"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

Monday, 31 January 2011

RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch

It was the annual RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch at the weekend. Anyone can take part and the idea is to count the highest number of birds seen at any one time in your garden or a local park over the course of an hour. When the results are submitted the RSPB can create a "snapshot" picture of bird populations in various regions throughout the country and can use the information to help find out which species may be increasing or declining.

I spent an hour on Saturday counting birds in the garden and recorded the following:

Blackbird 2
Dunnock 3
Wood Pigeon 5
House Sparrow 8
Robin 2
Collared Dove 1
Goldfinch 3
Blue Tit 3
Great Tit 1
Feral Pigeon 3
Magpie 1

In past years I usually manage to count around 14/15 species so numbers were lower this year.

I still haven't seen a greenfinch in the garden this year and very few were around last autumn and early winter. I haven't noticed any signs of finches or house sparrows suffering from trichomonosis but for some reason greenfinch numbers have decreased dramatically. A pair of blue tits are still investigating the nestbox in the whitebeam. We had four robins in the garden yesterday - the resident pair who had to chase off two interlopers trying to sneak in from next door's garden.

Number of bird species seen in the garden this year = 20

Photo of the tame robin waiting on the patio for mealworms

Friday, 28 January 2011

Waxwing Wonders

I went to visit my mom this morning and, as usual, did a quick drive round the local area checking out various locations with berry bearing trees. For the umpeenth time since last autumn I turned into Eastbourne Avenue, Birmingham, to be greeted by the sight of 6 pinky coloured, starling-sized birds, perched in a tree.

I couldn't believe my eyes I'd finally managed to find my own waxwings. Woohoo!!!

Luck was certainly on my side today as I had my camera and bins with me as I was planning a trip to Brandon Marsh after visiting my mother.

I always find it hard to believe how confiding and tame these birds are and I was able to park right opposite the tree where they were feeding and snap away with the camera. Despite forgetting to set a higher ISO rating and not having the tripod with me (I balanced the camera on the car window ledge) I was quite pleased with some of the photos - see below. Sorry there are rather a lot!!

The trip to Brandon Marsh was abandoned as I couldn't wait to get home to upload the photos

What a great week - two lots of waxwings, Andy Murray through to the Australian Open Final and Villa back to winning ways!

Monday, 24 January 2011

Persistence finally pays off!!!

Having finally tired of countless unsuccessful trips to a local business park and round various local spots to check out berry bearing trees and bushes, I finally decided today that I would give up on the hope of finding my own waxwings and undertake a local "twitch" instead. A flock of about 60 had been reported on a local bird forum in the Nuneaton area on Saturday and Sunday. Nuneaton isn't exactly that local to me being at least a 50 mile round trip but the town and surrounding villages seem to be attracting a fair few waxwings.

Accompanied by my daughter I arrived there about 1.00. After driving up and down the road about 4 times without success my daughter suddenly announced that she had seen a man by a car in a side road staring up at a tree each time we had driven up and down. Why she hadn't mentioned this earlier I shall never know!!! So I turned round again and lo and behold right by the man and his car were a flock of about 20 waxwings in a tree!! We watched the flock for about 15 minutes. I must admit waxwings are one of my favourite birds - in fact I could have stayed there all afternoon!

One of the advantages of taking my daughter with me when I go birding is that she spots the birds that I miss especially when I'm driving but the one big disadvantage is that she gets bored so quickly so sorry no photos from today's trip but below is a really poor record shot I took with the Fuji Finepix when I last saw waxwings in January 2009 feeding on berries by a branch of MacDonalds.

Hopefully, I'll get another chance to see these beautiful birds before the winter is over and have another opportunity to take some photos.

We stopped off at one of my favourite local pubs - The Plough at Shustoke - for a celebratory lunch of cheesey chips!!

I also had good views of a buzzard perched on a roadside post on the journey so that's two new ticks for the year list.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Quick Update

Its been a quiet week in the garden bird-wise and no new ticks for the 2011 Garden List. There are still lots of goldfinches visiting the garden - the highest count of the week was 18 perched in the whitebeam tree. Territorial skirmishes are ongoing between 2 robins. A flock of long-tailed tits forage in the garden most days with just the occasional visit to the feeders.

I keep hoping for a red admiral or bumble bee sighting - I have seen both in January in past years but no luck so far. One of the nest boxes in the garden is still receiving regular visits from a blue tit.

