Sunday Sevens #33

Today’s Sunday Sevens (devised by Natalie at Theads and Bobbins), will be a mishmash of pictures and info. I hope you don’t mind?

cartoonWork: This week has been heavy on the workload. With only working 18 hours a week, a full days work is squashed into just 3-4 hours daily. Feeling slightly under the weather and tired has made for a hard week to get through. However spirits were high at the centre I work at, as they celebrated 40 years since their opening. As part of their celebrations a local artist George Brooks was commissioned to draw caricatures of staff and people who access the day centre. Here’s my mug shot!

#walk1000miles: While in previous weeks I have been breaking my own record mileage. This week I have found less time, nor the inclination to do much than the bare minimum. My mileage for this week has been 26 miles bringing my annual total to 683 miles. Not bad but I hope to do better this following week.

New Life: For the past three weeks our blue-faced parrot finches have been laying and sitting on eggs. At first there were eight eggs laid. Then as the weeks progressed they threw a few eggs out of the nest. On Thursday David was replenishing their food and water when he stooped to have a look into the nest. ‘There’s a baby!’ he whispered.

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Baby Blue-faced Parrot Finch

‘What?’ I asked disbelieving. David nodded for me to have a look and I gazed at a tiny, naked creature writhing about the eggs. Even though the baby was blind its bulbous black eyes seemed to protrude from its head. I still can’t quite believe that our finches have had a baby. I wonder what the future will hold for the little nestling and whether there will be any siblings?

An update: Sadly our little nestling only survived two days before we found it dead. RIP little one. 😥

Metamorphosis: What with hatching eggs, fledged goldfinches, pigeons and starlings visiting the feeders, it has all been about the young ones this week! Summer is amazing for seeing new life! I recently noticed a chrysalis attached to a jasmine leaf. We could see the colour of the butterfly through the transparent casing. About two weeks ago on the very same plant I had taken a picture of a green caterpillar. The chrysalis would be the next stage of the metamorphosis!

On Friday during our daily perusal of the yarden David noticed that the chrysalis was empty and the poor, newly emerged butterfly, a large white was sitting on the floor. We picked it up and placed it on a buddleia.

We noticed it had a crumpled wing and I later read that if a newly emerged butterfly ended up on the floor, it could reduce its chance of having pristine wings. It takes a day for the wings to harden and take shape. I hope that our new friend hasn’t damaged its chances of survival. I also noticed that it had just one antenna. I read that it could have been due to a deformity in the chrysalis. The antenna helps determine smell and balance. We left the new butterfly clinging to the biddleia. Hopefully it will be able to warm its wings, the crumple unfold and be able to feed and go on its merry way. Only time will tell.

Another update: This one a little happier, (though only a little). The large white butterfly is still with us. It moved from the buddleia to the floor again, though I did see a white butterfly flutter about the rockery plants earlier in the day. Whether that was our little friend I don’t know. David took the butterfly indoors and fed it sugar/water solution. David noticed that one antennae is under developed and that the butterfly does not have control of one of its front legs. The prognosis for survival is poor, but we shall keep an eye on the butterfly and keep feeding sugar/water. That is all we can do sadly.

I was reading up on metamorphosis and what happens inside a chrysalis. Enzymes are released dissolving tissue but keeping essential organs before remodeling begins. National Geographic have an interesting report on 3D scanning of the process. You can read it here.

Book I am reading: I’ve finally picked up Donna Tartt’s Pulitzer Prize winner, The Goldfinch. I’m only a few pages into the narrative but so far I am enjoying Tartt’s writing style. Have you read this book? What were your thoughts?

The Yarden:  To cheer myself up I decided to visit a local garden centre and purchase some perennials for the yarden. There wasn’t much of a selection but I came away with an achillea (yarrow) and chrysanthemum, both had the RHS Perfect for Pollinators sign.

Looking forward: I have a few days away booked to Keswick this coming week. I am so ready for a little break away. Need to recharge my batteries or I feel I will crumble. Look out for blog posts on how the planned swim/walks pan out!

That was my (rather upsetting) week, how was yours?

Thanks for reading,

Christine x

 

30 Days Wild 2017 – Week 1

o0OhgWNNIt’s June, and that time of year again! Time for The Wildlife Trust’s wonderful initiative, 30 Days WildInspiring us all to get that little bit more wild! This is the third year I’ll be participating and I have to admit, I was a little excited for June to arrive. I learned so much during 2016’s 30 Days and enjoyed immensely the camaraderie of the online community. If you’d like to follow fellow participants, then click on My Wild Life Bloggers, and join in the discussion!

