Monday, August 31, 2009

Byron's Pool

Byron's Pool

"Byron's Pool, named after Lord Byron, who is said (by Brooke, at least) to have swum there. The pool is now below a modern weir where the Bourn Brook flows into the River Cam."

photo taken with iPhone

Sunday, August 30, 2009


Greenfinch wing

Did some more ringing today in the garden. One species dominated proceedings... can you guess which?

The totals:
  • Greenfinch, 51!
  • Blue Tit, 6 (+ one retrap originally ringed here in 2007)
  • Dunnock, 6 (all juveniles)
  • Great Tit, 3
  • Goldfinch, 2
We kept going until we used up the whole series of 50 'B' rings (the size that Greenfinches take). It was a bit windy - we could have had even more. I'd seen up to 30 in the garden in recent days so perhaps I shouldn't be surprised at the number we caught. This afternoon there are yet more unringed finches in the garden!

Most of the Greenfinches had purple, sticky beaks. They've been eating berries - blackberries and elderberries, I guess. Most birds like berries for the sugary pulp, but Greenfinches and Bullfinches take them for the seeds hidden inside. That means lots of bright purple poos.

Near-misses included Chaffinch, Robin, Swallow and Sparrowhawk...

photos taken with Canon Powershot A640

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Pond progress


So, we've had the pond since the end of June 2008. Here's a little review of the first 14 months.

A lot of things have turned up because of the pond.

Damselflies and dragonflies
  • Banded Demoiselle (well, it flew through the garden)
  • Large Red Damselfly*
  • Red-eyed Damselfly
  • Azure Damselfly*
  • Common Blue Damselfly*
  • Blue-tailed Damselfly*
  • Southern Hawker*
  • Migrant Hawker
  • Emperor
  • Four-spotted Chaser*
  • Broad-bodied Chaser*
  • Black-tailed Skimmer (on the spoil heap before the pond had any water in it!)
  • Common Darter*
  • Ruddy Darter
* have laid eggs

other creatures
  • Water Boatman
  • Backswimmer
  • Pondskater
  • Caddis thing that lives in a rolled-up bit of vegetation
  • Lesser Diving Beetle
  • assorted other, smaller beetles
  • some funky midge larvae
  • oh yeah, Great Crested Newt
  • Smooth Newt
  • Common Frog
I managed to blag pond plants from other friendly pond people. Water Mint, Water Forget-me-Not, Flowering Rush, Water Lily, Marsh Marigold, Yellow Flag and Water Soldier have all been especially successful. In fact, the Soldiers have been a bit too successful. Two were donated last year; they had produced about a dozen plants by this summer! I had to cull a few.

The newts laid eggs on submerged bits of Water Mint and neatly folded up the leaves to protect them (the Great Crested Newts have been officially recorded which will mean that their needs will be taken into account in future). Something else lives inside two oval pieces of Water Lily leaf that it chomps out and makes a little sleeping bag out of.

I left long grass around the pond so that creatures have somewhere to hide - without fear of being mown - and dragonflies and damselflies have somewhere to perch after they've emerged (this spring has seen our first homegrown Common Darters and damselflies). Also, mowing around the edge would be tricky. However, I've trimmed the grass on one edge so I can get a better view from the house. I did it very carefully, with scissors, because using shears would've meant the trimmings fell in... That's how dedicated I am.

A small selection of birds have used the pond for bathing and drinking: mainly Greenfinches and Goldfinches, but also Yellow Wagtails this spring. The Swallows seem to like flying over it to catch insects. A Grey Heron came to have a look but I scared it away, fearing for the newts' lives...

In essence, it's been great fun and I'd recommend digging a wildlife pond to anyone.

photo taken with Canon Powershot A640

See you next year

Rescued Swallow

This young Swallow had bumped into one of our windows. Fortunately I heard the impact and found it dazed on the ground. It crash-landed on the first release attempt so I put in in a dark box for 10 minutes' recuperation.

The second release was successful and it flew off to rejoin its family. Good luck, Swallow!

I wouldn't have heard the bang on the window if I hadn't been in the house trying to evict a(nother?) Swallow which had invited itself into the bathroom. It found its own way out through the spare bedroom window. Pesky birds.

photos taken with Canon Powershot A640

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Green and red and orange and yellow

Southern Hawker

Southern Hawker
Southern Hawker trying to find somewhere to lay her eggs

Small Copper

Small Copper
Small Copper

Yellow flowers


photos taken with Canon EOS 30D, EF 300mm f/4L IS USM

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Saturday, August 15, 2009


Swallow fledglings
We're waiting to be fed. When's the next meal coming?*

Swallow fledglings
Here it comes!

Swallow fledglings

Swallow fledglings

photos taken with Canon EOS 30D, EF 300mm f/4L IS USM or Apple iPhone*

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Watched by owls

I spent an hour in the garden this evening, standing on a heap of rotting grass clippings. Maybe it's not what everyone would choose to do on a Tuesday night, but it suited me just fine.

