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.
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.
Goldfinches Picture by David Evans
Starling Picture by David Evans
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!
Red Mason Bee
Honey Bee and Passion Flower
Large White Butterfly
Swallow Tailed Moth
Red Tailed Bumblebee
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?
Day 10: Today’s Close Up Monday is inspired by my short break to The Lake District. Last year, on another trip to the Lakes, I focused on herdwick sheep. Sharon and Louise suggested red squirrels being synonymous with The Lake District, with ospreys a close second. I’ve decided to focus on ospreys for today’s post but don’t worry I will blog about red squirrels next Monday.
The osprey is a large bird of prey, with a wingspan of 1.6m (that’s bigger than me!) They migrate to the UK to breed during the summer and overwinter in West Africa. Their lifespan in the wild is nine – twenty years and are a UK amber species. They can be seen from March to October in Scotland, Wales and the Northern England. Their diet is primarily fish.
Ospreys become sexually mature from two to five years. Are largely monogamous and prefer tall structures like conifers to construct their nests called an eyrie. When visiting Dodd Wood, Cumbria in 2017 we saw a reconstruction of an eyrie and it was huge! The female lays two to three eggs during April and incubation takes up to a month. The female incubates the eggs while the male provides fish. Once the young have fledged, both parents feed the young for the next two months. Many juveniles die before reaching maturity. Hunting and poisoned food and water are the main threats to numbers of osprey.
There is a lot of webcam footage of nesting ospreys in the UK. While I wrote this blog I came across the webcam for the ospreys at Loch of Lowes, Scotland. Webcams are an insight into nesting behaviours and the rearing of young.
Loch of Lowes Osprey
Loch of Lowes Osprey
However they can be quite traumatic for the viewer sitting warm and safe at home. While watching I noticed two of the nestlings were being fed and looked strong while the runt lay apart from its siblings and looked to be wasting away. Apparently it had gotten stuck in the twining of the nest and was stood upon by both parents. The chick died not long after, such is the nature of life for a young osprey.
I don’t know why, but I’ve found it rather hard to write this post. Perhaps this is due to the fact that the day was marred by the weather? Or that I was generally disappointed in not taking in a swim? Either way this post has been a long time in coming.
Skye was some three hours drive from our base at Fort William. On our drive west we passed many lochs, some more picturesque than others. I found the view of Loch Cluanie rather rugged and industrial. I later read that it is a reservoir for the generation of hydro-electric power.
Eilean Donan Castle
On towards Loch Duich, we passed signs for The Battle of Glenshiel, where British Governmental Forces faced and defeated Jacobites, who were supported by a Spanish regiment during a rebellion in 1719. During this insurgency Eilean Donan Castle, was partially destroyed, having been taken by the Spanish as their headquarters and subsequently bombarded by the British Navy. For 200 years the castle lay ruined until Lieutenant Colonel John MacRae-Gilstrap bought the island in 1911 and restored the castle to its former glory.
We crossed the Skye Bridge at Kyle of Lochalsh and progressed north towards Portree. On our journey along the A87 we stopped to admire some Highland Cattle. They drew quite a crowd!
David and Highland Cow
Christine and Highland Cow
From Portree we headed towards the Old Man of Storr. We got to this iconic rock formation at midday, and even though rain filled clouds obscured most of the Trotternish Ridge and the car par was full, we luckily found parking in a lay-by further along the road.
The landscape of oddly shaped pinnacles and rocky buttresses that make up The Sorr was created by an ancient landslide. We followed the path from the car park up towards these towering outcrops. As we gained height, swathes of cloud swirled around the Old Man. It made for very atmospheric pictures. The area had a mythological feel to it, and I could imagine armies of Orcs from Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings appearing from out of the mist.
