My Love for the Red Panda.

‘Panda’ from the Nepalese, nigalya ponya meaning bamboo footed.

23666_10150140661800271_1831177_nThe red panda was the first ‘panda’ to be know to the West as early as the 1800’s! In 1825 Frenchman Frederic Cuvier published an account describing the red panda and named the species, Ailurus fulgens fulgens, or shining cat.

By the 1840’s English naturalist Brain Houghton Hodgson had written a detailed study on the red panda or ‘Wah’. Focusing on habitat and diet.

It was not until 1869 that the giant panda was identified. However to distinguish the species, the first panda was renamed the lesser panda.

39755_425944215911_56676235911_4773054_7286609_nIt’s been eight years since I saw my first red panda, having been oblivious to their existence until then. For me it was love-at-first-sight! They seem to be a number of animals all rolled into one, which has caused countless debates as to what family or classification of animal the red panda truly is.

Are they bear-cats? They are cat sized (always a plus in my book) and rather bear-like, though they are not part of the ursidae family.

They bark like a dog: There is little published evidence but the red panda is highly susceptible to diseases like canine distemper.

Their vocalisations sound similar to birds:

A living fossil: Recent DNA studies have concluded that the red panda is in its own family of the Ailuridae, being part of the super-family the Musteloidea, (weasels, skunks and raccoons).

The only similarity with giant pandas is their diet (bamboo) and the false thumb, an elongated wrist bone that acts like a sixth digit. It helps with holding food and climbing, especially head first!

Red pandas are found largely in temperate, deciduous forests, from Nepal to China and Myanmar. There are two subspecies, Ailurus fulgens fulgens and Ailurus fulgens styani. Their red fur, one of the densest of all mammals (for insulation), is perfect camouflage during autumn.

Due to living in Himalayan regions, red pandas prefer cooler days. Winter is the best time to find them active.

Although they have a penchant for bamboo, eating up to 45% of their body weight a day, red pandas are classed as carnivores. They eat fruit, insects, eggs and small birds.

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Feeding Red Pandas at Paradise Wildlife Park

Red pandas have a slow metabolism due to being unable to digest bamboo properly, hence being rather sedentary. I’ve noticed many zoo guests just walk past red panda enclosures because they have been asleep up a tree. In most cases you need to visit several times in the hope of catching one awake. Being a crepuscular animal doesn’t help either as they are more active at dawn and dusk.

They are solitary animals, only coming together for mating. The female is only receptive one day a year. The breeding season is usually January to April with birth around June/July. The litter usually consists of one to four cubs, but usually two.

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Photo by David Evans

In 2010 I was honoured to witness Chester Zoo’s female red panda, Lushui move her cub, Lily from nest to nest. They do this to avoid predators. Cubs come out of the nest from around three months, and stay with their mothers for about a year before finding their own territory. Their lifespan in captivity can reach 15 years.

However beautiful red pandas are, they are classified as endangered by the IUCN. The main threats to them are deforestation, hunting, poaching and illegal trade. In China there is a traditional custom dating back to around the 13th century where red panda pelts are given to newlyweds as a sign of ‘good luck’. Red pandas are also predated upon by snow leopards and martens.

Conservation: Exact numbers of red pandas in Asia are relatively unknown, estimates say up to 10,000 adults. There is a worldwide effort to protect the red panda and its habitat. In many of the countries where the red panda is found, their habitat has been designated areas of protection, though these areas are hard to police. The Red Panda Network liaise with ‘forest guardians’ to educate and highlight the need to conserve red panda habitat. They are also working directly with the creators of the Panchthar-Ilam-Singhalila (PIS corridor), which will be the first Red Panda Protected Forest.

In captivity there are two long term initiatives for breeding, the Red Panda Species Survival Programme (SSP) and the European Endangered Species Programme (EES) which offers a ‘stud book’ of potential mates.

Popular culture: There have been a number of depictions of red pandas on many platforms over the years. Another name for the red panda is the Fire Fox. Mozilla use this name for their web browser, though their logo is ambiguous.

Cinema: In 2008 DreamWorks released Kung Fu Panda with Shifu, being a lose representation of a red panda! A year earlier an animated Barbie film, the Island Princess had a red panda as a friendly aide.

In 2013 Pocket Gems released a game called Animal Adventure with a red panda as one of the main characters.

14115498_10153971399038869_7066728288936528819_oThe future…is still uncertain.

