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.