The Old Man of Storr
The Old Man of Storr
During our two hour walk there were no views of the Sound of Raasay or of Loch Leathan as cloud obscured everything the higher we got. There came a point when even the Old Man was concealed. It was time to call it a day, so we headed back to the car. We found that on our ascent our backs got completely drenched by the rain, whilst on our descent our fronts got the same treatment. We returned to the car with three layers of clothing sodden.
I’d planned on a walk to Loch leathan to embark on another Highland swim. However the dark, dreary weather had taken it’s toll on me and I decided that a soaking at the Old Man of Storr was enough for me that day. We agreed to leave the area and head south, trying to escape the approach of tropical storm Helene.
Our final destination on Skye was Kylerhea, part of Scotland’s Forestry Commission. From the car park there is a short walk to a wildlife hide which overlooks the strait towards the Scottish mainland. The hide is billed as one of the best places in Britain to see otters, dolphins, sharks and the mighty white-tailed sea eagle. On this dismal day all we saw was a seal popping up for air, a grey heron and many sea birds that were too far away to identify.
On leaving a darkening Kylerhea, I felt that the visit was rather a waste of time. However on the three hour drive home we agreed that we had manage to see all we had planned with the exception of a swim. Though the weather may not have been kind to us on Skye we did enjoy the sights we saw, even if we were drenched to the skin!
Recently, I’ve been itching to write a blog post but I’ve not had any new material. So the next best thing is to compile a Sunday Sevens, devised by Natalie at Threads and bobbins and update you on that I’ve been up to this past week!
I’m still counting my miles. This week I managed to walk 42 miles, bringing my annual total (to date) to 1,265 miles. I also attached my 2018 medal to the framed certificate. You can get your medal from the #walk1000miles shop.
2018 – Certificate and medal
David and I attended a party to celebrate the elopement of my cousin and his wife. They married earlier in the year in Las Vegas, with an Elvis impersonator officiating. The party at Leaf had a Las Vegas theme. There was also a photo booth for the guests to play around with.
Recently I obtained another Beatrix Potter 50 pence. This time it was Benjamin Bunny who I found in my change!
Swim Wild: The Wild Swimming Brothers
Book I Am Reading:
I am currently reading, and enjoying Swim Wild, a book written by the Wild Swimming Brothers, Jack, Calum and Robbie Hudson.
Terracotta Display – Liverpool
The Golden Horse of Maoling
I treated mum to a visit to Liverpool’s World Museum to see the Terracotta Warrior exhibition. I didn’t take that many pictures this time as I had already visited the display in March with David. You can read about that visit here. Mum seemed to enjoy the exhibit and I managed to see the Golden Horse of Maoling, which wasn’t featured in the display when I visited in March.
Another Sparrowhawk Visit:
This Friday, just after evening dinner, I looked out towards the yarden and spied a female sparrowhawk. It was the same female who visited and snacked on a starling not two weeks earlier! You can read more about sparrowhawks here. She was sitting on the roof opposite, watching as all the goldfinches flittered past, wanting their evening meal. In turn, David and I watched her for about an hour. She sat patently, awaiting an easy target. Unfortunately, (for her prey) she did get a kill. This time it was a baby goldfinch. It’s a sad spectacle but also fascinating to witness. This female now knows lots of birds visit the yarden. I wonder if she will visit again in future?
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!’
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,
Some of the web resources I visited while compiling this blog were:
It’s with much thanks to the lovely Sharon at Sunshine and Celandines that I’ve complied this post. Sharon wrote about all her wonderful wildlife moments of 2017 and there were many! Which made me think of all the wildlife moments I have seen this year. So without further ado, here’s my wildlife moments of 2017! Enjoy!
Undoubtedly the highlight of the year has to be the sparrowhawk visit. He may have only stayed in the yarden for about 10 minutes but those 10 minutes were ultimately thrilling! There’s nothing like a close encounter with a raptor to make you feel exhilarated! Here’s the video of him again surveying the area.
Summer’s fruits were abundant at Claremont Farm on the Wirral. David and I spent a wonderful time foraging the sweetest, juiciest strawberries.
