Wordless Wednesday – Angry Bird!


Fieldfare (Turdus pilaris) taking a drink to wash all those haws down.



Red from Angry Birds

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Wildlife Wednesday: November – Patient and deadly

Our fish have gone. Our lovely new (and therefore newly stocked) pond has been raided. It shouldn’t have come as a surprise I suppose. I’d even noted a heron flying over the village a few times recently. Then I began to realise that I was disturbing it from somewhere nearby when I took the dog out down the alley. And then there was the day that I went to hang the washing out and saw a heron take off from the edge of our pond.

After that I took to counting fish daily. They seemed to be coping OK, hiding in the submerged terracotta pots we put in the bottom … until the day I caught the culprit brazenly standing on the lawn staring into the water.


Juvenile Grey heron fishing in our pond

I chased him off in a perfunctory way, but when I counted that day I couldn’t see any fish whatsoever.

So, we appear to being targeted by a juvenile grey heron. He’s been back several times (actually I’ve no idea about gender), making me optimistic that there must be some fish left in there that are good at hiding.


Then, last weekend when I was at the kitchen window I was startled to see a heron strolling though the archway to the patio (there is another small pond there too). I guess he was surprised too, because he waited to see what I would do (get my camera of course!!)


Grey heron (Ardea cinerea) on the patio

He is a very large bird and very elegant. I’ve labelled him a juvenile since juveniles are greyer than adults, without the darker markings (such as the broad black stripe that runs from the eyes to the nape).

Eventually, I chased him off, but I don’t think that he is particularly bothered by me. I expect to see him again shortly. Sadly, I can no longer spot any fish in the small pond either, so he appears to be a fairly efficient fisherman.

We had another unexpected visitor to our patio area last week in the shape of a female sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus).


Female sparrowhawk making use of the chimnea

She seemed to be mostly interested in taking a bath. I spotted her fluttering around the waterfall to the small pond, but she couldn’t settle. Eventually she perched on top of the chiminea, checked out her surroundings and then moved on to the birdbath.


Sparrowhawk taking a bath

There you have it, two successful predators and an exercise in contrasts. Just compare their beaks, talons and body shapes. I’ve not seen either close up in the garden before, so that has been most exciting.

I’m joining Tina @mygardenersays for Wildlife Wednesday (first Wednesday of each month). In her post today she finds herself reflecting that in a thriving wildlife garden ‘life and death is business as usual’. This post would seem to illustrate her point.


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Six on Saturday – Eeek, it’s December


Oh wow, it’s December already. Have you got your advent calendars out? Have you got all your spring bulbs in? I’ll be honest, I’ve been beavering away on this task on and off all week to meet the end November deadline, but there are still a few left. Most are tucked under the soil though. Oh, except for that order I placed yesterday for  70% off sale bulbs that I couldn’t resist. Anyhow, here are my Six things on a Saturday. You play don’t you? If not, it’s easy to join in by linking to The Propagator’s blog and checking out the many and varied contributions about gardening ‘stuff’.

1) #NationalTreeWeek

As we reach the end of National Tree Week (25th November to 3rd December), my first ‘Six’ today is a celebration of a favourite specimen. It is an Indian Bean tree on the lawn at Wimpole Estate. With it’s leaves now fallen, it has been revealed in all its gnarled glory and is dripping with ‘bean’ pods. Over the years storms have twisted its spreading limbs rather more than it could bear and annual tree inspections have forced the removal of some of its damaged branches, but it remains an energetic and much admired presence at the edge of the parterre. Long may it stand.


Gnarled Indian Bean tree (Catalpa bignonoides) on the lawn at Wimpole Hall

2) Hot Lemon Drops

The chilli plants I potted up and brought inside at the end of October have stopped flowering. However, the existing fruits continue to ripen, making the kitchen windowsills look festively decorated. This year I’ve particularly enjoyed growing Aji Limon or the Lemon drop chilli. True to its name, it has a very definite citrus tang to its heat. And it is a hot one (15,000-30,000 SHU on the Scoville scale apparently). I tend to nibble the ends and then hand the rest over to Steve!


Aji Limon or the Lemon drop chilli

3) Hazel catkins revealed

The butter yellow tones the hazel leaves have been brilliant this autumn. With recent gales stripping off the last of the foliage, we can see the evidence of seasons moving on and once again anticipate the cheerful sight of clusters of dancing catkins. They are there, ready and waiting. Look at it this way, Winter’s days are already numbered.


Hazel catkins exposed

4) Meadow residents

I’ve been planting bulbs in the wild meadow: Wild daffodils, camassias and Byzantine gladiolas. I have been surprised by how many chafer grubs I’ve discovered in the process though. I add more bulbs to this area every autumn and I don’t remember seeing so many pests last year or the year before. I hope that they are not going to become a problem.


Chafer grubs under the rough grass in the meadow

5) Winter Honeysuckle

As I walked passed the garage this week I noticed some very welcome winter scents. At one corner I have a clipped viburnum bodnantense ‘Dawn’, which, on following my nose and looking, is fairly covered in flowers. On the other side of the door there are a couple of winter honeysuckles (Lonicera fragrantissima) and I was surprised to see that they have started into flower already too. My attention was drawn to the bushes because they of the number of insects buzzing around them, including several types of hoverfly.


