The Sparrowhawk

Sparrowhawks have featured a few times on my blog. The first was a fleeting visit where I didn’t even have time to pick up my camera. The second visit, last year, was of a male sparrowhawk surveying the area.

The most recent visitation by this enigmatic bird arrived on a dreary August bank holiday Monday. David was just about to do the dishes when he exclaimed, ‘there’s a sparrowhawk on the wall!’

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Female Sparrowhawk

For the next half hour or so we both watched on amazed as a female sparrowhawk sat on the wall and devoured her prey, a poor little starling. We had never seen a sparrowhawk with its prey before. It was a bit gruesome and sad for the starling but you have to think with your head and not with your heart on these matters. If there were no small birds for the sparrowhawk to prey upon, then there would be no sparrowhawks either.

Due to their prey being primarily songbirds (they do eat small mammals too), sparrowhawks often come into conflict with birdwatchers. However there is no correlation between a dip in songbirds and predation by sparrowhawks. In the past there have been two studies on the influence of predation and songbird numbers. Both studies noted that there was in fact more of an increase in songbird numbers than an actual negative correlation when predated by sparrowhawks. Sparrowhawks are noted to prey on the old and infirm, creating a survival of the fittest gene pool for songbirds. Sparrowhawks feed mainly on sparrows, tits, finches and starlings, however female sparrowhawks can hunt birds as large as a pigeon. Recent research led me to discover that the sparrowhawk sometimes does not quickly dispatch of it’s prey. Anything bigger than a sparrow will face a lingering death while being eaten, if a vital organ/artery is not punctured. It made for a sobering read.

The sparrowhawk has in the past been subjected to persecution by trophy hunters and in the 1950’s their numbers crashed due to usage of pesticides such as DDT in farming. It was only after DDT was banned and the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981 was passed protecting sparrowhawks, that their numbers increased.

The sparrowhawk is one of the UK’s smallest birds of prey. It is the perfect ambush predator, easily maneuvering in enclosed spaces such as woodland and gardens. However only 1 in 10 hunts result in a meal for the sparrowhawk. Females can be up to 25% larger than males. Sparrowhawks are relatively short lived, their maximum age is around 3 years, but some can live to around seven. They are found all over the UK apart from the Highlands of Scotland. Their eyes change colour with age, starting green and growing more yellow with maturity.

Sparrowhawks are seen as a top predator and their presence indicates that the bird population in an area is healthy. Though it was unpleasant to witness the sparrowhawk with its prey, I was amazed at seeing her in the yarden. Nature after all isn’t sunshine and flowers. I must be doing something right with the feeding of the little birds in order to bring the larger birds to the area.

Have you come close to a sparrowhawk? Seen one with it’s kill? What are your thoughts on UK raptors?

Thanks for reading,

Christine.


Further reading:

Some of the web resources I visited while compiling this blog were:

Springwatch.

Discover Wildlife.

British Bird Lovers.

RSPB.

Living with Birds.

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Hello Dippy!

I’d recently read that 200,000 visitors had visited Dippy at Birmingham’s Museum and Art Gallery. That was before David and I ventured south to visit him. I don’t know what possessed me to book tickets to see Dippy on Tour for the August bank holiday! But (free) tickets I had anyway! So this Saturday we drove the two hours from Liverpool. Luckily, I had planned an hours leeway. On our journey south we hit miles of roadworks, due to the M6 being turned into a smart motorway, to be completed 2022! We also faced a junction closure. Junction 10 was closed, due to a police incident. Recent research discovered that the incident was of a man on the wrong side of a bridge! With the motorway swelled with bank holiday traffic and football supporters travelling to see Wolverhampton v Manchester City and Aston Villa v Reading matches, the delays were up to 90 minutes!

Thanks to motorway signs early informing us of the closure at junction 10, we managed to divert, (though heavily), away from the jam and navigated, thanks to the M6 toll (at £5.30 a car), back and around towards the centre of Birmingham. Adding 40 minutes to our journey.

Our meeting with Dippy was at 1pm, so you can imagine the pressure we were on to get to the museum on time. We parked up at the Bullring and with twenty minutes to spare, rushed towards Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, which can be found on Chamberlain Square. The entrance to Dippy was on the Gas Hall entrance on Edmund Street.

With time to spare we checked in and walked into the Gas Hall to come face to face with Dippy, a 100 year old cast of not one, but five Diplodocus skeletons. David commented that Dippy was smaller than he’d expected, but during the time we spent with Dippy we marveled at his size. This sauropod (lizard feet) stands some 26m long, is 4m wide and stands 4m tall. I particularly liked his little face with razor sharp teeth. He roamed the earth some 150 million years ago, during the late Jurassic age.

