Friday, December 28, 2007

Save Your Christmas Stamps - Save The Albatross

The RSPB is collecting stamps for their Save The Albatross campaign. All those Christmas stamps from your friends far and wide can be put to good use.

While your tuna might now be dolphin friendly, the long-line fishing method results in many seabirds, especially albatross, drowning as they go for the bait on the hooks. Try asking your local supermarket if the tuna is also albatross friendly?

Deliver your stamps while combining a great day out to your nearest RSPB reserve. Pulborough Brooks isn't too far away if you're in central Sussex, has a great little cafe and plenty to see on a nice stroll through the reserve.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

A morning run around the lanes of Harting.

There was a flock of around twenty redwings sitting in the top of the sycamore trees on the side of the drive, just before I set off. These are lovely birds to see in the winter - often together with fieldfares in large flocks in trees or out in the fields.

It was a bright winter day and not too cold. A few ducks on the pond which was full but not iced over. There's regularly a family of mallard there and you have to be careful driving past in the Spring to avoid the ducklings waddling down the road.

A kestrel was sitting up on the tree as I ran back up one of the narrow country lanes and I also spotted the bright yellow head of a yellow-hammer as it flew overhead. Several pheasant, as ever - trying to avoid the Boxing Day shoot and survive another day. Totally unprepared for life in the wild having been breed and then released for the Autumn cull.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas Birds

There's the usual flurry of activity around the feeders in my parents garden. An almost continuous stream of feathered visitors - blue tits, great tits, the much smaller coal tit which has to nip in and take it's chances before being chased off by one of the male chaffinches. Several chaffinches, greenfinches, dunnock, a pair of robins, blackbirds and up to three large woodpigeons and a pair of collared doves. This morning I also spotted something similar to a chaffinch but not. It turned out to be a brambling. Certainly not something that I ever see at home but there was a pair - feeding on the seeds with the chaffinches and tits. More of a orange-pink breast with speckled back and striped head.

Ferdie the pheasant also appears for his morning breakfast and afternoon tea. Rushing up to the back door if someone appears at the window but swiftly rushing off again as soon as you go out to scatter a handful of seed. At which point one of the woodpigeons will appear, waddling across the lawn like an overloaded bag lady or something out of a Wallace & Gromit cartoon. It's feet far too small and short to support such a large round body or perhaps I'm being unkind and it's merely fluffed up it's feathers against the cold. As soon as the pheasant has eaten it's fill, it's there picking up the leftovers before returning to underneath the feeders to catch the fall-out.

Another regular visitor is the spotted woodpecker which can't quite fit through the gaps in the bell feeder but hangs on the edge, bends itself almost in half reaching through to get at the nuts. Either the same one returning several times throughout the day or a couple of locals. A nuthatch appeared too, spending several minutes hanging upside down tapping away at the nuts.

A lovely, bright pink bullfinch appeared briefly at the top of the crab apple but doesn't stay around long. I saw it's mate earlier in the day. It always seems such a treat to see these brightly coloured birds with their hat of dark black feathers atop either a bright pink breast (male) or soft brown (female).

Another pheasant made a brief appearance. This one without a white collar and not as brave. It did venture up the garden to have a peck about under the feeders but didn't come any nearer the house, so isn't one that expects to be feed. Perhaps one of this year's chicks or one of Fred's (the previous garden pheasant) offspring.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Lapwings On The Tye

A run up onto the Tye this morning and spotted four lapwings in the sheep field. Not something I see very often up there - in fact hardly at all and it would be wonderful to see more of them. They were once a frequent sight in large flocks around fields but due to changes in farming and winter crops have declined rapidly.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Last Task of 2007

Preparing for what was due to be a very cold day, one pair of thermal leggings and two thermal tops, shirt, fleece, jacket, scarf, hat and fingerless gloves to be worn inside the gardening gloves. Ready to tackle some more scrub clearance up on Malling Down, near the quarry where we've been working this year. However, there was no chance of being cold - within a few minutes of starting work, you quickly warm up and it's not long before the uppermost layers are coming off.

This time the bonfire got started really quickly. There was a lot to burn from the two previous tasks and fortunately most of it was still dry, so within an hour or so there was a good blaze going up against one of the tree stumps. It doesn't seem to matter where the bonfire gets started or where we're working but we always end up downwind and then of course dragging the off-cuts up onto the fire you're like to get both smoked, baked or peppered with holes by the end of the day by the sparks from the bonfire. Most people have fleeces with holes in.

Mince pies and other goodies all round at the lunch break, although we needed to keep them away from the dog who thought they were just for him. Lovely welsh collie who couldn't work out why, with all these sticks around no one was playing with him. Apparently they can get obsessive about sticks.

Yet again by the end of the day, we had managed to clear a good area and have almost reached the valley just to the edge of the quarry. It's totally overgrown but there's a good south facing slope there - that 'if' we can clear it, could revert to grassland and that's what we're trying to achieve with all this scrub clearance - create more grassy areas for the chalk downland species.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Unusual Sighting

It's not every day that I visit one of the local garden centres and even less rare to see a red-legged partridge strutting around. Much bigger than their grey relatives which are often seen out in the fields, this one seemed to be relatively oblivious to the closeness of people and buildings and didn't look particularly paniced as I moved past it.

Being out in the open, many garden centres are a becoming a haven for wildlife - as long as the wildlife doesn't mind the interruption of people passing by. I've often seen a robin singing from a row of shrubs and perennials or a wren hopping around in the bushes.

What's turning up in your local garden centre?

Friday, December 14, 2007

Another One Bites The Dust

Returned home this afternoon to find a scattering of feathers beneath one of the groups of feeders. Apparently another bird has fallen prey to the local sparrowhawk.

This is the downside of providing feeding stations to small birds, they also provide a feeding station to their predators - particularly the sparrowhawk and occasionally cats if they're able to stalk their prey from suitable cover.

It must have been a small bird, as the feathers are all small and grey. No red bits, so it's not a robin this time. Perhaps a dunnock and they don't look big enough to be a blackbird. I'll keep an eye out to see who's missing - if that's not a contradictory statement.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Low Flying Heron

An unusual sight - heading seawards just as it's starting to get dark. If the tide's going out it may be off to the seashore to roost or for an early evening snack. You might think of a heron as being a river bird but they're often seen along the seashore and on estuaries.

Berries - Bring The Birds Closer

If you want to get up close and personal and get a view of birds right outside your window, make sure you plant a berry-bearing shrub outside your window.

While the blackbirds have pretty much stripped the higher berries, they're now working their way down and often sit on the window sill picking the next level of berries. You can't get much closer than that!

