Signs of Spring in the Yarden

With the weather warming up this week (and the days finally getting longer), I took the opportunity to have a wander around the yarden to see how the plants had fared over the cold winter. Sadly my fuschia isn’t looking it’s best, but hopefully it will pull through, as it’s a great autumn flower.

Throughout winter the herb rosemary has flowered it’s delicate blue flowers and I noticed its colour was joined by flashes of purple and yellow from the crocus and the green leaves of perfumed hyacinths, which I thought had been overshadowed by an azalea. I even spotted the leafy promise of bluebells that will hopefully flower in April/May. I’ve two hellebores, one I thought was being swamped by a dwarf rhododendron and cotoneaster, but I noticed it’s purple and white flowers bending in the breeze. There are also an abundance of buds on the star magnolia and camellia.

The pond also seems to have braved the frosts and the oxygenating plant within, is still vibrant. Hopefully we will have lots of aquatic life enjoying our tiny pond this year.

Calls from the visiting birds has also changed in recent weeks. The goldfinches have moved on from the winter chatter to their now playful chirp and waggle of their tails in the hope of attracting a mate.

What signs of spring have you noticed recently?

Thanks for reading,

Christine x

My Bird Count for RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch 2021!

This weekend was the highly anticipated RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch. I have been participating in this annual event for the past nine years and 2021 was no different. During the last weekend in January, you are encouraged to sit with a hot cup of coffee and count the visiting birds for this all important citizen science project. This year I had David alongside me, taking fantastic photos of the wonderful array of feathered friends we have visiting our yarden.

I suppose not many people can say a herring gull was part of their count, but Steven saw me sitting by the window and he flew to our wall looking for kitchen scraps, so obviously he had to be the first bird to be counted. We did our count on Saturday, 30th January 2021, 11 am to 12 noon. The weather was windy and drizzly, with a temperature of around 5°. It was a very damp, grey, overcast day which made for counting birds pretty easy. Through the hour, (and all day in fact) the feeders were visited frequently by swathes of hungry birds.

Steven wasn’t the only celebrity that featured during our one hour count. Hoppy the pigeon who, five years ago we rehabilitated after having string wrapped around her feet, decided to help herself to the feeders and frightened the goldfinches away in the process.

RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch Results 2021

During the hour we counted 11 goldfinches, (a smaller charm than usual), a brave blue tit, four squabbling starlings, an unassuming dunnock (my favourite garden bird) and of course 10+ pigeons gobbling up the food dropped by the others. Six species in total. Perhaps not as many species for other gardens but for an inner city walled yard, I’d say that was a good tally.

The RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch 2021 has now ended but it doesn’t stop me looking ahead to next year. Who knows what 2022’s count will look like, it could have the likes of such feathered visitors as the sparrowhawk, chaffinch, robin, house sparrow, chiffchaff, yellow wagtail and blackbird, all species who have visited the yarden in the past.

How did your RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch 2021 go? What birds did you see?

Thanks for popping by,

Christine xx

The Year That Was 2020!

We are well into a new year and it’s taken me a while to compile the video for our 2020, but here it is! It may not have been a year where we had rich experiences but we came out unscathed, valuing the small things in life. The joy of family and friends, of hearing the birds singing or feeling the prickle of sunlight on your skin. 2020 was definitely a year to make you think and be thankful for all that you have.

Like everyone else, here’s wishing 2021 is a more fulfilling year.

Thanks for following my blog and for your continued support!

Wishing you good health and joy in your life.

Christine xx

#walk1000miles 2020

Welcome to my fourth and final #walk1000miles post!

2020 has been the fourth year I’ve participated in the initiative by Country Walking Magazine. For the past 12 months, I’ve been busy counting my miles daily and tallying my weekly totals. I’ve counted workouts on the cross-trainer, walks to work (they’ve not been many this year!), exercising the family dog, Riley and of course holidays and days out with David!

