"To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour."

From "Auguries of Innocence"

by William Blake

Friday, 31 December 2010


It seems the right time of year to say a very big Thank You to everyone who has visited my blog since I started it in May with special thanks to those who have left comments, helped with identification and become followers.

Wishing everyone a very Happy, Healthy and Prosperous 2011 with some special wildlife moments.

Here's a photo taken last March as a reminder that Spring is just around the corner!

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Two Surprise Garden Visitors

I went into the kitchen last night and luckily for once the blind wasn't down because there on the outside window was a moth! Rushed outside to put it in a pot and popped it in the fridge. Probably not the wisest decision as moths that fly in winter tend to thrive on low temperatures and it was exceedingly lively this morning when I took it out to identify it and attempt to take a photo. So its a pretty poor, record shot only, heavily cropped, picture below.

I believe its a male winter moth (Operophtera brumata) but as usual if I've go the id wrong please feel free to correct me. Winter moths occur from late autumn until January or February and the females are unable to fly being virtually wingless.

This brings the total number of moth species seen in the garden this year (most caught through trapping) to 86 and the total number of species seen since I began trapping in Summer 2009 to 98.

I was just about to go into the garden this afternoon to collect bramble leaves to feed the stick insects and top up the bird feeders when I noticed a flock of birds eating silver birch seeds in the trees at the top of the garden. A quick look through the binoculars showed they were not goldfinches the species most frequently seen feeding on birch seeds recently. I managed to get quite close to the birds to confirm a flock of 14 lesser redpolls - another year tick for the garden. We get this species feeding on the birch seeds most winters and I have noticed before how confiding they can be and that you can approach them quite closely.

Yesterday I had a quick drive over to the Business Park to check for waxwings again(yawn!). There are still plenty of berries about and I counted at least half a dozen redwings joining the blackbirds in their feast but no sign of any fieldfares and, of course, no waxwings.

The weather has gone much milder over the last couple of days with temperatures reaching a balmy 6.6 degrees centigrade today. The snow finally disappeared today but its been a murky, foggy, drizzly couple of days so no further opportunities to try out my new lens!

Monday, 27 December 2010

A new toy for my camera

I've wanted a telephoto lens for a very very long time - ever since I replaced my old Kodak retinette A with a pentax me super slr about 30 years ago! A few months ago I deliberated for a long time as to whether it was worth buying a 70 - 300 mm telephoto lens for my olympus e420 digital slr when I wouldn't have image stabilisation. I did consider buying either a Panasonic Lumix FZ45 or Fujifilm Finepix HS10 which have good zoom and macro facilities but decided the whole point of having a digital slr was so I could add different lens so I've shelved that idea until the family digital camera needs replacing.

I had more or less decided on an olympus macro lens when my husband persuaded me to go for the telephoto lens as a combined Christmas and birthday present. Its been a long wait but I finally got that lens!

Here's a few photos I managed to take of garden birds yesterday. They are not very good - some are under-exposed and not very sharp and I had to bump up the ISO due to low light levels but as a first attempt I was quite pleased. The photos look slightly better if you click on them to enlarge. Hopefully, I will get better photos with more practice and better light conditions and more reading of camera books to improve my basic skills! If not, at least I will get better record shots than I would with the 14-42 mm lens. The lens is massive (I now need a new bigger camera bag) and I see I am going to have fun trying to take hand-held camera shots!! so I took these using a tripod. They have been slightly cropped.

Feral Pigeon

Two goldfinch photos

Great Tit

Flock of wood pigeons

Garden Update

I saw a lone redwing perched in the whitebeam in the garden on Christmas Eve - but again (like the flock of fieldfares the previous day) it didn't linger and ignored the apples on the lawn! Saw a wren today - my first garden sighting for months - good to see it had survived the cold weather so far and a pair of collared doves (another rare visitor these days) fed yesterday.

Still dreaming of a waxwing sighting though :D

Friday, 24 December 2010

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Garden Fieldfares

Just when I had almost given up hope of the cold weather resulting in a more unusual species visiting the garden, a flock of 8 - 10 fieldfares descended into the whitebeam and silver birches just after 9.00 this morning. Unfortunately, they only lingered for seconds - had they stayed a bit longer they might have spotted the apples on the lawn!

We had several centimetres more snow yesterday and once I had put out the food a flock of 10 wood pigeons came to feed - they outnumbered the feral pigeons for a change. A third robin has now appeared on the scene which has led to many more robin skirmishes as the resident pair who had been tolerating each other rush to chase it away. Up to 10 goldfinches are visiting the sunflower feeders and I have seen the odd greenfinch but the chaffinch and collared dove seen a few weeks ago have failed to return and we hardly ever see a starling.