This morning a blue tit appeared as I was having breakfast. Just inches from the window and only a few feet away from where I was sitting.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Office Wildlife

The view out of my office window isn't fantastic - as views go but there is a row of shrubs just opposite and every now and then I get to spot something more than the dog walkers or children going to school.

This afternoon a small flock of birds flew in - two long tailed tits and two great tits, followed by a pair of blackbirds. They didn't stop long and flew on up the road to another garden.

Recently there's been a robin who regularly sits somewhere in the branches singing it's little heart out. More often heard than seen.

Something to bring a distraction to the working day.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Winter Skies - December

One benefit of the colder nights is that you get clear skies and it's now possible to see the wonderfully recognisable constellation of Orion. It's one of the few constellations that most people can recognise, along with the plough, although being close to the horizon it's only visible in the Northern hemisphere in the winter months.

Cassiopeia is another easy one to spot - it's a strung out W almost vertically above when viewed in the UK. The Pleiades is a cluster of several stars close together - apparently in the constellation of Taurus, not that I'd recognise that one.

I saw what I guessed to be Mars the other night - a distinctly orange 'star' over in the East. Planets track along a path in the sky from East to West and don't twinkle like stars.

Here's an idea of what's in the night sky this month on the BBC.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

FoTT Task On The E-Piece

First of the month and it's a joint task with the South Downs Joint Committee (SDJC) volunteers up on the E-piece. The forecast was for showers but we started out in sunshine although on the north side of the area so pretty cold especially when the cloud came over later on and then the rain.

The task was to clear a patch of brambles and ground elder which had been cleared about five years ago, so this was the regrowth. There's a trough halfway up the slope and the idea would be to get the area grazed which helps to keep the regrowth down and return it to chalk downland. There are several nest boxes in the trees along the side of the field. Not many of them looked as if they were occupied although there were several woodland birds flying around the area as we were working - robins, blue tits and greenfinches.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Chair of the FoTT

Having only recently joined the Friends of Telscombe Tye (FoTT), I now find myself being voted in as the new Chair for the group! Now there's a thing. Wasn't my intention but I guess they were short of volunteers and I didn't say no when I was asked at the Tye Committee meeting earlier in the week if I might be interested and then turning up at the AGM.

It's an exciting prospect to be involved at this level. I've always tended to stand on the sidelines, happy to lend my support to various groups but finding I'm more likely to put my hand up these days and take more of an active role. I've already registered the website name and it would be good to expand the membership over the coming year.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Visiting First - Coal Tit

Another first for the garden, I spotted a coal tit flitting about around the feeders. About the same size as a blue tit but with it's white cheeks looking more like a great tit. It's easily identified by the white patch on the back of it's head.

I'm sure it's not the first time it's visited but it's the first time I've actually seen one in my garden. As the trees have grown up in the nearby park there are more and more woodland birds making a regular appearance.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Low Flying Egret

Not something you see very often, at least not out of the office window but this morning a little egret flew over the houses just across from me. No doubt on it's way from the coast to the river via Peacehaven.

They're regularly seen in river estuaries these days and I occasionally see one down on the seashore. Every now and then I spot a cormorant flying overhead. What with the heron and duck earlier in the year, who knows what will turn up next.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Round And Round The Garden

Watched three robins chasing each other around the garden this morning. All sitting in the same tree and then flying from one part of the garden to the other. Following each other around and then back again. Being identical, I don't know if they were all males or males and females, so not sure if it was part of their mating ritual or establishing territory. It was good to see so many at once, especially after the sparrowhawk got one of them earlier this year. Robins are one of the first birds to set territories but perhaps the warm autumn weather made them think it was Spring.

They've obviously had a successful breeding season unlike some of the other garden birds which were badly hit by the cold damp weather earlier in the year - lack of food at the critical time, nest sites flooded or blown away. I think blue tits had a particularly hard time and some never got started.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Arundel Wildfowl Trust

Stopped off at Arundel Wildfowl Trust on the way back up from Somerset. I haven't been there in absolutely ages and it's changed quite a bit. The wetland exploration area has expanded and is now finished. Last time I was there, it was almost finished but not yet open.

Slightly disappointing this time. Although I have to say their computer system is impressive as although I didn't have my card with me, the young lad on the reception desk just looked up my details on their system and I was allowed in. I was surprised that as I walked out into the first enclosure the ducks came running up - obviously eager to be fed. A sign that they're so used to being fed, they expect it. The majority of the ducks kept at the trust are exotic captive birds from around the world but even the moorhens, mallard and pheasants wandering around are now so used to being fed they come up to you. There are several woodland bird feeding stations around the reedbed area which has been expanded in recent years and now has a boardwalk through it.

Great for families and children but from a bird watching point of view, the only hides worth visiting are the Scrape hide - although there wasn't much there this time, the Peter Scott hide and the Ramsar hide - both up at the back of the centre where the wild birds come in. Plenty of teal, a few gulls and on one of the flat islands at the back some snipe. I only had my binoculars with me but did spot a couple on the mud at the edge of the water and saw another couple on the grass. Very difficult to see sometimes as they're so well camouflaged. You just have to hope that you spot a movement as you scan along the water's edge. I pointed them out to a couple in the hide who hadn't seen them.

There wasn't much about but then it's still early in the season for the winter birds, so perhaps there'll be more around later in the year. If you want to watch wild birds then the hides are definitely the place to go or wander further up the valley to Pulborough.

Monday, November 05, 2007


Aargh - save me from the Bill and Kate show.

I tuned in to the first of the series and within a few minutes was ready to switch off, save for the brief moments of sanity when Simon King appeared and actually gave us something worth watching. The dumbing down of the BBC has gone far enough without having to put up with these two giggling and behaving like school children on what I used to enjoy as a factual, interesting programme with a bit of light-hearted entertainment thrown in. They spent the most of the programme wittering on with very little wildlife being shown - apart from the brief moments with Simon and the starlings at Westhay - except that they weren't or the red deer rut up in Scotland.

I've tuned in a couple of times since but only to watch the red deer, grey seals or other more interesting items than having to watch Bill and Kate. They're fine in small doses on their own but put them together and something horrible happens.

Let's just hope that Springwatch doesn't go the same way.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Autumn Colours

I headed down to Somerset for the weekend and the colours on the drive down are absolutely glorious. Splashes of yellows, coppery reds, browns and golds in amongst the greens which hadn't turned yet. We might not have had a great summer but the mix of cold, wet weather has meant we're having a great autumn.

The days are still surprisingly warm. We were walking around almost in shirt sleeves during the day commenting on the fact that it was probably warmer than the summer.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Feed The Birds Day - 27th October 2007

This Saturday is the RSPB National Feed The Birds Day.

Scrub off the bird table, clean out and fill the feeders with a variety of seeds, nuts and fat snacks. Make sure that you're not also setting up a tasty snack for the local cats and provide cover for the birds.

