Tuesday, 29 April 2008

It must be spring...


Well this morning I was to be found in the studio (sorry Shed) before work. I haven't picked up a brush in over 6 months. I can't explain it really but in the winter I tend to go birdwatching and in the spring, my attention turns to gardening and art. I've often thought it was because of lack of daylight, but I think it's temperature. I'm a cold weather person and love being out when it's harsh. In the summer I become a bit torpid and so maybe that's why my mind creates.

Obviously I don't give up birdwatching completely, but something stirs in me around March (usually the arrival of the first application for a Fair and panic sets in) and the old twitch returns. So this morning spent a bit of time getting my eye in again with watercolour, a medium I love, but struggle with. Not because of the technique, but because I like bold colours, and watercolour struggles to be bold and fresh. I got there last year, lets hope it remains. No photo's yet of today's effort, but two of the studio taken last year, top one is the external view funnily enough, the the other one is the view from inside I have. I love these glass pieces, which are inside, they just inspire me while sitting trying to get up some creative flair.

Sunday, 27 April 2008

Yellow Wagtail

On a visit today to Springhead Gardens, more detail on the garden blog, a real surprise was a Yellow Wagtail (132) by the mill race. At first I thought it was a Grey Wagtail given the setting, but no, on closer inspection a Yellow, sadly no photo though.

Superb garden surrounded by farmland, so bird life was everywhere. Mallard and Coot chicks already hatched and this fella, guarding his missus on a nest in the lake.

After the gardens we went for a walk along a bridleway. All of a sudden a pair of Wrens set up one heck of a racket, both flew off but the male perched in some ivy not 3 feet away and sang to us. Oh to have the camera ready and primed, as it was a stunning display, the wren face on to us for 20 seconds or so, Mrs BR was most impressed, then it was gone. The bridleway also lifted a fair few Orange Tip butterflies. Cow Parsley, Red Campion and a whole host of other wild flowers are now out.

On way home Little Egret in a field by West Orchard, a couple of Kestrels, and swallows everywhere, including one skimming the Stour at Kings Mill.

Today felt like summer at last, first day I've been out just in short sleeves. Bliss.

Saturday, 26 April 2008

The Song Remains the Same

I've just returned from a half hour walk across the fields here in Stalbridge. And do you know what, even though I didn't see anything of note, at the end of a day it was wonderful just to stop and listen to the evening chorus. From the house one can walk across the road, down the bridleway, across a few fields and then back up the Trailway (a remnant from the Somerset and Dorset railway).

Countryside here isn't that spectacular, mixed farmland, with old hedgerow trees, but I like it, as did one Thomas Hardy, who called this area the Vale of the Little Dairies. Maybe the 9 Pied wagtails I saw were pretending to be Fresian's. Sadly though no Cuckoo yet.

For me listening to Blackbirds, Robins, Chaffinches Great and Blue Tits, Chiffchaffs and of course the much neglected House Sparrow as the light fades in the west is one of life's great pleasures. I also watched a House Sparrow pair for five minutes as the male did his best to woe the lady of his choice. I'm glad to report he will sleep a happy man tonight.

As long as I can remember I've sat in the garden as dusk gathers, cup of tea in hand and just empty the mind of the day's events while listening to male Blackbirds proclaiming their spot around me. Many say Nightingales are the top vocalist, but a Blackbird in the evening can gladden any weary soul. I was so pleased Kate Bush's album Aerial of 2005 included Blackbird songs. If you've not heard it and partial to a bit of Blackbird melody, check it out.

Actually this reminds me, I've not noticed any bats yet this year over the garden in the evening. Finally, on the migration front, reports of 7 Bee-Eaters heading north from Exmoor area today. Keep an eye out.

Thursday, 24 April 2008

Sedge Warbler

Very short visit today to Chew Valley Lake on way into work, at least 2 maybe 3 Sedge Warblers (131) singing. Reports of 12+ Hobby's on the Levels and a Hooded Crow confirmed (last one in 2003) at the coast.

Also following from yesterdays posting, I've created a new "gardening" blog. Link left. As summer's here, I tend to slow down with the birding, increase the painting (it's the morning light you know) and gardening activities (constant battle with the weeds).

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

And a Nightingale sang on St George's Day

Well actually it didn't, but it gave a splendid view. Usual day off today, so car in for service and MOT, best make use of the courtesy car then before I get the bill!!... so as management was at work in the morning, a trip to Lydlinch Common in Dorset. This open access area is managed predominantly for Butterflies, although today only saw one Peacock. More of that later.

