"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

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

A Few New Birds at Millennium Wood and a Theatre Trip

Its a lovely sunny day here today although its very cold. So I stopped off for a quick walk around Millennium Wood early this morning. I had almost finished my circuit of this small reserve having only seen a few birds - the usual carrion crow and wood pigeon (in fact I saw more dogs/dog walkers than birds!) when I stopped for 10 minutes to check out the mature oak trees.

This area was far more productive and I managed to add blackbird, robin and great spotted woodpecker to the reserve bird list. Well actually, I am "cheating" a bit here as these birds were all seen just off the reserve so I've decided to have two lists one of birds seen on the reserve and one of birds seen on and from the reserve!

I spot something new every time I walk round and this time it was a log pile - good for minibeasts and there were loads of holly berries along the entrance road. In fact, the berries on the reserve still seem untouched so surely something will be along soon to feast on them. Clumps of seedheads scattered everywhere might attract some goldfinches too.

Last night we went on a theatre trip to see Sleeping Beauty, a play written by Rufus Norris and based on the original story by Charles Perrault. It was presented by the Birmingham Rep at the Crescent Theatre. The journey was a complete nightmare as the traffic in Birmingham was at a virtual standstill and it took us an hour to cross the City Centre. The performance was due to start at 7.00 p.m. and I drove into the car park at 5 to 7 thinking I was going to miss the first half of the performance. Luckily the car park is only a 100 yards from the theatre and I managed to grab the second parking space on the first level(someone must just have left) and I had even more luck in that the performance was a bit late starting so I made it with seconds to spare!

I'm glad we finally made it as it was great Christmas treat. The play is a musical, humorous but gruesome and frightening in parts. Its not a Disney type version of the story more Roald Dahl or Grimms Fairy Tales (does anyone else remember The Grimms Brothers stories and Hans Christian Andersen? My grandparents had copies of each and when I was little I used to frighten myself dreadfully with the stories - I still shudder over the story of The Little Match Girl - I am sure it must have given me nightmares!).

The play is full of princes and princesses, fairies, ogre/ogress and slaves with some great lighting, sound and special effects and a really clever use of puppets. It would appeal to both children (aged at least 7) and adults and as the publicity for the play says "Expect fairytale romance, hideous ogres, sinister spells and a magical Christmas show like no other!"

A nice glass of mulled wine and a mince pie at the interval completed a great evening out even if the traffic was horrendous!

Publicity photo for the show taken from the Birmingham Repertory Theatre's website.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Garden Sparrowhawk and Christmas Pudding Time

What connection do sparrowhawks have with Christmas pudding you may wonder? Well, there is a tenuous connection as I was grating an orange and lemon for the Christmas pudding this morning, I glanced out of the kitchen window and there was a large bird bathing in the pond. It flew into the whitebeam tree and started preening - a sparrowhawk (juvenile, I think). It stayed long enough for me to change the lens on the camera and get out onto the patio to take a few very record shots (well it was 50 foot away!). It was a great encounter that made my day.

and a slightly cropped version

I managed to miss "Stir-up Sunday" last weekend so am a week behind with my Christmas baking. I do love Christmas especially the preparation and anticipation which I sometimes think are more enjoyable than the actual event!

I broke with tradition this year and tried a new pudding recipe - here's the dried fruit, cherries and candied peel prepared last night and left to soak in lots of alcohol.

Here's the Christmas pudding all mixed and ready to go in the bowls

Ready for steaming - yes, I know there should be a string handle to make it easy to get out of the steamer but I haven't yet worked out to create one! Brian usually helps (he is far more practical than me!) but he'd gone out to fetch the Sunday papers.

I decided to experiment with cooking methods this year - I steamed the larger of the puddings on top of the cooker as usual but the two smaller puddings I put in a roasting dish containing about 2 inches of water which I covered with a double layer of foil and cooked in the oven on a low temperature. It will be interesting to see if there is any difference in the cooking methods and also how the recipe compares with my usual one.