Don't forget to give the bird bath a scrub and keep it filled with clean water. If you don't have a bird bath a large plant saucer will do or an upturned dustbin lid partially filled with a couple of bricks or pebbles so that it's not to deep for drinking and bathing.

Clean out the bird boxes too as they may be used by roosting birds over the winter or for hibernating ladybirds and lacewings.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Putting Out The Feeders

As it's now getting colder I've stocked up the bird feeders and got in the winter's supply to make sure that neighbourhood birds are well fed. Hopefully attracting slightly more that the starlings and sparrows - although with both these bird species being on the red list, we should treat them as welcome visitors.

Also, now having an arch in the garden, I've got a whole new source of places to hang things from. I've put out some peanuts and fat balls which the starlings didn't take long to find but the blue tits soon appeared as did several chaffinches.

So much for birds being early risers. Between 7.30 - 8.00 am there was no one visiting the feeders. Come 9 o'clock they're all there. Starlings, tits and sparrows.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

First Scrub Bash Of The Year

Exhausted, covered in scratches, smelling of smoke - yep, it's that time of the year again. Back into volunteering and scrub-bashing. Not only have I now joined up with the Friends of Telscombe Tye but I'm still working with the Sussex Wildlife Trust and the Lewes group started with the first of the winter tasks this weekend.

Back up on Malling Down and continuing to clear the area we started on last year. It's amazing and slightly disheartening to see how much has grown back where we cleared. The ground elder has sprouted up with a vengeance and the nettles have also spread so you'd hardly know that we'd been there.

Never mind - moving further along the patch to clear more hawthorn, ground elder and brambles. There was a good turnout for the first weekend, although people were turning up throughout the day. Another lovely day out on the hill, warm in the sunshine and after a few minutes of sawing and slashing.

The bonfire didn't get going until just before lunch-time but once started we then spent a couple of hours dragging all the scrub that we'd cut in the morning and piling it onto the fire which had turned into a raging inferno. I left a few minutes early as we'd done all the cutting for the day and the fire just needed to left to burn what was on it.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Blackbird and Berries

The pyracantha outside the front window is covered in berries.

I have a pair of blackbirds who've now become regular visitors - at least while the berries are there. Turning up throughout the day to swallow down a couple of berries and then darting off again. Slightly cautious as they can either see me moving around inside or their own reflection but hunger seems to be the better part of valour.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Save The Severn

While I'm all for renewable energy, I really don't think that placing a ten-mile barrier of concrete across the Severn estuary is the way to go. Never mind the fact that once built it will generate 6% of the electricity requirements for England and Wales (we could save that by just reducing our existing usage) and cost over £15bn - it will destroy a unique wildlife habitat and generate huge amounts of CO2 in its construction.

The river severn is a truely unique wildlife habitat of world wide significance. Building a severn barrage will destroy much of this. What is the point of creating "green" energy if the price we pay is environmental vandalism and destruction of important eco systems.

Sign the petition against the barrage on the government website:

Read more about it on the following sites:

The Severn barrage or tidal lagoons - a briefing paper by Friends of the Earth (PDF)

No Green light for severn barrage - RSPB news briefing.

Environment Agency Wales - our view

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Red Kites on the M40

Driving up the M40 past High Wycombe and I spotted three red kites and one buzzard. Not a particular high total for that stretch of road, I have seen at least 20 kites circling over the town on one journey down but then I was driving this time, so I was concentrating on the road ahead!

It's a lovely sight to see these magnificent birds soaring up in the sky, searching for carrion or circling in large groups. It made me think, that if they can successfully breed in such large numbers in the Chilterns - there's no reason why they can't be introduced or spread to other areas of the UK. Although there are still people who will steal their eggs and poison them, there are now over 600 breeding pairs in Wales where the red kite hung on, having been exterminated from the rest of the country by the end of the 18th Century and about 250 pairs in the Chilterns

I remember seeing my first one in the wild, in the UK (they're a more common site in mainland Europe), driving up the M40 again and not realising at the time that they'd been released in the Chilterns and were established and breeding. That was over 18 years ago. They have been sighted in Sussex, so I shall look forward to seeing one flying over the Downs in the years to come.

Red Kites Feeding

Friday, September 21, 2007

Woody Woodpeckers

Out for my run this morning and I spotted three green woodpeckers and one spotted woodpecker.

I quite often hear the spotted calling from over in the park and occasionally see it flying from tree to tree or across the rooftops with it's short-winged loping flight. Quite regularly I'll see a green woodpecker, usually out on the playing fields. This morning there were a pair on the top of the playing fields and one flew up from the dewpond as a run past.

I don't know if it's just that I now recognise the call of the spotted that I'm more aware of it or whether it's moved into the area more recently and that's why I hear it most weeks.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Eat That Frog!

Not just the name of the book I co-incidentally happened to be reading as I sat in the garden but what one of the local cats had done to one of the frogs in my garden. It's remains sitting on the lawn, something vaguely distinguishable as a frog but without any legs ... or head. I did find a leg close by and realised that it wasn't the small one I'd seen earlier but a larger one!

That I saw today, when I nearly stepped on it while watering the garden. Felt something soft and squishy and luckily for it didn't tread on it. It didn't move even as I continued to walk to and from with the watering can - probably suffering from shock or maybe it thought if it played dead I'd leave it alone. No chance, not with cats around. I eventually caught it after it hopped sprightly across the path but couldn't scramble up the raised bed. I put it in the pond - safer there than out in the flowerbeds, or so I hope.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Flying Ants

The ants are flying - just as I'm out attempting to wash my car and they're taking off in droves but managing to land on my car, so there are definitely a few that aren't going to make it to set up a new colony.

There's a large ants nest by the back-door which has been getting gradually bigger over the last few days as they build the nest up ready for the adults to fly off. There were hundreds of large queens and also several smaller flighted males. Some of these seemed to actually be attached to the females. A field day for the insect eating birds but sadly there are less of them around.

Spookily enough it was exactly the same day last year that they were all in flight, so it would seem that at least the ants haven't been confused by climate change and the unseasonal weather.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Mobile Slug Repellent

Spotted my frog in the garden having not seen it around for a while. It's the medium sized one I spotted earlier in the year. I've been looking out for it in the pond but this time I found it scrabbling out of my way as I weeded one of the beds.

As it's been wet enough this month, it's taken off into beds to keep the pests down. Hopefully, it's having a go at some of the slugs in there and the cats won't find it.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Cliff-top Walks in Cornwall

Taking a break in Cornwall and a change of scenery with a different type of plants to look at. Although I'm also on the coast you don't see so many orchids around - there were lots of bright pink pyramidal orchids scattered over the dunes, stonecrop and salt loving plants around the sand dunes along Gwithian Beach.

