30 Days Wild 2019 – Day Nineteen.

twt-30-days-wild_countdown_19Day 19: Today I am returning to my painted ladies chrysalids. Monday evening, coming home from work, we found one painted lady butterfly clinging to the mesh of the habitat. I was overjoyed to find it was the little caterpillar I had been worrying about, who hadn’t made it to the top of the cup to chrysalise. I left him/her to harden its wings and expel red meconium which is the left over part of the caterpillar.

An hour later, our first butterfly was joined by another!

Tuesday morning, we awoke to three painted lady butterflies. I chopped up some orange and apple and made nectar (sugar/water) and left them at the bottom of the habitat, hoping the butterflies would find them.

On arriving home from work Tuesday evening David and I found all five had emerged from their chrysalises. I was ecstatic, yet slightly concerned. I had five new lives in my hands.

I shall be releasing them soon, so they can continue their life cycle. I also read that painted lady butterflies are migratory and can travel 2,500 miles to North Africa.

What’s your favourite butterfly?

Thanks for reading, and stay wild!

Christine x

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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.

30 Days Wild 2018 – Day Eleven

twt-30-days-wild_countdown_11Day 11: For today’s Close Up Monday, the species in question is the tiny but mighty tadpole.

In our minuscule wildlife pond we have at least two tadpoles. It has been thrilling to see them develop. At present they have grown their limbs and will soon emerge from the pond. Let’s look more closely into their life-cycle.

A female frog or toad can lay up to 50,000 eggs known as frogspawn. Tadpoles are the larval stage of the cycle and hatch from around 1-3 weeks. They eat vegetation and have adapted jaws to do this.

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Tadpole with legs

The tadpoles in our yarden have been undergoing a fascinating metamorphosis. Unlike the butterfly, who goes into a crystals to morph, the tadpole changes before our very eyes.

Lungs develop, gills vanish, and limbs grow. I thought one of our tadpoles looked pretty mean! You can see its limbs clearly in the picture. Over time the tail is absorbed and the frog/toad becomes terrestrial.

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Lifecyle of Frog/Toad

Frogs and toads are Anuran which means tail-less. Their skin is permeable to water meaning that if a frog is thirsty they just have to jump into water, while toads just need to find a muddy spot in which to absorb moisture through their stomachs. Frogs and toads are carnivorous and eat mosquitoes, files, snails and other invertebrates. Frogs reach maturity at three years old whereas toads at four. Frogs can live up to eight years and toads 12 years. I found most of my information from the Woodland Trust website, here. and Arkansas Frogs and Toads.

Do you have any frogs/toads living in your pond?

Thanks for reading, and keep wild.

Christine x

Sunday Sevens #39

This weekend, I wasn’t going to compile a Sunday Sevens, (devised by Natalie at Threads and bobbins), however after witnessing something amazing on Saturday, I just had to share it with you!!

Birthday: Monday was my birthday. I was kindly gifted some beautiful flowers and the 50th anniversary editions of Wainwright’s Pictorial Guides to the Lakeland Fells.

#walk1000miles: As part of the celebrations, David and I headed towards Snowdonia for a 4.5 mile walk. We took the path overlooking Dinorwig Power Station before visiting the shores of Llyn Padarn.

With still counting my miles for the #walk1000miles challenge, at the time of writing I am currently at, 1,102 miles!

Collecting: This week I came across the 2017 edition of the 50 pence Peter Rabbit. There’s still Tom Kitten, Benjamin Bunny and Jeremy Fisher to find! Have you found any?

Book I am reading: I am currently ploughing through Katherine Webb’s post WW1 mystery, The Hiding Places. I must admit there is a lot of preamble. However it is keeping me company on the daily commute. Have you read any good books lately?

Ok. Now for that something amazing I was talking about at the beginning of this blog! This Saturday our yarden witnessed a beautiful visitor. He was not enjoying the seed on offer but waiting for a tasty morsel of a goldfinch, or perhaps a starling? He was a sparrowhawk.

Now you maybe thinking, nothing special about that sighting, but living in a city, you don’t often come across raptors. David and I stood in awe for over five minutes watching the sparrowhawk survey the territory. We’ve had many charms of goldfinches and rowdy starlings visiting our feeders this weekend, so this activity possibly drew the sparrowhawk to our yarden. Ultimately it was a thrilling experience. He stood still long enough for me to grab my camcorder and film him. Have you had a close encounter with a raptor? What is your favourite bird of prey?

