Archive | October 2016

Autumn birds

We have had a good autumn for birds in the garden. Meadow pipits have been calling in as they migrate past, as have chiffchaffs, and blackcaps. Migrating blackbirds and chaffinches have also been feeding up in the garden, and are distinguishable from our local birds by their larger size. Generally, birds from colder climates are larger than birds from warmer climates. We can tell their size as we measure them when we catch them in mist-nets as part of our garden bird ringing program, which increases our knowledge if the birds are recaptured elsewhere.

Our best migrant has to be a firecrest, which, along with the more common goldcrest, is our smallest warbler. Unlike the goldcrest which is a resident all across the UK, breeding here and staying all year, the firecrest only breeds in mainland Europe and the South East of England, and is a winter visitor to the South West. They are not that common anywhere, really, and not easy to see due to their small size.

 

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The firecrest on the left has a white face with black round the eye, and lovely yellow/green shoulders, compared to the duller goldcrest on the right. Both have a black and yellow stripe on the head, which in the males will have an orange centre. I think they are delightful little birds, and I was very pleased we caught it, as we hadn’t seen it in the garden. And to double the pleasure, we caught a second one the next day!

 

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The winter thrushes are arriving in force, and we are catching a lot of redwings. These are our smallest thrush, with a creamy stripe above the eye, and a rusty red patch on the flank and under the wing.

 

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Another interesting thrush is the mistle thrush – much larger and greyer compared to the more usually seen song thrush. It has a very upright stance, and seems pale and spotty from a distance.

 

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Interestingly, although common, these are rarely caught in mist-nets, and only two adult birds were ringed in the whole of Devon last year. We have caught two ourselves this year, and are pleased to be able to add to the pool of knowledge about this bird. After all, that’s what it is all about, not just an opportunity to see these gorgeous birds close up!

Fabulous fungi!

 

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I am having fun this autumn trying to identify the fungi I am finding in the garden. Some, like the above Shaggy Ink Cap are common, and I have seen them before in Hertfordshire. Others are new to me, like this elegant Turf Mottlegill.

 

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My woodpile has been covered in interesting things, particularly after rain, which encourages the fruiting bodies to erupt. Many of the logs are covered in Coral Spot, which is exceedingly common.

 

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These King Alfred’s Cakes are also common, although almost exclusively found on ash wood.

 

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This Yellow Brain fungus wasn’t very large, but a very bright colour! It disappears completely when the weather is dry, and rehydrates when it rains, apparently.

 

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Much prettier than that weird lump are these tiny little gill fungi – some sort of Oysterling, although I am not sure which one.They were tiny, smaller than my little fingernail. The photo shows the underneath.

 

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Even smaller and more delicate are these Resupinatus sp, which have their attachment point in the centre of the cap, so they hang down from the branch. When you turn a branch over and find them, they look like upside-down fungi, with the gills on the top!

 

 

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My favourite finds so far have to be the waxcaps – brightly coloured, waxy fungi that mainly grow on unimproved grassland, so my lawn which was once a horse field is suitable. This one is probably the Glutinous Waxcap.

 

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This used to be called The Ballerina, but has been renamed the Pink Waxcap. I like the Ballerina better.

 

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Now I need it to rain more so that lots more interesting fungi will grow!

What a beautiful Autumn!

Devon is just glorious at the moment. Every day I wake to blue skies, sunshine, gentle breezes, and gorgeous autumn colours. The leaves are late with their colour this year, as it has been so mild, but we have had one or two nights with a touch of frost, and gradually the greens are turning to yellows, oranges and reds. But that is not the only colour change going on. My hydrangeas are all changing too. The clear blue flowers are ageing to deep, dusky pinks. The purple flowers are now a lovely wine red, and my white paniculata variety is a pretty strawberry pink.

 

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My dwarf pampas grass obviously liked the extreme haircut that I gave it this spring, as it has come back with a lovely collection of flowers.

 

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My favourite spring shrub, Corylopsis, is looking great in autumn too, with a lovely show of buttery yellow leaves.

 

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I have been working hard in the garden, digging out and levelling a new path. So for a bit of light relief I put a new edge on my new rose border. This is how I get a smooth curve on a border, by using a hose to lay it out first.

 

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Result – a nice neat curve. Just a couple of miles of border edge to go…

 

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We stopped for a coffee break this morning, and sat out in the garden and just listened to the peace and quiet. Coal tits were quietly wittering away in the tree above us and ravens flew overhead with their deep kronks. And then a peregrine flew over, checking out the garden for prey. Fabulous! I love my garden!

