Slow and steady

Moving slowly through the UK countryside

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The Season of the Duelling Tortoise

I couldn’t resist this wonderful blog post about tortoises. Very appropriate for my ‘Slow and Steady’ theme. The best bit is right at the end.



RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch 2014

The RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch is apparently “the world’s largest wildlife survey”.  I’ve been doing it every January for several years, and now also often do a weekly birdwatch for the BTO too.  It’s a lovely calm way to start the weekend.  Though it seems it has been so popular that the website is now down (maybe because there’s a mobile phone app for it now).  I’ll put my results up later.

This year was, I think, the best total I’ve ever had on one day – sixteen species.  I made sure the feeders were filled last weekend and checked them through the week, as I know that in previous years I’ve often only remembered to top them up on the day, and not all the birds found them in time for the count.

A few of our visitors:

We have sunflower heart seed mix, peanuts, ‘buggy’ fat balls and a fat block.  There are two feeding stations, with the seed mix and fat balls in both places.  The feeders near the road are less popular with the shyer birds, as walkers with dogs go past only a couple of yards away.  I also sprinkled some seed on the drive again, in the hope of tempting in a pied wagtail – and this time it worked.

The long-tailed tits were back, just two of them, and I had a song thrush sitting at the top of the pear tree for a while.  We don’t see the thrush very often, so I was very happy it is still around.

Right at the end, when I was thinking I’d seen just about all the regulars (apart from collared doves), I realised I’d got a little brown bird that wasn’t a sparrow – it was a female blackcap (confusingly, the females have brown caps).  I’ve been looking out for them all winter, as we had a pair of them visit us quite regularly year when it was snowy.  It was very kind of her to arrive just in time for the Big List.

Final list: great tit, blue tit, house sparrow, starling, blackbird, dunnock, chaffinch, wood pigeon, greenfinch, jackdaw, long-tailed tit, robin, goldfinch, song thrush, pied wagtail and female blackcap.

Edit: Now I know why the blackcap was here – we’ve just had a short sharp hail/snow/thunder/lightning storm – it only lasted ten or fifteen minutes.  She clearly likes to visit when it’s snowy – though it was sunny and fairly mild earlier on.

White road with hail/snow

Hail and snow


Starry, starry night – how to find Taurus the Bull and his friends

Prompted by Red Hen’s post about Orion in the night sky, I went out to gaze at the stars this evening.  It was very clear so the camera and the tripod came out, and I ended up with very cold fingers and a stiff neck – but it was enjoyable all the same.  If you know how to find Orion and the Pleiades, this will show you how to find Taurus the Bull – which fits into the Daily Prompt category of teaching someone something.

This was looking towards the south at about 7:30 pm.  These are not totally black pictures – honest.  They are best viewed full-size by clicking on them, and letting your eyes adjust – there are stars there.  See next picture for key to constellations.


Southern night sky – can you find Orion and the Pleiades?

This one shows where Taurus the bull is, in between Orion and the Pleiades.  I didn’t realise I’d also got Auriga, the Charioteer in there too, one I’ve not tracked down before.

Auriga Taurus Orion Pleiades with lines

Auriga – red lines; Taurus – green lines; Pleiades – inside yellow circle; Orion (top) – blue lines

This was looking closer to south-east.  I don’t remember noticing Orion’s bow before (the stars are quite faint – not sure I can see them without the camera).


Night sky towards south/south-east 7:30 pm central England

Night sky

Jupiter – brightest object on left; Gemini (part – the brightest two are not in this shot) – pink lines; Orion – blue lines, Taurus – green lines (easiest bit to see is the right-hand end >; the Pleiades group is just out of the shot above Taurus

This is a zoomed in shot of Jupiter.  By fiddling about with timings and light settings, I managed to get three of its moons visible too.


Jupiter and three moons

This is a zoomed in, 13-second exposure of the Pleiades cluster. It was quite tricky to zoom in on something that wasn’t visible on the camera screen – many totally black pictures had to be discarded.  All in all, much better than watching TV, as far as I’m concerned.  Opinions may differ.  I love the idea that the constellation names and stories go back about 2000 years.


The Pleiades star cluster, much zoomed in


One misty moisty morning

One fristy frosty morning,

When cloudy was the weather,

There I met an old man

All clothed in leather.

All clothed in leather,

With a cap on his head…

But what came next?  Well, that’s what I had in mind as I went to work this morning, with a heavy frost on the fields, and misty fogginess in the air.  But I couldn’t remember the ending.  Googling turned up various versions (though I’d converted ‘misty moisty’ into ‘fristy frosty’, and ‘Clothed all in leather’ to ‘All clothed in leather’ – presumably that’s how oral traditions come to have so many variants).  I don’t think my version ever had lines 5 and 6 below though.  A Steeleye Span version mentions a cap under his chin (which seems a strange place to keep it).

Screen Shot 2014-01-20 at 19.05.58

I stopped the car to admire the frozen scenery and the sight of the sun rising on my left, and the moon still hanging in the sky on my right.

Sunrise on the left, moon still visible on the right (if you look hard)

Sunrise on the left, moon still visible on the right, just past 3/4 of the way across (very tiny)


Spring is sprung and I have run 2 miles

Quite a few flowers are getting going in the garden. Doubtless if/when we get some ice and snow they’ll be knocked back a bit, but I enjoyed them this morning in glorious sunshine.  Several of them are scented, and there’s something rather wonderful about perfume outdoors on a sunny winter’s day.