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Hans Zimmer Live

To finish off:  While writing this blog, I’ve been listening to tracks from Hans Zimmer’s Live in Prague CD. As you know I have seen Hans’ concerts twice now, more recently in Liverpool this year. When I heard he was releasing a compilation of the concert I just had to pre-order. I am biased as I love the medley’s featured of Pirates of the Caribbean and The Dark Knight Trilogy, the music is skin tingling and exhilarating! I would recommend if you like movie soundtracks!

So, that was my diverse week. How was yours?

Thanks for reading,

Christine x

‘I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud.’

To coincide with David’s few days off work this week, I planned a nice little day out to (you guessed it,) the Lake District.

The day started all bleary eyed at 5am. We drove the two hours to Rydal’s, White Moss car park and arrived a little after 8am! Just in time for an early morning swim!

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We took the path towards Rydal Caves, which meandered past Rydal Water that looked calm and magical.
20160915_085012The sun burned through the morning mist, promising a beautiful early autumn day. Rydal Water has become one of my favourite swims of the year! At 9am, not many dog walkers/tourists were about, at one point it was just the lake, myself, David and two swans! Bliss!!

After a good hour at the lake side, David and I headed on towards Rydal Caves.

From there we walked Loughrigg Terrace with beautiful views of Grasmere.

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It took another hour of sweat and toil to ‘climb’ the steep pathway towards Loughrigg Fell. When we got to the top, sadly low lying cloud drifted over, obscuring the views, though Windermere glistened golden in the distance.

After a relaxing picnic we headed back down to Grasmere, where the clouds dispersed and the sun came out again!

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Wearing a fresh swimsuit, I waded out into the waters for my second swim of the day! Grasmere is a busier lake than Rydal Water but it didn’t dispel from the enjoyment. Also, I wasn’t the only one splashing about the waters that day! It was nice to see so many people (and dogs) enjoying the lake.

20160915_144456-2I have desired to bag two swims in one day for a while now, and to achieve it was an amazing feeling! On leaving the shores of Grasmere, I had the biggest grin on my face! We took the riverside walk to the car park, that had a car-number recognition camera, £7 for the day. The path followed the River Rothay, which was dappled in golden afternoon light. The day couldn’t have been more perfect!

I think it will be difficult to better such a day, but we’ll see!

Christine x

A-MA-ZING!!

Can I say that one more time?

AMAZING!!

I’ve been talking about the experience all afternoon and evening! I simply can’t get over it! It’s always only me that sees it! I’ve joked with David that I must be ‘high’ on something! That quinoa last night must have been infected with mould, as this afternoon, after preparing my Sunday dinner, I looked out of the kitchen window to see if there was any bird activity at the feeders and there it was! A Sparrowhawk!

I wish I had my camera to hand as it’s just my word to say that it was in the garden, but there it was attacking whatever was sheltering in the Laurel Bush, probably a Sparrow or Starling!

I gasped in amazement and then it turned its orange eyes towards me before it spread its wings and flew off.

I have seen a Sparrowhawk in the area before, in 2012, the day of my father’s funeral. Today, one was in the garden looking for it’s lunch!

The whole incident happened so fast that I am writing this account so as to remember it!

I have no pictures myself of the Sparrowhawk, so I have had to borrow from Google/YouTube. The below footage is by Brian Ewen.


After some reading I have discovered that if a Sparrowhawk is in your garden then it is a sign of a healthy population of birds/prey. I like to see it as a healthy micro-system. I have put feeders in my garden to encourage small birds like the Blue Tit, Dunnock and Goldfinch. This in turn has encouraged Pigeons and Starlings to visit. This movement and frenzied activity has alerted the next stage of the chain. The predator, like the Sparrowhawk.

The system is very like that of my planting for bees, butterflies and moths. Their presence in the garden has brought the arrival of Swallows to feast on the abundance of insects. It certainly shows that we are all interconnected.

I have read that some people dislike Sparrowhawks being in their neighbourhood. I have to accept that even Sparrowhawks need to feed otherwise they will starve to death.

