Birds

Bird-feeders

During this cold weather there is a lot to be said for getting the birds to come to you rather than plodding about the countryside wondering where they have all gone. They are not stupid — they are on the feeders! This year we are blessed with several greater spotted woodpeckers — this is a male with a red flash on the back of his head — the females have only red under the tail. They have been drumming for over a week now so we know spring is coming!

This nuthatch is Bill’s favorite — calling from a tree if the feeder is empty!

In Wales the feeder is surrounded by a miasma of flitting great tits and blue tits with the occasional coal tit, siskin and, if we are lucky, a mob of visiting long tailed tits. Our gold finches have gone somewhere warmer. There are chaffinches too and a robin who has learned to perch.

In the East Midlands, Bill’s feeder is also used by the ubiquitous tits but dominated by green finches and gold finches. Each bird feeder gives a snap-shot of the local bird population. There are chaffinches and a pair of bullfinches.

Beneath the Welsh feeder the swelling flock of pheasants are excavating, ekeing out a living from the rejected sunflower seeds — the nuthatch is very picky! They are very hungry since the gamekeeper stopped feeding them but have had the good sense to move up the valley, away from the guns. In Kettering their niche is occupied by a fat wood pigeon and they all bicker with the resident squirrels!

Following my recent freezer debacle I put some rapidly defrosting pheasant legs in view of the bedroom window (don’t worry, they were shot in the valley — no bio-hazzard). Within a couple of hours there were 8 buzzards circling above. Here is one of the two that were on the ground.

It is not just the feeders that the small birds visit — they like the spiders webs on the window frames, a long tailed tit was knocking on the window recently

Long tailed tits are very difficult to photograph — this wonderful picture is by Wildlife Terry (CC0 1.0) I think they are enchanting.

This blackbird forages on the bank opposite my study window giving me the evil eye and sometimes flying at the window — it’s not me he hates but his own reflection!

Standard
trees

What is Welsh Oak anyway?

When we visited the botanical gardens at Kew last year I was confused by the oak trees — there are many varieties — none was labelled Welsh oak! Wandering through the diverse collection of oak trees I spotted one that looked familiar — one of our trees, it was labelled “Sessile oak”.

Sessile Oak, I read, is also known as Durmast Oak. Cornish Oak and Welsh Oak! Welsh Oak is Quercus patraea — patraea seems to mean “lives in rocky places” (I’d be more convinced if it meant “lives in wet places”!) Durmast makes sense though — dur is strong in French and mast is a spar on a sailing boat.

Q. patraea — Welsh Oak in Autumn

Don’t be confused with the other native British species, the Common Oak also known as Pedunculate or English Oak. English Oak is Quercus robur — robur means hard timber in Latin.

Welsh oak has acorns that sit directly on the tips of the new shoots (they are sessile i.e. they do not move).

Welsh Oak with leaves on stalks — acorns without pedicles.

English Oak has acorns on long pedicles so can wave about a bit! They are pedunculate.

The leaves are the opposite — the Welsh have stalks so produce dappled shade.

The English Oak leaves arise directly and densely on the twigs — they make dark shade.

English Oak Q. robur at Kew – leaves directly from growing tips around buds giving dense rosettes.

Simple! Except that they hybridize — you get mixtures.

Also the Welsh Oak is said to be taller and more upward stretching.

Welsh oak at home — tall and proud.

The English Oak is broader and more spreading.

However, how the tree grows has a lot to do with the density of its planting. A single tree in the middle of a field will stretch out sideways, its fellow in a dense wood with shoot up (slowly) to find the light!

My favorite oak — it lives in Wales but certainly spreads like an English Oak!
Standard
Climate, seasons, Sheep farming, Wales

A Wind of Change!

As snow and ice cover the eastern counties of Great Britain, Wales is bathed in celestial light — for a trice.

It’s chilly with a strange east wind (of change, perhaps). The prevailing wind here is nearly always wet and westerly — it brings our weather from the Atlantic and snow storms from America — not so today, its coming from the Urals (I’ve got my Russian hat on.)

The sheep have not been gathered in, against the storm, but wait in disgruntled groups for fresh silage, the sweet smell of which precedes the shepherd on the crisp cold air.

Our valley is muted in the winter shade but the tops are bright, scoured dry by the icy wind.

which sends the turbines spinning and brings the snow ever closer — unless it all drops on England first!

Standard
Health and safety, Humour, lifestyle

One of those days!

Putting on my glasses while leaving the bedroom I noticed a spec on the lens, thus distracted, I walked into the low beam which floored me, moaning and clutching my forehead.

I struggled downstairs clutching my re-booted head which remembered that I had not checked the freezer since I had switched it on several days ago in such bright sunshine that I could not see the little indicator lights. Never mind, I had thought, loading it with frozen fish, scallops, squid and prawns — I’ll check it when it gets dark! It has been dark on and off several times since but today it is bright again so, ever adaptable, I open the door to feel how cold it is. I am knocked back a second time this morning , this time by the disgusting smell of corruption — of rotting flesh — wasted seafood — green slime drips out onto the floor. I pause and experience a wave of sympathy for the poor fishermen whose produce rotted in Calais because of the wrong paperwork, then start lobbing out my lovely fish as Bill retires gagging.

Back to basics, I pull out the freezer and trace the wire to a plug that I had forgotten in a cupboard I don’t use and switch it on — all the little lights sparkle into life — well at least the freezer works but there is another whiff. In that cupboard with the disused wedding presents from the one before last there are signs of mice — that distinctive musty smell (Mus musculus) and tell-tail chocolate sprinkles — really disappointing, as I had thought we were rid of them.

So I set to — washing out the freezer, the cupboard and the floor — I set the mouse traps by the likely looking hole, a job I hate, then I rise with a sense of completion and crack my head on the overhanging work-surface, sending me reeling a second time and wondering what new horrors will be jarred to the forefront of my mind.

Just another day at the end of the rainbow!

Standard