Dippy was undoubtedly the star of the attraction. The surrounding exhibit paled in comparison and sadly did not measure up to my expectation. It was a poorly comprised set of stuffed birds (with pigeons and magpies) alongside skeletons featuring a velociraptor and dodo to emphasise the link between dinosaurs and the evolution of birds. I think the Walking with Dinosaurs Arena show said it more eloquently.

‘We think of dinosaurs as…fierce creatures from a mythical world… they [were on this planet] for 170 million years. If you look closely, you’ll see, they’re not really gone, not completely…remember the raptors, the way their arms folded at the wrists?… The next time you are outside, have a look at a bird and try and imagine it 50 times bigger, with razor sharp teeth. So do not mourn the dinosaurs, they are with us still, their direct descendants are the birds.’

We spent 40 minutes with Dippy. Walked around him three times, and took lots of pictures. I was satisfied that we drove the two hours to see him. We did not linger in Birmingham, though we did casually look at the replica Typhoon, as Victoria Square held a 100 RAF event. We decided to return home, and make head way against the traffic and roadworks, which took three hours instead of two!

We got home to news that an injured pigeon was sitting outside our back door. As you know we have a long standing relationship with the descendants of dinosaurs. I found it rather fateful that this pigeon (a descendant of the T. rex) chose our step to rest upon. He was but a fledgling, his down still protruded from his adult feathers. However we could not save this particular soul. He had suffered a brain injury from what probably was a collision with a wall. His beak was all bloodied and he was labouring for breath. He passed away in our care not an hour later, wrapped him in a towel and placed in a carrier. At least he died safe and warm.

It was rather a mixed day. I’d say Dippy was worth the visit, even if we had to fight through roadworks, delays and road closures to get to him. Dippy will be touring the UK until 2020. If, like us, you hadn’t seen him when he was resident at the Natural History Museum, London, then you can catch him at these other locations:

If you have seen Dippy before, what were your recollections? Do dinosaurs interest you? If so what are your favourites and why?

Thanks for reading,

Christine x

12 Hours of Day #9

With being unable to participate in July’s #photoanhour on Instagram, I made certain I would for Augusts’. Though, I didn’t have anything exciting planned, the day didn’t turn out too bad. Thanks to Louise at Ramblings of a Roachling, for informing me of the dates. Much appreciated! So here’s what I got up to during my 12 hours of day!

Photo an Hour – 18h August 2018

8am to 9am:

Just after 8am my alarm sounded. Time to get up! I started the day as usual with black coffee and granola. This time I added some blueberries and raspberries to the mix. It was a tasty and filling breakfast.

9am to 10am:

While David went out to get his hair cut. I made a start on the housework. I vacuumed all the floors and cleaned the bathroom before David came back.

10am to 11am:

Turning my hand at cleaning the dining room, I heard a raucous noise from the yarden. The bird feeders were inundated by starlings, sparrows and goldfinches! What a racket they all made!

11am to 12pm:

I had the idea that a blueberry bush would be a welcome addition to the yarden. I could grow my own fruit come next year. Growing vegetables has been a bit hit and miss, so maybe trying my hand at soft fruits would be better? (I’ll let you know next year). So with this plan in mind. David and I headed to Rivendell. Unfortunately they didn’t have any blueberry plants, but I ended up buying a raspberry and bramble.

12pm to 1pm:

A bit disappointed at not getting a blueberry plant, we headed to Lady Green Garden Centre. Here, there was a choice of blueberry plants, some at £17 and others for £25. My eyes widened at seeing the full berries on a £25 plant. The other plants were all fruitless. It was evident which plant I would come home with, even if it was a bit pricey! I also purchased a penstemon and verbena for the hungry pollinators.

1pm to 2pm:

We came home laden with plants to a happy Artie. I don’t think he likes being left alone.

2pm to 3pm: 

After lunch I embarked on potting the newcomers to the yarden.

3pm to 4pm:

I was still in the yarden, admiring my new purchases and enjoying the warm sunshine. I plucked the ripe berries off the blueberry plant and ended up with a bowl full!

4pm to 5pm:

Housework and gardening can be hard work. So I took a break with a cup of tea and a read of the newly arrived copy of the September edition of Country Walking Magazine.