On the RSPB website it states that Sparrowhawk numbers were heavily in decline due to pesticides used in farming from the 1950’s onwards. Thankfully, numbers seem to be on the increase due to the banning of certain chemicals. The RSPB also states that the predation of Sparrowhawks on songbirds has ‘no or little impact on songbird populations.’ The Wildlife Trust produced a report on the predation of songbirds and concluded that songbird ‘numbers over the last few decades should not be blamed on predation by Sparrowhawks and Magpies.’

In my area there are not just Magpies, but other crows and Seagulls present. Recently, there seems to be a healthy balance of numbers from the smaller birds. I counted at one time, up to, if not exceeding 20 Goldfinches, 10 House Sparrows and over 20 Starlings, mostly fledglings. Pigeon numbers seem to be increasing steadily also.

The presence of predators therefore does seem to indicate that there are a healthy number of smaller birds. Chris Mead from Jacobi Jayne & Company states, ‘numbers of Sparrowhawks are controlled by the numbers of their prey.’ I like to think that since I have been encouraging Goldfinches, House Sparrows and Starlings to my garden that I am creating a healthy ecosystem where there is enough prey numbers for a predator to flourish. Time will tell if the Sparrowhawk will return.

I have been researching the presence of Sparrowhawks in Liverpool, and have come across a number of blogs from 2010 and 2012 stating Sparrowhawk sightings. It’s not uncommon for Sparrowhawks to predate in city gardens. However, I just find it amazing that one appeared in my inner city garden, though more like a yard than a garden!! I am feeling proud that I have made a little oasis in a rather built up area. 🙂


And in other news:

I seemed to have been on a health kick recently. I have been treadmilling, doing squats and abdominal workouts daily. I don’t know whether this is the fact that I have lost an inch around the chest and half an inch from the waist. Either way I think healthy eating has helped.

Lentils are a great source of protein and low in calories. They lower your cholesterol and help maintain blood sugar levels. So, today I made a Vegan, Spicy Lentil Soup. I got the recipe from Cookie and Kate. Though I changed a few quantities and added a potato and green beans.

Ingredients:

  • Splash of extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium white onion, chopped
  • 2 celery sticks chopped
  • 1 small potato, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, pressed or minced
  • Handful of green beans chopped
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon curry powder
  • ½ teaspoon dried thyme
  • 400g can of diced tomatoes
  • 200g of green lentils
  • 1 litre of vegetable stock, reduced salt. I used two cubes
  •  ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Method:

  1. Warm the olive oil in a large pan over medium heat.
  2. Once the oil is shimmering, add the chopped onion, celery and potato and cook, stirring often, until the onion has softened and is turning translucent, (about 5 minutes.)
  3. Add the garlic, cumin, curry powder and thyme. Cook until fragrant while stirring constantly, (about 30 seconds.)
  4. Pour in the tomatoes, green beans and cook for a few more minutes, stirring often, in order to enhance their flavour.
  5. Pour in the lentils and stock. Add 1/2 a teaspoon of cayenne pepper. Season generously with freshly ground black pepper. Raise heat and bring the mixture to a boil, then partially cover the pot and reduce heat to maintain a gentle simmer. Cook for 30 minutes, or until the lentils are tender but still hold their shape.
  6. Transfer 450ml of the soup to a blender. Protect your hand from steam with a tea towel placed over the lid and purée the soup until smooth. Pour the puréed soup back into the pan and warm up.
  7. Remove the pan from heat.Taste and season with more salt, pepper. Serve immediately.
Spiced Vegan Lentil Soup

Spiced Vegan Lentil Soup

The soup turned out really well. Though it looked more brown than the original recipe. (It doesn’t look very appetising from the picture, but believe me it was very appetising and healthy). It made four bowls, so have enough for tomorrows dinner. 😀

Have a pleasant week ahead.

 

One Magnificent City!

This bank holiday weekend coincided with Cunard’s 175 year celebrations here in Liverpool. The city witnessed a three day spectacle as Cunard’s three Queen passenger ships visited the River Mersey.

On Sunday the Queen Mary 2 docked at port and in the evening there was a laser display projected onto the three Graces followed by fireworks.