I love summer due to the fact that the swallows come back from their epic journey from South Africa. I loved watching them swoop effortlessly through the air, turning somersaults after insects on the wing.
Our elder-flower champagne, though didn’t stay fizzy for long, was all homemade. I enjoyed foraging and identifying the elders for their flowers.
During a visit to Formby Beach with Riley and David we witnessed a spectacular starling murmuration. Not the best picture but I wanted to include it as a wildlife highlight. 🙂
On our many visits to the Lake District this year, David and I saw many dragonflies. None more magnificent than this golden ringed dragonfly! He was a beast!
Golden Ringed Dragonfly
Also in the Lake District on a walk around Blea Tarn, I spotted a summer visitor in the shape of a pied flycatcher (well I think it was?) Another poor picture from my phone as David didn’t have his camera at the ready.
I’ve shared many wild swims with small fish this year. Those at Brother’s Water really liked the silt I dredged up when I entered the lake.
A visit to an apple festival at local nature reserve Gorse Hill was educational. I didn’t know there were so many varieties of British heritage apples. Will definitely have to visit again next autumn!
No list of wildlife moments would be complete without my favourite garden bird featuring. It has to be the dunnock. We are very fortunate to have this little fellow gracing our yarden. He is a ground feeder so easy prey for stalking cats. I constantly watch him when he visits!
What wildlife moments have you experienced this year? Here’s to many more in 2018!
#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.
Dinorwig Power Station
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?
Peter Rabbit 2017 50p
The Hiding Places, Katherine Webb
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?
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!
Recently I have been thinking of my own mortality. It’s not a topic many people want to discuss. Whilst contemplating the end of life, the phrase tomorrow isn’t promised, cropped up. This made me think of being mindful. To live life in the present. It is a mantra I have been trying to follow every day this year; to take each day as it comes and not to think too much of the future. However much we may plan, life has a way of throwing spanners in the works! So enjoy today and be thankful for the people we share our life with and of the places we see along the way. Life is like a journey. It’s not the destination that matters, but our route along the way!
So as a little recap of the year so far, here’s some of the people and places that have made my journey through 2017 a joy!
I am thankful to have David in my life. He is quietly strong, someone who you can depend upon and a wonderful friend. I love you with all my heart! We have been on many walks this year. Lake District walks to Thirlmere, Dodd Wood and a walk through the bluebells at Rannerdale.
David and I atThirlmere
David and I at Dodd
David and I with the Rannerdale Bluebells
The path – Lunt Meadows
We have shared walks along hot, sunny beaches, picked our own strawberries and visited nature reserves. I couldn’t think of anyone I’d rather be on these walks than with you, David!
On many of our local walks, to Liverpool Festival Gardens, Sefton Park and Crosby Beach, we have taken bubbly, lively Riley with us.
Riley at Sefton park
Christine, Riley and Anthony Gormley
Riley and David at Festival Gardens
If I have to mention Riley, I have to mention Artie and Evie and my wonderful aviary of foreign finches.
My mum has been a constant support over the years and I thank her for her love. We shared a special afternoon tea at Jam, Liverpool in March.
Mum and I
Music has such a big place in my heart, and the music of Hans Zimmer is right up there with the symphonies of Mahler and Rachmaninov. In 2017 I luckily saw Hans’ World Tour visit Liverpool. To say his music is electrifying is an understatement, just listen to his Dark Knight medley from his live concerts!
Hans Zimmer and Tina Guo
A new passion of mine has become wild swimming. This year I have had seven wonderful swims. Blea Tarn was not disappointing.
Work takes up a lot of my time but working with Sue and her guide dog Kallie often doesn’t feel like work. It feels like muddling through a day with a friend. Sue has become a wonderful confidante.