Next weekend I'll be making the Christmas cake followed by mincemeat the weekend after.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

A Short Birding Trip

Having finally more or less shaken off my cold, I decided on a short trip at lunchtime to the new RSPB Middleton Lakes Reserve in the Tame Valley.

The official RSPB access road to the Reserve goes past the Aston Villa Training Ground at Bodymoor Heath - not that you can see a lot as the whole place is surrounded by banks to deter prying eyes. Nice to see a full car park though - hopefully, the first team putting in a double training shift after Monday night's performance! Be warned though if you use this road to access the reserve as its full of potholes especially near the reserve end - more suited to a 4 x 4 than a Vauxhall Corsa!

The car park was fairly full and the reserve certainly looks as though its proving very popular.

I spent quite a while watching the feeders near the Heronry viewpoint which also overlooks a reedbed and there were lots of robins, blue great and coal tits and a great spotted woodpecker flew over.

Walking along the woodland trail there were plenty of blackbirds, magpies, wood pigeons, carrion crows and a flock of long-tailed tits. At the far end of the woodland, near Fisher's Mill Bridge which goes over the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal, I watched a flock of goldfinches feeding on seedheads and saw a chiffchaff. A flock of fieldfare flew over - my first of the autumn apart from the odd sighting in Wales.

I didn't take the camera in the end mainly because there are no hides yet (just a couple of willow screens) and the birds are just far too far away to take photos. Here's a view though of one of the many pools visible from the viewing platform as you enter the wetland part of the reserve taken when we visited in May.

I only did part of the wetland trail but the pools were full of canada geese, tufted duck, coot, wigeon, moorhen, mute swan, mallard, lapwing and teal. I spent ages checking one of the bunds - which has been receiving regular visits from Short Eared Owls - but the only bird I saw there today was a hovering kestrel.

Retracing my steps I saw several pheasant in a field at the sign of the canal and a grey heron flew over as I approached the car park.

I didn't see anything unusual or exciting but it was a lovely walk and great to get out in the fresh air again and watch some birds. This Reserve is just going to get better and better over the next few years.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Signs of Autumn at the Gardens

I haven't had much to blog about recently as a bad cold meant I didn't feel much like going out. Bird-wise the garden here at home has been fairly quiet although goldfinch numbers are increasing up to a maximum of twelve and a pair of greenfinches have made a welcome return to the feeders. Sparrowhawk sorties are becoming more regular although I have yet to see her catch anything and we have an acrobatic magpie who is determined to hang onto the coconut to get beakfuls of fat.

I did pop along to Castle Bromwich Hall Gardens towards the end of last week and first of all here are a few pictures from around the Gardens

Green House

North-west Pier

North Orchard

Lower Wilderness

South Kitchen Garden and Summer House

There were still plenty of leaves showing autumn colours

And plenty of berries - not sure what the first ones are

but these are Spindle Tree berries

and plenty of holly as a reminder that Christmas is not far away.

There were several species of interesting looking toadstools - I am a complete novice at toadstool id so any help would be greatly appreciated!

I found these beautiful yellow toadstools (after a tip off from a friend) in the Secret Garden. Lots of record shots - are these by any chance yellow or golden waxcaps?

These tiny toadstools were growing on a grassy mound near the South-west Pier

The Stumpery and area near the South Pond had several different types. I think this is a bracket fungus but no idea what species.

There were loads of these grey toadstools - at a guess clouded agaric?????

The black spots on this sycamore leaf are tar spot fungus

I did see a couple of great spotted woodpeckers flying over - a new species for the Gardens Bird List.

St Mary and St Margaret's Church

I stopped off at the new Hotel to take a couple of photos

Not sure if I like all the hotel type signs - would have preferred them to be a bit more discreet! but its great to see this beautiful Hall lived in and used again

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Final GMS Night

The Garden Moth Scheme's final date for this year was last weekend - I ran the trap on Sunday, 6th November, (mimimum temperature was low dropping to 1.4 degrees centigrade) and there was just one tiny micro in the trap the following morning - a Light Brown Apple Moth.

