"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

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Local Birding Again and Canon-ball Christmas Pudding

I paid Marsh Lane NR a brief visit yesterday afternoon. As I drove up Old Road I realised there were hundreds of Fieldfares and Redwings feeding on berries in the hedgerow and swirling around in the sky.

I stopped the car and tried to use it as a hide - as you can see from the blurred photos below it wasn't a success!! I couldn't even call them record shots!! Problems were caused by the constant movement of the birds only alighting for seconds on berries together with the fact that they were hidden most of the time by a meshwork of twigs which totally confused the camera's automatic focus!



Leaves on an oak tree were a beautiful colour

Old Road is a public footpath and as I could see a dog walker approaching I gave up on the photographs as it would have taken the birds ages to settle again and went onto the reserve. I spent half an hour in the Car Park Hide.

All the usual species were on the pool or surrounding wetlands - Mute Swan, Cormorant, Teal, Shoveler, Lapwing, Canada and Greylag Geese, Wigeon, Mallard, Starlings, Grey Heron, Moorhen and Coot. I spent a lot of time studying the Lapwing flock as a Golden Plover had been spotted recently amongst them but if it was there it remained hidden. Blue and Great Tits and Goldfinches were on feeders near the car park. The Kestrel was hunting nearby - another rubbish shot of it perched in a tree (miles away!!!).

I went a walk along Old Road before leaving but sadly the flock of Fieldfares and Redwings seemed to have moved on. These two species were new for my list of birds seen on the reserve.

Garden Birds

Whilst washing up a few days ago I noticed out of the kitchen window a large congregation of Magpies and Carrion Crows perched in and flying round some nearby trees. There must have been around 15 Crows and nearly as many Magpies - a few are shown in the photo below.

There are quite a few interesting collective nouns for a group of these birds :)

A Horde, a Hover, a Mob, a Murder, a Muster or a Parcel of Crows and for a large group of Magpies A Conventicle or a Tidings!

Although we get up to half a dozen Magpies and Crows around the garden I have never seen so many as I did the other day. It made me wonder exactly what was going on - it seemed like a parliament of corvids. Perhaps they are just bird setting up territories and boundaries???

Christmas Pudding

Just to let you know that the Christmas Pudding turned out fine and came easily out of the mould. Sorry about the plastic sprig of holly in the photo below - I mistakenly thought it would improve the photo! At Christmas it will have a real sprig of holly and be smothered in brandy set alight :)

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Donkeys at Sutton Park, Fungi and "Stir up Sunday"

When we were on holiday in Dorset in the summer we visited the main Donkey Sanctuary at Sidmouth in Devon and ever since D and E have wanted to visit the Donkey Sanctuary in Birmingham. D and E were both at home on Friday so we finally paid the centre a visit.

The Sanctuary is set in a beautiful location within Sutton Park.

We were given a really warm welcome and taken on a guided tour of the riding centre and paddocks.

This is Oscar - D's actual adopted donkey. He was allowed to groom him before the afternoon's riding session.

Some of the donkeys in the paddocks - sorry not the best lot of photos (the fences kept getting in the way!). The centre in Birmingham was set up 20 years ago and they provide homes for 20 male donkeys.

The Donkey Sanctuary is a worldwide charity that does wonderful work to protect and care for donkeys and mules. They also provide donkey assisted therapy to children with additional needs and make outreach visits to residential care homes and hospices.

To find out more please visit www.thedonkeysanctuary.org.uk

Sutton Park itself covers 2000 acres and was a medieval deer park given to Sutton Coldfield by Henry VIII in 1528. It was designated a National Nature Reserve and Site of Special Scientific Interest by English Nature in 1997. Its made up of a wide range of habitats - lowland heath, woodland, wetlands, marshes and lakes. I haven't visited for years but its a really good site for wildlife. In fact, the last time I went there it was to help with a primary school wildlife group outing when I spent most of the time making sure children didn't get lost, fall in a lake or whack each other round the head with the sticks they were constantly picking up. Not really conducive for wildlife watching!!!