At the time of writing, the WWF have announced that the giant panda’s status has improved from endangered to vulnerable. Hopefully the red panda being under the ‘umbrella’ of conservational efforts for the giant panda, will start to feel the effects of these protection methods soon?

 

And finally: Sadly, earlier this year, the Red Panda Network announced that poaching of the red panda had increased in 2016! Their annual International Red Panda Day (17th September 2016) will focus on anti-poaching initiatives.

The road ahead may still be long but there is hope for the future of the red panda. Conservation efforts are starting to produce results for not only the giant panda but tigers also, why not for the red panda? They have so much going for them. To me they are sweet, endearing animals, they are all superstars, none other than Ming Ming!

Thanks for reading.

Christine x


Further reading:

Angela Glatston: Red Panda: Biology and Conservation of the First Panda.

Whence the Red Panda? Flynn JJ, Nedbal MA, Dragoo JW, Honeycutt RL.

http://redpandanetwork.org/red_panda/about-the-red-panda/

http://animals.sandiegozoo.org/animals/red-panda

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_panda

If you have been inspired by what you have read, then why not continue the message? You can join in with this years International Red Panda Day at your local animal park/zoo.

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

 

30 Days Wild 2016 – Week One

o0OhgWNN

The Wildlife Trust’s, 30 Days Wild 2016 dawned on a cloudy Wednesday, a hump day! I must admit it was difficult to find my ‘get up and go!’ However the sun made an appearance in the afternoon. It shone down hotly, as I slowly eased into this June by doing the usual pottering about the yarden (yard/garden)!

I participated in 30 Days Wild last year and thoroughly felt enlivened just by noticing the nature and wildlife around me.

I do try to help the wildlife in my area. It started off by putting out feeders for the birds. Then it progressed to planting for bees, butterflies and other insects. And this year David and I have built a small pond in the hope of bringing even more wildlife to the urban back yarden.

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Day One: Wednesday.

Like last year I will blog about my 30 Days Wild in weekly installments. Thanks to Annie Irene from Trails&Tails who wrote about the many bloggers featured on The Wildlife Trusts, My Wild Life website. It is always good to read what other’s are getting up to this June, so if you are interested like I was, then follow the link and get reading!

One of the positives about reading other people’s experiences of the ‘wild’ is that you learn something new almost daily. Today, I learnt that a ‘weed’ I have ashamedly been pulling up out of the yarden (oops), is called Herb Robert or geranium robertianum. This wild flower is apparently edible and has many therapeutic properties.

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Day Two: Thursday.

Today, David had a day off work. I suggested we go to a park in search of wildlife. We decided on visiting Liverpool’s Festival Gardens. We seem to make an annual pilgrimage here, but really should visit more often. It has lakes and woodland walks. It also features the restored Moon Wall and Pagodas that featured in the Garden Festival of the 1980’s!

On our leisurely walk, there were coots with chicks on the lake. Alongside the paths David and I spotted orchids and oxeye daises, and in the woodland we saw several butterflies, one was a Speckled Wood.

We had a picnic alongside a stream, where under a strong beaming sun we sat listening to birdsong. I’ve identified (using British Garden Birds) the song of a chaffinch and maybe a wren, but is there a third song? Can you tell?

Day Three: Friday.

If you are struggling to find something ‘wild’ to do in June, then why not download the 30 Days Wild app for 101 random acts of wildness? I did and the first act suggested was something blue. So here is a picture of one of David’s rockery plants, lithodora ‘heavenly blue.’

Day Four: Saturday.

This March we planted some seed maris bard potatoes in the hope of growing our first vegetables. Today I noticed that the first flower has opened. I read that it will be soon be time to harvest these earlies! Isn’t the flower very strange looking? Well I thought so!

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Day Five: Sunday.

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Naughty Artie!

Today was World Environment Day. Nicky on her blog Too Lazy to Weed, highlighted that it was also The National Garden Bioblitz weekend! So we spent the whole day in the yarden. I busied myself with counting the flora and fauna that we have in our small space. My fellow ‘spotter’ Artie was watching the bees and butterflies for a very different reason!!!

I counted  about 60 plants. Of that number we have two trees and many shrubs, alpines and perennials. I used the Pl@ntNet app to ID some annuals and I was surprised at the results! One of the wildflower seedlings has roundish leaves so I used the app and found out it is a nasturtium!

