"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

Saturday, 22 February 2014

A Trip to Marsh Lane and First 2 Moths of 2014

I spent an hour or so walking round Marsh Lane Nature Reserve last Wednesday. It was lovely to be out in the fresh air with a hint of Spring everywhere and plenty of birds to watch.

I spent most of my time in Oak Hide hoping, rather optimistically, for a Bittern sighting as one was seen recently. I didn't have any joy but there were plenty of ducks and geese and I did see the Black Swan which has been missing on my last two visits. I missed the opportunity of photographing a pair of Mute Swans flying straight towards the hide. All I did manage to get was a photo from the rear as they disappeared from view!

A flock of Lapwings - Marsh Lane has good numbers of this species and they are always a joy to watch.

Long-tailed Tit and Jackdaw were two new species for the Marsh Lane List which now stands at 52 since I first started visiting. Pheasant, Jackdaw, Reed Bunting, Little Grebe, Great Crested Grebe and Black Swan were new for the year list.

Garden Moths

I put out the moth trap for the first time on Tuesday 18th March (Min temp 4.8) but no moths were trapped. I tried again the following night but brought the trap in at 10.00 as the rain was teeming down. No moths in the trap but there were a couple nearby - my first of the year. Last year I didn't trap my first moth until 6th April so I'm pleased to make an early start this year :)

Pale Brindled Beauty (Phigalia pilosaria) - This is also a new species for the garden. The females of this species are wingless

Chestnut (Conistra vaccinii)

Friday, 14 February 2014

Snowdrops at St Giles, Packwood

I went along to St Giles Church, Packwood, at the end of last week in search of Snowdrops. I've had problems with my desktop computer (hopefully now fixed!!) so this is the first chance I've had to do a post. Apologies too to anyone who has been visiting my blog for any length of time as I have written about this church several times in the past.

A church has stood on the site for over 800 years. The original building was probably wooden and replaced by the present stone chancel and nave in the late thirteenth century. The church is dedicated to St Giles, a French patron saint for beggars and the lame. The church is always open as a refuge for displaced people which I think is rather lovely considering so many churches are locked most of the time these days.

One wedding of interest that took place at the church was that between a Lichfield bookseller Michael Johnson and Sara Ford from Packwood - their son was to become the famous literary figure and dictionary author - Samuel Johnson.

Snowdrops are just starting to flower around the churchyard.

The older part of the churchyard is allowed to grow a little "wild" which is great for wildlife. The churchyard is one of the richest sites in the county for wildflowers with over 100 species being recorded some quite rare for Warwickshire. I will visit again in a month or so because it (along with St Patricks in nearby Earlswood) has the most wonderful display of primroses.

Lichens on the stone walls of the church.

The porch was built in the 18th century. Many church porches are large because in the past couples were often married in the porch as the ceremony mentions "carnal sin" and the couple following the service were finally allowed to enter the church itself for a blessing.

It was lovely to see the teasels being left for the birds to enjoy.

This stained glass window shows a fawn - a symbol of St Giles - the fawn was reputed to have provided St Giles with milk when he was a recluse.

Late thirteenth century glass can be seen at the top of this window.

The parish chest is believed to be Norman and could even predate the church. It was hewn from a tree trunk and chests like these were once used to store parish records.

Medieval wall paintings representing the Day of Judgement and dating back to the fourteenth century. These "Doom Paintings" were covered with whitewash during the Protestant Reformation after 1547. They were only discovered in 1927 when funeral hatchments were removed from the wall. Unfortunately the paintings were damaged as plaster was peeled off but they have since been restored. The photos below were taken on a previous visit as for some reason the photos taken last week failed to show so much detai1.

An old sundial on one of the exterior church walls. Scratch dials or Mass Dials were used when a stick was inserted into the centre to use the sun to tell the times to celebrate mass.

Arrow sharpening slits on the church wall from a time when men were expected to practice archery every Sunday.

This is the Tower of Atonement which was added in the late Fifteenth century by Nicholas Brome, Lord of Baddesley Clinton as an act of atonement for murdering a priest around 1483 at Baddesley Clinton for "finding him in his parlour chockings his wife under ye chinne" (Ferrars). He's been mentioned before in this blog - he is actually buried at nearby Baddesley Clinton in an upright position by the church door so people walk over him as they enter the church - another act of atonement for the murder he committed. In Baddesley Clinton House there is actually a "blood stain" on the floor originally said to be from the murder although I seem to remember it has been tested and found to be pig's blood.

Packwood Hall is now privately owned so I couldn't get any closer than this to take a photo but the building dates back to Medieval times. Edith Holden, author of The "Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady" written in 1906 mentions visiting the Hall and being shown a lamb by the farmer. She also mentions seeing snowdrops at the hall and in the churchyard. Much of the filming for the ITV series on Edith took place around Packwood.

An interesting tree stump, rosehips and beech leaves.