Despite the weather being pretty awful - the sun managed to peep out through the clouds in the evening, bathing the slate cliffs in a gorgeous golden light with the clear blue sea and

It's lovely to see Grey Seals out along the coast. Although the young pups are now growing up - there were still a few youngsters around with their mums. Slightly paler in colour than the adults but growing fast. One was reclining on a sloping slab of rock warming itself in the late evening sun and occasionally scratching itself in that lazy, blubbering way that seals do.

I had a brilliant view of a kestrel sitting on top of a spike of rock, hunched up against the wind and lit up by the sun. There were a few house martins swooping up and down along the clifftops looking like aerial skateboarding up along the cliff tops. One almost collided with me as I walked along the path skirting along the edge of the cliffs.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Another One Bites The Dust

A pile of feathers up in the park shows that the sparrowhawk has been busy again and there's one less woodpigeon in the area. I don't think this will be a problem - having seen at least twenty of them sitting in a row on the telephone wires up by the playing fields. They must have had a good breeding year.

This one certainly had a more substantial meal than the poor robin it plucked out of my garden earlier this year. The females are larger than the male so it's likely that it was a female that took this particular woodpigeon. Sparrowhawks will pluck the feathers from their prey on the ground, having presumably swooped on this one in the nearby bushes and trees. There was a mass of mainly soft grey breast feathers and a few wing feathers on the ground. I'm guessing it then went off to eat it somewhere less open or took it back to the nest for the young.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Heron Being Mobbed.

Just had a heron fly over late evening, being mobbed by two gulls. They chased it quite a distance and were still going as it disappeared over the rooftops - squawking as it went.

Thursday, June 14, 2007


It's not often you get a duck in the area but this afternoon/evening, while I was out planting up my beans, I heard a distinctive 'quacking' coming from somewhere nearby and then spotted a duck standing on the roof of one of the nearby houses. Goodness knows where it had come from - the only water nearby is either the dewpond up on the Tye and I've never seen ducks on it, it's not big enough and there's not usually enough water in there or the river over in the valley.

Must have got lost! It was there for a few minutes until a couple of magpies came over and saw it off.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Rampant Rabbits in the Grass

The dewpond is getting low again although this time I took a closer look and spotted a newt emerging briefly to the surface through the muddy water. A few Linnets were flitting around waiting for me to go and I heard but didn't see a Whitethroat.

The grass on the Tye is now getting pretty long and the seed-heads have turned a pale dusky pinky-brown. It seems early in the year as it's only June. The area around the edges is still short and green where the rabbits have been grazing although with their numbers the band of short grass seems to be getting wider as they bolt out of the longer grass to take cover in the hedgerows and their burrows as I run past. Plenty of food for the weasel I saw earlier and I'm wondering if barn owls will take baby rabbits as something is needed to keep their numbers down.

I'm surprised the sheep are still on the Tye - the skylarks must be nesting by now so I would have thought they'd be taken off to make sure nesting skylarks don't get trampled.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Escaping Sheep

A more interesting run today. Usually I have a relatively uneventful run up onto the Tye seeing what's around. Occasionally nodding to a passing dog walker or avoiding their dog (the small yappy ones are the worst). Just the usual mass of rabbits bolting for cover. A few sheep and cattle still up on the Tye.

Coming back from my run and four lambs were standing on the wrong side of the cattle grid - no doubt they lept over ahead of the van that had just gone past. Of course the van driver hadn't bothered stopping.

Putting my shepherding skills into action - I managed to get the four lambs through the gate before they decided to take off into the garden of the house just by the gate and without letting the rest of the sheep out. One of the Mum's came to investigate what was going on but quickly went back in the direction she came as the lambs bounded through the gate.

They really aren't the most intelligent of creatures.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The Ladybirds Have Hatched

Well, not hatched like birds but emerged from their pupal stage - or whatever ladybirds do.

A week or so ago - all the larvae had disappeared to be replaced by pupae attached to bits of wall, stone, the garden bench and any surface around. I've never seen this stage of their development. Like butterflies and other insects they form a chrysalis which like the larvae is black with yellow markings. Within a week they've turned from the fat, black, prickly larvae with yellow spots into the familiar ladybird beetle.

I was lucky enough to take a break in the garden yesterday and saw several of them emerging from their cases. They had pale orange-yellow wing cases with no spots at first but gradually as they dried out in the sun the spots started to show through. One of them extended it's pale yellow wings, presumably to harden up and dry. There are still a few to hatch out but I've already noticed plenty of aphids around so they'll have enough to feed on and hopefully then hatch out the next batch.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Great Spotted Woodpecker

I heard and then saw a great spotted woodpecker today. Now that I can recognise their call fairly easily. It flew up onto a tree just across the gardens and sat calling as it perched in true woodpecker fashion before flying off.

So that's another to add to the local list.

Springwatch 2007

There's nothing so delightful as watching owl chicks live. The wonderful Springwatch is being broadcast again with live coverage of a range of animals in spring time, birds, badgers and many others.

For those night owls amongst you - you can watch the real night owls or their chicks. They are sooooo cute. Different sizes, looking like a collection of rather fluffy russian dolls with their adult feathers poking through the soft fluffy down. The barn owls are obviously well fed this year, as they sit hissing at each other waiting for Mum to return and stuff another rat or mouse down their gullet. A box of young Tawny Owls chirping pitifully

A nestbox with barn owl chicks showed one older sibling devouring it's younger sibling - down in one. I didn't know whether to laugh as it sat with the poor younger chick half sticking out of it's mouth, two little legs either side of it's mouth or to wince at the thought of such cannibalism. But that's why they're spaced out over several days. If food is in short supply - only the older chicks survive as they're stronger than their siblings so get to the food first and the younger chicks usually starve to death and probably then get eaten. I didn't realise that they were actually on the menu.

The Barn owl chicks look like drunks on a Saturday night. Slightly wobbly on their feet with that concentrated look on their face just like a drunk, concentrating very hard but not being able to focus and not very co-ordinated, as they tear up whatever morsel mum has provided, closing their eyes and swallowing down way too large a chunk and having to pause with it half in, half out with the effort.

I clearly remember watching the littlest of the owl chicks last year swallowing rat that was almost as big as it. It must have taken twenty minutes to swallow this thing down whole and was left with the tail sticking out of it's beak. Even now I can't help but smile remembering the comical vision it presented.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Chilly, Drizzly Runs

Managed to get out for a couple of runs this week. Weather wasn't brilliant it's got cold and drizzly. Although the rain is welcome, mid-week I was running in a heavy sea-mist so didn't see much - even the other dog walkers although they weren't out either.