Day One: Thursday.

What could I do for the opening to my 30 Days Wild? With it being a long day at work, I decided to participate in Friends of the Earth’s, Great British Bee Count. The count runs from 19th May to 30th June and helps gather data on how healthy (or not) the British Bee population is.

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So once home, and dinner cooked, out I went into our yarden and stood hovering around the plants I know are popular with the bees. I’ve found that bees tend to like blueish coloured flowers. Among these plants are bell flowers, cat mint and chives. In just one small corner I counted five tree bumblebees, in an inner city yarden I find that amazing! There were also sightings of buff tailed bumblebees and I happily saw my first mason bee of the season. The yarden is usually awash with these cute little bees, all knocking each other from the flowers but I’ve noticed numbers seem to be down this year.

Have you participated in the Great British Bee Count? If not, you can download their free and easy to use app here, and start counting. 🙂

Day Two: Friday.

The Wildlife Trust’s encourages Random Act of Wildness. These Random Acts, be it for a few minutes or hours, are designed to add a little bit of nature to our otherwise busy lives. You can find their free downloadable app with 101 inspiring suggestions here. One such Random Act is find a creepy crawly. So after work I looked among the plants and undergrowth of our yarden, actively seeking creepy crawlies. I found two to photograph. One was a seven spot ladybird and the other a scarlet lily beetle. One is deemed a goody by gardeners and the other a baddie! I’ve Googled some interesting facts about both.

Seven Spotted Ladybird:

  • The most common ladybird seen in Europe.
  • Has a lifespan of a year.
  • Can eat up to 5.000 aphids during their life.
  • Secretes a fluid from their legs that is distasteful to predators.

Scarlet Lily Beetle:

  • Is not a native species to Britain but has been colonising since 1939.
  • Often seen on lilies and fritillaries and causes damage to these plants.
  • Overwinters in soil cover.
  • Studies have shown females find plants by scent.

Do you have any more curious facts about either species?

Day Three: Saturday.

Garden-BioBlitz-2017

This weekend was the annual National Garden BioBlitz. I took part in this survey last year. You can read how that went on here. This year I didn’t have as much time available, so I snatched an hour here and there. The aim of the project is to count the plants and animals that have arrived in the yarden ‘of its own accord’. Whereas I counted 54+ species of trees, shrubs, alpines and perennials I had planted. I only counted 21+ of flora and fauna that had arrived in the yarden of their own steam. Among them were:

Flora: bell flowers, foxgloves, poppies, herb robert and the annoying sticky weed!

Fauna: goldfinches, starlings, magpie, bee-fly and a spittle bug.

Out of the 20 species to look out for, our lowly little yarden chalked up 5/20. We were able to tick off, house sparrow, mason bee, tree bumblebee, garden snail and seven spot ladybird.

Did you participate in this survey? What wonders did you find?

Day Four: Sunday.

Last year, I participated in Wild October, an initiative started by 30 Days Wild’s Facebook page. The aim was to enjoy the changing season of Autumn. During the month I gathered fallen leaves and other detritus from a local park and displayed them on a nature table. This year for 30 Days Wild, I decided to do similar but with flowers and grasses I found along a woodland walk in Liverpool’s Festival Gardens. Of Course Riley had to tag along too. 🙂

While researching for this post, I was saddened to read that Festival Gardens has been earmarked for redevelopment, with shops and a ferry terminal in the pipe works. I do hope they don’t build on the already established park. The park as it stands has lovely lakeside paths and woodland walks and was created back in 2011 so the wildlife has had time to establish themselves. Redevelopment would mean a loss of habitat for wildlife and the opportunity for the residents to get closer to nature.

Have you lost a valued place of nature to redevelopment? Let me know your thoughts on this?

Day Five: Monday. 

Everywhere I look there are elders and their flowers growing all over the city. Waving seductively at the sides of roads, gracing parks, and even surprisingly, growing down my road! So I decided I would try my hand at making some elderflower champagne. I don’t know whether it will work as I’ve never done it before, but I thought. ‘I would give it a try’!

There are just so many recipes and videos on YouTube that I didn’t know which one to follow. So I sort of made a conglomeration of a couple!