Sadly no lambs yet but plenty of sheep feeding in a field adjacent to the church. As you can see they spotted me very quickly :)

Reference: "An Historical Guide to St Giles Church, Packwood, Warwickshire"

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Garden Biodiversity - 365 Challenge - Part 1

Last year on Twitter there was a fun garden challenge to try and see 365 species in a year. Unfortunately I didn't find out about it until early summer and decided I didn't want to join in half way through the year but that I'd take part this year. I haven't been able to find much information about it though for 2014 and have only managed to track down two people who are participating (one trying to beat last year's record and one trying to add to last year's total). I decided I'd have a go anyway mainly to encourage myself to take more notice of groups that I currently only try and identify half-heartedly such as hoverflies, flies, beetles, woodlice etc.

I've set myself a few "rules". For example, I will only count species that occur within the actual garden and not count those just flying over or seen over the garden fence in a neighbour's garden! I've also followed in Owen Paterson's footsteps and moved the goalposts a little as I will be counting non-native species such as Grey Squirrel and Harlequin Ladybird.

However, I won't be counting species that we've planted ourselves so all those lovely wildflowers such as Primroses

and species in the wildflower meadow and native trees and shrubs in the mini wood and hedgerows are out of the equation. I will, however, count species such as Bramble and Coral Spot fungus

that have colonised naturally.

I got off to quite a good start in January - without really trying I managed 31 species.


Wood Pigeon (Columba palumbus)

Blue Tit (Cyanistes caeruleus)

Blackbird (Turdus merula)

Great Tit (Parus major)

House Sparrow (Passer domesticus)

Robin (Erithacus rubecula)

Dunnock (Prunella modularis)

Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis)

Magpie (Pica pica)

Carrion Crown (Corvus corone)

Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus)

Coal Tit (Periparus ater)

Redwing (Turdus iliacus)

Great Spotted
Woodpecker (Dendrocopus major)

Fieldfare (Turdus pilaris)

Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla)

Long-Tailed Tit (Aegithalos caudatus)

Collared Dove (Streptopelia decaocto)

Stock Dove (Columba oenas)

Bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula)

Lesser Redpoll (Carduelis cabaret)


Human (Homo sapiens) A bit cheeky this one but I noticed someone else counted it last year!!! :)

Grey Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis)


Bramble (Rubus fruticosa)

Groundsel (Senecio vulgaris)

Smooth Sow Thistle (Sonchus oleraceus)


Holly Leaf Gall Fly - leafmine (Phytomyza ilicis)

Winter Gnat (Family Trichoceridae)


Harlequin Ladybird (Harmonia axyridis)


Stigmella aurella - leaf mine on bramble


Coral Spot Fungus (Nectria cinnabarina)

I suspect only a few species will be added in February and March as there won't be many insects to add. If I'm honest I think I will be very fortunate to reach 365 as last year, despite moth trapping, I only identified 100 moths. I'll need to try harder on the worn noctuids this year and also start identifying micros in earnest. On a good year we get about 30/35 bird species in the garden and about 12/15 butterfly species. Mammals are few and far between - I'll be lucky to reach 5 plus about 3 amphibians. So I am going to have to concentrate a lot more on insects in general. Still it'll be fun and give me the excuse I've been waiting for to buy some more id guides :)

I'll do an update on progress about once a month.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Winterbourne House Gardens

I first discovered Winterbourne House and Gardens, located at the University of Birmingham, a couple of years ago and was entranced by the magical gardens. I've been meaning to pay a return visit ever since and today when chauffeuring E around I was in the locality with an hour to spare and decided to finally revisit.

Winterbourne is a rare surviving example of an early twentieth century villa and garden in the style of the Arts and Craft movement. The house was built in 1903 for John and Margaret Nettlefold of Guest, Keen and Nettlefold (GKN). It was designed in the style of a small country estate. Margaret designed the garden having been inspired by the garden design and books by Gertrude Jekyll.

The last owner was a John Macdonald Nicolson who developed new garden areas such as a scree garden and alpine area. He died in 1944 and left the House and Garden to the University of Birmingham.

The Botanical Gardens (used today by students at the University) cover 7 acres and contain 6000 plant species from all around the world.

The Walled Garden

Alpine plants appear throughout the gardens.


The plant in the photo below reminds me either of a Triffid or the man-eating plant in "The Little Shop of Horrors"!!

Cyclamens carpeting a woodland floor

The first snowdrops I have seen this year

Nut Walk

This area of the Gardens is called "The Geographics"

There were several Witch Hazels in flower - I'd love one of these in my garden but they are very expensive to buy.

Woodland Walk

Japanese Bridge

Old Garden Office

It was a shame I had so little time (to allow for travelling time) I only spent about half an hour there and you need several hours to explore the gardens properly. There is also access from the gardens to a Nature Reserve with woodland and a pool which I missed last time. Fortunately the ticket I purchased today is valid until the end of March so I plan to go back when it gets a little warmer and I have more time to spare.

If you do want to see more photos of the gardens in the summer I did a post in August 2011 which should be easy to find in the archive section on the right hand side of the blog - sorry no point in trying to insert a direct link as I can never get them to work. I also took some photos inside the house during that visit.