The dewpond which had dwindled down to a large puddle has filled up a bit. I haven't been close enough to investigate if there are any amphibians in there this year.

The whitethroats are around as are the swallows and linnets. I could have sworn I saw a flock of curlews flying over the Tye the other week. They are around but I've never seen them up here - Cuckmere and Pulborough maybe. I didn't manage to get close enough for a definite confirmation but just got a glimpse of a down-curved bill.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007


The ants seem to have found their way into the house again. A little earlier in the year than usual but at first I spotted one or two wandering around - thinking I'd just brought them in on my shoes or feet and then spotted a whole string of them investigating a plate I'd left on the coffee table. Quite impressive how they manage to find things. I quite often get a troupe visiting my compost container I have on the side in the kitchen before it gets transported out to the bins. I'll need to be more vigilant before they decide to set up home inside my house.

I've also noticed with all the recent rain and general dampness, that the ant hills have appeared on the lawn. Also seems to be a lot earlier than last year.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Ladybird Bugs

There have been masses of ladybird bugs around the garden this weekend - rather ugly looking black bugs with yellow spots. I occasionally spot one or two but this year I counted fifteen in one small patch of garden so it's definitely been a good year for ladybirds.

Whether this is because it was such a mild winter or an early spring, I don't know but it's good for the garden and bad for the aphids.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Cuckmere - Godwits

A grey, cool and breezy day down at the Seven Sisters Country Park, on the Cuckmere meanders. I got there early and the carpark was practically empty so ahead of the Sunday walkers. The usual birds around but several Bar-tailed Godwits, flying up and down along the river bank - disturbed by the canoeists. I also spotted two in their orange-brown summer plumage on the lagoon, which was almost dry but with several Canada geese heads peeking up from the vegetation on the islands. Presumably nesting there. There was a pair up near the carpark with a few goslings feeding in the fields.

I only saw three Little Egrets this time - surprising considering how many are usually down there. While down on the shingle, I also spotted four curlew in flight. I wasn't too sure at the time, their curved bills seemed obvious but it could just have been the light, then when I got up to the visitor centre I saw they were listed down on the sightings board, so I'm putting those down as a tick.

There wasn't much to report out of the usual suspects - more surprising what I didn't see - no dabchicks, only a few egrets and no kestrels. I watched a lovely pair of stonechats down on the shingle ridge with it's bright white collar, a couple of reed buntings (or maybe the same one) and a small flock of linnets. I also spotted my first whitethroat and wheatear of the year. The summer migrants are certainly turning up - despite having to battle with the strong north-westerly wind that's been blowing for a few days.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Fixing A Stile

A lovely sunny day and a mid-week volunteering task over in Washington at the foot of Chanctonbury Hill. Three of us out today plus Richard, fixing a stile and replacing a way marker post.

We had to park down the road near the pub and then walk up the road with tools and materials. Although it looked like a relatively simple task, we were replacing the foot boards on the stile and replacing the way marker, it did take us most of the day, having decided to replace both boards and also having to dig holes in solid chalk which isn't the easiest thing to do and realising why the posts had been placed were they were in the first place.

We did have a leisurely lunch break at the Frankland Arms, a luxury that isn't usually available on tasks where you sit munching sandwiches and drinking flask flavoured tea on the grass or avoiding thorns and brambles and the smoke from the bonfire.

Didn't have time to check the other marker posts up the hill as we had to pack up and get back to Stanmer by 4pm but the gate looked a whole lot smarter (and safer) once we'd finished with it.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Bar-tailed Godwits on the seashore

Cycling back from town this afternoon, I'd stopped off for tea at Ovingdean as it was such a lovely day. Cycling on past Rottingdean and I spotted a couple of wading birds out on the shoreline - quite far away as the tide was well out. Just for a change I had my binoculars with me and was surprised to see that they were bar-tailed godwits. Not something I've seen along this particular part of the coast. Incredibly long bills - looking almost as long as the snipe.

There were three of them, just standing on the seaweed down by the water's edge. One already with it's orange summer plummage clearly visible. The other two were still in their winter plummage. It was only as I was about to move on that I spotted another one. Not much else to be seen except for the usual mix of seagulls, rock pipits and oystercatchers.

First swift of the year

Just seen my first swift of the year flying past the window. I was just wondering when they'd return. Perhaps I just haven't spotted them before.

I haven't seen any swallows or house-martins around here yet but if the swifts are here - they must be around too. I did spot a couple of swallows the other day at Pulborough.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Eek A Mouse!

Clearing out the shed this weekend, while sorting out some planting in the garden - I came across a wood mouse. Not exactly surprised to see it as it was obvious from the shredded paper in various bags of compost and the piles of bird seed that had been scattered across the floor that there was one in there, I just hadn't come across it until now.

Definitely cuter than a house mouse - it's small light brown in colour with dark eyes and a long hairy tale. No doubt it's now crept back into the box of coir blocks from which it leapt when I disturbed it.

Water Shortage already

It's only April (just) and I'm already decanting water out of the bath onto the garden. Second time so far this month. I'm saving the rainwater for the vegetables but the garden is looking so dry and parched already. I've also set up a spare dustbin to take the grey water from the kitchen that doesn't get put straight on the garden.

The lawn which got mowed this weekend already looks much as it does in July. Although having dug out the weeds and raked out the moss - that hasn't helped it's bald appearance.

The early sunshine is all very nice but not so good for the garden or the wildlife. Keeping the bird bath and pond topped up for the birds.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Slovenia - a short break

Back from a few days in Slovenia and a last minute short-break. We took in the sights of Ljubljana on the morning of our first day - which didn't take long. There's not a huge amount to see, then took the bus up to Lake Bled for some cycling and relaxation. You can read a fuller version on my other blog - this one is for the nature notes.

Our Penzion was on the edge of the town with a lovely garden and surrounded by fields. There was a resident bird of prey which appeared on the telegraph wire each morning. I didn't get a close enough look to see exactly what it was but possible a buzzard or kite. Birds of prey are much more varied and numerous than here in England. Being that much further south the birds and flowers are more advanced. Plenty of swallows flying around and already nesting - ours have only just arrived. Hooded crows are also very common - you see them instead of the Carrion crows we have here. Most of the birds are the same as we have here. There was a family of long-tailed tits in the garden, greenfinches, chaffinches, blue and great tits, blackbirds and sparrows.

On our first full day after cycling around the entire lake we went out to the Vintgar Gorge. A lovely, shaded gorge cut through the rock which had at least half a dozen dippers flying up and down the river. We got a fantastic view of a dipper actually feeding underwater from the wooden walkway that runs the length of the gorge. Dippers are a sign of clean, clear water and are a delight to watch. I've seen them up in the Lake and Peak District but never seen them underwater. They behave as if the water isn't there, 'flying' under water and searching for food, somehow managing to stay in place despite the strong current.