Of the many insects that visited the yarden, a number of them were bees. Those identified were: common carder bees, a dark variant of the tree bumblebee, mason bees and white-tailed bumblebees. Thanks to UK Bees, Wasps and Ants Facebook page for help with ID-ing the bees. My skills are still not great! Below are five useful facts on each bee.

Common Carder Bee:

  1. Found widely in the UK.
  2. On the wing from March to November.
  3. Nests above ground, such as cavities, hedges, plant litter or birds nests.
  4. They gather moss or grass to cover their nests.
  5. A social bee, can have a colony of up to 200 workers.

Tree Bumblebee:

  1. Came to the UK ten years ago, under own steam.
  2. Not reported to have damaged native bumblebees
  3. Prefers wide open flowers, i.e. daisies.
  4. Nests in cavities or birds nests/boxes.
  5. The males are sting-less.

Mason Bee:

  1. One of the solitary bees, (there are no worker bees).
  2. Nests in cavities, i.e. walls.
  3. Uses mud to close their brood cells.
  4. Are non aggressive.
  5. Are just as good pollinators as honey bees.

White-tailed Bumblebee:

  1. Is another group of social bees.
  2. Nests underground, i.e. rodent nests.
  3. Has a short tongue, so prefers wide open flowers, such as daisies.
  4. Are accomplished nectar ‘robbers’. By boring holes, means they don’t have to enter the flower.
  5. On the wing from March to November.

David, Artie and I were also given a spectacular mating dance from two, small white butterflies. It was truly uplifting to see the two flutter delicately about on a hot summers day!

Day Six: Monday.

20160606_133351I don’t know if it is due to tiredness or the heat but I have been feeling kind of tired and low today. So it was going to be a lazy kind of day. After the midday heat had passed, Artie and I headed out into the yarden to sit quietly. I took out my library copy of Roger Deakin’s Waterlogged, (a tale of ‘wild’ swimming around the UK), and relaxed while the yarden hummed with bees. I am finding the book hard reading. I simply can’t get into it!  I usually like history but the historical passages in the narrative just bore me. I will persevere though!

Day Seven: Tuesday.

I have always wanted to try my hand at writing a Haiku (traditional Japanese poetry.) You may have guessed that I can go on a bit while writing the blog, so you’d think a three lined poem would be easy for me! Wrong! I have been racking my brain trying to get syllables to come together. Below is my best attempt. What are your thoughts? Have you tried writing a Haiku?

Bees, buzz, drunk on nectar (5)
Flowers’ scent, enticingly (7)
Pollen baskets, full (5)

Summary: The problem with this years 30 Days Wild is that I have wanted to do everything all at once! And that is not plausible. I have felt like a daemon possessed! Panicking if I don’t do something to the extent I want. For the second week, I think I need to ‘chill’ a bit more and enjoy nature instead of forcing it!

I hope you will come with me on this next week of discovery?!

Christine x

Sunday Sevens #12

I’ve begun compiling this week’s Sunday Sevens (devised by Threads and bobbins) early. It’s Thursday and I am eagerly dipping into my loaned library copy of Kate Rew’s Wild Swim. I am particularly interested in the section featuring lakes and tarns. I am looking for suggestions on where to do my next swim. My first being in Derwentwater on Sunday!

Monday saw David having a day off work. So we headed to our local park, Sefton Park to walk the family dog Riley. I think by the look on his face, Riley enjoyed himself!

This week has been National Vegetarian Week, which has been all about ‘celebrating the stories and the traditions behind the food we eat.’ David joked that it is vegetarian week in our house all of the time! Of the dishes I have made this week, this Italian flavoured Quiona and Bean Soup was healthy and surprisingly filling.

Ingredients (serves 2):

  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 can of beans, rinsed, I used Pinto, but you can use any
  • 1/2 white onion, chopped
  • 1/2 pepper, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed and chopped,
  • 1 chilli, chopped
  • 1 tbsp oregano, fresh, chopped
  • 1 can of tomatoes and juice
  • 500 ml of vegetable stock (I used one stock cube)
  • 50g of quinoa
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Method:

  1. Heat oil in a medium saucepan, over medium heat. Add the onions, pepper and chilli and sauté until barely tender, about 5 minutes.
  2. Add the beans and garlic and stir for 2 minutes.
  3. Stir in the tomatoes and their juices, and vegetable stock.
  4. Add the quinoa, oregano and bay leaf. Cover and simmer until quinoa is cooked, 12 to 15 minutes.
  5. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Remove bay leaf and serve.