The birds were busy too.  I didn’t start at dawn this time – most of these arrived between 10 and 11.

    2 Blue Tits
    3 Starlings
    4 Goldfinches
    2 Long-tailed Tits
    2 Woodpigeons
    1 Collared Dove
    2 Blackbirds (male and female)
    5 House Sparrows
    2 Dunnocks
    5 Jackdaws
    2 Chaffinches (male and female)
    1 Robin
    1 Great Tit
    5 Greenfinches
    1 Buzzard soaring overhead

A squirrel ran through the garden too.

I got rather cold outside, so went for a run to warm up.  I really pleased to manage to keep going for 30 minutes, without it being too difficult, and covered 2.25 miles.  🙂


Frost fairies

Earlier this week we had a heavy frost in the morning, and my car windows were covered in beautiful frost feathers. I didn’t quite get the focus right, but you can get something of the effect here.  Amazing that water can do that all on its own.


Jack Frost had been at the window

January challenge (at least three mile runs a week) is coming on well.
1 mile run Sunday
1.2 mile run Tuesday
1.7 mile run this evening – this one was a bit slower, as my right knee objected to going up a bit of a slope near the start of the run
With some yoga / Tai Chi / stair circuits in between.


Early birds through my kitchen window

Early bird survey
Yesterday morning and this morning I got up earlier than usual for me at the weekend, and did the Early Bird Survey  for the BTO (British Trust for Ornithology).  All it involved was recording the time that I saw different birds at our bird feeders, from the first bird onward, up to a maximum of ten species.  It also fits in tidily with the weekly photo challenge of ‘Window’.

We have a sunflower seed mix, peanuts, ‘buggy’ fat balls and a fat block, and I’d scattered some seeds on the drive to see whether I could attract any ground-feeders (I don’t usually do that to avoid attracting rats – yuk).

We have streetlights about 50 metres from our house, which may or may not affect the time that the birds begin feeding – investigating that, is the idea behind the survey.

Earlier start
Yesterday, I’d heard the first bird singing (a robin) before I was ready to start recording, so I was downstairs a bit earlier this morning.  There was a lovely red glow in the sky, but it was still very dark inside.

Before dawn

Before dawn

1: Robin – 7:37
Sunrise is about 8:15, but I’d heard the robin at about 7:20 yesterday.  This morning he was singing at 7:10, but didn’t visit the feeder until 7:37.  (Photo taken later on when it was lighter.)



2: Blue-tit – 7:45
A blue-tit was next, at 7:45. Later on, I saw up to four blue-tits in the garden, but only two visiting the feeders at once. On average, a blue-tit visited every five minutes between 7.45 and 10.30, with most visits (7) between 10 and 10:15. They ate seeds, fat from the fat balls or fat-block and sometimes peanuts.


Blue-tit on the buggy fat balls

3: Chaffinch – 7:37
A female chaffinch came along at 7:37. Yesterday she didn’t appear until much later on. She only visits the seed feeder, or hops around picking up bits others have dropped.


Female Chaffinch

4: Dunnock – 8:05
The fourth visitor, at 8:05 was a dunnock, or hedge sparrow, picking up seeds from the drive. They don’t sit still much though – fuzzy photo.


Dunnock about to hop off

5: House Sparrow – 8:05

Three house sparrows arrived at the same time, 8:05, on the seed feeders. Later on, there were up to six of them feeding or just chirping and watching. Sometimes they feed on the fat balls or fat block, but mostly they eat seeds.

House Sparrow

House Sparrow

6: Goldfinch – 8:12

Sixth species was a goldfinch at 8:12. It returned a number of times, with a friend or two. Very dashing outfits they wear. They eat the seeds; I used to put out Niger seeds for them, but they seem just as happy with the sunflower mix.



7: Great-tit – 8:15

At 8:15 a great-tit visited. It came back a couple of times, once with a partner, but all three visits were very speedy, just long enough to grab a peanut and go, but not long enough for my camera.

Here comes the sun…


Sunrise through kitchen window

I carried on watching for several hours (it’s a good long meditation session), recording every bird that visited. I suspected that was all I was going to see (though we do sometimes get greenfinches on the seeds and starlings on the fat).

A neighbouring cat was lurking under the car, but didn’t catch anything today, thank goodness (fewer blue-tit visits while the cat was there though).

Cat under car

Predator on the prowl

8: Long-tailed Tit – 10:12

Then ages later, at 10:12, a pair of long-tailed tits came for the fat block. Hurrah! I think they are my favourite birds, and I’ve only seen them a couple of times this winter, so I’m so pleased to see them back.

Long-tailed Tit

Long-tailed Tit – didn’t stay long, this was the best picture I got

Not quite ten today
Eight different species used the food we put out, and all the different foods were visited. Blue-tits were the most frequent visitors, and they ate all the different foods. I also saw a male and female blackbird, a male chaffinch, a starling, jackdaws, collared doves and wood pigeons, but not at the feeders.

I don’t usually note down the time that different birds visit, so it was interesting to notice how different the feeding patterns were. I’d definitely recommend doing a survey like this – though maybe just do half an hour or so for starters!