I heard the first cuckoo of the year as we walked back round the side of the hill to where we'd left our bikes. There was also a buzzard calling from the mixed woodland above. The hillside was covered in flowers - not the alpine spring flowers but surprisingly plenty of hellebore out in the open (I thought these were woodland plants).

The scenery is very alpine with wide fertile fields, surrounded by hills and mountains, still capped with a sprinkling of snow, plenty of trees and wildflowers. The Julian Alps is a popular tourist destination for walkers. The villages are a mix of traditional peasant lifestyles with vegetable patches, chickens and maybe a goat or two. They have very colourful beehives set up like mini apartment blocks on the edge of the villages and alpine honey is for sale in the town. So inspired was I, that I'm expanding my vegetable growing this year and have created yet another blog to track and report my progress.

Hay drying racks surround the villages and stand on the edge of the fields. The fields are small, neat strips in contrast to the large, irregularly shaped fields we flew over coming back into the UK. Although ours are often surrounded by hedgerows (those that still survive). The prevalence of rapeseed was obvious with large patches of yellow standing out across the countryside. Much less in Slovenia where the main 'crop' seemed to be grass with small flocks and herds of sheep and cattle.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Bluebell Wood

What could be more British than a bluebell wood in Spring?

There's nothing to beat the sight of a carpet of blue under dappled sunlight on a Spring day. A sign that Spring really is here and Summer is on it's way.

These were taken in Wepham Wood near Worthing. A relatively secluded spot just off the A27 and no doubt popular with local dog walkers but a surprising find, which I'd not been to before and wouldn't have known it was here, if it hadn't been for a friend suggesting it.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Reptile Surveying

Out volunteering today and only two of us that turned up. As it's summer (spring) the tasks have changed and we're no longer going out scrub bashing as the birds are nesting. Today's task involved first doing a reptile survey and depending on time and inclination, building steps over at the Waterhall site on the edge of Brighton. Saved from development as a landfill site and now a nature reserve.

Dave the BHCC Warden had set out a few refugia the week before around the site with the hope and intention of making it easier to see what reptiles were around. The refugia consisted in this instance of sheets of corrugated iron (usually the most popular), plywood, decking tiles and carpet. There were several of them scattered around the site and the first thing we did was to check them all - finding only a couple of slow-worms. We also came across a very dead fox. No apparent signs of attack or reason for it's demise and it was lying in the middle of open ground. Unusual, if it had been poisoned or shot and died of it's injuries, you'd expect it to have crawled away under cover.

This meant there was plenty of time to work on the steps, which between the three of us took us the rest of the day and afternoon to build in seven steps. Not easy digging into the chalk and you need to get them looking right - level, reasonably spaced etc.

We took another walk around the site at lunchtime, checking each of the refugias again as the sun had moved further round and different areas were now warming up. This time we discovered a couple of adders and three common lizards in two different places. Another check just before we finished and we found another adder as well as the one that had been there before and the slow-worms. Yes, there really is a snake in the picture ... middle, about a third from the top. OK, it's not very big and it's brown but it was definitely an adder. Do you realise how fast they move?

There's the most wonderful dewpond on the site - it's recently been constructed and is permanently full. The local dog walkers charges were leaping in and out enjoying it. Shame they don't know it's full of e-coli, probably as a result of all the dogs that go in it, or so we were informed.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Half Barrel Pond

If you don't have room in your garden for a pond - why not use a half-barrel. Although not large, it still manages to attract wildlife. Mine has been sunk into a raised bed and houses two goldfish, one small frog - I have three at once in the pond on one occasion last year, several other pond fauna and the occasional damselflies come into the garden.

It's not going to big enough for a water-lilly but there are small varieties that might be suitable. Mine has a flag iris that grows quite happily, some oxygenating weed and a water hawthorn which has a lovely scent.

You can find details on how to create your own barrel pond HERE.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Easter At Pulborough

I haven't been to Pulborough Brooks for a while and dropped in on my way home after being away for the Easter weekend.

It's a great time of the year for bird-watching. Most of the flooded areas were full, in fact the scrape at Winpenny Hide had more water in it than I'd ever seen and West Mead was full when it can be just a muddy puddle later in the year. The buds are just opening out on the trees so it's easier to see the birds and of course they're all in spring mode - so much singing and chasing of females. I wish I was more up on my birdsong.

I notched up quite a few sightings but not having my scope with me - didn't get a good view of the snipe (one of my favourite birds) or the waders who tended to be further off in the distance so I probably missed out on a few. My final tally was 41 with a few firsts (at least for Pulborough) - a pair of Blackcaps, the male singing loudly outside Nettley's Hide and then again up in the wood, a Greater Spotted Woodpecker and several Little Egret which I've not seen at Pulborough before although they're pretty common on most waterways around Sussex.

Several winter birds still out on the water - Gadwall, Pintail and the Teal which are present all year round but more obvious in the winter, when their numbers are greater and I've certainly not seen Pintail at this time of year. I also spotted two swallows over the water at Little Hanger - not my first of the year as I saw two down in Somerset at the weekend but still early.

Office With A View

There can't be many jobs where you can sit in your 'office' watching a spotted woodpecker, long-tailed tits, pheasants and a variety of garden birds feeding outside the window. There's been a steady stream of greenfinches, blue and great tits, chaffinches, robins and sparrows all day.

I happened to be visiting family after the long weekend break and my parents have a study/office looking out over their garden which is always full of wildlife, including a family of pheasants that appear regularly throughout the day to pick up the feed from below the seed and peanut feeders. (Even if I'm away from home I can still take my work with me - given a phone line, my laptop and a broadband connection.)

It did make me think about moving my office round or even relocating it to the spare-room but a) my suburban garden doesn't quite get the variety of wildlife and b) I'd probably get even less work done!

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Kingston Dewpond

The weather this week has been great but all change by Thursday.

I spent the day up at Kingston dewpond, near Lewes on a grey day with a particularly cold wind whipping across the Downs. As part of the South Down volunteer rangers, we were finishing the fencing round the pond and installing a gate. It was a joint effort between the Central and Eastern groups - although only two of us had turned up at Stanmer - along with Mark (SDJC Ranger) from Central this time, there are usually half a dozen of us.

It took the three of us about an hour to get the truck loaded up with posts, rails, gates etc. Then driving the short distance to Kingston to meet up with the rest of the team who were waiting for us at the bottom of the hill. Without wanting to be non PC - most of them were well beyond retirement age. In fact I wasn't sure if one might not last the day as he had a particularly nasty cough and had to keep stopping to catch his breath. I drove in my car, as the truck didn't have room for three and it actually made more sense as it was closer to home for me than driving back to Stanmer. Needless to say, I left it at the bottom of the hill and jumped in the landrover to negotiate the deeply rutted tracks and steep incline up to the top of the hill.