Earlier in the week mum showed me the ‘wild’ flowers that had seeded themselves in the alleyway behind our houses. Among them was a yellow poppy, which I later researched and found out was a Welsh Poppy. Also the yarden seems to be blooming, even if the weather has been grimy this week. Everything has suddenly become green and lush. The maris bard potatoes are huge and I’ve discovered that the clematis David’s mum had given us, has flowered!

This Saturday has been a busy one! After the weekly shop, David and I headed to Harefield Water Gardens, a family run business in Widnes. We visited in a ‘monsoon!’ At least we tested out our new waterproof coats! Harefield Water Gardens have a farm shop and cafe where you can look out towards their herd of alpacas. Unfortunately they were all huddled together by their barn when we visited. We manged to purchase some pond plants and then headed towards Dobbies to get some alpines.

In the past week, we (or should I more truthfully say David), have been constructing a small pond in an area of the yarden that had once been a rockery but the plants had all died and was looking a bit sorry for itself. I suggested creating a small pond. We followed the tips on the RSPB site, used a washing up bowl and placed soil around it. We are both proud of the new instillation and hope that the plants survive and maybe one day small insects will make it their home. What do you think?

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It looks like Sunday is going to be a lazy, rainy kind of day. I’m watching David play on his PS4 while planning the evenings dinner and dreaming of warmer, sunnier weather!

I hope you have a good week ahead,

Christine x

Autumn Light.

For the past few weeks now I have noticed a change in the light.

Afternoon autumn sun flooding the dining room

Afternoon autumn sun flooding the dining room

The shadows have become longer. The sunlight during the day has become more stark, almost piercing. The seasons are changing without us hardly knowing! Autumn is arriving, creeping silently into summer. The days are becoming shorter. Soon it will be night by 4pm! For now, I am valuing every minute of light. Savouring the last bloom of flowers and the remaining buzz of bees before nature slows down for winter.

Part of me wants to mourn the loss of the light, but autumn brings its own pleasures. Like the frenzied activity at the bird feeders and the Sedum finally flowering after budding for so long!

Bird feeder

Bird feeder

Sedum and Honey Bee

Sedum and Honey Bee

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today I have been making ready the house for autumn and the coming winter. The windows got a good clean and the voiles have all been washed. I have also changed the bedroom curtains from the sky blue to the teal in preparation for the darker evenings to come.

Picture from 2013

Picture taken 2013

Come the evening, I was busy in the kitchen making a, Peruvian Quinoa Stew(serves 3 people).

Ingredients:

  • 15og of quinoa, rinsed well
  • 200 – 250 ml of water
  • 1 onion (white) diced
  • 2 cloves of garlic sliced
  • Olive oil for frying (I use lower fat olive oil)
  • 1 celery rib chopped
  • 1 carrot sliced
  • 1 bell pepper (any colour)
  • Handful of green beans, chopped. You can use any variety of vegetables
  • 200ml of vegetable stock (I used reduced salt)
  • 400g of chopped tomatoes
  • 2 teaspoons of ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon of chilli powder (I used medium)
  • 1 teaspoon of ground coriander
  • half a teaspoon of cayenne pepper (put more in if you like heat)
  • 1 teaspoon of dried oregano
  • Fresh, chopped coriander for garnish, if preferred. (I left out)

Method:

  1. I rinsed the quinoa. Placed it in a small pan with the 200ml – 250ml of water and cooked, over a medium heat, for about 15 minutes or until soft. Then I set aside with a lid on the pot to absorb the remaining water.
  2. While the quinoa cooked, I had a second pan on the hob. I chopped and sautéed the onions, then added the garlic in a little olive oil for about 5 minutes over a low to medium heat. It may have taken a little longer for me as I was busy chopping the other vegetables while the onion cooked.
  3. Then I peeled and sliced the carrot. Washed and chopped the celery. I added both to the cooking onion and garlic and cooked for a further 5 minutes, stirring often so nothing stuck or burnt to the pan. It took longer as I had the hob on a lower heat.
  4. After chopping the bell pepper and green beans, I added them to the pan with the other vegetables and then added the tin of tomatoes, along with the spices (cumin, chilli powder, coriander, cayenne and oregano). I let them blend together for just a few minutes and then poured in the stock. I covered the pan and let simmer for about 15-20 minutes, maybe longer, until the vegetables were tender
  5. After everything had cooked I stirred in the cooked quinoa, warmed it up again, and adjusted the salt to taste.
  6. Add chopped coriander if needed. (I left out)

While the quinoa had cooked and the vegetables were simmering in their covered pan. I stood by the sink and washed the knives and measuring jugs used in the preparation. I gazed out of the window and cherished the bird antics going on before my eyes.

