit nicer though working from home with a view of the garden. Red admirals and sparrows are back and forth across the garden currently.

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Long tailed tit bumbarrels

I didn’t contribute any folklore Thursday posts on twitter, but did find this little literary reference I liked.

Up flies the bouncing woodcock from the brig
Where a black quagmire quakes beneath the tread
The fieldfare chatter in the whistling thorn
And for the awe round fields and closen rove
And coy bumbarrels twenty in a drove
Flit down the hedgerows in the frozen plain
And hang on little twigs and start again

John Clare
The “bumbarrels” is a colloquial for long tailed tits. As a name it rather suits them. The last few weeks I’ve had these coming in the garden a lot and are becoming more comfortably in my presence. 

I’m gradually getting closer for photos of these bumbarrels.

Bay walk

The second day at the bay we got out for a walk along the sea front with Alice’s aunt, uncle, cousin and granddad.

Max had an explore down the tunnel.

Alice had a brief walk on the sand. She didn’t like the water very much so ended up back in the howdah pretty quick.

Alice’s Uncle Rich and cousin Max explored rock pools finding a decent sized crab.

Pecking through the distant rock pools for molluscs we saw the oyster catchers.

And a few butterflies on the way back up the cliff.

Back at the house we had a sit down in the rather beautiful garden for a cuppa. Alice had a good explore.

Photo challenge

The photo challenge I’ve been taking part in had been focussing on flowers and petals this week. So I’ve been playing with aperture.

So here is the same flower at different apertures. This affects the background focus. Generally for flowers people aim to have the flower in focus, then the background in soft focus isolating the main subject of the flower.

1/6 sec. f/36 50 mm

This gives some focus to the background leaves, which here isn’t quite as nice as the soft focus.

1/200 sec. f/5.6 50 mm

1/200 sec. f/6.3 42 mm

The higher f-number giving a nicer shot in my opinion. The subject flower is shot showing the colours nicely with the background as a soft blur.

And a few other shots from the garden.

Alice has enjoyed having her cousin around.

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No fair

This weekend my twitter feed was filled with the wonderful happenings at bird fair. However there was no bird fair for me, but still plenty of birding action.

While out for a walk with Alice I finally got close enough to photograph one of the pied wagtails that hop all along the grassland verges on the seafront.

The rooks were being equally obliging for photos. The seafront corvids are often a bit skittish, but they can’t have been feeling too threatened on Sunday as they were happy for us to get fairly close.

I was set for photographing the sparrows in the rose bushes when a large flash went past my face. I just managed to snap a photo of what I think is a sparrowhawk before it disappeared into the distance. While not a great photo, I was happy to have had good enough reflexes and getting the focus to manage a photo that showed what it was.

Along the seafront there was a cormorant perching out on one of the posts. While neither this or the sparrowhawk are amazing photos I was happy to capture them. I see sparrowhawks regularly, especially on the way to work, but haven’t managed to photograph one yet. The cormorants I see flying over head most days, but rarely see them settled down on the ground. Neither are going to win me bird photographer of the year but I’m still happy to have captured the images. The winners of bird photographer of the the year were announced this weekend at birdfair. Some stunning images, well worth a browse. There is a lovely looking book available. We’re cutting back our books to make space for Alice’s belongings, so I will just be enjoying the images online.

As well as the birds there was lots of activity from the insects. The small tortoiseshells seemed to be enjoying the dry grass cuttings.

A fantastic fuzzy caterpillar made a quick dash across the path.

I spotted some camomile for wildflower hour growing out of a crack in the pavement.

Alice got out for a walk along the grass, but insisted on carrying her Meg and Mog book with her. She’s become quite attached to this one recently.

So happy to of photographed a few birds I’ve not managed yet. I’ll carry on working on improving my photos. I may eventually manage a decent focussed shot from the front of one of the sparrowhawks, but it’s a start.

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Birds of a feather

Having written about my new bird feeder I think it’s a good time to look at what I am getting in the garden. Often Summer is quite a quiet time for the feeders with an abundance of food around for the birds they can find themselves. But with the sporadic weather going back and forth between torrential rain and baking sun when the sun is shining the birds are looking to fill up on high energy foods.

Nothing puts the pigeons off coming to the feeders. Even in the rain they will sit out on the feeder getting plumper.

With lots of young sparrows around the feeders have seen the house sparrows back and forth on lots of visits.

The starlings have been swarming in large numbers, then flitting off as quickly as they came.

The blackbirds have been enjoying the wet ground, picking though for the worms come to the surface.

The goldfinches mentioned in a previous blog.

I’ve almost seen the whole tit family. There have been blue tits, great tits, long tailed and coal tits. Although I haven’t managed any photos of the coal tits.

The ever present herring gull shed mafia has been keeping watch over its domain.

I’ve also seen wrens, collared doves, jackdaws, chaffinches and thrushes. Part of the reason for getting so many I believe is down to the variety of food on the feeders. The tits seem to be going mad for the suet and peanuts. The jackdaws come for the meal worms and kitchen scraps. The pigeons seem to devour everything. The finches like the niger and the sunflower heads.

I also have feeders on different levels. Some ground feeders and some up higher on the station. Then I also have some located hanging in the trees and these seem to be favoured by the smaller birds. It’s worth trying putting more than just a seed mix out if you want to attract a variety of birds. Or if there is something you particularly want put out appropriate food.

The insect life has also been pretty good with a good variety of butterflies, dragonflies and bees coming in.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my whistle stop tour through my garden birds and all have good weekends.

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I’ll finish with an Emily Browning poem.

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –
I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.