Saturday, 26 November 2011

Who invented decking?

Okay, who invented decking for the garden? I have loads of the stuff, it came with the house when I moved in 2 years ago. It had just been put in by the vendor that year so was in effect new, and I have to admit it looked smart when I viewed the house, and, along with a hot tub (oh yes!) and the 14 decking lights (which worked for exactly a week after I moved in) it did look stunning in the evening. But the hot tub was sold before I moved in (good) and the lights failed (water in the electrics and the cost of fixing is more than installing) and to be perfectly honest I'm not a decking fan, never have been. I did have a plan to rip it all up when I first moved in, but a mix of the cost of laying a patio and complete lack of time meant it has been left on the to-do list. And it looked okay, so why rip up perfectly good hard standing for the chairs and so on.

Anyway this decking is slowly becoming lethal. I wont use chemicals in the garden, so I try and keep the moss on the wood at bay by regular cleaning with a brush. However last week when going to top up the bird feeders I nearly came a cropper, it literally was like ice and only by clinging onto the silver birch did I avoid slipping down the 3 steps and into the shed, but in doing so pulled a muscle in my shoulder which still niggles. I could use a chemical moss cleaner, but don't like doing so for the birds and wildlife, or nail chicken wire everywhere which works well in a nature reserve, but looks a mess in a garden, so I think I will bite the bullet in the spring and rip it up. But what to do before then?

Well I'm ashamed to say I have relented and the decking has had a through scrub with Jayes Fluid. It's not the most environmentally friendly product on the garden but it works, and the smell takes me back to my agricultural days.

So after giving the decking a through coating of Jayes Fluid during the week, this afternoon I was out there with a stiff brush and the hose to give it a really good scrub.

Its sort of worked but it's not by any means moss free yet. But at least I can walk on it. Having the feeders over it is good in one way as the spoil is picked up by ground feeders, but their "after mess" is also causing a problem. I may have to go for a radical rethink with the feeders, but I like them being there as I can sit in the conservatory and watch the birds antics.

Speaking of which while writing this posting in the fields out the back a huge rook flock and carrion crows have been getting very restless. Can't see why but often if corvids start getting agitated by a hedge, there's possibly an owl roosting there.

But while spending a few hours in the garden it gave me the chance to have a mooch about. It's been a very hectic week and I've not seen much daylight since last Sunday. So it was very welcome to go and see what was happening. And, as many of you have mentioned, it's unseasonably mild and as a consequence, odd things are happening.

I'll begin with the paperwhites. I know these are not early, but they came into bud at the end of October. So I've had them in cold storage for a month but no longer can I keep them cold, as I always love having paperwhites on display at Christmas (alongside daffodils from Jersey - makes me think spring isn't far away). But today finally one pot has flowered, so I've brought it into the conservatory. 2 more pots are not far behind but I'll try and stagger them.

But out in the garden, strange going's on. A pair of great tits were calling their territorial call this morning, and in the plant kingdom.......... I have a honeysuckle out.

And lavender!!

One of the pots containing tere a tete narcissus is showing good growth too

All quite odd for the end of November, especially when one thinks a year ago today Britain was shivering in a very unseasonal snowfall which brought most of the country to a standstill. Personally I like a nice bit of cold winter, but not for too long. Just enough to sit in front of a log fire and while away the long winter nights with a whisky or two ........ mmmmmmmmmm!!

Speaking of winter, my last Living World of the year goes out tomorrow, a surprising take on the holly story. If you miss it at 06.35hrs, you can listen again HERE.

Friday, 25 November 2011

A thought for the Faroes

It's just been on the weather that last night a gust of wind hit the Faroe Islands at over 120mph, 126mph I recall being mentioned. That is astonishing. Not unknown in the UK of course but astonishing, nonetheless.

This was all because of a deepening low pressure tracking across the North Atlantic, dropping 50 millibars in 36 hours. But it's better explained here.....