I counted up to 17 Goldfinches at the sunflower and nyger seed feeders. Amongst them were still some babies flapping their wings, begging! Pigeons pecked at the off-casts the Goldfinches threw out and the visiting Dunnock hopped among the vines of the climbing Passion Flower snatching at insects!

I am happy to report that the Sparrows are still visiting in numbers. There were at least five on the feeders and I watched on as three Sparrows had discovered my ground cage feeder and were happily guzzling the dried meal-worms I had left out for the Dunnock. A Sparrow and Starling fought for the right to feast on the fat block sitting in the Laurel bush. The Sparrow won!

The meal finally came together. I must say the spices were rather muted, maybe some more or an added chilli could have helped? It was however a filling and healthy meal, though my mum disliked the quinoa ‘tails’!

Peruvian Quinoa Stew

Peruvian Quinoa Stew

And also:

I have done some more research on quinoa and its ‘tails.’ The seed is from South America and was the staple diet of the Incas. The tails are not tails at all, actually they are the endosperm of the seed. The nutrition or power house for the growing seed, much like the albumin of an egg. According to BBC Good Food, quinoa, is a complete protein, meaning it has all nine amino acids. It is a fantastic wheat free choice and is highly digestible. It has twice the protein content of rice and barley and is also a good source of calcium, magnesium, vitamin E and dietary fibre.

The health benefits speak for itself. I think I’ll be cooking with this little seed a lot more in the future! 🙂

Have you eaten any good meals with quinoa? I would love to know your thoughts on this super seed!

Christine xx

Update on the Garden… part three!

The garden 2015

The garden 2015

The news from the garden this weekend is that we DO have Honey Bees visiting the flowers!  I saw up to seven at one time enjoying the Salvia, the Borage and the Dahlia. This year I seem to have a greater variety of plants for the visiting bees to enjoy. The Bumblebees also enjoy visiting the Dahlia and Borage as well as the Passion Flower.

Honey bee

Honey bee

The bird feeders have well and truly been ‘attacked’ this weekend! We have many species of garden bird visiting as listed below.

  • House Sparrows, have continued to visit in numbers of up to eight if not more!
  • Goldfinch charms have visited numbering over 12, most are fledglings.
  • Starlings have made a noisy return. This years fledglings are now getting their adult coats and love the fat blocks on offer.
  • Pigeons are too many to count and follow the smaller birds into the garden as they know there will be many seeds dropped.
  • The Dunnock has made a welcome return, though not the same one as visited previously. This one seems to be very bold and stands his/her ground in relation to competition from the Pigeons! A most welcome visitor to the garden!
  • I can’t say I have seen the Blue Tits this week as it’s mainly Sparrows and Goldfinches that I see, but I hope they manage to visit the feeders.

Have a pleasant week!

Update on the Garden 2- Pests!

I noticed in the garden this week a Scarlet Lily Beetle, apparently it is a pest that feeds on lilies and fritillaries. The picture below was taken on a fuchsia but they only lay their eggs on lilies and fritillaries. I have lily bulbs growing (well hoping they grow) so will keep a check on any larvae activity!

Scarlet Lily Beetle

Scarlet Lily Beetle

On Saturday, as the weather was nice I got out into the garden with my sheers and chopped the dying flowers from the Cat Mint and also decided to give the Wallflower a much needed trim! The bees won’t be thankful to me but they at least have the Siberian Bell-flowers to feed on!

I also chopped the leaves of the lilies that were infested. I managed to work around the larvae that cover themselves in their own excrement (nice!).

Some of my plants have not looked so good this summer (as last year). The Coriander I bought in spring is looking really limp and withered. This year I have put the annual herb in a pot but think I shall have to put next years plant in the ground! It grew so much better last year and the hover flies loved the tiny flowers it had!

Hover Fly on Coriander Flowers

Hover Fly on Coriander Flowers

However this years best grower and filling the void that the Coriander has left is the Fennel. Another herb, but this time a perennial. Last year it was overshadowed by the Coriander but this year it has grown almost three foot! Its brown feathery leaves have flower buds developing. These attract not only Hover Flies, but Lacewings and other insects too, though I have not seen any as yet!

