"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, 25 February 2011

Spring Flowers at Castle Bromwich Hall Gardens

It was such a beautiful, warm, spring-like day yesterday that I couldn't resist going to Castle Bromwich Hall Gardens for an hour at lunchtime.

There was a lovely display of snowdrops in the Lower Wilderness and Spinney.

Winter aconites were starting to flower

Daffodils are in bud - there will be a lovely display in the North Orchard in a few weeks time.

Cyclamen and snowdrops by the Spinney and South Pond


I think this plant is very pretty and it really attracts bumble bees. I bought a plant from the Gardens last year and am hoping it has survived the cold winter weather - you might know I've forgotten exactly where I planted it in my own garden!


Hellebore (Lenten Rose) - most of the hellebores were still in bud but there will be a pretty show in a few weeks time.


North Pond - home to Great Crested Newts

The South Kitchen Garden has been dug over ready for this year's planting

Hazel Catkins (Lambs' Tails)

I saw several buff-tailed bumble bees (my first for this year) feeding on nectar from the snowdrops.

Birds seen included magpies, carrion crows, wood pigeons, long-tailed, great and blue tits. Two new species for the Castle Bromwich Hall Gardens Bird list I have started to compile were a male chaffinch and a sparrowhawk being mobbed by a crow.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Garden Frogs have been busy!

I wandered up the garden at teatime to check the pond in case the lovely, mild sunny weather today had woken any frogs from hibernation. There was still no sign of any frogs but they must be around somewhere because right in the middle of the pond was a small clump of frogspawn!

Poor photo I am afraid - it was getting dark! ( The frogspawn is right in the middle of the picture.)

Its unusual for spawn to be laid in the middle of our garden pond as frogs normally lay it round the edges where the water is shallower.

What is more even more unusual is the early date. I've been keeping a record of frogspawn first appearance dates ever since we put in the new pond in 1993 and, apart from 1998, the spawn has always been laid in March with an average date of 15th March. Last year the first appearance of spawn was the latest ever on 31st March.

This could even be the earliest laying date we have ever had. Unfortunately my wildlife diary is rather vague for 1998's frogspawn appearance as I wrote on the 28th February that year that "more frogspawn had been laid to add to that laid earlier that week"(i.e. 21st - 28th February.

It will be interesting to see how much more is laid this year as the amount of frogspawn in the pond has decreased greatly in the last few years.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

More Signs of Spring in the Garden

I went a walk around the garden this afternoon looking for a few more signs of Spring.

The first photo shows an azalea that my daugher bought me for Mother's Day several years ago and which I have to repot each year as it grows so well in the summer that it quickly outgrows the next pot size. The plant is actually in the porch as I bring it in to protect it from frost in the winter and it has been flowering for weeks.

I've wanted to plant some hellebores (lenten roses) for years and finally got round to purchasing one a week or so back (a Valentine's Day present for husband!) which is waiting to be planted in the garden.

Helloborus niger

Finally, here's a few photos from the garden (they're not very good as yet again its another dull, gloomy day and the light was very poor).

Buds are forming on the rhodendron

and camelia

There are more flowers on primroses

and the forsythia is just starting to flower.


I keep hoping for a sunny, brighter day so I can visit Castle Bromwich Hall Gardens to see the displays of snowdrops and winter aconites and take some photos.

Finally, spotted my first greenfinch in the garden this year this morning bringing the garden 2011 list to 22. Dunnocks are engaging in territorial/courtship displays and, after an absence of several weeks, the male great spotted woodpecker has started to visit the feeders again although there is still no sign of the female.

I'll be dusting down and re-assembling my moth trap soon although last year I started putting it out at the beginning of February and didn't catch my first moth until 21st March!

Friday, 18 February 2011

Fair Maids of February

A highlight of my February each year is a visit to my friend's garden which has an incredibly beautiful display of snowdrops. The delicate white flowers carpet every nook and cranny in the garden.

Here's a few of the photos I took on yesterday's visit of the snowdrops and a few other spring flowers.

"Many, many welcomes,
February fair-maid!
Ever as of old time,
Solitary firstling,
Coming in the cold time,
Prophet of the gay time,
Prophet of the May time,
Prophet of the roses,
Many, many welcomes,
February fair-maid!"

by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Thanks so much for sharing J and letting me take some photos.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Fossils - Part 6: Bivalves and Gastropods

Three important groups in the Phylum Mollusca (both fossil and extant organisms) are bivalves, gastropods and cephalopods.

Bivalves evolved around 500 million years ago during the mid-Cambrian Period and species survive today. They were most common in the Mesozoic and Cenozoic Eras i.e. from 251 million years ago until today. Many fossilised bivalves bear a close resemblance to living species which enables us to understand the lifestyle of those species that lived in the past.

Bivalves are entirely aquatic. Most marine species living in shallow seas. Some species burrow into sediments, some cement themselves onto or bore into objects such as rocks and some are attached by threads. A few species can swim.

The majority of bivalves have a shell comprised of two valves of equal size and shape (bilaterally symmetrical) with each valve the mirror image of the other. The hard shells enclose the soft body. A few species such as oysters do not, however, have symmetrical shells. The shells can be made of calcite or aragonite and have growth lines recording the history of growth. Usually the valves are closed by 2 main muscles and scars are often left on the inside of the shells after death showing where these muscles were attached. The fossil shells would have afforded protection against predation and helped to prevent the mollusc from dehydrating if it lived in the intertidal zone.