Hoverfly on Winter Honeysuckle

6) Crab Apples

For the last couple of months Sadie, our dog, has had a tendency to get distracted by fallen damsons on the driveway when she is sent outside to do her stuff. However, in the last week she has changed her browsing area to beneath our crab apple tree. She loves apples and since we hit zero last week the apples have started to drop to the ground. The birds are also evidently pecking at the fruits. Blackbirds and pigeons so far, but the field-fares and thrushes won’t be far behind. So I’ve been out today, collecting a bowlful while they are still there. This will be turn into an amber jelly for Christmas dinner.


Glowing crab apples (‘John Downie’)

Have a good week!

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Wordless Wednesday – Sadie, the foraging dog


Sadie joins in foraging for hawthorn berries for ‘Haw-sin’ sauce

Posted in Food, Sadie | Tagged , , , , | 7 Comments

Wordless Wednesday – The very green, hanging gardens of Marqueyssac


With autumn tightening its grip, I found myself dreaming of the wonderful verdant green boxwood landscape of Marqueyssac in the Dordogne valley


We visited in the summer when they were busy clipping the hedges … yes by hand


There are over 150,000 individual buxus planted on terraces, along alleys


and in romantic topiary landscapes


There are over 6km of walks, high above the Dordogne river


The gardens are suspend on the edge of a cliff ~200m above the river


With splendid views all along, especially from the belvedere at the eastern tip of the garden

Posted in Out and about, Trees, Wordless | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Six on Saturday – Senescence and decay


This week the leaves fell off all the trees around here and the landscape is now looking shockingly bare. It has really changed the feel of things. The light has changed. The protective canopy has gone. This cycle is ending. So I am joining The Propagator for his Six On Saturday meme with a mixed bag of choices this week. There’s a lot of senescence and decay.

But I’ll start this post with a question.

1) Does anyone know what this shrub is?

This shrub at work has been looking good for a few weeks now with clusters of lovely, shiny red berries and last week the leaves joined the show. I’ve never noticed them before, but aren’t they just wonderful? They look like they’ve been dipped in chocolate or damson jam. Anyhow, I’ve looked and googled for the shrub, but nothing I’ve seen is quite right. The red berries are tiny (like callicarpa), yet translucent (like guelder rose). The leaves are all wrong for red elder and the berries are all wrong for amelanchier.


Unidentified shrub

Any ideas?

2) Moss green

This is the top of our front gate. I think that its days are numbered, ‘cos the moss is no longer just growing on top of the wood, but in a fairly deep trench down the middle. In fact, there is a whole ecosystem in there when you look along its length: moss, lichen, senecio, ladybirds, bugs etc. It’s turning itself into a linear green roof. I find this kind of moss hard to resist. Doesn’t it make you want to reach out and touch it? Plus, those fruiting heads will look great covered in dew/mist, so I must remember to take some macro photos when that happens.


Mossy gate

3) More decay

It is Shaggy ink cap season (Coprinus comatus, also know as Lawyer’s Wig mushroom). Each year we have an outbreak of these fungi down the driveway, with something of a colony developing. Unfortunately, before I could take a photo of them I found that they’d been kicked over by an enthusiastic ‘groundsman’, so this is a picture of one down the alley next door. It is fascinating to observe the fungi develop over a couple of days (see last year’s post on their lifecycle here). Already you can see the onset of the cap’s transformation to a puddle of black ‘ink’ with that thick oozing drip down the stalk. It has the feel of a horror movie.


Coprinus comatus dissolving away

4) More fungi – Pear Rust

Sadly both my Conference pears again showed signs of this disease on their leaves this year. The disease (Gymnosporangium sabinae) causes bright orange spots on the top of the leaves. I usual pick off affect leaves and destroy them. This year, for the first time, I noticed that there were still leaves in autumn showing signs of infection and that on the underside there was a gall-like growth and here is a shot of that.


Now that I’ve read up on the problem, I see that the good news is that in order to complete its lifecycle the fungus needs a juniper tree. The bad is that spores are airborne over quite long distances.

5) Spirals Restored

I am very late to clip the bay trees back into shape this year, but over the last two days have finally got on with the job. In fact, I enjoy doing it, because the smell is absolutely delicious and of course it’s fun seeing those coils tighten. My only reservation about the task is that it means working at the top of a ladder. With the mist damping everything yesterday I didn’t even bother getting the taller ladder out till today. This photo was taken half way through, showing the before and after appearance of the bays. They are both done now,  but you can bet I’ll be out there, with the shears, several times over the next couple of weeks as I decide to neaten a little bit here and a little bit there.


Topiarised bay trees on the patio

6) More lovely geometry

Melianthus major (giant honey flower) has wonderful leaf structure and an attractive glaucous colour. I’ve seen it in flower in the south of England and in protected gardens, but here it gets cut back by the weather and so never manages to get that far. I grow it for the leaves in any case. This is a shot of a new leaf emerging this week. I’d never really registered the flame-like sheath before. Beautiful.


Emerging leave on Melianthus major

Have a good weekend!

Posted in autumn, Six on Saturday | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 25 Comments

Wordless Wednesday – The value of set-aside


This tiny beech strip is about 10m wide


The trees height and straight trunks make me think that there were once many more here (OK so not strictly set-aside)


But I am glad this piece was preserved (and that a permissive path has been created down the middle so that I can enjoy total submersion!)

Posted in autumn, Out and about, Trees, Wordless | Tagged , , , , | 7 Comments