Fennel flowers

Fennel flowers

Another flower that isn’t looking so fine is my Michaelmas Daisy. It has shot up in height but now has powdery mildew on it’s leaves. I have sprayed the leaves with vinegar in the hope that it will work better than the milk solution I used on my, sadly now demised Phlox. However it does not look so fantastic a day after spraying!! The poor Daisy is not looking too good and now has an infestation of Gastropods!

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During the week I have been saddened to have missed most of my wild poppies flower. They only seem to last less than a day! However, Thursday morning, I spied the red blot of not only one but two poppy’s so I, (still half asleep) clutched at my phone and snapped the below photo! 😀

Wild Poppy

Wild Poppy

I was also happy to see that my Passion Flower has started to bud, so much so that there are literally hundreds of buds on it (and more growing every day!) I wish it would all bloom at the same time, what a sight that would be! We shall have to be content with just four this time! 😀

Four Passion Flowers!

Four Passion Flowers!

 

30 Days Wild… Week Two

As I guessed rightly this week’s nature sightings were not as abundant as last week.

Monday and Tuesday were filled with travelling to and from work and the bit in-between. I am not enjoying work at present, I am feeling rather undervalued and the travelling tires me out. I really need a holiday!

While at home, I did manage to take some pictures of David’s rockery plants!

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Wednesday:

The weather changed for the better and it was a happy return to bright sunshine and warmth. After work, David, Artie and I sat in the back garden for an hour and soaked up the sun. The garden was filled with the sound of bees happily enjoying the ‘wild’ growing Siberian Bellflowers and Cat Mint. Even the small Golden Mint Moth made a glad return.

Siberian Bellflower

While potting some Poppy seedlings into bigger pots I noticed a Small White butterfly flutter by. That is the first butterfly I have seen in my area! We tend not to get too many butterflies with being terraced houses. I look forward to my Buddleia flowering and maybe will get to see more butterflies?

During the evening while calling at my Mum’s I noticed how calm the air was and looked up to wonder at the wispy Cirrus clouds drifting leisurely overhead. I read later from the Met Office website, that Cirrus are high level clouds, some 18,000 to 40,000ft. The name comes from the Latin for lock of hair. The clouds are part of a warm front, though looking at the Met Office’s prediction for the weekend, it looks like the warm spell is going to be (yet again) short lived. 😦

Example of Cirrus

Example of Cirrus taken from science-edu.larc.nasa.gov

At 10pm the results of the vote for Britain’s national bird were announced. It was not really much of a surprise as the gardener’s friend, the Robin took first place with 34% of the vote! The Barn Owl (12%) was second and my favourite the Blackbird (11%) came third. The Blue Tit came in at a lowly 8th position.

Britain’s National Bird results

  • Robin 34% (75,623)
  • Barn owl 12% (26,191)
  • Blackbird 11% (25,369)
  • Wren 9% (19,609)
  • Red kite 6% (14,057)
  • Kingfisher 6% (13,922)
  • Mute swan 6% (13,480)
  • Blue tit 6% (13,123)
  • Hen harrier 5% (12,390)
  • Puffin 5% (10,674)

Thursday:

It was yet another scorcher of a day in the NW of England. I rushed home from work to enjoy my garden. The garden is a bit of a sun trap so as I reclined under the sun’s rays I listened to the Goldfinches visiting my Mum’s garden and I smiled at the comical begging of their young. I have still yet to get good footage of the baby Goldfinches this year, so a clip from a previous year will have to do.

I was grateful to see that the Swallows were in full force today. I watched in awe as they swooped between the rows of houses chasing bees. They were that close you could see the blue sheen on the Swallow’s body. They are beautiful creatures and quickly becoming one of my favourites.

Later, David (who had been snapping pictures of bees) and I enjoyed our dinner al fresco! It was nice to relax with the setting sun and to feel the calmness of evening after a hectic day!

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For dinner I attempted to make a Turmeric and Lentil Soup as seen on Deliciously Ella’s webpage. I followed the recipe to the letter however it will not be a soup I will make again. I think it had too much mixed herbs in the recipe and ended up tasting very earthy. It was much like taking a mouthful of soil! However, I did enjoy the preparation of the cannellini beans and button mushrooms in spices such as turmeric, cumin and mustard seeds.