Ingredients:

  • David and I foraged 10 medium sized elderflower heads.
  • Used 6 litres of water. 1 litre boiled and 5 cold.
  • The zest and juice of two lemons as well as two halves thrown in for good measure.
  • 750g of sugar (I used granulated).
  • 2 tablespoons of white wine vinegar.

Method:

  • After sterilizing a bucket David measured the sugar and dissolved into 1 litre of hot water.
  • While David stirred the sugar solution I trimmed and cut the elderflowers from their stalks, shaking any bugs off.
  • We threw the flowers into the bucket and added the zest and juice of the lemons.
  • Then left in two lemon halves in the mixture.
  • Poured the litre of sugar solution onto the elderflower and lemon and then added 5 litres of cold water.
  • Finally added the white wine vinegar and gave it a good stir.
  • Covered bucket with a tea-towel and left solution to (hopefully) start fermenting.
  • Stir the mixture once everyday until you see bubbles or fungus. Then sieve and bottle up. Be careful to leave gaps in top of bottles and monitor as the natural yeast in the elderflower and the sugar can cause the bottles to explode!

I will keep you all updated on our progress.

Day Six: Tuesday. 

Since it’s been raining for the past two days, I decided to do a little research on the topic. The Met Office offered a helpful info-gram. This video here, is helpful too.

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Five Facts:

  • It rains due to warm moist air cooling and condensing to liquid.
  • The shape of a rain drop is actually like a jelly bean.
  • The average speed of a rain drop is 14 mph.
  • Petrichor is the smell of rain as it hits dry ground.
  • Rain falls from weather fronts (two differing air masses) whereas showers stem from clouds.

Day Seven: Wednesday.

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Saving a buff-tailed bumblebee

With this deluge of rain we are having, means the poor wildlife seem to be having a hard time. The rain makes it harder for birds to forage for seeds and insects for their nestlings and bees become sodden and lethargic. It always seems to be buff-tailed bumblebees we find clinging to flower petals in the hope of finding shelter. Here’s what you can do if you find one.

The RSPB state two tablespoons of granulated sugar to one tablespoon of water. I think that is a little excessive. We only use teaspoons. One teaspoon to half a teaspoon of sugar. Place the sugar water where the bee can sit safely and drink. You will be amazed at how quickly the bee perks up.

Our little bumblebee was also wet and cold so we warmed her by the radiator before releasing her back safely into the yarden.

Have you tried reviving tired bees? How did it work for you?

Summary:

Nature is supposed to be natural, not forced, however this being my third year of participating in 30 Days Wild, I have felt pressurised to do activities which I haven’t done in previous years. Have you felt the same?

I did enjoy foraging for elderflowers and counting the bees. It’s amazing that even a small urban yarden can attract a variety of wildlife.

What random acts of wildness have you enjoyed doing this week?

A Look Back: at week one in previous years.

2015: Mint moths and buying homes for nature.

2016: Bee facts and growing maris bard potatoes.

Thanks for dropping by,

Christine x

30 Days Wild 2016 – Week Three

o0OhgWNNI can’t quite believe how fast this June is going, too quickly for my liking! Unlike last years 30 Days Wild, I am trying to look beyond the yarden. Taking more days out in the country for long scenic walks and wild swims.

Here’s a summary of week three!

Day 15: Wednesday

The third week of The Wildlife Trust’s 30 Days Wild dawned with a migraine. So I forsook the treadmill and spent a lazy day of watching ‘wild’ webcams. I particularly enjoyed watching the Derby Cathedral peregrines. It had four, close to fledgling peregrine chicks in a nest that had lots of pigeon kill! I also tried to spot the puffins on the Teaching Through Nature website. David had chosen this ‘wild’ card and it was perfect for the type of day it became. I frequently tune into the RSPB’s Lodge webcam to watch garden birds visit the feeders. Today when I logged on, two grey squirrels and a great spotted woodpecker hung off the feeders. It cheered me up!

