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

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

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

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

RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch Results 2021

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

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

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

Thanks for popping by,

Christine xx

My Wildlife Moments of 2020

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

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

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

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

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

What wildlife moments of 2020 have you seen?

Thanks for reading,

Christine x

Batty for Bats

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

garden

Yarden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading,

Christine xx

The Oak Tree Experiment – Update

acorns

Acorns

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

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

oak tree

Baby Oak Tree

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

Have you successfully grew a tree from its seed?

Thanks for reading,

Christine x

A Small Miracle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last weekend I released them.

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

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

What a wonderful story of life fighting against the odds!

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

Since then they have already become chrysalises.

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

Thanks for reading,

Christine x

30 Days Wild 2020 – Day Thirty.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until then and for the final time, Stay Wild!

Christine x

30 Days Wild 2020 – Day Twenty-eight.

twt-30-days-wild_countdown_28Day 28: For today’s 30 Days Wild, David and I, with Riley in tow took a three mile meander around Port Sunlight River Park. The weather was showery, with a light breeze. The sun was warm but not warm enough to coax butterflies from their shelter. On arrival we spotted a kestrel hunting, house martins flew over the lake and we sat and rested while listening to skylarks nesting in the scrub. I even saw a new plant, St John’s Wort which a bumblebee was enjoying.

What’s your favourite place to go nature spotting?

Thanks for reading, and stay wild!

Christine x

30 Days Wild 2020 – Day Twenty-seven.

twt-30-days-wild_countdown_27Day 27: I took a barefoot walk for today’s 30 Days Wild. While talking Riley on an early morning walk to avoid the hottest parts of the day during the latest, brief hot spell, I slipped off my shoes and felt my toes sink into dry, prickly grass. In shaded areas of the field, my toes squelched in wetter, cooler grass. It was definitely refreshing!

barefoot walk

Barefoot walk

Have you tried a barefoot walk?

Thanks for reading, and stay wild!

Christine x

30 Days Wild 2020 – Day Twenty-six.

twt-30-days-wild_countdown_26Day 26: For today’s 30 Days Wild, I’ll partake in a new activity for me, I’ll listen to a nature podcast. After a quick search on Google, I discovered that there were many podcasts relating to nature. Below are links to some of the podcasts I found related to me, literature, metal health and wild swimming, but there will be podcasts more suitable for your interests too. Happy listening!

Ramblings: Literary Walks: In 2011 Clare Balding took a walk around Heptonstall and Hebden Bridge, a landscape which inspired the writing of Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath.

The Outdoor Fix: Wild Swimming with Suzanna Cruickshank.

Wild Swimming podcast: Lake District swimmer Sara Barnes shares why swimming means so much to her.

Ramblings: Health and Happiness: Clare Balding shares her favourite walks over the past 20 years.

What is your favourite podcast to listen to?

Thanks for reading, and stay wild!

Christine x

30 Days Wild 2020 – Day Twenty-five.

twt-30-days-wild_countdown_25Day 25: Today is Throw Back Thursday!

In 2015 I went painted gorilla spotting on the streets of Norwich. I made fat balls for the garden birds in 2016 and took a wildlife filled trip to Lunt Meadows Nature Reserve in 2017. I got up close and personal with goldfinches in 2018, and in 2019 I attempted to ID some trees via their leaves.

For 2020’s Throw Back Thursday I shall return to the topic of trees. Forestry England has some fab downloadable content, of which Tree Trumps is one of them.

tree trumps

Tree Trumps

Here’s some facts from the game:

  • The UK’s tallest tree the Douglas Fir has a non-flammable bark which protects forests from fires
  • Black poplar is the most endangered native tree, due to habitat loss and cross breeding
  • Horse chestnut leaf stalks leave a scar on the twigs in the shape of a horseshoe
  • There are 10 yew trees in the UK thought to predate the 10th century
  • The Romans ground chestnuts from the sweet chestnut to make flour
  • Downy birch aided the industrial revolution, its wood was used for the cotton industry and leather tanning

I would definitely recommend a download of the game to print and challenge your family and friends. It was a lot of fun!

What is your favourite tree? Mine is the hawthorn or May tree as it has beautiful flowers in spring and berries for hungry birds in autumn.

Thanks for reading, and stay wild!

Christine x