Turmeric and Lentil Soup

Turmeric and Lentil Soup

You can obtain the recipe and method here: http://deliciouslyella.com/turmeric-and-lentil-soup/?fb_ref=Default

Friday:

The morning started off brightly but the weather soon changed to a dreary, heavy day. Alas there was not much ‘wildness’ going on! Yesterday David brought home from work a play tunnel for Artie. It’s huge but Artie seems to like it! Here he is in his ‘cube’. 🙂

Artie in his play tunnel

Artie in his play tunnel

Saturday:

The rain that the Met Office predicted did not arrive. 😦 I was a bit peeved as I had wanted to (if the weather was fair) taken a drive to Lancashire to follow the Pendle Sculpture Trail, however, the day trip will have to do for another day. I ended up staying at home and after shopping, did some house work before spending two hours in the garden. The weather was overcast but the cloud broke occasionally and the sun briefly would peak through. The temperature was mild and so I planted my Foxglove seedlings into bigger pots (I hope they survive!) while keeping an eye on Artie as he stalked flies and enjoyed the outside space. I am quite blessed that he does not look to climb onto the wall.

Artie smelling the chives!

Artie smelling the chives!

I spent a good time trying to photograph the bees visiting the garden and noticed some Tree and Garden Bumblebees, (there were also many Red Mason Bees!) I also snapped a Cinnabar Moth resting on the Salvia and a Harlequin Ladybird, though they are an invasive species it was fun watching the little fella fly about the garden plants!

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As Artie and I were in the garden for a long time, the poor birds could not come in and taste the seed on offer. We have up to three House Sparrows visiting the feeders, (they have adapted to feed from the hanging feeders), though they were thwarted this afternoon! They sat on the roof and called angrily for me to leave the garden, as too did the numerous charms of Goldfinches! A poor confused baby Goldfinch even landed on the back door and chirruped before spotting me and flying away! Poor thing!

Every now and then the calls of the Swallows filled the air and they would dart acrobatically through the air! At one stage a Magpie swooped past the garden and beneath it the body of a Swallow! It energised me seeing their flight! 🙂

Around 4pm it grew cooler, the wind picked up and so I took myself and Artie back indoors. It was good timing as I had to prepare for the evenings dinner!

I planned to make a Roasted Vegetable and Pearl Barley Risotto. I wanted to make something ‘healthy,’ and pearl barley is a wonder food! It is helpful in lowering cholesterol, protecting against heart disease and diabetes! I couldn’t find one concise recipe for what I had imagined, so I made my own! Once cooked however it needed a few tweaks, which the recipe below has! I at first used sweet potato which in additional to the other ingredients seemed too much, so I have reduced the amounts!

Roasted Vegetables and Pearl Barley Risotto

Roasted Vegetables and Pearl Barley Risotto

Roasted Vegetables and Pearl Barley Risotto

Serves 4.

Risotto:

  • One onion chopped
  • Two cloves of garlic, crushed and chopped
  • 1 chilli, de-seeded and chopped (leave out if you don’t like heat)
  • 250g Pearl barley
  • 1.5 litre of reduced salt vegetable stock
  • Salt and pepper to season

Add the onion, chilli (if using) and garlic into a pan and sauté. (I put in the onion and then chilli and cooked for a couple of minutes before adding the garlic as it tends to burn easily.) Then add the barley and stock in increments until all soaked up! (I put in half a litre at a time until the barley was cooked!) Cooking could take up to 40 minutes so leave plenty of time, no need to rush! Salt and pepper to season.

Once the barley is cooking turn your interest to the vegetables.

Roasted Vegetables:

  • Two peppers (any colour), de-seeded and cut into strips
  • One small carrot, peeled and chopped
  • One small red onion, peeled and chopped
  • Cherry tomatoes halved
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper (leave out if you don’t like heat)
  • Salt to season
  • (You can chose your own type of vegetables to roast, the above is just a suggestion!)

Place the chopped vegetables in a roasting tray, drizzle some olive oil and season with a pinch of salt and cayenne (if using). (I got my hands in and covered the vegetables with the seasoning.)

Then on an oven, 200°/gas mark 6 setting, roast vegetables for 20 – 30 minutes.

Serve barley on a bed of wilted spinach and place the roasted vegetables on top! (I also quickly fried some chopped button mushrooms and added to the roasted vegetable topping.

Enjoy!