The common is basically neutral wet woodland with open clearings. I like it because being like a swamp underfoot, not many people venture out there. Many old trees though, such as this dilapidated oak which had a Jackdaw nest round the other side. The woods though are alive with birds. Apart from the Nightingale (128) and Whitethroat (129), also had a Spotted Flycatcher pair (130) Bullfinch, numerous Great and Blue tit, 2 Blackcap, Jay, Carrion Crow, Rook, Jackdaw, Wren, at least 11 Chiffchaffs, slightly less Willow Warblers, Kestrel and Buzzard flying over and in the field next to the Common I startled into action 2 Hares... at last a proper sighting of my nemesis this spring.

And this Peacock Butterfly. Photo isn't great (cropped) as couldn't get that close, but watched some fascinating behaviour. The Peacock was sunning itself, but a pair of solitary bees (one top right of photo) kept buzzing it's "eyes". I've heard of this behaviour before, which from memory is a mimicking response to the eye, but never witnessed it. The Butterfly didn't move, just flapped it's wings, bee left, then the other one had a go. This lasted for a minute or so, then the butterfly was off. Great stuff.

Below are a selection of photos, click to enlarge. As I'm adding a fair few photos this posting, made them smaller to fit on the page. Bluebell woods (how St George's is that), Cowslips, tree rings (note how the tree was actually 2 trees - often caused by deer grazing on the sapling) ..... and if you go down to the woods today..... this toy bear was obviously lost and placed in the tree. Hope he's okay and someones found him!!

Completely unconnected with today, below, photographs from afternoon at Lyme Regis on Monday. Too tired to write the blog then. Gawd I've travelled about a bit this week, with being in Bristol for work on Tuesday as well. Anyway some of you may know that about 10 years ago the pleasure gardens were obviously not that happy, and during a land slip the whole lot landed on the beach. Millions of pounds later the gardens are finally open. I'll be there for Candles on the Cobb in August, a fabulous night when 1000's of candles are lit on Lyme's famous harbour. Presumably without Meryl Streep prancing about in a storm, looking for a Frenchman.

Cobb from Gazebo in new pleasure gardens, Arty shot of Cobb Museum, arty shot of Thelma contemplating a fish supper, and Herring Gull contemplating Thelma's fish supper

Anyway back to St Georges Day. Picked Thelma up after work and in the afternoon popped down to Beaminster to visit Horn Park. It was open for the National Garden Scheme, and is a garden I've wanted to visit for years but only open 2 times a year for NGS. The wildflower meadow has a reputed 164 varieties of orchid. However after last night rain is was a bit marshy over there so we stayed on the sun terrace and took in the view over a slice of lemon drizzle cake. There is a reason for this in a bird blog (mind you maybe I should have a seperate blog for my gardening posts to make this sort of posting more relevant - watch this space).

No back to the wildlife. Ponds awash with tadpoles, whirligig beetles, pond skaters and the like. Couple of orange tip butterflies also fluttered by, Swallows swooping through the undercroft. Glorious summers day. But I've fallen in love with this place for one single reason. Behind the house - Ravens. I'd heard them when we arrived but couldn't quite find where they were.

In the photo above, your author, Border Reiver Esq is watching a frog or some such other nonsense, but above him on the skyline is where the Raven's were. What better than to sit of an evening supping Pimms, maybe a spot of something smoked and watch Ravens overhead. Mind you they were making one heck of a racket, almost as much as the Chifchaffs, which seem omnipresent these days.

Anyway 4 views of Horn Park. Pond in formal garden, stream in woodland garden, Herself entering Dingly Dell, and Beaminster from the sun terrace.

Sunday, 20 April 2008

Gardening, Lunch and Stripes

Having watched a female Sparrowhawk last night using the garden fence as a hunting perch, I thought, it's about time I got some veg into the garden. Strange segway I know.

So Sunday morning saw me out with the larks to sort out the top raised bed. Yesterday we bought a few seed potatoes for a future supper. I'm not trying to take over the Golden Wonder crisp empire, just a few home grown spuds. Nothing better than potatoes out the ground and eaten in half an hour. Remiss of me, I've completely forgotten the varieties, but think 3 Pentland Javelin and 6 Arran Pilot.

First of all, a bit of TLC was required for the raised bed. With this cold spring I've not really been in the mood to sort it out. And the soil has been far too cold anyway to sow anything (it's heavy/firm clay over chalk... nice!!). Moving in last year, we inherited an uncared for square of grass, so I spent most of the year getting it some shape. This year will hopefully be less back breaking. I may even be able to sit on the seat at some point???

Anyway a bit of hard graft and a bit of luck.....

..... got the bed in order, the potatoes planted, a row of Carrots, a row of Beetroot, and the runner bean canes in-situ ready for the plants in a few weeks time. Phew, after all that work, what I need is a goodly luncheon at some Dorset Hostillity......