RSPB webcam 2

Day 16: Thursday

20160618-181526I wasn’t feeling very wild today. It was a staying under the bed covers kind of day. So I thought I would ID a plant that was growing in my yarden. I used the Pl@nt.Net app, but the programme was having trouble identifying the leaves. I said to David ‘I’m sure I’ve seen the buds before,’ but on what plant I could not remember! Then I realised! The flower buds are very like borage, though the leaves look very different. I grew borage for the bees last year as one of my 30 Days Wild and it looks like some have seeded themselves! I am not complaining though, they’ll be more food for the bees! 🙂 And I suppose it ticks off another wild task without me even trying! 🙂

Day 17: Friday

Today was a special day. It was a day I got to go wild swimming again!! The weather may have been much grottier than my first time in Derwentwater, but it was a much special day. I got to swim in the waters of my favourite lake, Buttermere! 🙂

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After walking three hours alongside Crummock Water and then back towards Buttermere, I finally submerged my weary body under the cool, clear waters of the lake, with Fleetwith Pike as the glorious backdrop.

Find the written article here.

Day 18: Saturday

Today was busy with shopping and visiting family, so I didn’t have much time to do anything ‘wild’. In the evening, I decided to try my hand at identification, with little result. I began by looking at Google images in the hope of identifying the owner of this feather I found at Crummock Water the day before. Then I turned to the Forest Xplorer app by the Forestry Commission to discover what type of tree I had hugged.

I’ve come to the conclusion that I am useless at identification. After a good few hours searching, I stopped feeling frustrated, with still no answers! I really need to improve my skills, perhaps I should take a course in the future?

Day 19: Sunday

Today’s ‘wild’ card was, keep an eye out for newborns. Once again I had set my camcorder at the kitchen window overlooking the bird feeders. During the hours recording, it captured a baby Goldfinch visiting the feeders with two adults!

Day 20: Monday

Happy Summer Solstice or Litha. I don’t think I have sat up and watched the Longest Day of the year dawn, if I have in the past it was unintentionally! For one of my 30 Days Wild this year, I wanted to wake up with the city dawn chorus. I decided it would be a perfect way to celebrate the solstice too.

Sunrise was at 4.42am. I crawled out of bed blurry eyed an hour before. I left David in the thrall of Morpheus. With a hot drink in hand, notepad and pen, camcorder and phone, I sat in the guest bedroom with the window open wide and listened to the soft breeze for any birdsong.

It was faint, ethereal almost in the gloaming, but there was the sound of sweet birdsong. I think if I lived closer to a park the volume would have been louder. I tried to record the sound, which I have mixed in a video below.

I found it difficult to identify the birdsong. I had expected to hear a blackbird’s call but I think the predominant song was that of a robin. (I heard the blackbird before I returned to bed.)

Half an hour before the dawn, I saw herring gulls circling in the sky. These birds get up early! Members of the tit family were also calling and flying between the houses at this time.

It was after sunrise, when the birds came to the yarden, that I captured the loudest of the birdsong. It seemed that the lighter the day became the louder the sounds! 5am seemed to be the best time! Goldfinches came to the yarden in charms. I saw a crow fly over the roof. Mr. Dunnock sang so loudly he almost deafened me! Pigeons visited the feeders and magpies cackled somewhere in the near distance. Also at this time a tree bumblebee was heard and seen buzzing loudly around the campanula, bell flowers. If that was not enough for my small yarden oasis, a black cat walked along the wall crying. It jumped into the yarden and went for a long, quenching drink from our pond before jumping back on the wall and walking out of sight!

The sunrise was less eventful than the dawn chorus. The day broke grey and uninspiring. I retired to bed, to a fitful snooze after 5.30am.

Day 21: Tuesday

David went back to work today, so I spent the day looking over the pictures we took during out visit to Chester Zoo on Monday. I know I am cheating a little here and its not totally nature or indeed wild but the weather in the morning could have been described as wild so its going into my 30 Days blog.

Chester Zoo do have an initiative called Act for Wildlife. They have conservation projects not only around the world but in the UK too.

We spent a good three hours dodging the showers. We spent over half an hour watching the Aye-aye (Madagascan Lemur), he is so cute, and marveling at the new dinosaurs collection. We both liked Utahraptor with his feathers!

Summary:

This week has been quite a diverse one! Like last years 30 Days Wild, I am loving every moment! I am continuing to read and enjoy other blogs and I am learning along the way.

With only one more full week left of June, I hope you will continue to follow me as I discover more wildness in my life.

Christine x

30 Days Wild 2016 – Week Two

o0OhgWNNI can’t believe how quickly the first week of 30 Days Wild went and now I am finalising this post at the end of the second week! I am enjoying reading other bloggers’ adventures, and The Wildlife Trusts, 30 Days Wild app, of 101 random acts of wildness, is really inspiring me to learn more about the nature that I see around me.