As we drove out I stopped off take some photos of a log absolutely covered in fungi.

I really am not sure of the identity of the species - the closest I can get is "Chicken of the Woods"??

I really must make a return visit - probably next summer as I believe there is a small population of Green Hairstreak butterflies there.

Today is "Stir Up Sunday" (the last Sunday before Advent) when families traditionally get together to make Christmas Puddings - everyone taking their turn to stir the pudding mix and make a wish. It gets its name from the opening words of the collect in the church service for this date

"Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of thee be plenteously rewarded: through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen".

As Christmas Puddings need to be made several weeks before Christmas presumably these words served as a reminder that it was time to get the puddings made so they can mature before Christmas Day.

For years D has wanted to make a round canon-shaped Christmas Pudding - in the past I've tried the method of making one in a cloth and steaming it and, believe me, it was not a success. So this year I've splashed out at great expense on a specially made Christmas Pudding mould which rather looks like something from outer space.

Rather pleased though that it has its own little trivet and handle!

Last night I put all the various dried fruits to soak overnight in lashings of brandy.

I've tried various recipes over the years but always come back to one by James Martin that the family seem to prefer.

Christmas Pudding mix

All piled up in the canon-shaped mould

Just in case there should be a mishap there was thankfully enough left to fill a small basin

Here they are steaming away just before I put the lids on.

Should the canon ball be a success I'll post a photo at Christmas!

Monday, 18 November 2013

Yet More Local Birding and a Badger Meeting

Apologies for lack of posts recently (and for going to the same place!!) but I'm inundated with (mainly family) commitments at the moment and only getting a few occasional hours to spare - hence the need to keep outings local!

I had a couple of free hours last Friday so I returned again to Marsh Lane NR.

I walked to a different part of the reserve this time - this is the path to River Hide

with lots of holly berries which will hopefully attract a few Winter visitors.

A clump of tiny toadstools on the path

River Hide was by far the largest hide I have visited so far and overlooks Car Park Pool (in the photo below)from one side and Railway Pool from another side.

Water levels are high on the reserve at the moment and most of the islands are submerged.

View towards Railway Pool

All the commoner species spotted on previous visits were seen. The only addition to the reserve bird list was a Song Thrush feasting on berries in the car park and I saw my first rabbit bobbing along a hedgerow.

Badger Meeting

On Thursday evening I went along to the last meeting this year of Warwickshire Badger Group.

Stephen Trotter, CEO of Warwickshire Wildlife Trust, gave an excellent talk and presentation on Hedgehogs. Hedgehog numbers are declining rapidly - during the 1950's the estimated population was around 30 million throughout the UK but the number today is believed to be less than 1 million. Recent research shows there has been a national decline of 50% over the last 10 years.

Sadly, the reasons for decline are the same as for so many species - habitat loss (disappearance of hedgerows, field margins and edge habitats), reduction of the quality of habitat due to agricultural intensification and development, fragmentation of habitat due to the building of new roads and fencing in suburban gardens thus isolating populations and possibly leading to local extinction, use of pesticides which means less slugs and snails for hedgehogs and the risk of poisoning and road casualties as a result of increased traffic and road building. Pro-badger cull supporters and a certain Governmental Department have cited badgers as a reason for hedgehog decline but in actual fact these two species have co-existed for centuries without hedgehogs declining and badgers are only likely to play a very minor part in hedgehog decline if other factors are acting to reduce the number of hedgehogs. The badger group's latest newsletter contains photos of a hedgehog feeding alongside 5 badgers and the badgers took absolutely no notice of the hedgehog.

Warwickshire Wildlife Trust has launched a "Help for Hedgehogs Campaign" to try and protect hedgehogs. There are several steps that can be taken in gardens to help this species - leave "messy" areas for them to nest, make a log pile which could be used for hibernation, make ponds safe so that hedgehogs can climb out if they fall in, check long areas of grass before mowing, check bonfires for hibernating animals, don't use slug pellets, link gardens by creating a small hole at the base of the fence and put out dog or hedgehog food (NOT bread and milk!!!!).