Which we just happened to find. Actually we'd booked a 12.15 appointment with the Carvery. Her indoors had been there last Sunday with a girlfriend, so this time it was my turn. Plumping for turkey over venison, pork, beef or lamb, the boy Reiver was filled to bursting. It was fabulous. If any of you are down Dorset way, Sunday Carvery at the Green Man, King Stag, is recommended.

But surely we should walk some of this off? So as Bulbarrow Hill is a gnats crotchet away, off we toddled. Mindfull too that this is a wildlife blog, here's some wildlife. Bulbarrow is glorious for raptors and today it didn't fail to please. 7 Buzzards circled and power dived over escarpment. Tried to take a photo, but came out as 7 pin head dots. Also a Kestrel and later on a Peregrine. While watching the Buzzards, the welcome cronk cronk alerted me to a Raven. Buzzard and Raven took part in a bit of aerial argy bargy, which gave me ample time to see these two birds are really the same size. Not much in it. It was a draw by the looks of it.

On the passerine front, loads of Chiffchaff, few Willow Warblers, 2 Green Woodpecker, smattering of Swallows and House Martins, plus the usual suspects up there. I thought I heard a Whitethroat, but couldn't find it, so that doesn't count.

This looked great in real life, but the bluebells in this mixed wood haven't really shown up well. Bulbarrow is an odd place as it is part of the Chalk escarpment, surrounded by Sandstone vales, and covered in a variety of soils, so a mad mix of acidic and calcareous habitats merge into one. Such as where these bluebells are, across the road nothing but gorse. And then just along the road one comes across wild violets.

Dorset generally is fabulous for insects, and today I took this, a very common "micro" bee which I think is Lasioglossum calcaetum on a dandelion. But below is a caterpillar I can't identify. Someone will no doubt get back to me and say this is a common species, but as my insect key is up in the other house, I'm a bit stumped. Any suggestions welcome.

And finally, in Dorset this month's must have for the peasant farmer is stripy fields. This is a field near Bulbarrow, and I have to admit as a bit of a stickler with stripes, this effort is a bobby dazzler in terms of technique. I never managed anything as good as this during my brief foray into agriculture. I once produced an effect similar to this by incorrectly setting the fertiliser guage and spinner. For weeks afterwards farmers came from across the whole of Northumberland to stare and point in absolute amazement at how such an effect could be achieved in such a spectacular way.

Not wishing to be outdone, came home and cut the grass. And a conundrum. I could cut grass all day, in fact when I retire my perfect voluntary job would be cutting grass in a churchyard, wildlife, gardening, and locate a nice sunny area for the future of course. But here's my thought. Lawn has daisies, I like daisies, but obviously cutting the grass means the daises are removed. Question to the gardening floor then..... in the photograph below what do you prefer? cut stripes? or slightly messy but colourful daisies?

Friday, 18 April 2008

Sand Bay Thursday

Took a different day off today than normal, long story. Anyway after everything I had been through in the morning a pleasant 2 hour stroll along the whole of Sand Bay, each side of high tide at 6.30pm was what the Doctor ordered. Didn't really expect to see much wildlife, as loads of dog walkers and joggers out and a couple of people having BBQ in the drift wood. Really just a relaxing walk to empty my mind of the day's stuff (If any of you say why did this take as long as 2 hours, there'll be trouble !!!)

Then lo and behold, 2 Ring Plover and 3 Dunlin flew off from the tide line. Quite unusual to get Ring Plover at all in the Bay, not that suitable, not much for them to flick over. But in passage, can get some good numbers. Which explains why on the way back, I disturbed another 8 Ring Plover and 5 Dunlin from some shingle, 4 of the latter with their black tummies. Before I disturbed these, I'd spied a Wheatear flying onto a rock. In the space of 5 minutes another 8 were flying about the driftwood, right next to a family who were having the BBQ. The family never once noticed these.

Good numbers too of Goldfinch, one flock of 18 and another seperate one of 11 flitted and jingle-twittered their "charming"way past. Nice numbers of Linnet too which are now in full finery. Other than that dozen or so Curlew, few more Shelduck, and a Swallow flew over the carpark.

Just a lovely way to end a stressful day....... (think I was drunk, the horizon is skew wiff)

Monday, 14 April 2008

Weekend of sunshine

What an interesting weekend. Forecast was for increasing rain, but down here at least it stayed fair almost continuously. On Saturday mate said how about a birdwatch around Oldbury Power Station up in Gloucestershire. Secretly we'd hoped to see the White Tailed Sea Eagle which had popped into Slimbridge the day before, but it wasn't to be. Grand day out; nothing of huge note, but we did have a fair number of Chiffchaffs singing, a male Blackcap, Shovler, Curlew, Teal, Shelduck and a couple of Swallows.