Monday was the main event! The Queen Mary 2 was to leave Liverpool to meet and greet her sister ships, Queen Elizabeth and Queen Victoria. So, David and I decided to go to Crosby Marina in anticipation of seeing the ships. I am afraid I got carried away with all the excitement around this event.

Crosby Beach

Crosby Beach

So on a cloudy, cold Monday morning (25th May 2015), we headed to Crosby. We arrived just after 9am. We managed to find a street to park the car and walked towards the beach. Other sightseers were walking the coastal path, laden with chairs and binoculars, both of which David and I could have brought with us if we had thought on. However, we had to be content with standing as we overlooked the beach dotted with Sir Antony Gormley’s Another Place statues and brave the relentless onslaught of the chilling wind. It felt more like winter than late spring!

We stood in total for three hours during the spectacle. I could not feel my fingers they were that cold! Other spectators also shivered as we all waited for the Queen Mary 2 to leave her berth and make her way to the mouth of the Mersey to greet her two sisters. The crowed swelled. Many even went out towards the edge of the tide (that was going out) to get a better viewpoint. Where David and I stood was good enough, over looking the coast but high enough so no one could be in the way!

In the Irish Sea out in the distance we could see the Queen Elizabeth and Queen Victoria as they made their joyous approach to the city. Seeing them draw ever closer gave us something to distract from the cold. The sun briefly made an appearance before being blanketed by a thick bank of cloud that did not shift. I was afraid that none of my pictures of the event would come out due to shivering too much!

Then from around the headland the top of the Queen Mary 2 could be seen, she looked so close! She had left Liverpool at 10.45am. The crowd seemed to buzz with excitement. Cameras started clicking and I juggled with three!

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The Queen Mary 2 lead by the mighty Mersey Ferry stopped opposite where David and I stood. She sounded her horns to her sisters. The horns sounded so forlornly to me. The crowed cheered in response! As Queens Elizabeth and Victoria came closer along the coast, Queen Mary 2 pivoted and faced her bow back towards Liverpool. Queen Elizabeth was the first to pass Queen Mary 2 heading along the river, followed by Queen Victoria. Queen Mary 2 brought up the rear as they both followed Queen Elizabeth in a cavalcade towards more awaiting crowds in the city! With the Queens’ departure the spectacle at Crosby was at an end!

While David and I returned home, the Queens paraded up the Mersey and turned 360° before lining up side by side in front of the Cunard building, one of the three Graces. The ships seemed to dwarf the city’s skyline! There was even the obligatory fly over by the Red Arrows en-route to Blackpool! Their flight path took them over our house. A thundering sound announced their approach but it was over too quickly for me to get my camera out. I saw nine red jets flying in arrow formation from my living room window!

I watched the remaining festivities at the Pier Head via webcams. After the three Queens had lined up before the Cunard building the city said its farewell to Queen Mary 2. Queen Victoria docked and Queen Elizabeth anchored in the middle of the river, but she too would leave the city after the second showing of the laser show and fireworks. Queen Victoria would leave the city on Tuesday.

I thoroughly enjoyed witnessing the three Queens from Crosby beach, even though I was frozen to the bone. Spectacles like these truly show what a magnificent city Liverpool is. It’s street cred is definitely on the increase and quite rightly too! 😀

© 2015 Christine Lucas

Something BIG is approaching!!

Sunday… while David was working on the house.

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I alongside my mum, sat in the yard listening to Hans Zimmer music, soaking up vitamin D from the sun and having a nice glass of chardonnay. We have had two days of lovely sunny weather for the May bank holiday, but it all goes downhill tomorrow with rain and gales forecast 😦 

Afterwards with skin glowing from the sunshine, I cooked a vegetarian Mexican Chilli with rice and wraps. I fried a large white onion, two garlic cloves, a pepper and added tinned tomatoes and soya chilli from Asda. After the pan started to boil I added a tin of cannellini beans to the mix and cooked for 15 minutes. I finally added the boiled rice and warmed up the wraps, spooning some of the mixture inside. I served with a nice glass of white wine. Salad would be a good choice too. 

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Yesterday I was in a foul mood, even going to see the Walking with Dinosaurs spectacular at the Echo Arena did not cheer me up! Watch this space for more video from the show!

Here’s a short sample!

And another…