 

Day Eight: Wednesday.

Wednesday was World Oceans Day. Highlighting the plight of the seas and collaborating for a better future. I was unable to get to the coast but I still managed to celebrate the diversity of the oceans. It was a day of cooking and baking bread. I shaped these granary loaves into sea turtles (recipe here). I’m no artist but I am pretty happy with how they turned out. What do you think?

In the afternoon I opened the app for the Great British Bee Count. I thought with the amount of bees flying about the yarden that I could do a timed count. I set up alongside a popular plant and started the one minute timer. Sadly, all the bees must have known and only one mason bee made an appearance! Typical!

Day Nine: Thursday.

I turned to the wildness cards for inspiration. I downloaded the cards from the email pack The Wildlife Trusts sent when I signed up for 30 Days Wild. (I wish I had asked for a mail pack as they sent a cute little ‘I love wild’ badge! But such is life!)

I picked the sketch up close card. If my sea turtle bread rolls were any indication, then this activity could go horribly wrong, but I had to try. So I grabbed a piece of paper and sharpened a pencil and sat down to draw one of my favourite garden birds. The dunnock.

Some interesting facts on the dunnock (hedge sparrow):

  1. Has a fine bill due to preferring insects and beetles than seeds.
  2. Is a ground feeder.
  3. As their diets are similar to Robins, can come into conflict if food is scarce, usually losing out to the more aggressive Robins.
  4. Their nests are often parasitised by the cuckoo.
  5. Most are polyandrous (female has more than one male mate) or polygynous (males have more than one female mate).

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Day Ten: Friday.

I let David chose today’s ‘wild card’. He chose keep a note of wildlife. List the species that you see from your window. I decided to spend an hour watching the yarden after the evenings dinner. Here’s what I saw.

  1. House Sparrow (x1)
  2. Pigeons (x4)
  3. Bees (many)
  4. Hover flies (many)
  5. Flies (many)
  6. Dunnock (x1)
  7. Goldfinches (x2)
  8. Small white butterfly (x1)
  9. Cinnabar moth (x1)
  10. Spider (garden) (x1)
  11. Snails (x2)
  12. Magpie (x1)
  13. Herring gull (x1)

Day Eleven: Saturday.

During 30 Days Wild, I have also been setting up my camcorder to record for an hour a day. Below is the ‘highlights’ video of the species, mainly birds visiting the yarden.

Day Twelve: Sunday.

With the flowers having fallen, it was time to haul up our potato plants. We have found that it has not been easy to grow our own vegetables. However, David and I were overjoyed that we got some kind of harvest! Below find pictures of us celebrating our maris bard potatoes!

For the evening dinner we boiled some of our harvest and had them with a vegetarian roast. They were delicate and creamy. They tasted all the better for having grown them ourselves.

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Day Thirteen: Monday.

Sadly the weather has taken a turn for the worse, even this poor buff tailed bumblebee was having trouble today. David rescued her/him from the yarden floor and the jaws of Artie and fed it some sugar solution. After a while it perked up and flew away. Later on I saw another bee busily enjoying an oriental poppy.

I also managed to do another bee count, in between the showers. Within a minute I got a tally of three!

Monday was also World Meat Free Day, so I made a Mediterranean flavoured white bean soup with brown rice.

Day Fourteen: Tuesday.

I decided to write a short creative passage around wild swimming. I didn’t intend for it to become so morbid… sorry!

On a frosty winter’s day. Erin dipped her toe into the water and shivered as the delicious cold touched her skin. She often wondered if her sister had felt the same sensation before she slipped eternally into the dark abyss. Perhaps her depression had steeled her against the cold? Either way Erin gasped as she stepped in.

‘What torments brought you to these waters?’ She thought, finding herself waist deep in the lake. ‘If only I could have helped.’ She swam through the icy water towards a small island, a tangle of tree branches and sandy shores.

During the summer holidays, Erin and her younger sister, Elise used to swim out towards the island. The warm waters suspended their sun kissed limbs as they splashed headlong towards an adventure of exploring over rock and under root.

Erin, felt her teeth chatter as she breaststroked through the choppy waters. Erin didn’t mind, she was a strong swimmer. Elise too, but on that fateful day she chose to succumb. ‘It’s very easy to get cramp,’ their swimming instructor had prophesied. ‘If you don’t respect the water or your ability, tragedy can happen.’ Erin swam on until a man’s voice from the lakeside beckoned tensely.