Contractors had already been in to dig out the gorse and volunteers had previously cleared the area around the pond and put up most of the fencing with just two gaps remaining at opposite sides. One for fencing and the other for a gate. It's incredibly hard work digging post holes, especially down into the chalk and flint. It took four of us the whole day to dig holes for four posts round the new kissing gate, put in the gate, bolts and rails. the others were working on the fencing on the other side. There were a variety of tools to break up the flint and extract the earth from the hole but most of it is down to good old manual labour.

Glad I'd wrapped up warm and brought a thermos of tea - although the harder you worked the warmer you got, a good reason to keep moving. We spent the lunchbreak huddled away from the wind and rain either by or in the landrover. Fortunately the shower only lasted over lunchtime.

Much to Robin's delight (the other SDJC Ranger) - we managed to complete all the fencing and install the gate just in time. We'd been watching a large, ominous cloud getting gradually nearer and nearer. The rain started and the hail began just as we finished tightening the last bolts and got all the tools loaded up into the truck and landrover.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007


The house still smells like a bonfire having spent most of last Sunday out on Malling Down getting seriously kippered. Despite putting my jacket outside at every opportunity to try to rid it of the smell, it was still lingering.

It was another sunny day, although a lot windier than usual so the bonfire smoke was getting blown everywhere but mostly down where we were working. A cold wind at that, so although the sun was warm it was a mite chilly sitting down having our lunch break.

Being Mother's Day, there were only three of us that initially met up but we were joined by a few late-comers and by the end of the day there were about eight of us working to clear brambles, hawthorn, ground elder, old man's beard and more brambles from near the quarry. A couple of people were working to finish off raking up the debris from the area we'd cleared the previous month. Unfortunately, anything that still has a decent amount of soil on it is likely to be covered in nettles and bramble regrowth - rather than the hoped for download flora which needs impoverished soil to thrive but it's a start.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007


For a couple of days now, I've noticed the kids on their way to school looking at something on the path across the way from me. This time I decided to go out and investigate myself and discovered it was a slowworm. Poor thing being proded and picked up by the kids. It wasn't moving much but it was obviously still alive.

I picked it up, out of harms way and brought it inside. It's quite a young one - not quite a foot long, pale copper-brown in colour with light speckles under it's chin. It appears to be undamaged but has some raised scales so that may either be from being prodded, poked and picked up by the kids or it may have been caught by a cat, although there don't appear to be any puncture marks as such.

Anyway - I have administered first aid in the form of warmth and water - what do you do with a poorly slowworm. It's not moving much but occasionally flicks out it's tongue and it's now indoors in an old plastic fish tank with some of the moss I raked up at the weekend, so I can keep an eye on it.

If it recovers enough, I'll transfer it to the compost heap. It can then do it's job of eating the slugs in the garden ... and there are plenty of them.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Nature Red In Tooth And Claw

It took me a few seconds to register that the brown bird at the bottom of my garden was a sparrowhawk. I've only seen it in the garden once but this time it was facing towards me and sitting on the ground. On closer inspection I noticed that it had just caught a bird which I was hoping was a sparrow rather than the robin I'd seen out there all morning.

It was plucking the feathers from its happless victim and I could see the pale breast and grey feathers being pulled out. It didn't seem too troubled by me as I grabbed the binoculars to get a closer look, standing at the door and trying to work out what bird it had caught. I even had time to dash upstairs, grab my camera and come back down. It was there for at least 10 minutes until I tried to creep slowly out to try and get closer, when it flew off over the fence with it's quarry.

A closer inspection of the feathers scattered on the ground confirmed that it was indeed the sweet little robin that had been ambushed by the fast flying predator. A pile of grey feathers tinted with orange at the ends and the longer brown wing feathers. I just hope that it wasn't one of a pair on eggs (possibly still a bit early) as there were a pair in the garden last month.

A uniquely amazing if slightly sad spectacle.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Sussex Hedgelaying

How many people does it take to lay a hedge?

Well, three days, about a dozen volunteers each day, a very knowledgeable master hedge-layer to show us what we were meant to be doing and several task-leaders who obviously enjoyed the idea of a day out of the office.

The South Downs hedge-laying course took place on one of the coldest days this year and we started out with snow on the ground. Absolutely nothing on the coast as I set off but a dusting over the Downs by the time I got to Stanmer. Two landrovers and one shredder. No bonfire this time as there just happened to be a mains gas pipeline running alongside the hedge which was known to have a few leaks, so a naked flame wasn't a good idea. Hence the shredder.

A short talk from Peter - our master hedgelayer, for us newbies who hadn't been there the previous few days or had any idea of what we were doing and we were let loose in groups of twos and threes on our own stretch of hedge to see what we could do.

The first task is to clear each of the uprights so that they can then be cut down without catching on their neighbours. Then comes the difficult part of chopping into the trunk with a sharp axe to about two-thirds of the way through so that it can be bent down to form the hedge. As this is done first and moving downhill along the hedge line, it starts to look a mess with all the branches (pleachers) laying down across the track. My greatest achievement - once I'd mastered the art of getting heavier with the axe and not just chipping away at it, was cutting a spindlewood and not having it splinter and snap on me.

The second task is to neaten up the hedge line by laying the main branches down the line and chopping off anything protruding outwards and above the finished height. All the off-cuts were taken off to be shredded as we went, once they'd managed to tow the land-rover with the shredder out of the mud at the top of the field!

Coffee and doughnuts during a chilly break - watching the sledging on the Downs by the Jack & Jill Windmills. Mark set off with his snowboard for a very optimistic attempt to ski down the hill in our field but the snow was rapidly melting, so he trudged back having got nowhere.

We managed most of the 'chopping' by lunch-time and huddled with our sandwiches and hot-drinks in the landrovers.

After lunch the snow had disappeared and it had warmed up with a weak sun trying to get through before it disappeared over the edge of the Downs. Our next task was to hammer in a line of stakes along the hedge, about 18 inches apart and to a height of about 4ft. These hold the branches and trunks in place that have been laid down and the hedge is trimmed further and starts to look neater. All measurements are taken based on the body - chest, chin, nose height, elbow to fist - obviously my hedge measurement might come out a little smaller than your average hedge-layer.

Finally the hedge is finished off with slender hazel 'binders' woven between the stakes. Most of the stakes and binders we'd cut last year, while clearing out coppiced woodland. Each new binder is locked in and alternately woven between the stakes to end up twisting along the line of the hedge. This was the less strenuous and most satisfying bit as it really gave shape to the hedge. The whole of the hedge is then neatened up, trimmed back and the stakes levelled off.

