Slow and steady

Moving slowly through the UK countryside


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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.)

Robin

Robin

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

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.

Chaffinch

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

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.

Goldfinch

Goldfinch

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.

Sun-arise
Here comes the sun…

Sunrise

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).

Prowler
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!

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Gluten-free Yorkshire Puddings and Chi running

We had roast beef today, and we really wanted to have Yorkshire puddings with it, but I was sure it wouldn’t work to just use cornflour.  Hubby is stubborn though (in a good way) and decided we’d just try anyway.  I did a quick web search for proportions of milk/flour/eggs – and found that recipes are extremely variable.  The simplest one just used equal volumes of egg, flour and milk, but other recipes varied the proportions a lot.  I didn’t actually search for gluten free recipes (why not? – no idea), so we made it up.

To my surprise, they were just about the best ones I’ve ever tasted!  Beef dripping from the meat, and a very hot oven were probably the key points.
We used:
1 egg
Some cornflour – I didn’t weigh it, but probably 2-3 ounces – about 2-3 tablespoonfuls-ish
Milk – didn’t measure it – about half a mugful
Pinch of salt
A dribble of olive oil with herbs (left over from snack olives)
Mix the egg into the cornflour, making sure there are no lumps, then add the milk and oil, and beat well.
Pour hot fat from the roast into patty tins or a bigger tin – we had 6 little ones and one big one – and put back into the oven (240 C) until really hot – other recipes mention smoking, but I don’t think we got quite that hot.
Pour in the re-whisked batter and bake for about 20 minutes.   Other recipes mention the importance of incorporating air in the whisking, and leaving the batter to stand – but I wonder whether those both apply to gluten-containing batter.
Whatever – they were delicious – lovely and crunchy at the top and more gooey at the bottom.
Yorkshires

Gluten-free Yorkshire puddings

I felt I deserved the roast and puddings, as I’d been out for a walk/run earlier on, and managed to run for a total of 30 minutes, in several chunks.  It was hard going to start with, then I remembered to ‘think Chi’ (as in Tai Chi) and concentrated on keeping my chin up, and my body aligned, and it really did seem easier.  Slowing down a bit probably helped too.  🙂


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Freaky fungi

We had a couple of days in Derbyshire, staying at Hathersage.  The heavy rain made crossing the River Derwent stepping stones rather exciting, as the stones were pretty much all under the surface, and some were so far under that the water went inside our walking boots.

After our lovely autumnal river-side walk, we drove up to Stanage Edge, to feel the force of the wind building up for the overnight storm. I found various tiny fungi.  It seems strange that people went to all the effort to make millstones from the rock, but then left them there. Maybe they weren’t good enough for some reason?

The following day was fly fishing training day for hubby and younger daughter. Older daughter and I spent an hour walking round the fishing pools in pouring rain, but then the sun came out and it was lovely. One bank was covered in troops of fungi – at least five different species, and wonderful colours – red, yellow (or black), apricot, shiny brown and pure white.  The scarlet ones were my favourites.

This one wasn’t in Derbyshire though – I found this in the logpile when we got back home. What a vivid colour.

Cobalt Crust fungus

Cobalt Crust fungus on chipboard, Terana caerulea

After a bit of investigation, I’ve worked out how to use the tiled gallery. I think. It appears to not be connected to the ‘Format’ Gallery… Confusing! I know, I should have tried this on a test blog. Sorry. 🙂


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Black jelly

Yesterday I went for a walk to find blackberries, and accidentally came across this beauty, as I was taking a photo of a butterfly next to it. It’s head looks rather like a little cartoon dog!

Dragonfly

Southern Hawker dragonfly head – can you see the dog-face?

Little windfall hedgerow apples, about an inch across were chopped up with two Bramley cookers from the garden – the first it has produced since we planted the cordons about seven years ago. They’re not really quite ripe yet, but the Bramley next to this was damaged, and both came off together.

apples

Bramley apple on left, hedgerow apple on right

jellybag in action

Jelly-bag in action. Look at that rich colour.
Really must get those chairs recovered…

Along with about a pound of blackberries, they boiled up beautifully, and then I drained the juice with this wonderful arrangement, then added about 1.5 pounds of sugar, boiled until the jam thermometer said ‘jam’ and poured into jars. Wonderful-tasting B&A jelly. Yum.


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Ra ra ra! 45 minute run! Plus… creatures in the garden

I haven’t run much in the last month – just two one-milers since I did the Race for Life 5k at the end of June.  The heat wave has put me off, but it seemed perhaps a bit cooler this evening, and I was in the right mood, so I went out to see if I could still keep going for half an hour.

First ten minutes were tough as ever.  Then it was an uphill bit (not steep, but not flat either).  Twenty minutes in and I was thinking about stopping.  Told myself I could keep going a bit more even though I’d got to a bit with no shade – it was getting on for 8pm, but still about 25 C, which is pretty warm as far as I’m concerned.  I overtook a dog walker (always an achievement for me – they are often faster than I am).  Then it was a downhill slope, so persuaded myself to keep going until I got back to my starting point, which was just under 3 miles.

It took me about 45 minutes, which is pretty slow, but I was happy with it as I was really out of practice and it was hot.  My fingers felt like sausages once I was walking – had to hold them up in the air or they throbbed (they’d been fine while I was running, as they were above heart-level I suppose).