I have added a few more species to the General 2011 Bird List - namely, herring and lesser black-backed Gulls and a kestrel - all seen locally.

I am reading a lovely poetry book at the moment called "Tales From the Woods" by Felix Dennis - a collection of poems about trees and the countryside. The book is beautifully illustrated by Bill Sanderson and is a real delight to read.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

A Winter's Morning at Castle Bromwich Hall Gardens

I visited Castle Bromwich Hall Gardens this morning to renew my membership and go for a quick walk through the Gardens. It was cold - the sun had been trying to break through but half way through my walk it clouded over.

For any new visitors to my blog these gardens are a unique example of an English Baroque Garden. They were rediscovered in 1982 in a derelict and overgrown state and for the last 25 years a Trust has been restoring the 10 acre walled gardens to the period 1680 to 1740. The gardens contain over 600 species of plant that would have been grown in this period.

I've tried to include photos of different parts of the garden but apologies to any regular visitors if some look remarkably familiar!

Variegated holly in Lady Bridgeman's Garden

Near the Melon Ground

Green House built around 1729

Photos take in Extra Gardens - located outside the walled garden

A view from West Pond looking along the West Claire-vole towards the Hall

The Stumpery

South Pond and Spinney

Lichens, Tree Bark and Seedhead

Back in the Walled Garden - some photos of the Lower Wilderness

There were a few signs that Spring is not far away such as these snowdrop buds

The Gardens are holding a Snowdrop Day on Saturday, 12th February, between 11.00 and 3.00 p.m. so if you live nearby do pop along and visit these beautiful gardens. There is just a small entrance fee.

I found a few clumps of cyclamen in flower

There were lots of hazel catkins in the Extra Gardens on this photo you can also make out the small female flower with red stigmas.

Castle Bromwich Hall - privately owned and in the process of being turned into a hotel

I've "cheated" a bit here the next few photos were taken last January, 2010, when it was actually sunny and the light was better.

North Pond (home to Great Crested Newt) and Reedmace

South-west Pier

View from the Upper Wilderness looking towards West Claire-vole

Not too many birds around today - just magpie, blackbird, carrion crow, wood pigeon, great and blue tit. The fieldfare and redwings seen in the area in December seem to have moved on.

I've made a list of the birds I saw last year in the gardens (sad person that I am I do love keeping various bird lists :D).

Blue Tit
Great Tit
Wood Pigeon
Long-tailed Tit
Carrion Crow
Cuckoo (heard) Was overmoon with this last April
Mistle Thrush

I am sure the Gardens must attract more species than this so I'm hoping to add to this list this year.

I'm afraid this has been a bit of a long post! but I'll just finish off with a quotation from a poem by Violet Fane (1843-1905)called "In Green Old Gardens" which the Gardens use on one of their leaflets which really sums up the attraction of these beautiful and peaceful gardens for me:

"In green old gardens hidden away
From sight of revel, and sound of strife..."

Monday, 17 January 2011

Fossils - Part 5: Echinoderms (Sea Lilies and Sea Urchins)

Crinoids (also called sea-lilies) and sea urchins (echinoids) are the most commonly found fossil echinoderms. Other examples of echinoderms today are starfish (asteroids) and brittle stars (ophiuroids).


Phlyum Echinodermata
Class Crinoidea

Crinoids evolved in the middle Cambrian Period around 525 million years ago and some species still live today.

Crinoids are also called sea-lilies because, due to their appearance, it was once believed that they were plants and not animals. They are marine animals living in shallow water.

The presence of crinoids (and echinoids) in a rock indicates that it was formed in a marine environment. It is rare to find a complete fossilised crinoid and the photo below shows a matrix (measuring 8.5 by 4.5 cms) containing stem and branched arm fragments.

Crinoid - Species: Scaphocrinites elegans from the Late Silurian Period (~400 million years old).

Its not possible from the above photo to get an idea of what the living animal looked like so below is a photo of a brief sketch I have done - don't laugh (drawing is not one of my talents!)

Crinoidal limestone, comprised of fossilized crinoid remains such as stems, is often polished and made into ornaments or jewellery.

In some areas of England the columnals from the stem were called "fairy money".

Sea Urchins

Phylum Echinodermata
Class Echinoidea

Sea Urchins evolved in the Late Ordovician Period (~450 million years ago) and species are still found in the present day.

