Monday 28 January 2019

RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch 2019


I did my RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch survey today. The weather was cold and clear, with a fair bit of sunshine. The gusting wind had died down, but it was still breezy.

I decided to take a slightly different approach this year, and I hope it didn't mean that I missed too many birds in the process. Inspired by sculptor and fellow blogger, Jennifer Tetlow's bird-watch, which resulted in her clay 'Wren', I decided to add a creative element (not to the counting, of course!) by writing a draft Haiku/俳句 for each species seen. I am leaving these Haiku in their 'raw' organic state for now, but may polish them up in due course. I thought you might be interested to see how I got on...

small, bright and hungry,
hanging on the silver birch –
blue as this cold day

Blue tit (right) and Great tit (left), 28 Jan. 2019

here for a moment,
the Great tit departs at speed,
its bill full of fat

Goldfinch (record shot), 28 Jan. 2019

the clock ticked slowly:
suddenly a single finch
sprinkled red and gold

Long-tailed tit, 28 Jan. 2019

so slight and graceful,
Long-tailed tits slip through the leaves –
white clouds, pink feathers

Blackbird (old photo)

she touched down at last,
squeezing her umber feathers
between two branches

Robin, 28 Jan. 2019 (though by this time it had left the nest)

not an early bird,
but its fire-cracker waistcoat
gleamed from an old nest

Wood pigeon (old photo)

last bird on the list 
how strange it was on its own:
where were the pigeons?

Sadly, a number of our 'usual garden suspects' (Dunnock, Wren, Chaffinch, Coal tit...) failed to show up. This may be because of the weather or on account of a recent Sparrowhawk visit. Others were 'there', but could not be counted because they did not land. The rest of the Goldfinch flock fell into this category along with two Collared doves (I hope one was the dove I hadn't seen since the Sparrowhawk paid us a visit) and a Carrion Crow. A Magpie and a Starling showed up almost immediately after my time was up so could not be included. I took photos of them. 

The numbers on the chart below indicate the birds I counted in my garden from 12.30 to 13.30 today...

The animals I have seen in our garden during the last year (just Grey Squirrel and Hedgehog)...  It's quite possible we saw a Stag beetle in among the Cockchafers, but I can't be sure: we definitely had a dead one on the grass a couple of years ago.

And, sadly, I didn't have a single House Sparrow. We rarely see House Sparrows in the garden. 

These are the birds who came just after the count...

(Ringed) Starling, 28 Jan. 2019
Magpie, 28 Jan. 2019

Thursday 24 January 2019

Pecking Order

Some of you will know that we have had builders and decorators in to put right the damage caused by a flood. There has been a fair amount of hanging around which has meant that I have snatched spare in-between moments to keep an eye on the bird feeders. We even a had a brief visit from a Sparrowhawk the other day: these are not my favourite birds to have at close quarters when there are small birds trying to feed in these cold temperatures. Today it has been largely the turn of the Starlings and Long-tailed Tits. 

I might like it to be a case of 'share and share alike', but I can see wisdom (or instinct) in the tiny Long-tailed tit's patient reticence!

Meahwhile on the other coconut, a second Long-tailed tit had the food all to itself. 

We have had a few sleety snow flurries but no lying snow to date. There have been intermittent visits from Blue tits, Great tits and a Robin, too. And no sign today of the Sparrowhawk so far...

Don't forget: this weekend is the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch. It lasts from 26th to 28th January, and the link explains how you can take part.

Monday 21 January 2019

Suffolk Sunshine (and Moonlight)

After a week of post-flood building work at home, we were keen to enjoy the January sunshine on Saturday, so we took a picnic to the coast ...

We woke yesterday to temperatures of -5 degrees centigrade, but Saturday was not quite so cold. The light was good and the path by the sea on Dunwich Heath was ablaze with gorse. 

There were very few people on the beach.


You can just see the town of Southwold in the distance.

The shadows lengthened and the light didn't last for long. The picture below shows the beach at the edge of the RSPB Minsmere reserve (I rather enjoyed the reserve's Epiphany blog post here).

I am always in my element when there are waves to watch...