Though 2020 has been a challenging year in itself, my overall mileage for 2020 has been 1,495 miles, only five miles from the 1,500 milestone, but some 484 miles from 2019’s total. However, I’m pleased with my tally for 2020, what with lock-downs, not working for eight months and not going on many holidays, I’m amazed I walked as much as I did!

This year I’ve also been counting the miles Riley has walked with me. My daily Riley walks have kept me sane. His grand total for 2020 is: 792! Well done Riley!

As in previous posts, I’ve split the year into seasons: spring, summer, autumn and winter, and give the miles for each of the three months. It will be good to see how different my mileage accumulates over the year and how it differs per season and against previous years totals.

So without further ado, let’s begin with my favourite season of all, spring!

Spring: (March, April and May)

Before the chaos that was Covid-19 and of people stock pilling the likes of toilet paper! David and I managed to go on a few day trips: the first to Grasmere, the Lake District, the second to Snowdonia, Wales. Then lock-down, part one was initiated and I was (eventually) furloughed. I made the most of the days off work and walked Riley every day.

Total miles for spring = 379. 2

Previous year totals: 2017 – 332, 2018 – 481, and 2019 – 495.

Summer: (June, July and August)

Thankfully lock-down was phased out and it felt like life was getting back to some semblance of how it used to be. The Wildlife Trusts’ 30 Days Wild eased David and I back out walking at local nature reserves and in July we took a day trip to the Lake District to tick off some wild swims. My swim tally this year has been abysmal! We took our one and only weekend break in August to the Lake District once again, and chose walks/lakes that I knew would be less crowded.

Total miles for summer = 384.5

Previous year totals: 2017 – 382, 2018 – 442 and 2019 – 461.

Autumn: (September, October and November)

Sadly there was talk on the wind of a second lock-down and the country was put into tiers which limited travel. David and I kept local, save for a perfect swim/walk to Buttermere with 500 miler (Proclaimer), Riley in tow. A cancelled birthday trip to Scotland was replaced with a laughter filled walk to Formby Beach.

Total miles for autumn = 348.1

Previous year totals: 2017 – 321, 2018 – 479 and 2019 – 457.

Winter: (December, January and February)

The beginning of 2020 was a bit slow adventure wise, a broken toe did little to aid walking. Daily Riley walks were the only highlight of this dark, damp season.

Total miles for winter = 383.2

Previous year totals: 2017 – 281, 2018 – 469  and 2019 – 566.

Grand Total for 2020 – 1,495 miles.

Previous years totals: 2017 – 1,316, 2018 – 1,871 and 2019 – 1,979.

Achieving #walk1000miles in a year is greatly satisfying and addictive, why not give the challenge a go yourself?

#walk1000miles also has a fun, supportive Facebook group. Through participation in this group my name was among the many others on the We Did 1000 Miles page of the January 2021 edition of Country walking Magazine.

I’ve not signed up to 2021’s challenge, however I am continuing my walking but just not counting my miles as religiously as I have in the past. Walking is such an easy, free activity, much underrated if you ask me. I will continue walking the miles I do and see how I go. How about you? Do you feel inspired to give the challenge a go?

If you fancy signing up, click the link below and join thousands more, walking that little bit more than they did last year!

https://www.walk1000miles.co.uk

Thanks for reading, Christine x

A Year in Photos – 2020

What an unprecedented year 2020 has been! From a stormy beginning to the new year to a global pandemic the likes no one had seen in a hundred years. We were told to work from home or be furloughed. The roads were quieter and the air felt fresher for it. Then we were allowed out but it wasn’t for long as we were soon all told to stay at home, again! People lost their jobs, their homes and small businesses suffered. It has been a year of struggle and stresses untold. Every day blended into one and mental health issues took its toll. Now Christmas is upon us but there’s not much cheer to be had. This year in photos has been the hardest blog to write. How has your 2020 fared?

January

Our 2020 started off slowly with lots of walks with Riley. If I knew what lay ahead I would have gone on more adventures.