Light Brown Apple Moth

Unless its very mild I probably won't do any trapping now until early next Spring when GMS recommences. I never did catch a Merveille de Jour!

Provisionally (I still need to type up and check the records) 94 species were trapped (or seen in the garden/house) this year bringing the total number of species seen in the garden to 132 since I began trapping in late summer 2009. I usually only trap once a week but next year I might try more sessions and I need to continue to improve my id skills especially where micros are concerned!!

Sunday, 6 November 2011

A Virtually Birdless Millennium Wood - Again!

I haven't had chance recently to go out on any birding trips (though the reports of Short-eared Owl sightings at Brandon Marsh and Middleton Lakes/Dosthill have not gone unnoticed!!) so, as I was passing, I paid a brief visit to Millennium Wood on Friday morning.

There were plenty of autumn colours and berries to be seen

but I had walked three quarters of the way round without seeing a single bird! The final part of the walk revealed quite a few magpies, wood pigeons and carrion crows (the usual trio of species) but nothing else.

I spent quite a while searching for birds in these mature oaks - hoping for a jay - but all I could see were yet more wood pigeons!

Its a pity there isn't a small pool in the reserve as that would no doubt bring in a few species but I will go back again as its a nice place to walk when I haven't got time to visit Brandon Marsh and surely the berries will attract birds at some time.

Back home in the garden - bird numbers at the feeders are slowly increasing - 6 goldfinches last week feeding and the great spotted woodpecker visits several times a day. Yesterday had our first greenfinch for ages and the grey squirrels which always return in autumn have re-appeared. A sparrowhawk shot over the fence yesterday like a missile but the feeders had emptied of birds a few seconds previously. A wren is still roosting in hanging basket but I haven't had any more sightings of the female blackcap.

Friday, 4 November 2011

Autumnal Leaves

My favourite feature of autumn is the changing colour of the leaves and yesterday, inbetween the heavy rain showers, I spent a few minutes taking photos in the garden. The light was low so the photos aren't particularly sharp (yes, I know I should have used the tripod to eliminate camera shake!) but hopefully you can appreciate some of the lovely colours.

Whilst looking at the leaf colour in the wooded area at the top of the garden a flock of long-tailed tits, who seemed totally oblivious to my presence, flew in and started foraging amongst the trees. Isn't it great how a chance encounter like that can make your day?

There are still a few plants in flower around the garden

Why do leaves change colour in Autumn? As daylight hours shorten and temperatures become cooler, the chlorophyll (which provides the green colour)in decidous tree leaves starts to decrease. As a result pigments such as carotenoids (orange-yellow) and anthocyanins (reds and purples) which have been hidden become visible giving the leaves their beautiful autumn tints. Eventually a corky layer (the abscission) grows at the base of the leaf stalk and the leaf will die and fall off the tree.

I'll finish off with one of my favourite autumnal poems:

The Burning of the Leaves

"Now is the time for the burning of the leaves,
They go to the fire; the nostril pricks with smoke
Wandering slowly into a weeping mist.
Brittle and blotched, ragged and rotten sheaves!
A flame seizes the smouldering ruin and bites
On stubborn stalks that crackle as they resist.

The last hollyhock's fallen tower is dust;
All the spices of June are a bitter reek,
All the extravagant riches spent and mean.
All burns! The reddest rose is a ghost;
Sparks whirl up, to expire in the mist: the wild
Fingers of fire are making corruption clean.

Now is the time for stripping the spirit bare,
Time for the burning of days ended and done,
Idle solace of things that have gone before:
Rootless hope and fruitless desire are there;
Let them go to the fire, with never a look behind.
The world that was ours is a world that is ours no more.

They will come again, the leaf and the flower, to arise
From squalor of rottenness into the old splendour,
And magical scents to a wondering memory bring;
The same glory, to shine upon different eyes.
Earth cares for her own ruins, naught for ours.
Nothing is certain, only the certain spring."

by Laurence Binyon.