The meeting concluded with an update on the badger slaughters and a charming video of the release of Billy the Badger. The badger cub had been found injured at the side of the road and was taken to a Wildlife Hospital to be treated. The plan was to release him with some other orphaned cubs from another Wildlife Hospital but as Billy had not been tested for bTB by the time of the release this was not possible. Eventually after much searching a sett was found not far from where he had been injured and it was believed this was his home sett. Badgers live in established social groups and are very territorial so poor Billy had to be daubed all over with with bedding, dung and some musk from his home sett before he could be released. He was a very feisty and lively young badger so the video shown was exceedingly amusing. Its to be hoped that he has been accepted back into the sett and the story has a happy ending!

I was really pleased to win a framed photo in the raffle of two of the badgers I watched earlier this year at a local sett and I've been asked if I'd like to take part with some members of the group sett surveying next year which I really am looking forward to.

If anyone is stuck for ideas for their Christmas present list - New Look are selling a really delightful badger jumper :)

The long awaited BTO Bird Atlas arrived in the post on Saturday morning so reading this is going to keep me busy for a while. First impressions are that it is excellent, its well laid-out and just stuffed with information :)

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Local Birding, Rare Victorian Pillar Box and Autumn in the Garden

Marsh Lane NR

I returned to Marsh Lane NR on Thursday last week. There hadn't been any further sightings of the Dusky Warbler for a few days. I like to think its feeding undetected somewhere on the reserve or nearby rather than it having met an untimely end.

The Reedbed Pool can be seen from a viewing screen as you walk along the path to Oak Hide

I walked further into the Reserve on this visit towards Railway Copse and the Railway Hide. A Sparrowhawk was hunting birds along the hedgerow in the crop field.

View over Railway Pool from Railway Hide - you can see Oak Hide in the distance. The usual species were on the pool Coot, Grey Heron, Lapwing, Shoveler, Swans, Black-headed Gulls, Mallard, Canada and Greylage Geese and Moorhens.

The Black Swan was a lot closer to the hide this time.

Whenever I've seen it, its been in the company of a pair of Mute Swans.

There's a good crop of berries in the hedgerows around the reserve.

I've added a few new species to the list I've recently started for this reserve - Sparrowhawk, Reed Bunting (flying into reeds in the small pool by the car park), Greenfinch and Robin on the feeders and Gadwall on Car Park Pool which brings the list up to 40 bird species.

Victorian Pillar Box

This morning I had to go to Dickens Heath and I stopped off in Dog Kennel Lane to take some photos of a rare Victorian fluted Pillar Box. This type of post box has a a flattened conical top and initially had a vertical slit. In 1857 the posting aperture was changed from vertical to horizontal. Only four of these fluted pillar boxes are still in use today. Three in Malvern and this one in Shirley.

Huge thanks to Rose - who first alerted me to this rare post box. I've driven past it dozens of times without spotting it!


I've not had chance (mainly due to overnight rain still) to put out the moth trap for a few weeks although it now looks dry (though colder) for the rest of the week so hopefully I'll be putting it out and hoping for a December moth :)

Autumn colours are now showing in the garden.

I'm really pleased with how well this acer is doing - now planted behind the rockery. It languished for years in a pot and last year I really did think I had lost it as I forgot to water it during a period of drought in the summer but its thriving now :)

Clematis Seedhead

There are still a few flowers - Cosmos, Cornflower, Primulas,Michaelmas Daisy, Verbena bonariensis and this dahlia.

Although up to a dozen Blackbirds descended on the garden during the last week to scoff Rowan, Whitebeam and Pyracantha berries, there are still plenty left.

I've seen Fieldfares in trees near to our garden but they rarely visit the garden to feed until the weather gets really cold - still hoping there will be a few berries left when they do eventually visit and I will always live in hope of a Waxwing visit :)