Sue and Kallie
Sharon and Hugo
I have tried to read and follow as many blogs as I can. There is one blogger who has become an online friend (we shall have to meet in person one day, with our dogs) and that is Sharon from her wonderful blog sunshine and celandines. I have enjoyed our many online chats on the culture/holidays and walks we both blog about!
I love street art. So when there is a new Wild in Art animal trail or a mural, I try and visit. Birmingham’s Big Sleuth was entertaining and Paul Curtis’sFor all Liverpool’s Liverbirds mural was a must for any Liverbird to visit!
David and Spock
For all Liverpool’s Liverbirds
I have tried to notice the smaller things in nature this year. It really does make you more appreciative of life. Feeling the warm sun on your skin to foraging for berries. Seeing a bird of prey being harried by a family of swallows or seeing a snowdrop during the coldest of days makes your heart swell. These small events make life’s worries and trivialities disappear or seem easily overcomable (if that’s really a word!)
Red Tailed Bumblebee
There’s four month’s left of 2017, but for now I want to live for today and feel blessed with the memories of the places I have seen, with the people I hold dear.
I don’t want to waste the two weeks I have off work by just staying at home, languishing. So I suggested to David that we spend the day at Chester. Chester is close enough to home yet has places we have yet to visit. Also we had to be back by 7.30 pm for a concert by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic!!
So Chester it was, and we decided to visit Chester Cathedral’s Falconry and Nature Gardens. We arrived at 11 am. The entrance fee was £3 per adult, with the ticket we could enter the site as many times as we wanted throughout the day. We looked around the ‘nature gardens’ and I was not impressed. There was only a small green area designated for picnics which had bee hotels and insect homes around the perimeter and another square where the birds of prey were housed, tethered by jess’s.
David and I visited during school term time so there was not many people at the centre. During the flight display I counted five couples, David and I included! It was the flight displays that were the highpoint of the visit. The first one was at 12.30 pm so with time to spare David and I visited Chester Cathedral.
At 12 noon David and I ventured back to Chester Falconry and Nature Garden and had our lunch there, waiting for the 12.30 pm display.
The 12.30 pm display featured an American Black Vulture and a Harris Hawk. I had wanted to see one of the falcons flying but we could not make the 2.30 pm show.
The flight display with Head of Falconry Tommy McNally, was very authoritative and educational. He explained why American Black Vulture’s had no feathers on their heads and how their white legs were a by-product of their own urine, which coats their legs with a sort of antibacterial to keep them clean and free from disease whilst feeding on carrion.
During the performance, we stood in the display field and Tommy asked for a volunteer. A tall, lithe girl volunteered and had to run the length of the field with a chicken head, thus causing the Vulture to run, then fly after her! Tommy said that vultures were lazy birds and this was one way to show them flying!
He then asked for another volunteer and I volunteered David, as I can’t run!! He had a glove put on his left hand and a chicken head placed amongst his fingers. Tommy asked David to run as fast as he could so that the vulture would have to forsake bounding on the ground and flap his wings! David set off with the vulture following his heels. The vulture took flight and soon got the chicken head! David was asked to run back and the vulture was rewarded again with a chicken head!
Frankie the Harris Hawk was next up, and he flew deftly between the heads of the small crowd and also wolfed down a chicken head, much like an owl would!
I find birds of prey highly thrilling and enjoyed my time at Chester Cathedral’s Falconry and Nature Garden’s. It would be a great place to visit during the summer, when in-between shows you can go shopping, have something to eat or visit the river Dee or castle! There is more to see in Chester than meets the eye! A visit to the Roman amphitheatre and the city walls is something that should be on every tourist’s to see list when visiting the area!
Monday was the beginning of my ‘much needed’ week off work. I started it by going for a coffee with my mum! We braved the drizzle and took the bus to Allerton and our favourite Costa! It was a nice indulgent treat but the indulgence didn’t end there! The next day Mum and I went to Liverpool One’s Odeon and went to see Jurassic World! It was an enjoyable romp and it was nice to just switch off for a change! There were some nail biting moments which had mum and I squealing like children! 😀
I spent the ‘hump’ with Artie who seemed to enjoy the company.