5pm to 6pm:

While dinner cooked I took time to admire the sunflowers in a vase of cut flowers.

6pm to 7pm:

With dinner I enjoyed this glass of bubbly cava.

7pm to 8pm:

For pudding I mixed strawberry ice cream with a sprinkling of more blueberries (Violet Beauregarde from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory comes to mind) and raspberries.

8pm to 9pm:

A bonus hour, as it seems I can’t count! I joined David in the study/guest bedroom and planned a forthcoming trip to Scotland. I am so excited!

planning

8pm to 9pm – planning a trip to Scotland

Thanks to Janey and Louisa for setting up the challenge.

How did you spend your Saturday?

Thanks for reading,

Christine x

The Weather Didn’t Deter Us!

A few weeks back David and I played hosts to my friend, Jennifer, who traveled from the USA. She stayed with us for two nights and voiced her wish to go hiking with David and myself. So, I planned a little tour of my favourite part of the Lake District, the northern fells.

Weeks before, the UK had been in the grip of a month or so long heatwave. However on the dawn of our little excursion to Cumbria, the day broke overcast with showers and winds of 50 mph forecast.

It was a 6am start. We breakfasted, packed the car and headed out of Liverpool by 7.30am. David drove two hours up the M6. As the day lengthened it became apparent that the predicted showers would be a predominant feature of the day, with heavy, prolonged incidents. Swathes of showers swept across the countryside, as we pulled the car into a free parking space alongside our first stop: Castlerigg Stone Circle.

Castlerigg Stone Circle was raised in the Neolithic period, about 3000 BC and overlooks the Thirlmere Valley south, towards Helvellyn and north to Skiddaw and Blencathra. You can read more about the circle here. Castlerigg is only 30 minutes walk from Keswick, but on a dreary July day we managed to find parking right outside, even at 10am!

From Castlerigg we drove the 30 minutes to Buttermere, where we would spend most of the day. On arrival, I was surprised at how quiet the village was. We even managed to get parking at the National Trust car park behind the Fish Inn, paying £8 for all day. From here we donned our waterproofs and rucksacks and headed for the planned hike to Wainwright, Rannerdale Knotts.

mapButtermeretoRannerdale

Rannerdale Knotts Walk

The walk to Rannerdale Knotts took us two hours through woodland and up hill. Once past Ghyll Wood the trail gained height quickly and from our viewpoint we could see the weather once again closing in. Low clouds, full of drizzly rain swept in and obscured any view of Buttermere and Crummock Water from the trig point.

The top was a bit of a scramble which (as you know) I don’t like. We managed to scurry across Rannerdale Knotts and even descended without slipping on wet stones. The walk though hindered by the rain was not ruined. We arrived, unscathed at our next destination: Crummock Water.

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Jennifer at Crummock Water

Crummock Water means the Crooked Lake and reflects the lakes shape. It’s 44m deep and nestled between Buttermere and Loweswater. The clear, cool waters make for a wonderful swim which I can vouch for as seen here.

After a quick lunch, we ventured to Buttermere and traversed the path towards the lake’s southern point. We passed the Lone Tree and even managed to walk through the tunnel, which I had never done before. Jennifer and I were hopeful of going for a swim, but the wind chopped waters and cold wind made me abandon this plan. Instead we enjoyed views of Haystacks and High Crag from the shore.

From Buttermere we drove the 30 minutes back towards Keswick, to visit my favourite lake of all, Derwentwater. We parked at the Theatre by the Lake and then walked the path towards Friar’s Crag.

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Jennifer and Christine at Derwentwater

At Friar’s Crag we enjoyed views towards Castle Crag, Catbells and Walla Crag. It was nice to share my love of Derwentwater with someone new.

We then headed into Keswick and sought shelter from the rain and wind in the restaurant of The Old Keswickian. We enjoyed a restoring meal of fish and chips before heading home. It was a fun filled day. One that I have enjoyed reliving for this blog.

Have you shared your love of a special place with a friend?

Thanks for joining in my reminiscence,

Christine x

No Room at the Car Park…

No matter how much you plan a day out, even after getting up at 5.30am and driving for two hours, sometimes things just don’t go to plan. That was what happened to David and I recently, as we ventured to Pen-y-Pass car park, Snowdonia.

The plan was to walk the Miner’s Track to Snowdon and take in three swims, Glaslyn, Llydaw and Teyrn. However on arrival at 8am, staff were putting out orange bollards with signs saying full! Other car parks along the A4086 were also full. We were not the only disappointed visitors that day. There were many cars trying to park on verges as we drove to a new destination.