David and Riley

February

Our aviary welcomed a new friend in the form of Nova, a Star finch.

Nova, the Star Finch

March

If I’d have known that this was the last time I’d see a live concert at the Philharmonic Hall, I would have made an effort to enjoy it more. However I was less than satisfied with this performance of Mahler’s 2nd Symphony.

The Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra

April

With all the uncertainty around lock-down it was nice to escape for a while. A favourite RPG of mine which I last played in 1997, had been remade and was released in time to save lock-down.

Final Fantasy 7: Remake

May

Social distancing meant that we didn’t see family as much as we would have liked. So we had many family quiz nights to catch up and have a much needed laugh.

Family Quiz Nights

June

Sadly we had to say goodbye to Evie, the family cat who passed away aged 18.

Evie

July

Once Covid-19 lock-down restrictions had been relaxed, we took a day trip to The Lake District. Wild swimming at Beacon Tarn was a reset button to all the anxiety of the year.

Beacon Tarn swim

August

A visit to a local sunflower maze with family was enjoyable, even though the sunflowers themselves had passed their best!

Sunflower Selfie

September

One of the best days of 2020 was when we took a visit to Buttermere in The Lake District. The weather was perfect, just like a summers day!

The Lone Tree

October

Like many who had plans this year, I had to cancel my birthday holiday to Scotland. I settled for a walk at Formby Beach with David and Riley instead.

Riley at Formby Beach

November

During the summer, on a walk with Riley, I spotted the Google Maps car. Fast forward to the end of the year and during a search I spotted Riley, Mum and I on Google Maps!

On Google Maps

December

With the country in differing Covid-19 tiers, there seems to be less hope and cheer this Christmas. Whoever you celebrate the season with, I wish you all the best.

2020 Christmas Tree

I’m keeping everything crossed that 2021 will be a kinder year to us all!

I wish you all good health and happiness for the new year ahead!

Thanks for your continued support,

Christine xx

My Wildlife Moments of 2020

However restrictive life in 2020 has been, wildlife and nature has been very restorative, definitely a pick me up in times of stress. During the first lock-down, the air was less crowded with the sounds of road and air traffic which made it all that more fresher than it had in years. Though my wildlife moments have been less in numbers this year, it has been nice to just notice and celebrate the small things, like an ashy mining bee resting on a lilac in the yarden and spotting mermaid’s purses washed up on Formby Beach.

Summer is a busy time for wildlife rehabilitation. Our only success this year has been Ava the pigeon who we crop fed while tackling her canker infection. We also rescued a very young lesser black-backed gull chick who had fallen from its steep roof nest and could not be put back. Luckily, thanks to the kind rehabbers of a local volunteer group, we found a home for Benjamin.

During June a male herring gull befriended us and came by daily for cat food or kitchen scraps. Then in August to our surprise he brought along with him his three crying fledglings! For about a month the three youngsters came for food along with Steven the adult. It was cute watching the three fledglings fight over food and then become independent. However, once autumn arrived Steven chased them away to find their own territories. It was a nice glimpse into the lives of herring gulls and I learned the different vocalisations they communicate with.

Spotting wildlife that you haven’t seen before can give you such a rush! I felt this excitement when I spied the looping flight of a bat around our walled yarden. Planting for wildlife really does work!

There have been other wildlife highlights too, that I’ve not been able to photograph; like a kestrel hunting in the local park and a brief glimpse of a holy blue butterfly.

What wildlife moments of 2020 have you seen?

Thanks for reading,

Christine x

Batty for Bats

Seven years ago David and I began work on creating a wildlife yarden. We focused on attracting as much wildlife to an inner city walled yard as we could.

garden

Yarden

Bird feeders were the first and easiest addition to the yarden and during late summer/early autumn the feeders are usually awash with different coloured wings and bird calls. From chattering charms of goldfinches and the happy chirruping of sparrows to boisterous gangs of starlings. The odd blue tit is seen nervously snatching away a sunflower heart as well as two delicate greenfinches who’ve visited among with the goldfinches. All this activity has caught the eye of several sparrowhawks whose presence in the yarden is a wondrous sight to behold.