Sunday:

Another overcast day. A day that David say’s is a ‘headache’ kind of day! The usual suspects visited the garden feeders today and below is David’s footage of baby Goldfinches being fed by it’s parent!

I wonder what ‘wild’ things I will see or get up to in the following week? Bring on week three!

30 Days Wild…Week One.

It was another WordPress blog: Sunshine and Celandines that alerted me to The Wildlife Trust‘s, 30 Days Wild, an initiative where you do something wild each day for the month of June. I quickly signed up, printed out the wall calender and got ready to immerse myself in ‘wildness’!

Actually, there wasn’t much immersing going on, what with it being a long week at work, but I did attempt to enjoy the nature around me – as I usually try and do! I live in quite a built up area of Liverpool so it is amazing that there is so much wildlife about!

Monday:

Going to work, I could hear the ‘merry’songs of Blue Tits, Dunnocks, and Black Birds that populate my area, and while in the office I could hear the rich sounds of a Robin and the alarm calls of Great Tits. David said he saw, all too fleetingly a colourful Jay on his way home from work.

Tuesday:

We watched the resident Blue Tit parents coming to and from our garden sourcing food for their brood. Last year I put up a bird feeder, (the second as mum kept the first in her garden next door!) I have feeders with sunflower seeds, fat balls and normal bird seed and in a Laurel bush I have a fat block. The Blue Tits like visiting the sunflower seeds and fat block, but they are so swift that I was unable to get video of them. The parents have become so dishevelled looking as they care for their young who constantly call out for food!

Wednesday:

With the weather slowly warming up for a very short lived ‘heatwave.’ I managed to pop out into the garden to see how the plants were coming along. The Scabiosa is starting to flower and has many heads on it and the Honeysuckle, which is a great grower is covered in flowers.

Honeysuckle

Honeysuckle

Thursday:

Today was the ‘hottest day of the year,’ for the NW of England! It was warm but not too warm and the sun lasted up until 5pm when a bank of cloud ruined any plans of a BBQ. It was my ‘short’ day at work, ‘thankfully,’ and I managed to rush home to spend at least an hour in the garden.

Something Blue - sky blue

Something Blue – sky blue

En route home I popped into Wilkinsons for David who only wanted grit for the indoor aviary but I ended up spending £18! I bought flower seeds in the hope they will grow into Teasels for the visiting Goldfinches and also dried mealworms for the Blue Tit parents, (though they have not seen them as yet!)

I enjoyed the hour outside. I felt the sun’s heat prickling my sunscreen covered arms and sipped cava while Artie basked in the shade and hunted flies. As silhouette’s of the visiting Swallows could be seen flitting overhead, I took pictures of the insects visiting my Wallflower. A Tree Bumblebee, Mason Bees and a beautiful Golden Mint Moth!

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Friday:

I discovered today that my Cotoneaster has little white flowers on it! (I planted it last year and it’s taken a year to become established.) I am hopeful that the flowers will become pollinated and that it will develop berries! Fingers crossed.

Cotoneaster flower

Cotoneaster flower

Saturday:

The warmer weather seems to have been but a dream as it was cold and windy today. David and I, after doing the ‘weekly shop’ went to Bents garden Centre. I was in search of Borage and Alliums and David wanted a bird box. I came home disappointed, I’ll have to make do with seed Borage and try and grow it myself, but David managed to get his bird box and at £2.99 it was a bargain! However, I did not leave empty handed, I got myself a bee log which I hope will be shelter for solitary bees like the Mason Bee! I hope it will be more of a success than the still vacant Insect House!

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The journey home took us along the East Lancs Road, which cuts through arable fields. Alongside the road we saw not one, but three birds of prey hunting. I identified them as being Red Kites! Here’s a picture from David’s Flickr page of Red Kites from Gauntlet Birds of Prey in 2011!

Red Kite

Red Kite

Sunday:

Today we put up the bird box and bee log in anticipation of future visitors!

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All day we have been aware of a Blue Tit fledgling sitting nervously in the Laurel bush. It’s parents keeps visiting periodically so it has not been abandoned. He is concealed by the leaves and seems content.

I also noted that I had up to at least five bees in my garden all enjoying the Wallflower, Cat Mint and Honeysuckle and saw my first baby Goldfinch of the season but could not get footage of him!

Garden Bumblebee

Garden Bumblebee

It’s been a busy week for the nature in my area. I don’t know how I am going to better the sightings I have already seen, but here’s to week two of being ‘wild’! 😀