I had to think fast. Perhaps I should have suggested Idwal and Ogwen, (still llyns I’ve not swam in), but I thought the Idwal car park would be just as busy as Pen-y-Pass. So I decided we should drive on towards Llyn Dinas and see if there was any available car park spaces. There was! We paid £2.50 for the privilege of four hours. In hindsight we could have had free car parking further up the road, but we were going by my memory and that’s not the best at any time.

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Llyn Dinas

From the car park there were free toilets, only one for women, (be prepared to queue), the men fared better. We then walked south west along the A498 towards Llyn Dinas. Llyn Dinas boasts an all accessible pathway but that was further up the road and I had no map. There were many accessible routes from the road to the llyn but none with a good lake-shore until I found a site with a wide shingle beach. Not totally secluded but closest to, we decided to make this our camp.

Llyn Dinas is named after the nearby hill fort Dinas Emrys, which has mythical connections to the Arthurian figure Merlin. Merlin is reputed to have been recruited by king Vortigern who having fled the Anglo-Saxons was constructing a fort. Vortigern asked Merlin ‘why after building the fort would the construction come crashing down the next day’.

Merlin said that there were ‘two dragons or vermes who lived in a pool’ where the fort was being erected. It was they who destroyed the building. Once the dragons were freed the fort was constructed. In 1954 and 1956 the area was excavated by Archaeologist, Dr H. N. Savory who indeed discovered a pool inside the fort. Whether the myth has some foundation is debatable. Vortigern himself was supposed to have hidden the Throne of Britain beneath a stone at Llyn Dinas. Though this story seems to tally with a stone that was set to mark the boundary between three land cantrefi or borders.

On my swim I did not meet any dragons nor many people. The llyn was peaceful at 9am. The sun was warm and the water notched 20-22°C. It was the warmest wild swim I had ever experienced. I stayed in the water over half and hour and in hindsight I could have stayed in longer. I emerged from the water before the canoeists arrived. It was a most pleasurable swim.

I don’t seem to be as successful with my Welsh swims as I have been with my Lake District swims. There are so many llyns I have not attempted yet. Perhaps when the weather gets cooler I can reattempt the Miner’s Track?

Have you traversed the Miner’s Track to Snowdon? What were your impressions of the area?

Thanks for reading,

Christine x

Sunday Sevens #53

Last week I wanted to participate in either a Sunday Sevens devised by Natalie at Threads and bobbins or the monthly #photoanhour organised by Louisa and Jane. However I ended up doing neither. So for this week I have decided to try and gather pictures and gossip for another Sunday Sevens.

Guest:

Last weekend David and I had our first guest staying at no. 49! My online friend Jennifer, who was touring Europe, decided to free up a weekend to visit myself and Liverpool. On her two nights stay with us, she met Riley whom she is a big fan of and took in the sights of the city. It was a fun weekend!

Beatrix Potter 50ps:

In the past couple of weeks I have been successful in obtaining not one, but two 2017 Beatrix Potter 50p’s. Mr. Jeremy Fisher and Tom Kitten have joined my collection.

coins

From 2016’s collection all I need is Jemima Puddle Duck. In 2017’s collection I require Benjamin Bunny. I have just discovered that in 2018 there is another collection of 50p’s produced, featuring yet another Peter Rabbit, Flopsy Bunny, The Taylor of Gloucester, and Mrs Tittlemouse. I wonder if I will find any of them?

Have you collected any of these 50p’s?

championBook I am reading:

At present I am reading How to be a Champion by Sarah Millican. It was on offer on Amazon Kindle for .99p so I could not say no. I’m not au fait with autobiographies, but I can imagine the narrative to be spoken in Sarah Millican’s quirky voice. I can’t say that I’m enjoying the narrative style much. Though being of the same age, I’m finding many parallels with my youth. I can only read further and see where the text progresses.

Have you read this autobiography? What were your thoughts?

Bee in the City:

On Wednesday David and I had a day off work, so we decided to pop over to Manchester and see a few of their bees. We spent two hours walking the trail and spotting 28 bees. There are over 100 to see!

#walk1000miles:

certificate 2018Though I have already accomplished 1000 miles. I am still accumulating my mileage for 2018. This week I have managed a reasonable 30 miles, bringing my annual total to (all the ones), 1,111 miles. I am eagerly awaiting the production of the 2018 medals, so I can add it to my certificate.

So, that was my week, how was yours?

Thanks for reading,

Christine x