And this fella. I thought I'd show this as an example of how when using a scope, the direction the scope is pointing makes all the difference. Viewed about 100 feet away through binoculars I initially I thought it was a non-bobbing Common Sandpiper because of the white "shoulder". But when looked at through the scope, it was a Dunlin in breeding plumage. But viewed facing the sun it just shows how the light makes the image dull (plus I was hand holding the camera against mates scope which doesn't help). Why it was on it's own in a muddy lagoon is anyone's guess.

And this is Duncan, my mates cat, who would love to meet this Dunlin one fine day and have a chat about the effects of global warming on the environment!!

After the walk, popped back to collect wife of mate after work (and say hi to Duncan) before the trio of us went to the Anchor Pub at Oldbury for a luncheon pie and a pint. Literally in my case. It's a nice part of the world up there as not really Bristol, not really Cotswolds, but has a quiet charm all of it's own... such as this barn next to the pub. I like painted sheds.

After spending much too long in the Anchor, another brisk walk along the seawall to clear the head was needed. This drew us back to the power station again, but from a different direction. We had to admit looks quite good for a power station. Day was finished with a cup of tea and some Fudge's Cranberry Biscuits dipped in white Belgium chocolate. Scrummy.

Sunday was a gardening day at Chez Border's. Typical!! Mate above phoned me to say he'd had a Whitethroat at Oldbury in the morning... why wasn't it there yesterday??

The Pyracantha is no more. For those of you who are garden bloggers, the shame of my garden weeds prevents my posting any photographs this time. EXCEPT...... nice Chiffchaff which spent 20 minutes faffing about in the Betula, AND last night, a Hedgehog. I knew the Hogs were active as one of them had left a message next to the pond a few days ago. Popped out to switch the pond pump off and there this chap was, bold as brass on the lawn. More about the hogs no doubt in future postings.

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

The Dorset Warbler, sorry Dartford

Bit of a Red Letter Day today, not only did her indoors buy me lunch at Poundbury Garden Centre as a thank you for taking her to her hospital appointment, but...............

............... after 44 years of searching (well maybe not quite that long) I have finally caught up with the Dartford Warbler (127), not one but two. Or is that a pair? I'm as happy as a happy warbler in the Dorset sun today. Just Brilliant, Brilliant, Brilliant!!! Can you tell I'm excited?

Bit like the Holy Grail for me, these rare warblers have eluded me every time I've been in Dorset heathland. Today there it was, just below a viewpoint carpark (I'll not say exactly where but if you wish to know, e-mail me), the same viewpoint that 4 years ago produced a plethora of Crossbills out of nowhere. Good spot for Nightjars too, so out with the white hankie and ready to attract them one summers evening.

Back to the Dartford Warbler. We'd stopped at this viewpoint, really just to have a look at the err....view! Quite a few Linnet were whooping back n forth so wiled away a few moments watching then. Then out of the corner of my eye, a bird flew from some gorse. A weak waffly flight, long tail small body. Something told me to follow. And there it was. 20 feet away. I didn't have the camera so walked back to the car hoping it would be with me on my return. And it was, both male and female... I think, certainly these 2 were slightly different. One cracking view in the bins I could see insects in it's beak... surely not feeding young already. Anyway fired off 20 or so photos in the hope some would at least show the bird, proof, if proof were needed. I've cropped and added the best 2 below. Not marvelous, but for hand held in the heat of the moment, they serve their purpose. Even managed a 10 second video on the compact. I'll treasure that, and I hope you like these.

The one above is the male, speckled upper breast. Not sure if the others are male or female, didn't take much time to make notes... I know, I know!!
Next two below are a bit rubbish, but again for proof really. Click to enlarge

And that was about it really. My initial intention was to have a blog showing the fabulous Dorset scenery in Spring, but that Dartford Warbler stole the show. So a photo diary of other places today. (Sadly after spying hundreds of Cowslips around Dorchester, but being unable to stop and photo them, never saw any more).

Above, Abbotsbury and Fleet from road to Bridport, and below Hardy's Monument (Kismet Nelson chap not author bloke)

Below, Gorse in full bloom..... everywhere.

Bluebells now in the hedgerows

Sydling St Nicholas chalk stream, clear as clear water.

Into Cerne Abbas from Sydling St Nicholas, Giant on hill mid ground

And the Giant itself... just to it's left as you look at it you may make out the outline of Homer Simpson. This was painted on the hill, for a bit of fun, last year, and although the paint has long gone, the grass is still showing Homer and his "Donut" (click to enlarge)