They are entirely marine and, like crinoids, mainly inhabit shallow seas.

Sea urchins have a hard test (shell) composed of calcite plates often in a 5-rayed arrangement. Tube feet used for feeding, respiration and movement, project through small pores in the plates. Some species have spines which tend to fall off after the organism has died and the test and spines are composed of calcite. Spines were used as protection against predators and to aid movement across the sea floor.

A Cretaceous Echinoid - Cidaris sp.

Another Sea Urchin from the Cretaceous Period ((146 - 65 million years ago)
Toxaster sp.


Some sea urchins dating from the Cretaceous Period were known as "Shepherds Crowns" in the past. The 5 rays meeting at the top look like the ribs of a crown.
Weathering of rocks on the downs of South England would have exposed these fossils which may well have been picked up by shepherds.


Fossil Detectives Field Guide, BBC and Open University
Discovering Geology, Fossil Focus, Crinoids and Echinoids, British Geological Survey

Friday, 14 January 2011

Local Birding

I had a few free hours yesterday afternoon so I took advantage of the dry weather to drive through the local country lanes stopping off at a few places.

First port of call was Shustoke Reservoir which was fairly quiet birdwise and I only saw canada goose, coot, mallard, black-headed gull and pochard during my brief visit. A few jackdaws were seen as I drove through the village of Whitacre and a pair of mute swans were on a pool near Lea Marston. No sign yet of any activity at the rookery near this village and there were no birds to be seen in the nearby churchyard. I finished off by having a look around the nearby Business Park. There are still plenty of berries especially near the entrance to Ladywalk Nature Reserve and there was a lone blackbird standing guard on one of the bushes but still no sign of those elusive waxwings!

Garden update

I spotted my first moth of the year on Wednesday evening - a winter moth on the kitchen window.

Had several visits this morning from a starling (another new garden species for the year) visiting the feeding station. This species has shown a real decline in the garden in recent years. Checking my records on the BTO Garden Birdwatch shows that in 1999 starlings visited the garden in 40 weeks out of 52 but in 2010 starlings visited in just 5 weeks out of 52. House sparrows have not fared so badly as, although numbers are far lower than in the past, we still get daily visits of up to 10 individuals.

There are a few spots of colour in the garden as wild primroses (Primula vulgaris), are developing buds, winter jasmine is in flower and primulas, heather and winter flowering pansies and violas in pots are flowering.

2011 Garden Bird List = 20 species

2011 General Bird List = 40 species

2011 Garden Moth List = 1 species

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Garden Birds Again!

I feel on the verge of developing "blogger's block" having not being out birding or any where else interesting recently so I'm afraid its another blog posting on the garden.

I saw two grey squirrels chasing each other up and down the silver birches this morning - my first wild mammal sighting of the year. I haven't seen a grey squirrel in the garden for months - the two young ones from the autumn suddenly disappeared. It would be nice to think that the two this morning were the same squirrels.

A blue tit was investigating the nest box with the camera installed inside the other day so at the weekend my husband repaired the damage done to the nest box by the great spotted woodpecker and put a new better quality metal plate around the entrance hole.

I had fun on Sunday experimenting with my new telephoto lens trying out different modes and settings. I am hoping I will learn from my mistakes!

Here's a couple of photos of the two most numerous visitors (apart from goldfinches) to the garden - feral and wood pigeon

A blurred photo of a blue tit - I think I should have selected a higher speed

And I was really pleased to see this mistle thrush which flew into the whitebeam. We only get occasional visits from song and mistle thrushes and this was a new "tick" for the 2011 list. I wouldn't even call this a record shot though - I think it may be a candidate for the "worst photo of the year competition" still it was nice to manage a photo.

I offered to run an errand for my daughter this morning - the fact that the location was only a couple of miles from the branch of MacDonalds where I last saw waxwings a couple of years ago, of course, had nothing at all to do with my kind offer :D. The rowan trees near MacDonalds still held plenty of berries and one tree even had the yellow variety of berry so beloved by waxwings but, you guessed correctly, the waxwings have not yet found this delectable feast or they hadn't when I drove past. There is no doubt that when I hear of a local "twitch" of these birds I shall have to go along.

Garden Bird List 2011 - 19

Mammal List 2011 - 1