Most bivalves are filter feeders.

The presence of fossil bivalves in a rock will indicate that the rock was formed in either a marine, brackish or freshwater environment.

Gryphaea - an extinct species of oyster

Gryphaea, also known as "Devil's Toenail" lived from the Jurassic to Cretaceous Period (200 - 65 million years ago). The shell was composed of calcite and the animal would have lived on muddy sea-floors cemented to a rock. The shell shaped like a bowl was an adaptation to living in soft, fine-grained sediment.

It was believed in Scotland during the 17th and 18th centuries that carrying one of these fossils would help prevent arthritis and rheumatism.


Aquatic gastropods first evolved early in the Cambrian around 542 million years ago and during the last 65 million years have become the most common mollusc group as they are able to live in so many different habitats. There are around 105,000 living gastropod species and 15,000 fossil species have been found. In the Carboniferous Period (354-290 million years ago) gastropods began to inhabit freshwater environments and terrestrial snails may have evolved by late Carboniferous times from these freshwater species. In order to live on dry land snails evolved lungs to allow them to breathe out of water and aestivated(became dormant during hot, dry periods waking up when humidity was high and conditions were wetter).

Although gastropods suffered some species loss during the mass extinction at the end of the Permian when 90% of marine organisms became extinct, they were not as badly affected as many other groups.

Gastropods possess a muscular, flattened foot used for movement, eyes,tentacles and a radula composed of minute teeth for feeding. Most have a coiled or conical shells composed of calcite and/or aragonite but some species, slugs for example, have no shells.

The majority of gastropods are marine living in shallow seas but many also live in freshwater environments such as rivers, lakes and ponds, and some species live on dry land.

Helix astra - from the Pleistocene

I should have added a coin for scale for this photo - the shell on the right is 4/5 inches long and the one on the left around 3 inches. I haven't been able to confirm the exact species of either fossil but I believe that the one on the right may be Bourgetia which lived in shallow water.

Turitella imbricata. From the Eocene (55 - 36 million years ago.
A sea snail species

Cephalopods, such as ammonites and belemnites, were covered in an earlier posting.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Garden Update

I probably should have entitled this post "Scraping the Barrel" because it has been yet another quiet week in the garden for wildlife!

A male chaffinch fed on the lawn last Sunday - a new garden year tick bringing the number of species seen in the garden this year to 21. A pair of blue tits (still busy investigating the nestbox in the whitebeam) are becoming quite territorial. Daily battles are still ensuing between the resident robin pair and any intruders that dare to try and enter the garden. Goldfinches are still by far the most numerous species in the garden with 11 perched in the whitebeam last week and 19 the week before.

I've been hoping that the milder weather might waken some butterflies from hibernation or lead to a bumble bee sighting but nothing so far. Still no sign of frog activity in the pond - frogs normally start appearing in the pond some weeks before they spawn.

At least more flowers are appearing - here's a dwarf iris

and some snowdrops

and daffodils have buds so hopefully it won't be long before they burst into flower.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Quick trip to Brandon Marsh

It was a lovely, mild sunny day yesterday and, with the forecast not looking good for the rest of the week, I decided to pop over to Brandon Marsh for a couple of hours in the afternoon.

It seemed like everyone else had had the same idea because when I got there the car park was overflowing - I don't think I have ever seen it so busy!

Brandon Marsh NR is a Warwickshire Wildlife Trust Reserve covering about 92 hectares with a variety of habitats - pools, reedbeds, grassland and woodland.

Leaving the Visitor Centre behind me I headed first for Horsetail Glade where I had great views of a lesser spotted woodpecker a few winters ago. No sign of one today but there were plenty of blue, great and long-tailed tits.

I spent some time in the John Baldwin Hide overlooking East Marsh Pool and had fun practising with my new lens. Here's a few of the photos I took - some are not that sharp - but it was a good opportunity to get some more practice.

Drake Tufted Duck

These 3 Canada Geese seemed to be saying "What exactly are you looking at?!"

This drake Mallard was having a good scratch

I don't think I have ever seen so many Greylag Geese on the reserve - here's just two of them on a nearby island

A few more shots of Mallard

Tufted Duck

Another Mallard

There were hundreds of lapwings on Willow Island but unfortunately too far away to even attempt a photo.

I walked up to Carlton Hide which overlooks the Newlands Reedbeds hoping that there might be a bittern about - sadly no sign. In fact, the only birds were a couple of mallard and a moorhen.

I called in at East Marsh Hide but it was standing room only - most of the recent excellent bittern sightings have been seen from here. It didn't look as though anyone was going to vacate a seat in the near future so I didn't linger long!

The reserve was looking beautiful in the winter sunlight.

I paused by Grebe Pool hoping for a kingfisher and a couple of Canada Geese came over to say hello

I walked back to the car park via New Hare Covert and around the back of Grebe Pool. Highlights included a robin singing and male and female bullfinches.
A short-eared owl was seen several times over sheep field last year but I don't think it has been seen in 2011.

I dipped on the bittern (I think I'll try and persuade my husband to go to Ladywalk with me soon to try and see one - it might be quieter there!) and only managed to see 27 species but it was lovely walking on such a lovely day. 4 species were added to the year list - greylag goose, lapwing, teal and shoveler so I've managed to see over 50 now! ((I don't think I shall be breaking any records this year!!) I also added rabbit to the 2011 mammal list.