My maternal grandfather was a Master Ticket Sea Captain, which meant amongst other things he could go into any port without a pilot on board, which didn't make him the most popular man at times, as that's how pilots made their money. He plied the seas across the world in his ships, often away from home for up to two years at a time, and he was even seconded to the Royal Navy in the Second World War as an Atlantic Convoy leader (and harrowing that was apparently, as he watched "his" ships go down one by one while trying to maintain the formation and liaise with the Navy support). Bizarrely, when my parents met, Captain Johnson as my mother's father was always known, said to my father, "Dawes, are you related to "Daddy"Dawes..." my father said, "yes he's my grandfather". Captain Johnson then said, finest sea captain and ship owner I've ever served under, and with that nipped upstairs and got his first ever seaman's ticket, issued at the age of 14 when ships in sail were still being used. And there, on that ticket, which we still have, was my paternal great grandfathers signature, signing off the first rung of my maternal grandfather's shipping career. Being brought up in the North East, it was either shipping or mining that ruled the economy. Both sides of my family were shipping; all my paternal grandfathers brothers were sea captains, except him, he stayed on shore, at Readheads Dock in South Shields along with his sisters husband who was managing director at that time. It was my father who broke the mold and became an artist. But the sea is still in me, but from a safe distance of course....

I wish I had known my mothers father better. He was Norwegian and sadly died when I was 6 and although I can remember him, only vaguely. So my knowledge of him is from my mother. He always said respect the sea, the sea is in charge, you are not. And that has come down to me. I'm both fascinated and intimidated by the sea, especially when it is rough. I remember being in a force 10 coming back from the Isle of Arran and the ferry we were on was like matchsticks on a whirlpool. Seeing waves crash right over the ferry was absolutely fascinating, but then one remembers, we're in a fancy tin bath....... I hope the plug is in !

But I digress, this is about wind... I've paraphrased this from a weather facts website, as it is just so fascinating. Or at least I think so.

There is not a linear relationship between wind speed and the damage that is produced. For example, a 150 mph wind would not do twice as much damage as a 75 mph but rather it would produce many times over the damage of the 75 mph wind. When considering wind power alone there is a cubic relationship between wind speed and the power produced by the wind.

For example, suppose the wind speed is 15 mph and produces 3,375 units of power (15^3). If the wind speed is doubled to 30 mph then the power produced by the wind would be 27,000 units (30^3). As the wind speed increases the power produced increases at a rapid rate.

Assuming the cubic relationship mirrors reality which is does not for all wind speeds and situations, if the wind is 100 mph the damage produced will be 1,000,000 units of damage (100^3). If the units of damage are double to 2,000,000 then the wind speed that produced this damaged can be found by taking the cube root of 2,000,000 which has a value of 126 mph.

Thus, the damage produced increases significantly as the wind speed increases, especially as it increases above hurricane force. The 126 mph wind does twice the damage as the 100 mph although the increase in wind speed is about a fourth greater.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Birdwatching across 2 weekends

I'm enjoying this. Having slightly, and I emphasise slightly, less on at work at the moment I have time now to go out watching wildlife, though I have to confess to having planned to post last Saturday's birdwatching all week, but completely failed to do so. But better late than never I suppose.

So two brief postings. First an afternoon spent last Saturday walking from East Grafton up onto Wexcombe Down in Wiltshire and back again. The glory of Julie's house being in the middle of nowhere is that the car isn't needed to head off into unspoilt countryside. This part of the Wiltshire / Hampshire / West Berkshire border lands is unspoilt and pretty much unknown, certainly in birding terms very few people venture here, so it is like having my own back garden. So after a lovely relaxing lunch at the Cross Keys in Great Bedwyn, Julie settled down to watch the racing at Cheltenham and I headed off into the hills. Don't get too excited by the photos to follow, you'll see what I mean soon.

First encounter was an obliging pale buzzard on a fence post (honestly there is one there, in the middle)

And the fields around here are covered in mushrooms this year, I think that's because they've been spreading mushroom compost recently.

This is a shooting area so always lots of pheasants and partridge

As well as brown hare.... okay the photos are getting silly, so I've added arrows to them to help spot what I'd seen. This was actually about a quarter of a mile away.