Legs feel fine too.  🙂

No pictures from the run, but some from the garden today.  Lots of butterflies today – Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock, Meadow Brown, Gatekeeper, Large White, Small White, Green-veined White and Brimstone.  The lavender hedge is full of bees too – Carder bees, Tree bees, Honey bees, Buff-tailed bumble bees (I think – might have been some cuckoo bees too), Early bumble bees and I also saw a few Red-tailed bumble bees, though maybe not on the lavender.

I also noticed a bee flying with a rolled-up bit of leaf between its legs.  I’ve seen evidence of leaf-cutter bees before, where they’ve cut a semi-circle from the edge of a rose leaf, but don’t remember seeing one actually flying with the leaf before.  I watched it go into a hole in the bottom of a plant pot several times.  Earlier on I’d seen a centipede go in the same hole, so it’s an exciting world inside that pot!

Peacock butterfly

Peacock butterfly – squint your eyes and you can see how this could frighten off an attacking bird

Rosemary Beetle

Rosemary Beetle – Chrysolina americana. On lavender, rather than rosemary though. They will also eat thyme and sage. Only found in the UK in recent years. A very pretty pest. I’ve only found the one so far, but will be looking out for them.

Brimstone

Brimstone butterfly (male) on lavender

Leaf-cutter bee

Leaf-cutter bee in flight with a piece of leaf – heading for a hole in a plant pot


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Look closely and weeds are jewels!

In our garden, weeds are allowed to flower, so the bees can visit them. This one is really pretty when you get close to it, with star-like calyx and white stripes on the dark purple petals. The leaves smell quite strongly, and look fairly similar to stinging nettle leaves.

Hedge Woundwort

Hedge Woundwort, Stachys sylvatica

This little shieldbug is pretty jewel-like too – it lives on the woundwort, and is called Woundwort Shieldbug…

Woundwort Shieldbug

Woundwort Shieldbug – about 1/3 the size of my little finger-nail.

Well, that was in response to the Daily Prompt – The Natural World which asked about early memories of nature.

I grew up on a farm, and I can’t remember the first time I was interested in nature, as it was so much a part of everyday life.  However, I do remember vividly the thrill of finding an orchid growing amongst scrubby bushes in a woodland. It wasn’t in my flower book, which made it even more exciting, and nobody had shown me where it grew; I’d found it all by myself.  On on of our occasional trips to London, we visited the Natural History Museum, and in some wall-mounted display-cases I found a picture of ‘my’ orchid – a Man Orchid.  The flowers are greenish-yellow, with red edges, and look like tiny little men.  Such an amazing plant.

They are fairly rare in the UK, and although they have been found in quite a few nearby sites to my one, I don’t know whether anyone else has ever seen the plants that I found.  So – that was a significant waymark on my journey to being a nature geek.

Race for Life report

The other news today is that I did my Race for Life – and I DIDN’T WALK!  It wasn’t fast (about 46 minutes – last time I did RfL I took 53 minutes to walk it) but it was mostly very sunny and warm, so I’m happy with that.  The first ten minutes were really hard work, and I wasn’t expecting to manage to run/jog it all at that point, but I just kept doing a bit more and a bit more, and got the whole way round.  Hurrah!

RfL shirt and medal

Race for Life shirt and medal

I don’t know how many women were there, but pretty sure it was well over a thousand.  I was fine though, didn’t even need to use the loos (sorry, if that’s too much info) which is most unusual – and a good thing, as the queues were about 30-deep.  Maybe that was the most significant acheivement of the day!  The running and walking didn’t get started until about twenty minutes after the official start time. Maybe that was to allow everyone to visit the loos?

It was a lovely day to be outside, mostly sunny and with a good breeze.  Uphill through the meadow was pretty warm, as the wind seemed to have dropped there, and there was no shade, but I kept plodding on, thinking I’d walk after the 3 km mark.  But then it was flat, and it seemed a pity to stop.

After 4 km it was pretty easy.  I almost missed getting a medal, as I was still jogging past the finish and had to stop and go back for it.  I was really pleased that I didn’t feel worn out at the end. After clapping some of the walkers in, I jogged part of the way back to the carpark.  I would have jogged it all, but suddenly felt as though I was showing off, so I walked the rest.

So, Juneathon may not have gone quite the way I’d envisaged, but I did manage to end it with a 5k run in the sun, and feeling good at the end. So I’m a happy bunny, and I’ve raised quite a bit for Cancer Research. 🙂

Race for Life hat

Sunhat with pink feathers – fallen from a tutu


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Juneathon day 24

I’ve dared to put Juneathon in the title as I’ve actually done some exercise today.  I didn’t have  too good a start this morning though, as I ricked my back somehow, while sitting in a chair…  No idea what I did, but it was pretty painful, to the extent that I had to walk very gingerly or it made me yelp.

Large White butterfly on Knapweed

Large White butterfly feeding on Common Knapweed flower

Thankfully, it had eased off a bit by the time I left work, so I stopped off for a short butterfly hunt on the way home. I only saw one common butterfly, but it looked as though it was quite freshly hatched, without any wing damage. Very handsome, sitting on a Knapweed flower.

Home again, thirty minutes of gentle yoga stretches, and my back feels much better. Hopefully it will be fully recovered by the weekend for my Race for Life. I certainly wouldn’t have been running anywhere this morning.