About three years ago we put in a wash bowl pond. It’s in a sheltered spot so we don’t have dragonflies or damsels visiting but we did have a little frog for a short while.

Over the years we have planted shrubs and herbs which flower at different times of the year to attract insects. We even have the odd sapling tree, with a hawthorn being my pride and joy!

Trying to increase the insect population means that other predators will hopefully move in. Imagine my excitement and surprise when I discovered that a bat frequents the area!

I know nothing about bats so here’s a few facts on them:

  • There are 18 species of UK bat, with 17 breeding here
  • They all eat insects and are a natural pest control for e.g. mosquitoes
  • A pipistrelle can eat up to 3000 insects a night
  • They use echolocation to find food
  • They are indicators of biodiversity
  • They pollinate and spread seeds
  • Like the dormouse and hedgehog they hibernate
  • The mating season is from September and females give birth to one pup around June in maternity roosts
  • Cats and birds of prey are their main predators
  • They are the only mammal that can fly

I wonder what type of bat is visiting? It could be the most common bat in the UK, called a common pipistrelle. I’d need a bat detector to discover the identity of our new visitor, perhaps I’ll add one to my birthday/Christmas wish list. :p

Have you got bats visiting your garden? What is your favourite bat?

Thanks for reading,

Christine xx

The Oak Tree Experiment – Update

acorns

Acorns

Two years ago I wrote about collecting acorns on my walk to work and then returning home and planting them in the hope they would grow into oak trees. You can read that post here.

Since writing that first post, I had given up hope and forgotten about the little acorns I had planted. Notice my surprise whilst releasing the second batch of painted lady butterflies from Insect Lore, I glanced into a pot and noticed what looked to me like oak leaves. I asked David for confirmation and he agreed.

oak tree

Baby Oak Tree

I was stunned and overjoyed. We have our very own little oak tree! It may have taken two years but we have success!

Have you successfully grew a tree from its seed?

Thanks for reading,

Christine x

A Small Miracle

Mid May I ordered five painted lady caterpillars from Insect Lore, hoping to have them by the end of this years 30 Days Wild. They were dispatched min June and I waited anxiously for them to arrive. The first week passed with no caterpillars, then a second week passed. 30 Days Wild ended with no caterpillars in sight. I complained to Insect Lore customer services and they said that post in my area had been extra slow, but that they would kindly dispatch some more caterpillars.

butterfly2After a full three weeks since the caterpillars were dispatched, they finally arrived!

I was a little weary of opening the packaging, frightened of what to find! Would I find dead caterpillars? On opening the package and taking out the pot where the caterpillars feast on some unidentified brown goo. I found a mess! Among the excess food source, caterpillar poo and fras (a fine web caterpillars weave when they feel threatened) I discovered five chrysalises. Not hopeful they were alive I extracted them from their filth and placed the chrysalises inside the mesh habitat I kept from last years batch and left them.

A week later while David was in the study working from home, he called me in saying that one chrysalis was alive. It had been vibrating. I was overjoyed! At least one was alive!

Some half an hour later David called me in again and said I had a butterfly! It had burst out of its chrysalis and we watched as it pumped up its wings. It was a wondrous sight to see. I hadn’t had much hope for these beautiful souls.

Several hours later I discovered that another chrysalis had burst and a new butterfly had emerged. I had two butterflies!

I still had three chrysalises and two were quite small so I had little hope for them. But come the next morning we found that all chrysalises had emptied and I had five painted lady butterflies! What a miracle! After spending three weeks in a dark box, sitting in a Royal Mail post room, they had overcome the odds to become beautiful butterflies!

Last weekend I released them.