And as everyone knows this November is mild, so here's two hovers on an umbellifer, not sure of the species of hovers.

And this is how far I'd walked up onto the Downs, arrow denotes the hamlet of East Grafton.

But by the time I'd returned I'd seen;

Blue tit 10+, Red kite 1, Buzzard 3, Pheasant numerous, Linnet 20+, Raven 1 + 2 (1 heard), Wood pigeon 100+, Blackbird 6, Red Legged Partridge 3, brown hare 2, Chaffinch 200+, Wren 1, Great Tit 2, Fieldfare 150+ more flying in as dusk gathered, long tailed tit 5+, Skylark 20+, Carrion Crow 20+, Robin 1, Kestrel 1, Greenfinch 1, Golden plover 35-40 overhead, Jay 1 and finally 2 Greater Black Backed Gull overhead which is very unusual for this area.

So all in all a very good 2 hours on the chalk downs. Mind you when I got home, Molly wasn't impressed with the brown hare, she'd seen one anyway (one of my wire sculptures in case you are wondering).

Let us now cast ourselves forward 8 days. It is Sunday November 20th. Still mild and at 8am I found myself at RSPB Greylake in the misty gloom. Julie has put herself forward to be a BTO Wetland Birds Surveyor and was meeting a more experienced surveyor to get herself familiar with what to do. I was going along for the ride (well actually as we had to leave the house at 7am, I was chauffeur and breakfast maker, Julie is not by any means a morning person). So the two of them went off and I, with 3 hours to spare, pootled off on my own to see what was happening.

I've been coming to Greylake ever since it was bought by the RSPB and it's good to see it develop. This is the first time I've been around some of the new walks around the back of the reed beds, which was a good place to put up snipe.

I then ventured into the hide and joined 2 other chaps, who were amused by the strange fauna in the restricted area of the reserve, namely Julie (on right) and her BTO mentor. It was good they were wandering about the restricted area, as they put up a lot of waders for us to see. You can't beat a nice bit of disturbance to get a good birdcount.

But we were soon distracted by another exciting view, a great white egret emerged as if by magic right in front of the hide. No need for arrows with this photo or the one below.

But I definitely need 2 arrows for this next photo taken hand held through my scope... I know, I know, you are astonished at the technical accomplishment. Oh and incase you're wondering, it is 2 peregrines in a dead tree half a mile away. Maybe enlarge the photo for, just for fun and a better look.

And now you know, the enlarged view is just as bad! I But at least these shovler are recognisable.

Bad though these photos are the tally was good, and so as in all good competitions, in ascending order......

.... willow tit 1, great white egret 1, pied wagtail, 1, grey heron 1, male kestrel 1, sub adult male sparrowhawk 1, buzzard 1, cormorant 2, little egret 2, wren, 2, cetti's warbler 2, water rail 2, snipe 3, linnet 3, peregrine 3, chaffinch 10+, shovler 10+, mute swan 15+, golden plover 19 flying over (apparently there were about 500 in the restricted areas), carrion crow 20+, starling 50+, mallard 50+, wigeon and teal combined 1500 +, lapwing flying overhead 2000+

That last lapwing flock was astonishing. I'd seen drifting flocks of 20, 30 but we were back at the car and about to leave when this huge flock circled overhead. Despite the great white egret being scarce, I still love to see so many lapwings.

Ohh yes by the way sorry about not being able to leave comments, I keep being logged out when I post, think its because I'm on Explorer 9 or something, if anyone has any suggestions how to rectify this, let me know (and the blog formatting is double spacing too and doesn't seem to want to change)

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

At last a weekend at home........