Plenty of visits to the feeders from great, blue and coal tits and I saw a flock of 5 long-tailed tits yesterday but they are yet to visit the fat balls. Male and female great spotted woodpeckers are regular visitors and there is a resident flock of about 8 house sparrows. Dunnocks, blackbirds, magpie and carrion crow are the other species feeding daily.

I am about to brave the dreaded Christmas shop at Sainsbury's - so will be checking the berries for waxwings. The roads have been so icy that I haven't risked driving to the Business Park to check all the berries there but hopefully I will get chance next week.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Tour of the Hall

I was very excited to hear last week that Castle Bromwich Hall Gardens Trust were running tours of Castle Bromwich Hall by kind permission of the current owner, Mr Liu, on Saturday, 18th December, before renovations start to turn the Hall into a boutique-style hotel. Each tour would last just over an hour and would take in about 12 of the state rooms.

I must admit I have long been fascinated by the Hall and Gardens having grown up in the area and having played in the then overgrown gardens as a child. It was quite a magical place and the Hall had an air of mystery.

The Hall is a Grade 1 listed building and building began in 1599 by a Sir Edward Devereux. In 1657 the Hall was purchased by a Sir John Bridgeman who added a third storey to the Hall.

In 1794 Sir Henry Bridgeman became Earl of Bradford and the Estate remained in the family's ownership until 1969, although the family actually resided at Weston Hall in Shropshire.

The Hall was used as the Dowager House and was occupied by Lady Ida Bridgeman, Dower Countess Bradford, from 1869 until her death in 1936. She did a lot of work in restoring the gardens but sadly they deteriorated after her death. Since 1969 the Hall has been owned by various companies such as Paige Johnson Construction, Bovis Homes and General Electricity Company etc., and was often used as regional headquarters.

My tour on Saturday was not the first time I had actually been inside the Hall as many years ago I applied for a job at Bovis Homes - I didn't get the job and I don't think it took them long to suss out that I was more interested in working AT the Hall than FOR Bovis Homes! - there again there may well have been a better candidate!

We had a lot of snow on Saturday and the roads were awful but nothing was going to deter me from attending a tour. The photos below aren't brilliant as the house has been empty for some years and is devoid (in the main) of furniture, carpets, paintings etc., but the Hall does have some nice features.

This is the North elevation of the Hall and we entered through the door which would have been used by the family returning from Church.

The first room we entered is known as the "Boudoir" and would have originally been attached to a lady's bedroom and used for bathing/dressing but in later times it was used as a lady's drawing room. The cast-iron fireback in the fireplace has the initials of John and Mary Bridgeman and is dated 1678. The walls are made of pitch-pine which being imported was more expensive than native oak.

The plaster ceiling with a centre circle composed of fruit and flowers was made by the famous English plasterer Edward Gouge who created many of the plaster ceilings throughout the Hall.

This is the plaster ceiling in the Great Chamber showing Sir John Bridgeman's Coat of Arms.

Photo of a nineteenth century gallery overlooking the Central Courtyard and Atrium showing the Hall's Gable Roofs. The new owner plans to remove all the modern structures in this area and a glass floor will be installed looking down into the courtyard with a glass lift in the corner.

Next a visit to the Long Gallery which is possibly Elizabethan.

View from a window looking onto the entrance drive and towards an avenue of horse chestnuts.

Beautiful carved wooden fireplace in the Long Gallery - probably Elizabethan

A fragment of a painted wooden panel has been discovered which may date back to the original house and research is currently being carried out.

In the Drawing Room there is another ceiling by Gouge which had suffered water damage but which has been restored in recent years.

Panelling above the fireplace has been removed to reveal brick work and carvings from the original Hall.

The tour finished in the Great Hall which had a roaring log fire and displays concerning the history and previous occupants of the Hall and I enjoyed a glass of wine and a mince pie.

I also discovered that the Hall has a ghost - The Grey Lady although I haven't been able to find much information on her.

View from the Front Entrance

The Front Porch was built in 1672 and incorporates Sir John Bridgeman's Coat of Arms and statues of Peace and Plenty.

Unfortunately, I was on my own as it would have been nice to have had my photo taken here!

I used the booklet entitled "A Short Tour of Castle Bromwich Hall" by David Adams and Dave Bennett for some of the information on the tour of the Hall mentioned above. The booklet contains some lovely photos taken from Country Life Magazine showing what the house looked like around 1900 when it was occupied.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Its my 100th Post!

I find it hard to believe that I've managed to waffle my way through 100 blog postings! When I first started the blog my intention was to write mainly about wildlife in the garden but I quickly discovered that not having a macro or telephoto lens for my digital slr was going to create problems and there wouldn't be many wildlife photos. I then expanded the blog to write about days out birding and again lack of lens was a problem so I have started to witter on about my other interests such as historic buildings, churches, gardens, theatre, fossils etc. My blog is still evolving and I am still not sure what final direction it will take but hopefully next year there will be more posts on birding. For one reason and another I have gone out birdwatching far less this year than usual.