We finished off by tipping all the wood-chipping onto the muddy bridleway which we'd managed to turn into a quagmire of chalk and mud while working on the hedge.

There are several styles of hedges depending on the kind of animals to be kept in, the local hedge plants, altitude, etc. Each region has its own traditional style. Our finished product was in the South of England style - and very smart it looked too!

Job well done.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Fat Mix For Feeders

It's definitely colder today. I've seen a greenfinch, chaffinch and dunnock on the feeders this morning and they haven't appeared in the garden for a while. I also spotted a sparrowhawk over in the park yesterday on my way back from the bus stop. Just sitting perched in a tree by the path.

Having filled up all the seed feeders, I've also made up a batch of fat and seeds for hanging out using half a coconut shell and a plastic pot. Fat and high protein food is needed in the colder weather to keep the smaller birds going. It's easy to make up your own mix for fat feeders. Mix up melted fat (save the fat from roasting meat, cooking sausages or buy some lard), soaked porridge oats and dried fruit, bird seed and a little chopped cheese rind. If you add peanuts, chop them up first.

There's been a constant flurry of blue tits, sparrows and starlings. Hopefully the blue tits will find it before the others.

Here's a simple and cheap way to make your own fat feeder.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Results for the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch

Today's tally - all the species seen this morning:

Blue Tit
Great Tit
Collared Dove
Carrion Crow

Started early and my first tick was a wren singing from the top of the climbing rose, quickly followed by ticks for a sparrow (house), robin and blue tit flitting to and from the feeders. Three more blue tits later appeared flying between the bare branches of the shrubs, picking off small insects and the seed feeder and one even settled briefly on the nut feeder. The wren disappeared into the shrubbery - appearing every now and then to sit and sing from a fence or higher point. They usually spend most of their time skulking around in the undergrowth - singing their loud, warbling song.

A very smart male blackbird spent most of the hour flying from one fence to the other and then sidling up to a browner female blackbird when she appeared. When another female appeared on the lawn he was beside himself, moving from one to the other - trying to get one of them interested in his advances. A bit too earlier in the year for anything serious. Another robin flew in. Obviously a pair as both of them were together either on the bird table, at the feeder or in one of the bushes. A pair of great tits also made an appearance a couple of times, with their bold black strip down their front. Flitting around the buddleia and on the feeders.

Four house sparrows all appeared at once, taking it in turns to visit the seed feeder - two males and two females. Once thought of as common, they're rapidly declining and seen less and less in fields and gardens. A small flock of starlings descended on the bird table at one point in a noisy gaggle - hardly enough of them to be classed as a murmuration but noisy and squabbling as usual.

A large woodpigeon almost had me smiling as I watched it trying to work out how to get the seed on the bird table. It flew from the ground to the roof of the table and back again. Almost hanging off the edge of the roof and peering intently round while plucking up the courage or working out just how to get to it. It did eventually succeed and barely managed to squeeze itself under the roof. If it had to take off too quickly it would probably have knocked it's head on the roof. I just sat quietly watching until it had eaten it's fill and went off for a drink and then flew off. A pair of them later returned but weren't inclined to repeat the attempt to get on the table.

Just towards the end of the hour a collared dove flew in but didn't stay long and a mapgie and carrion crow were also spotted on the periphery of the garden so they got added to the list bringing the total to 11 species in all. I missed out on seeing a greenfinch, chaffinch or even a goldfinch but they're rarer visitors to the garden at the best of times.

Friday, January 26, 2007

RSPB - Big Garden Birdwatch

This weekend is the RSPB's Big Garden Birdwatch. The one weekend in the year when they ask you to spend an hour making a note of all the different types of bird that come into your garden.

It's very easy to do as you can record your results online and they even give you images of the top 20 most popular garden birds if you're not totally up on who's what. All the information you need is on the RSPB's website.

Take an hour out of your day this weekend, either Saturday or Sunday, gaze out of the window, sit in the garden with a cup of coffee and the paper, spend some time with the kids and see how many different species you can see.

Early morning is best as there will be lots of birds visiting gardens for food. I'll see if I can get more than starling, blackbird and a robin.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Snow In Sussex

The first snow this year. This is what I woke up to this morning. Well, when I first woke at 5am it hadn't snowed yet but it did a couple of hours later.

A heavy covering - not just the usual dusting that makes it this far south occasionally. It will probably be gone by lunchtime but for the moment it looks lovely.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

First Signs Of Spring

I know it's still early days but someone has already mentioned they have frogspawn in their pond.

The species to watch out for are:

Frogspawn - from early February
Seven-spot ladybird - February/March
Red-tailed bumblebee - March
Peacock butterfly - late March, early April
Hawthorn flowering - end of April/May
Swift - late April, early May

Keep your eyes open and record your sightings on the BBC Springwatch site which runs through to 2007.

New Seed Feeder

The birds have finally found my new pigeon proof feeder. It's been out for several days but the seed level hadn't changed, so they may have been confused by it's appearance. The pigeons certainly would have been. I've also started using a husk-free mix of seeds, so there will be less debris below the feeders.

There haven't been many birds around anyway, what with the gusting winds this week. This morning there is a small blue tit - flitting to and fro from the buddleia to pick a seed out and the robin has been around - singing from the bushes. They sing all year - maintaining their territory even through the winter.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Mud Tracks

Out for my run today and please do see that someone has been up and finally cleared the pile of mud, manure and debris that was dumped up by the Tye. There's still a quagmire to negotiate going over the cattlegrid, where the mud's been distributed over much of the track as cars, vans and four-wheel drives have churned up the track still further as they tried to get round it. The burnt out car has also gone so I can only assume the council has been up there.

Several fence panels are down on the route up the track - not surprisingly after the last couple of days of wind, but no tree damage - not even a broken branch. Not that there are many trees once you reach the Tye and most of them are already growing at right angles to the wind. The hedgerows and areas of scrub have opened up now that the leaves have been blown off and branches are bare.

The cows are back on the Tye and of course with all the recent rain, it's pretty soft and muddy underfoot now - especially where they've been moving around and tyre tracks on the grass are further churning up the mud. At least the dewpond has filled up - although if the money being spent on re-doing Rottingdean Pond had been used to repair some of the Downland dewponds, it would be a lot fuller and probably a lot more benefit to wildlife.

It's still ridiculously mild. The thrushes, blackbirds, robins and skylarks are singing as though it's Spring. Not much around today - except for the few birds above and the usual crows.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Blackcap And A Thrush

Two treats this morning in the garden. First a female blackcap having a bath while being watched by a pair of blue tits waiting their turn and then a song thrush on the lawn.

At least yesterday's gale force wind has lessened and no more damage has been done to what's left of the fences.