It's the first weekend in November 2011 and at last I've taken a breath, workload is reducing slightly and I'm taken stock, feel the embryonic energies of blogging coming back to the fold. When I began this blog 4 years or so ago, I had a completely different lifestyle, different job, different places to visit and well looking back it seems like a long time ago, especially as back in those days I seemed to have to a lot more time to go out and watch wildlife. But then again I now get paid to go out and watch wildlife, can't be bad, so I hear you say, "he doth protest too much"

So, now the mood has taken me, let me take you back to last weekend. It began with that dreadful crash on the M5 on Friday, not that far from where I live. I do a lot of driving now for my work, too much really, and what happened then really makes one stop and think of the fragility, the veneer our cosy modern life provides. What happened at Taunton really made me reassess.

So it was with a relish we woke on Saturday for a pre-planned visit to friends in Thornbury, in South Gloucestershire. The weather was fine, so we pootled off for a wonderful 3 hour walk/talk/amble along the Gloucester Canal at Purton (home of the original Bill Oddie programme on starling displays, more on that later).

Not long into our walk, we spied a rambling ivy across a stone wall. Bearing in mind this was November 5th it was covered in insects feeding on the nectar of these late season ivy flowers. A year or so back I made a Living World programme on the importance of Ivy in the winter and ever since then have been fascinated by how important this plant is to insects later in the year.

So important in fact I think a campaign should be started, "leave ivy alone" - keep it bushy, keep it messy, until April at least.

Onwards we strolled to take in the sights and sounds of the canal

Where soon we came across the undisputed highlight of the walk....

I do like gnomes. Maybe not as many as there are here, but every garden should have one. We're all much too sensible these days, and actually the original gnomes were there to bring good luck to the garden.

I'd never been this way before but had heard of the Purton Graveyard. A century or so back the Severn was a shipping highway but by the 1960's this shipping was in decline. As boats became obsolete they were rammed into the river bank to help stop river erosion from the huge tides the Severn experiences. Until recently these hulks were slowly rotting into the silt, but now these fascinating remnants of an industrial past are being preserved, with regular guided walks and information boards on each boat, when it was rammed into the riverbank and so on. Industrial archeology used to bore me rigid, but now, I love it. A sign of getting older I guess.

Not everything is about the boats though, as on the riverbank between a pair of boats this chickory was in flower, with quite a bit of it growing around this area.

This tower gives the names of all the boats lying here...

A concrete lighter

A plaque commemorating the destruction of the Wye Severn bridge when a barge hit a pillar and the whole lot came a-tumbling down.

Not the actual barge, but you get the idea

Amazing so much activity took place in what is now such a peaceful place.

Soon it was journeys end, the entrance to the Gloucester Canal, now blocked off at Sharpness with a lovely waterfall

And an interesting building, which is under threat apparently

It had been a fascinating 'bees knees' of a stroll out to the end of the canal, but now it was time to return.

Which brought about the wildlife spectacle of the day, not one but three peregrines flying about the canal. Two birds were pseudo-food passing so presumably pairing up for next year. Amazing to see,especially thinking back that only a few decades ago, seeing a peregrine was a rarity and usually in very remote places. Good to see them making such a good comeback.

Nearly home now........ but it wasn't far from here we also saw a kingfisher.

That was Saturday, rounded off with a fantastic meal back at my friends and then home to see the fireworks.

Sunday dawned bright and fare. Which was good as it was destined to be make the Christmas cake day, as can be seen by the chef hard at work...... oh dear look at the state of that kitchen!!

It was all too much so we had to escape while the cake was in the oven. And escape we did, to the Somerset Levels, Canada Farm Lake to be exact, just a short drive from me.

Such a glorious late afternoon to be walking up the lane to the bird hide

And so we made ourselves comfortable in the hide and waited to see what happened.... such a wonderful and peaceful place.

We weren't expecting these but all of a sudden thousands of starlings emerged and flew right over our heads to Westhay a few miles away. This is the first winter starling flock I've seen this year and it was such a pleasure to witness it on our own, made more so by the surprise of their passing overhead. It's still early in the season for the big flocks of 1 million + birds , but a sure sign winter is on its way.

And while we waited for more to pass,we could just admire the view.

Again, again and again....

But all too soon it was getting too dark to see any more starlings so off we walked back to the car, observing this moon and sixpence view on the way back. Magical.

Lets leave the last word to the starlings though........