In the garden:
There has been a flurry of activity at the feeders this week. Visiting were lots of baby Starlings all greedily helping themselves to the fat balls. Amongst all the flapping of wings were four House Sparrows, two males and two females. They happily explored the garden. I saw them under the Honeysuckle and at one stage all sitting in the branches of the small Buddleia I have in a pot! However they do not stay still for long and we believe we have more Sparrows visiting than first thought. I am hopeful they will continue to visit the feeders, they have such lovely sweet characters.
There were also the many Goldfinch ‘charms’ visiting. One family must have been successful at rearing their young as they brought about four babies to the feeders. All are welcome! 😀
I had to dig up my Michaelmas Daisy as the mildew was spreading to other flowers. The vinegar spray did not help I am afraid! Looks like I’ll be heading to Lady Green Garden Centre in the near future!
The rest of the week:
David had Thursday and Friday off. So on the first day, we went to Trentham Gardens, Stoke on Trent to see their art instillation of fairies, by local artist Robin Wright. We got in for the 2 for 1 offer via Stoke on Trent’s tourist website. Saved us nearly £10! The next four hours was spent walking along the mile long lake, viewing the many art displays in-situ and enjoying their gardens.
While walking we came across a flash of colour! It was a small part of the lakeside given over to wild flowers. The sight was stunning!
One of the attractions at Trentham was their Bare Foot Walk. I had decided the night before that if I had the chance I would try it. So in anticipation I packed with our lunch a small towel to wipe my feet! 🙂 David thought I was mad, but I threw off my shoes and socks and jumped on the wooden stepping stones.
Bare Foot Walk at Trentham Gardens
The wood was presently warm and comfortable unlike some other surfaces I encountered. Small stones, wood chips and coals were the hardest and most difficult to walk on. I made very slow progress!
The excitement of the day really knocked us out! So come the evening we relaxed and watched Maleficent.
Friday dawned cloudy and cool, We decided to make the most of the day and headed towards Lancashire to see the Pendle Sculpture Trail at Aitken Wood. I don’t know if it was due to still being tired from the day before or the fact that we seemed to get hounded by horrid flies for the two hours we were walking (one even tried to bite me!), I didn’t enjoy the day as much as I thought I would! The weather didn’t play ball either as it was rather windy on the hills and the sun rarely showed!
The wood was good for wildlife spotting and we bemoaned the fact that we should have brought our ‘bigger’ cameras instead of our phones! We really were not equipped for taking any decent nature sightings. Another visit will be on the cards in the future!
On the walk we spotted:
A Linnet, but not 100% certain.
Tuffted Ducks though again I am not certain. I really wished I’d brought my bird ID book!
Great or Lesser Spotted Woodpecker
Blue, Great and Coal Tits, I recognised them! 🙂
Seven butterflies, two were Red Admirals and two Gatekeepers!
A few moths
A hawk hunting, could have been a Merlin, though not certain! 😦
My identification skills are decent enough for when it comes to garden birds, but when I am faced with birds I don’t see regularly then I find them difficult to ID! I think many more days out in the country are needed to hone my skills!
Saturday turned out at be a busy affair as we had family around for a curry and film night! We ordered from my favourite takeaway, Saffron and the film we snuggled up to watch was The Kingsman, it had it’s funny moments!
Now Sunday has arrived and I’m feeling blue, work looms gloomily on the horizon! I’ve enjoyed my time off work so much! Maybe too much! It’s been lovely. I have spent time with family and seen and experienced new things. I’ve spent today at home with David and Artie and tried to get my nervous finches to feed from the hand. Two already have the courage, Chocolate (Bengalese) and Rainbow (Gouldian) but poor Romeo (Bengalese) is still hesitant!