On Saturday night I was mooching around in the garden around dusk, when I heard Barn Owl calls. Eventually I spotted two white heads bobbing up and down a short distance away - some of the owlets I helped to ring last week. On Sunday night, we stood in the middle of the garden and watched as a young owl landed on the fence and tried to work out what we were.

Those encounters were pretty good. The kind of thing that would make your day if you'd been in the field, but in our garden. We're spoiled. Anyone who tells you they don't like watching Barn Owls is a liar. Even the most cynical, hardened twitcher likes them, and that's a fact. Being able to observe them from my own garden is just the icing on the cake.

But tonight was something else.

From my slight vantage point under the ash tree, I watched and waited for Barn Owl activity. I was confident that when the owls came out I'd get a good view.

They took a long time to appear tonight, perhaps because of the clear sky that made the evening bright. Tawny Owls hooted from the oaks. A vole or a shrew squeaked from the nettles. Mosquitoes whined uncomfortably near my ear.

Above the hum of the combine harvesters down the road, I could hear faint hissing sounds. Eventually an adult owl appeared and went off hunting. Then two young owls appeared and took up their favourite perches.

So, I stood on my grotty heap of grass bits as the owls flew about. In the dull light it was hard to see from their plumage which owls were adults and which were youngsters, but the behaviour was different.

The young Barnies can fly quite well, but their landings are a bit... amateurish. They don't quite have the fluidity and grace of their parents yet. They circle and bob their heads up and down almost violently. I haven't really noticed adult owls doing that so much before.

After spending weeks in a dark nestbox, the big wide world must be sensory overload for the young. Every evening I watch them, they seem to be exploring their surroundings and learning... how to be an owl. I wasn't surprised when one of the owlets flew past me in a wide arc.

Then it landed on the garden fence to my right. Of course, Barn Owls are silent in flight but I heard its feet land on the wood. I didn't dare move properly so I twisted around, keeping my feet still. Not very comfortable, but it was worth a bit of discomfort. The owl bobbed its head around in circles, looking around me but not at me, it seemed.

After a couple of minutes it flew a bit further down the fence, to about 12 feet away. I stayed still! It seemed totally unconcerned by my presence, if it had even noticed. Just when I thought that was as good as it could ever get, the owl flew to the next fencepost along - about nine feet from where I stood!

I've been quite close to owls before, but always from inside a car. Being so close to a wild Barn Owl that seemed not to notice I was there was simply amazing. It was probably too close for my binoculars, and I didn't dare move while it was so close. After a few more minutes it flew off and joined its sibling not far away. They sat close together and took in their surroundings.

How am I going to top this? More tomorrow night, hopefully...

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Nature study

Dragonfly nymph
Dragonfly nymph - probably a Common Darter

Lesser Waterboatman
[Lesser] Water Boatman

Damselfly nymph?
A damselfly nymph?

A tiny newt eft, not much more than 1 cm long

photos taken with Canon Powershot A640

Monday, August 03, 2009

Fluffy owlets

Barn Owl chick

Who could resist a face like this?

Tonight I was privileged enough to visit a couple of Barn Owl nestboxes with Peter Wilkinson, owl guru extraordinaire. He reports a poor year for Barn Owls, a direct result of the lack of voles around at the moment. But in one box we found four growing owlets and two in the other. Fingers crossed they all make it to fledging.

photo taken with Canon Powershot A640, under supervision of Schedule 1 licence holder

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Buddleia + butterflies

Loads of fantastic butterflies in the garden this morning. I am smitten with Painted Ladies. Most around now are of the generation that hatched in the UK/northern Europe, the offspring of the North African immigrants which themselves emerged in the Atlas mountains. The newer ones are in pristine condition. I could almost... eat one!

Peacock and Painted Lady
Peacock and Painted Lady

Peacock basking on a dead tree stump

Painted Lady and Large White
Painted Lady (see a bit of a theme here?) and Large White

Painted Lady
Painted Lady...

Meadow Brown
Meadow Brown has its own subtle charms

The teasel

Teasels are fabulous wildlife garden plants. Insects go mad for the purple flowers and later on, Goldfinches can't get enough of the seeds. Well, male Goldfinches do, anyway. I think the females have thicker bills which don't let them get the seeds! Must check...

photos taken with Canon EOS 30D, EF 300mm f/4L IS USM

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Summer nights and other things

Saturday sunset
Saturday sunset

The barn
Barn barbecue (with Canon Powershot A640)

Young Swallow
Swallow, iPhonescoped with Leica Apo Televid 77 + 20x eyepiece

Young Swallows have been queuing up on our garden fence and roof again. Though they've obviously been out of the nest quite some time, they are still receiving deliveries of insects from their parents!