 

 

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Developments in the garden

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Just before I went away on holiday, our new shed was finally built, and I am very pleased with it. There is plenty of room inside, but I am sure it will fill up very quickly. The next job is to make a ramp to the door, and to paint it a simple dark brown so that it blends in nicely and is less obvious from a distance.

We have also made two chicken wire pens for dead leaves, to rot them down slowly for leaf mould. I am a bit worried though by the sheer quantity of leaves that are coming off our beech trees…will the pens be big enough?

 

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Ah well, we can always build two more.

The most exciting news is that we now have a potager, surrounded by 6ft deer fencing, so that we can grow some fruit and veg next year without feeding all the local wildlife. It now needs the turf off and some basic terracing done over the winter, so as to be ready by the Spring. More work!

 

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My dear husband did say ‘When is the tiger arriving?’…

With all these new additions, the bottom end of the garden is looking very business-like. Now we just have to decide if that business is a garden or a zoo!

Discover Lundy – a week of learning

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Having spent a week volunteering on Lundy, I then moved into Bramble Villa West with my husband and another couple, and spent the next week taking part in Discover Lundy. This is a week of walks, talks and activities run by the Lundy Field Society, for the LFS members, which takes place every 4 or 5 years. Many of the members of the LFS are eminent scientists, or amateur specialists in their own fields, or have accumulated much Lundy knowledge, and this week gives the other members a chance to learn from them.

 

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We had a fungus talk followed by a foray which had us all on hands and knees learning about all the weird and wonderful fungi that are to be found. The one below is a waxcap of some sort…

 

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There was a plant talk and walk, which showed me some treasures that I had walked right past before and never noticed. Inspired by this, I then kept my eyes open whenever I was walking the island, and I found this little Rock Sea-spurrey, smaller than my little fingernail.

 

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There was an archaeology walk, and a migrant bird talk and walk, all of which took people all round the island. And on every walk we saw plenty of interesting things, not always all of the kind we were supposed to be looking at!

 

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The invertebrates walk had us all hunting for bugs, beetles and suchlike, which was different, but was also an opportunity to ask others for help identifying all the colourful caterpillars that I had photographed during the week.

 

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This is a Fox Moth caterpillar, which is extremely common on Lundy.

 

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This is a Broom Moth caterpillar, and it doesn’t have a light shining out of its head – that is the LED flash round my macro lens.

 

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I think this chap is a Brown-tailed moth.

One of the most fascinating activities was the rock-pooling, where we explored under boulders at the lowest point of the tide, and found all sorts of interesting things, including a gripfish clinging to the rock, and lots of crabs.

 

 

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As well as the more normal red beadlet anemones there were some huge strawberry anemones.

 

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I was very interested in the cushion stars – two of the larger species on a rock, and one of a tiny species that someone found and put in a dish for us all to see.

 

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There was pond dipping, bird-ringing demonstrations, photography workshops, a golf tournament on the rough moorland ( I came second!), and a bake-off. The challenge was to make something with the limited resources of the cottage kitchens, and with the limited ingredients stocked by the shop. I made a double chocolate ganache cake, which I was pleased with, even if it didn’t get placed.

 

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The evenings were also full, with astronomy, moth trapping, catching nocturnal shearwaters, a film night, a play, a quiz and a formal dinner.

The week was extremely busy, but absolutely fascinating, and I will appreciate my favourite little island all the more now that I know a lot more about it.

Two whole weeks on Lundy!

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‘What on earth do you do on Lundy for two weeks?’, I can hear you ask. Plenty, I can assure you. I had a very busy two weeks, and had very little time to do nothing.

Firstly, the two weeks were actually separate, with me staying in different accommodation with different people. Week one I was part of a team of fourteen lovely volunteers, all members of the Lundy Field Society, on a conservation break, working for the island in exchange for free board and a free crossing. I did the same week last autumn, and this year’s team included many old friends as well as some great new ones. We stay in the barn, which is the island’s group accommodation.

 

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This is the view from the front steps of the Barn looking down towards the tavern. The week was busy and hard work, but the socialising and the great island views make it all worthwhile.

 

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I swam in the sea nearly every day, enjoyed a long walk round the island on my day off, managed to cook a two course meal for all 14 volunteers when it was my turn, beat the others at scrabble, went places I haven’t been before, and had a thoroughly good time.

I had to wave goodbye to most of the team at the end of the week, but I and one other stayed on for a second week, which was just as busy. But that will have to be another blog post!