I had read on the Cabinet of Curiosities blog that there are Earthstars about at the moment, and since we had once seen some here, we had a good look around ... but failed to find any this time.

There is a lot of coastal erosion in this part of the world. The photo below shows one very small bit of it.

More waves...

We kept a sharp eye out for deer, and indeed saw their hoof prints in the the sand, but they remained elusive. Gold (gorse), bronze (bracken) and silver (birch bark) were the predominant colours on the landward side. The photo below shows one of two toadstools I came across. I wonder how long it will be before a hungry rodent discovers them.

There are a few evergreen conifers on the heath ...

... but the brightest green belonged to this clump of moss.

It was good to get out and sniff the sea. I hope there may be more signs of spring next time; but, of course, (despite the spring Snowdrop and Crocus flowers in my previous post) we are still officially in the heart of the UK winter. 

I mentioned the chilly night time temperatures. Well, I woke early this morning on account of the cold, and couldn't resist a peep at the eclipsed 'super blood wolf moon'. My little camera just about delivered a record shot, as you see below. David took a couple of pictures on the small Canon, which I hope may be a bit better. Meanwhile, there are some wonderful photographs here of this remarkable natural phenomenon.   

Monday 14 January 2019

Signs of Spring ... Snowdrops in Suffolk

Snowdrops, Martlesham, January 2018
It was a dull windy afternoon, so we went to Martlesham (on the other side of the Deben from Sutton Hoo) in search of signs of spring. St Mary's churchyard will soon be awash with yellow and purple Crocus flowers, but we were hoping to see Snowdrops, our first Snowdrops of the year.

 The church sits above Martlesham Creek ...

... and, sure enough, there were a few early drifts of Snowdrops for us to enjoy.

 Some were still in bud,

 ... while others were in bloom.

I noticed one early Crocus flower ...

There were a few Holly berries, adding a splash of brightness to the hedge.

We peeped inside the church just before it was locked, and saw a wall painting (St Christopher bearing the Christ-Child) ...

 ... and some beautiful panes of stained glass. I particularly liked the sheep faces.

1903 stained glass by Walter Pearce, the Good Shepherd

I was delighted to see my first Daisy of 2019: may there be many more!

Thursday 3 January 2019

Shingle Street, a Wild Stretch of Suffolk Coast

I always enjoy a visit to Shingle Street, which can feel a very exposed part of the coast. Today we encountered surprisingly blue skies and calm sea conditions. There was very little wind despite the cool temperature. The rivers Ore and Alde (from which Aldeburgh gets its names) reach the sea here. There are currents and sandbanks. I always like to look out for this buoy, and on windy days you can hear its bell ringing. There was no sign of the green buoy this afternoon.

 We have often watched Common Seals, but there were none in evidence today.

There were, however, good numbers of Cormorant.

The light changes constantly and at times the view can seem quite surreal. 

Birds are continually on the move. 

I love the progression in the photo below from scrubby grass to watercourse to shingle to (sea which is hidden from view, then on to) sand, to sea and finally to a wide expanse of East Anglian sky. 

Shadows are very evocative in the low light at this time of year.

Nobody knows how much longer the Orford Ness lighthouse will withstand the battering of tides...

... but for now it stands as a poignant and cherished beacon, a monument to a former age.

Reeds are an iconic part...

...of this desolate landscape.

They give way to a low-lying field of sheep and a church tower. 

Shingle Street is a terrific spot for wildlife. Pipits can often be seen, along with waders like the Redshank below. 

I suspect the lichen (if this is what it is) in the photo below bears testament to the pure air.

The shell below belonged to a Slipper Limpet. 

By 3 p.m. the light was fading fast...

 We took a last look at the buoy...

... and the gulp of Cormorants (there were many more in the sky by this time, probably heading for the marshes at Trimley). 

 The sparkle of sunlight on reeds was utterly irresistible!

We checked the mudflats in case there was anything unusual lurking in the shallows...

and David walked a bit further along the bank...

...before we turned for home with the call of the Redshank ringing in our ears.

Some of you may be acquainted with Blake Morrison's collection, Shingle Street (published by Chatto & Windus). Carol Rumens reviewed it here for The Guardian and Observer online.