‘What are you doing?’ She turned, noticing her funeral garb heaped on the shingle shore. The waters caressed her breasts, stroked seductively between her legs. She saw Josh standing at the lakeside. In his hand he held the length of his black tie. His shoes discarded.

‘I’m okay!’ Erin called through the drizzle. She looked at Josh as she treaded water. She felt the love Elise had felt for him. Watched as he disregarded his mourning clothes and lunged into the lake. His arms were strong as he crawled towards her, while she felt cradled in the waters embrace.

Erin recalled the last time she and Elise swam together in the lake. Elise had been no older than eleven. They both lay on their backs looking up at the blue cloudless sky. Swallows skirted over the water catching flies, and laughter tinged the air with joyful exuberance. Elise had been so full of life. Her death remained inexplicable. 

‘Come back to shore.’ Erin felt Josh’s arms embrace her. They were becoming shrouded in a mist that rolled down from the mountains. ‘You’ll get hypothermia.’ Josh reached for Erin’s hand. They swam alongside each other back towards the shore.

Erin’s body ached with the cold as she walked out of the water. She looked into Josh’s dark eyes that searched her face for a reason. ‘I just felt like a swim.’

‘In this weather?’ She felt Josh’s warm lips on hers. ‘I don’t want to lose you too.’ He threw his jacket over Erin’s shoulders before hurrying her towards their hotel where Elise’s wake was winding down. With luck, Erin’s disappearance had gone undetected and they could creep inside unseen.

A warm light flooded from the hotel doorway, and bathed their heads in a golden glow. Josh took Erin’s hand in his and they both walked into the light. 

Summary:

I have taken things much slower this week. Perhaps a bit too slow. Most days haven’t been really ‘wild.’ I have enjoyed doing the creative activities, like molding bread into turtles and even drawing the dunnock, I found relaxing.

I wonder what discoveries week three of 30 Days Wild will uncover? At some point, I am hoping to go looking for moths and perhaps a wild swim will feature, who knows? I hope you will join me in my forthcoming adventures…

Christine x

 

The Results!

The Classic FM Hall of Fame countdown on Easter Monday was a bit of an anti-climax to be honest. The top six entries were all non movers! Vaughan William’s The Lark Ascending was at number one for the third year running!

Chart 2

And where did the pieces that I voted for get too? Well, as can be seen above Elgar’s Nimrod Variations stayed at number 4! The others are as follows.

Chart 1

The next set of results are for the Big Garden Bird Watch 2016. Follow the link to see regional results which opens up in Excel.

birds

Did you see any of these species in your garden/yarden? My results for the year can be found here.

The Count has been done…

… for the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch 2016. The numbers spotted this year were not as diverse as in previous years.

The total count for 2016 was:

  • 15 Goldfinches
  • 6 Starlings
  • 16 Pigeons

I suppose those numbers are decent for an urban city garden/yard, but I would have loved a few more species visiting. There were four Crows and the odd Seagull flying overhead but they didn’t make the count!

Sadly no Chiffchaff or Blackbird made an appearance and the Robin and Blue Tits were nowhere to be seen! David did take some nice, colourful pictures of the Starlings and of the squabbling Goldfinches.

Did you take part in the count? How many species of bird did you see?

Christine.

This Weekend…

… is the RSPB’s 2016 Big Garden Birdwatch. For the past couple of years I have been entering my count in the hope of helping gauge the health of the UK’s wild bird population.

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Once again this year, I will be looking out to my back garden for just one hour and make a tally of the feathered visitors who frequent my bird feeders.

If only the count was last weekend, as I had two very unusual visitors. Among the numerous Goldfinches, Starlings and Pigeons there was a female Blackbird eating invertebrates from the ivy and between the boughs of the Jasmine a Chiffchaff bobbed! The sighting took me by surprise but I was without camera so a video taken of a previous sighting will have to do!

Will you be joining in with the count?

Christine x

Micro – Actions!

This past week I have embarked on the You with Jamie Oliver app. It’s all about positive changes you can do, one little step at a time. You are set daily/weekly challenges. Previous one’s I have had were, ‘the best part of the day‘, ‘what makes you happy‘, and ‘think positive.‘ You take a picture to symbolise the topic. One was to show ‘beauty around you.’ So I took a picture of a Passion Flower.