I have delayed writing my 100th post as I was hoping to have something special to blog about such as a waxwing sighting! But still no sign and I never made it to Brandon Marsh last week as the only day I could go we had rain which turned to sleet to hail to snow!

We had about 15 centimetres of snow yesterday and temperatures dropped to -10.7 degrees centigrade last night and its already -8.3 as I write!

A snowy garden this morning

I did brave the elements yesterday - even the main roads were covered in slushy snow and ice - to drive to Castle Bromwich Hall Gardens as they were conducting one-off tours of Castle Bromwich Hall before renovations start to turn it into a hotel. I'll do a post on this when I have sorted out the photos.

Garden-wise there are plenty of birds coming for food although the pile of apples has still failed to attract anything but blackbirds. Highlight of the week was another visit from a grey heron. Squabbles between the birds seem to be petering out as they concentrate on feeding even the robins seem to have called a "truce" with just the occasional posturing. I do worry though the effect prolonged cold weather will have on bird populations.

We put up the Christmas Tree tonight - the decorations are a complete hotchpotch of ones we have collected over the years and ones the children made and bought when they were little. I haven't brought in the small real tree yet as its covered in several inches of snow on the patio! And I'm just about to start reading "A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens (recommended by my son who has a lovely edition of the book complete with the original illustrations) to get me in the Christmas mood even more.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Fossils- Part 4: Trilobites

Trilobites are members of an extinct class of arthropods called the Trilobita. They lived during the Palaeozoic Era having evolved around 545 million years ago at the beginning of the Cambrian. They continued to thrive throughout the Cambrian and Ordovician Periods when thousands of species evolved. They gradually declined before becoming extinct at the end of the Permian ~ 250 million years ago during one of the big 5 Mass Extinctions.

Trilobites are the oldest fossilised organisms to show evidence of eyes (visible in several of the photos above and below). The eyes were similar to the compound eyes seen today in insect species, such as flies, and in many species the lens were made of calcite. Some species had large eyes with many lens and could see in many different directions whereas other had smaller eyes with fewer lens and more restricted vision. Some species were blind.

Trilobites are an important group of marine arthropods and were one of the first animals to evolve an exoskeleton (external skeleton) to product the soft body parts. They grew by moulting continuously throughout their lives and growing a new larger skeleton.

Trilobites (tri-lobed) are named because their body is divided into 3 lobes lengthways (a central axis with a lobe on each side) and there are also 3 parts across the body - the cephalon (headshield), thorax (trunk) and pygidium (tailpiece).

Usually only the exoskeleton is found fossilised but in certain parts of the world, for example, the 530 million year old Burgess Shales in the Canadian Rockies, thousands of well preserved trilobites which include soft body parts, such as antennae and legs, have been found.

Most trilobites were 2 - 10 centimetres in length but some such as agnostids are only a few millimetres whereas others grew to almost one metre.

Most species lived on or near shallow sea floors but some swam at the surface above deep oceans and a few species could survive low oxygen levels living in deep ocean water.

Trilobites are amongst my favourite fossils and the next two photos show my favourite.

Elrathia lived at the bottom of outer shelf seas and the specimen seen below was found in 550 million year old Cambrian rocks in Utah, USA. This species is easy to buy as it is one of the few trilobite species to be mined commercially.

Proteus, below, was found in 360 million year old Devonian rocks in Morocco.

You can just make out the trilobite in the middle right of this photo embedded in the rock

Some species of trilobite curled up in a ball to protect themselves from predators - it was hard to photograph this one curled up but I hope you get the general idea!

And finally, "Spot the Trilobite". This fossil is just a faint impression in the rock showing why it is so hard to spot some fossils! It was found in Lower Cambrian rocks in a quarry in Sutherland, Scotland. I did try and photograph this through a magnifying glass and a hand lens as you can make out far more features but the photos didn't really work.

Trilobites are very useful to geologists. They can be used in relative dating of rocks and in correlating the age of sedimentary rocks in different locations. Trilobites can be used as indicators of past environments as different species lived at different depths in the oceans and seas. They can also be used to reconstruct the position of land masses and oceans in the past.

According to the British Geological Survey Earthwise Fossil Focus Leaflet on Trilobites, these fossils have been popular with people for a long time. The Pahvant Ute Indians living in Utah wore Elrathia kingi (see photo above) fossils as necklaces believing they were lucky charms. A species of Calymene trilobite is so regularly found in Wenlock limestones in Dudley, West Midlands, that it has gained local names - The Dudley Bug, The Dudley Locust and the Dudley Insect. Many similarities have been noted between trilobite tails and butterflies or bats worldwide and in South Wales, it was believed the tails were petrified butterflies and they became connected to tales of Merlin - the Arthurian Wizard.