Four flew away, however one wanted to stay an extra day. So after watching the butterfly sit lethargically in the garden, David and I popped him back into the habitat with sugar water and flowers and planned on releasing him the next day.

The butterfly seemed much livelier on the second release day and enjoyed the flowers on the salvia. We left him enjoying the flowers and on returning to the garden, he was nowhere to be seen. I hope he managed to fly off and begin his adult life.

What a wonderful story of life fighting against the odds!

But my caterpillar story for this year isn’t over yet as on the day before I released the butterflies from the first batch, the new set of caterpillars arrived. Only a week late! On opening this package I am happy to report five caterpillars looking a little stunned. It took them a while to begin moving but in the few days since their arrival they doubled in size.

Since then they have already become chrysalises.

So I had caterpillars for a few days at least. I wonder if they will all develop into painted lady butterflies? I’ll let you know!

Thanks for reading,

Christine x

30 Days Wild 2020 – Day Thirty.

twt-30-days-wild_countdown_30Day 30: For my final post of 2020’s 30 Days Wild, I shall look to the future. There are several questions I want to address.

  • How does spending time in nature make me feel?
  • What can I do to carry on being wild for the rest of the year?
  • How can I help wildlife more?

Firstly, who would have thought that I’d be able to blog everyday during a pandemic? When lockdown commenced I have to admit that I became a little worried on how I would be able to make 2020’s 30 Days Wild exciting and interesting for my readers. Hopefully I have managed to keep you all interested and entertained and a little more educated along the way. I know I’ve certainly learned a lot participating in this initiative. Like badgers are the UK’s largest predator. There’s around 40 species of ladybird in the UK. Dolphins have names or a unique whistle to identify them from each other. Great Tits have territory wars with pied flycatchers. The UK’s tallest tree, the Douglas Fir has a non-flammable bark which protects forests from fires. Gulls can drink fresh and salt water due to a special gland above their eyes that filter out salt. 

Part of what makes blogging everyday for 30 Days Wild a challenge, is which new topics to cover. Though the UK is one of the world’s most nature depleted countries, we do have an array of wildlife that should be celebrated. I’ve not even scratched the surface in my blog, and I know there is a lot more to learn. I may focus a lot on birds but that is because they are easily surveyed. I would love to know more about trees, insects, arachnids and marine life. Which brings me to one of the questions I want to raise, What can I do to carry on being wild for the rest of the year? Keep being observant and open to wildlife is a positive thought. I think having a childlike look on the world isn’t a bad thing. Continuing to read blogs, follow nature sites and keeping an eye open for new wildlife sightings are easy ways to carry on being wild.

At the beginning of the year David and I became members of Lancashire, Manchester and North Merseyside Wildlife Trust. Because of Covid I’ve not been able to visit sites in this area but I hope to do so in the future. Joining a Wildlife Trust, the RSPB or the Woodland Trust is one small way to carry on being wild and also to help wildlife more. Feeding the birds all year round is another small thing one can do and an easy task too. Planting nectar rich plants for pollinators is another positive action and can be done on a small balcony or in a garden. Sign petitions and shout out for wildlife by writing to your MP! Go on litter picks. Join webinars (I’ve recently watched two from The Wildlife Trusts, on owls and wildflowers), and even tweet, blog or Instagram your findings. Sharing your knowledge will help others learn too.

Lastly, how does spending time in nature make me feel? 

I believe nature is a great healer and it has been scientifically proven. From shinrin yoku or forest bathing to the joys and health benefits of wild swimming. Just spending 20 minutes a day walking in your local park, at the beach or woodland helps improve mood and promotes positive mental health. When I am feeling blue or struggling for motivation just observing the wildlife around me helps greatly. For me feeding the garden birds helped me overcome a bereavement. Do you know of when nature helped you during a difficult time?

Anyway, that’s enough from me. Thank you for joining in my 2020 30 Days Wild. Hopefully we can do it all again next year?!

Until then and for the final time, Stay Wild!

Christine x