Honey Bee and Passion Flower

Honey Bee and Passion Flower

This past week however I have found it rather difficult to be positive, what with the boiler being serviced and a leaking pump found! It made us £300 the poorer, though come the winter we will hopefully be toasty!

This weekend has been fun. We had planned on going to Chester Zoo before our membership ran out, but the weather was dodgy so we spent the weekend at home.

It was Saturday after 4.30pm which I really enjoyed. With the radio cranked up as Classic FM’s Saturday Night at the Movies, celebrated Hans Zimmer’s music. I embarked on chopping vegetables and cooking the evening dinner. I used and adapted Jools Oliver’s Wholesome Vegetable and Bean Soup. My volumes are to serve three people.

Ingredients:

  • 1 carrot
  • 1 onion
  • 1 large leek
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 sprig of fresh rosemary
  • olive oil
  • 1 x 400 g tin of borlotti or cannellini beans. (I used borlotti beans)
  • 1 litre low salt vegetable
  • Hand full of barley
  • 35 g baby spinach or kale (I used kale)
  • 150 g frozen peas/ green beans. (I just used a handful of peas and 75g of green beans)
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Method:

  • Start by preparing the base of your soup. Peel, roughly chop the carrot and potato, trim, wash and roughly chop the leek. Peel and very finely slice the garlic, chop the onion and then pick and finely chop the rosemary.
  • Heat a lug of oil in a large pan on a medium heat, then add the rosemary. Fry for a few minutes, then add the chopped carrot, leek, onion and garlic. Cook gently for around 15 minutes, or until soft, stirring regularly, with the lid on.
  • Add the beans (drained), chopped potato (small,) and a hand full of barley. Then finally add the stock. Bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer for 30 minutes – add a little more stock or water if you think it needs it. (Leave the lid on.)
  • Finally, add the spinach or kale and chopped green beans/peas, and cook for a further 10 minutes, or until the greens are cooked but still vibrant green. (Keep the lid on.) Have a taste and season, if needed, then tuck in.
  • Serve with bread… I was requested to make Focaccia.
Wholesome Vegetable and Bean Soup

Wholesome Vegetable and Bean Soup

The recipe for Focaccia was taken from an Asda seasonal brochure.

Ingredients:

  • 250g of Strong White Bread Flour
  • 1 level tsp salt
  • 7g of easy bake yeast
  • 2tbsp of reduced fat olive oil
  • On red onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • Chopped sprigs of fresh oregano, (I used some from the garden!)

Method:

  • Mix the flour, salt and yeast in a bowl
  • Pour in the oil and used 15ml of tepid water, mix the ingredients together to form a soft dough
  • Turn the dough onto a floured surface and begin to need, adding more flour until the dough is of a smooth texture.
  • Place the dough in a bowl and put somewhere warm for 45 minutes, until doubled in size.
  • While the dough is proving, chop and fly the red onion and garlic. Leave to one side once cooked.
  • Chop some oregano and leave to one side
  • Once the dough has risen, knock back and then flatten into required shape.
  • With your finger press small indentations into the top of the dough and then sprinkle the onion, garlic and oregano on top.
  • Put in a pre warmed oven at gas mark 6/200° and cook for 30-35 minutes, until golden.
  • Remove from oven, and serve.
Focaccia

Focaccia

Sunday was a lovely early Autumn day. The sun shone and David and I spent over three hours in the garden, cleaning and pruning. I planted some of my bulbs, of Aliums and Snake Heads for the coming spring. Fingers crossed they grow!

Artie enjoyed spending time in the garden and in between terrorising the bumblebees and honey bees, he relaxed taking in the sun.

Artie

Artie

We still have many birds visiting the feeders, and not an hour goes by that numerous Goldfinches are seen feasting on the Sunflower/Nyger seeds.

How many Goldfinches can you See?

How many Goldfinches can you See?

Dinner this Sunday evening was a vegetarian roast. I boiled kale, peas, sweetcorn and green beans in a pan while in the oven Quorn Turkey style slices were cooking alongside Aunt Bessie’s Herb and Garlic roast potatoes. I made some sage and onion stuffing and mixed up some vegetarian gravy. Finally I microwaved some mushy peas for David!

Beautiful, tasty roast dinner

Beautiful, tasty roast dinner

Now I am nursing a headache before the working week ahead. How have you spent your weekend?

Christine xx

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.