Richard Fortey, who was Senior Palaentologist at the Natural History Museum, London,until he retired a few years ago, is an expert on trilobites and has written a brilliant book, called appropriately "Trilobites!", all about these fascinating animals. He has also written several brilliant and very readable books about earthscience, fossils and the history of life on Earth.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

A Wild Goose Chase

I chauffeured my daughter to south Birmingham this morning and, rather than waiting in the car reading for an hour, I remembered that 5.5 miles away in Kings Norton there was the possibility of a flock of waxwings. A local bird forum had reported 25birds on Tuesday and they were still there yesterday afternoon. Too good an opportunity to miss, I thought.

On a good day the journey should have taken about 15 - 20 minutes which would allow up to half an hour to search for the birds in the road where they had been seen. But, of course it was a Saturday morning 2 weeks before Christmas and I had to queue through 2 shopping areas on the journey so it took me almost half an hour to get there. I reckoned I could still spend 15 - 20 minutes there even if I did incur the wrath of my daughter if I returned late to pick her up.

I found the road and a row of trees with berries without any problems and managed to park right opposite. But was there a waxwing anywhere in sight? Of course, not!!!I kept scouring the trees and nearby house roofs with binoculars (feeling as conspicuous as one does in the middle of a housing estate!!) but the only birds I could pick out were a pair of blackbirds eating the berries. To be fair I suppose I would have been lucky to spot waxwings in the 15 minutes I was there. Luck does not seem to be on my side in my waxwing quest!

There have been several sightings in Dorridge so I may check that area out within the next few days but there again it would probably be yet another fruitless search so perhaps not!

There is nothing new to report from the garden birdwise just the usual species feeding - blue, great and coal tits, robin, blackbirds, house sparrows, dunnocks, greenfinch, magpie, wood pigeon, goldfinch, great spotted woodpeckers and plenty of these

hoovering up all the food as soon as I put it out. Although having read an article a few months ago in BBC Wildlife Magazine by Steve Harris extolling their virtues and usefulness, I have tried very hard to learn to love them. I must admit their plumage is colourful and fascinating in its variety and I'm trying to watch their behaviour closely - some of their antics are very amusing if you can drag yourself away from thinking of them as "flying rats".

Oh and well done to Villa for beating the "Baggies". Nice to see some players back from injury and, at least, Villa played a lot better today than they did on Monday.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Jack Frost and a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker

My husband and son were on holiday yesterday and we visited Ladywalk Nature Reserve in the morning. Ladywalk is a West Midland Bird Club reserve in the Tame valley covering about 125 acres and comprising woodland and pools.

It was another very cold day with temperatures hovering around 0 degrees centigrade but the sun was shining and the sky was a brilliant blue. The whole reserve had been coated with hoar frost creating a winter wonderland reminiscent of Narnia and I wouldn't have been surprised to see the White Witch appearing in her sleigh!

There were several robins, dunnocks and blue tits on the feeders in the car park.

The undoubted highlight of the whole visit was the sighting of a male lesser spotted woodpecker (oh yes!!) in the trees along the footpath which leads from the car park to the reserve. My first sighting of this relatively scarce and elusive species since seeing one at Brandon Marsh several years ago.

We had good views of a handsome male bullfinch and there were lots of coots and mallard on the River Tame and several wrens foraging in the brambles (good to see these tiny birds surviving the cold weather).

I thought the hoar frost on this shrub resembled spring-time blossom

Entering the Reserve

I spotted a muntjac deer in amongst these silver birches. Unfortunately, rather than taking a photo I tried to attract my son and husband's attention to the deer and I think the rather dramatic waving of my hands frightened the deer and it disappeared as quickly as it had appeared. A flock of long-tailed tits passed quickly through the trees foraging as they went.

Some rather large bracket fungi - possibly a Ganoderma species??

We spent half an hour or more in the hide overlooking many bird feeders and saw great spotted woodpecker, blue and great tits, robins, dunnocks, greenfinches, goldfinches, chaffinches, blackbirds and reed buntings. I was exceedingly jealous that my husband who had arrived at the hide a good ten minutes before me (I had lagged behind to take fungi photos) had already seen a brambling which sadly failed to return after I''d reached the hide! No sign of the usual water rail which in past years has appeared near the feeding stations.

View from hide with feeders in the foreground and frozen pools in the background.

I was surprised not to see any redwings or fieldfares (we often visit this reserve in December and there are usually large flocks about) but they could well have been foraging in other areas of the reserve.