Monday, 28 July 2008

Summer’s here with…

… sunny warm days and eating outside! We have finally had a taste of summer for the last ten days - just lovely! So today I don’t mind at all the slightly dull and cooler day although I do hope the sunny days return.

Lavender cake and lavender coffee sitting outside in the sunshine at a picnic bench at Norfolk Lavender (in the south east of England) is how we started our summer holiday this year. The cake was lovely but the coffee – well let’s just say I nearly drank it all! It was ‘rather’ flavoursome. I did try it though.

Unfortunately we missed the last trip of the day to see the main lavender fields - maybe just as well. There were good sized rows planted beside the plant sales but with the heat the scent of the lavender was quite heady and my daughter took a headache. I could understand how she felt. I tried to take photos and video of this area but the wind was blowing the plants about quite a bit – that’s probably why the scent was so strong. The bees were funny to watch bobbing about on the flowers.

Butterflies, I decided before I left home, would be the subject for my camera on holiday this year. Once again, prior to writing this online garden diary I hadn’t really paid too much attention to them. Yes, they were pretty to see and that was about as far as it got. However, late in the summer last year I noticed a few visiting my garden and as with new birds to my garden I found myself wishing to ID them. I patiently stood trying to photograph them. The small tortoiseshell, peacock, painted lady and red admiral were all seen. Ah… but I now knew that I could see butterflies on holiday that were local to the area – there lay the challenge!

The small tortoiseshell butterfly shown on the cone flower above seen at the plant sales or on buddleja, verbena Bonariensis, sedums and other flowers was where I initially looked for butterflies. However back at the cottage where we were staying I was to discover a whole new world of butterflies. They maybe weren’t as bright and colourful as the ones that visit my garden but they caught my attention much more! Ah… but I left my book at home! I was too busy with other very last minute stuff – like my Bloom Day post which I didn’t want to miss. Sorry I missed out plant names - I will come back to that.

Wild areas set aside in gardens, no matter how small, definitely do help the insect population of our gardens. However in a small garden it is not practical to leave boundary hedges like privet to grow as it pleases. I have neighbours with this and it very quickly gets out of hand. I occasionally see its simple white clusters of flowers before it is trimmed from higher branches. Ah… but I had no idea that butterflies and bees loved these flowers so much. The photo montage above, taken on a boundary to a field at our cottage, was a very popular feeding spot. The butterflies I spotted were the Large White, Ringlet and Peacock.

A much smaller butterfly became my real challenge and was definitely my favourite of all the butterflies I saw. This butterfly was quite quick in flight and could be seen on the ground, on blades of grass and on thistle flowers. I struggled with an ID on this one. I bought a fold out laminated butterfly ID sheet which helped trace it to being a skipper.

However the book I left at home, Complete British Wildlifeby Paul Sterry, had photographs in it which makes it much easier to use for ID. This general book has served me well although it covers a limited number of wildlife in each section it is a great starting place. I have noticed that it has recently had a reprint but the content is the same. I was thinking the skipper in my montage above was an Essex Skipper and on my return looking through my book I was almost certain.

Image searches on the internet are another way to ID photos of wildlife but I have to say I still like searching through books too. Yesterday I picked up a pocket book on Butterflies and Mothswhich also has some photos of the underside of the wings which helps a lot. It has location maps too which are easy to see at glance. Here I noticed that although Essex is an area in south east England this butterfly is also pretty widespread through other parts of Europe too. I am pretty confident now that my photos are of the Essex Skipper. Great, I found a butterfly local to my area after all!

Following the large white butterfly to a grass verge of the field next to our cottage I came across the Gatekeeper butterfly - another that I would see a lot of on my holiday. However as I stood still just watching from the edge I noticed that this field was just alive with tiny wildlife. The farmer had to let this field settle for the year (I think that is the right term). Apparently he is paid to do so too. I stood fascinated watching butterflies, bees and other insects.

At my feet I saw some movement beside clover and then spotted, for the first time, a common grasshopper. How well camouflaged it was! Can you spot it in the larger photo above? I was thrilled to get photos. I looked up again to the grasses gently blowing in the wind and then noticed ladybirds and soldier beetles. I saw a number of single soldier beetles on grass flowers and watched them fly from grass to grass. Although you are more likely to see it with company as it is always mating! I spotted one pair on a nettle leaf.

Every time I pass a grass verge now I will think of the field and grass verge beside our holiday cottage in Norfolk. Unexpected memories are always special and I enjoyed a few more special ones on my visit to Pensthorpe Nature Reserve. Much to my surprise it was just a 45 mins drive from our cottage which was great as we visited it twice!

My posting on Pensthorpe (Host to this year’s BBC Springwatch programme) will have to be spread over two - I have no doubt. I have treats for the birders, wildife enthusiasts and the gardeners from here. Although we have been home since last Friday we are still on our hols however Pensthorpe is coming soon - at least my spin on it!

All photos above were taken in Norfolk during July 2008.

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Garden Bloom Day July 2008

...meets Wordless Wednesday!

To read some chat from other garden blogs posting on what's in flower this month pop over to Carol's post and browse the comments.

All photos were taken on 14th July 2008.

Saturday, 12 July 2008

Golden moments

Seeing a juvenile bird being fed by a parent in your own garden, for me anyway, rates up there as one of the golden moments in the garden - especially if the juvenile in question is a goldfinch! Before writing this gardenwatch diary I had never seen (or should I say noticed) a goldfinch in my own garden.

I also had no idea that there were different species of birds known by the same name. I have to say I have found this very interesting and when I have discovered this, with birds seen in my own garden, find I am drawn to finding images to see this difference for myself.

Carduelis carduelis is the goldfinch that is seen in my garden. The first image below has been taken from Wikipedia. I have chosen to show it as it shows this bird feeding from thistle seeds. I originally put thistle seeds (niger seeds) in my feeders but let’s just say that they germinated far too easily under my feeders! When I discovered that they loved sunflower hearts just as much that suited much better as they were not the only birds that loved them!

Carduelis tristis, (in the second photo also from Wikipedia) is the goldfinch that I have seen in many of the American blogs that I visit. Now it really looks ‘golden’ so I really wonder how the goldfinch visiting my garden got its name. You can see that it also enjoys thistle seeds. I wonder if it likes sunflower hearts too. Maybe one of my blogging friends could answer that?

Now, I know nothing about this bird but reading Wikipedia it said:The American Goldfinch (Carduelis tristis), also known as the Eastern Goldfinch and Wild Canary, is a North American bird in the finch family. It is migratory, ranging from southern Canada to North Carolina during the breeding season, and from just south of the Canadian border to Mexico during the winter.”

Comparing like with like I then looked up what Wikipedia said about the goldfinch that visits my garden. It said: “The Goldfinch or European Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis) is a small passerine bird in the finch family. It breeds across Europe, North Africa, and western and central Asia, in open, partially wooded lowlands. It is resident in the milder west of its range, but migrates from colder regions. It will also make local movements, even in the west, to escape bad weather. It has been introduced to many areas of the world (Snow and Perrins 1998).”

The first time I noticed goldfinches in my garden it was at the beginning of the year – two years ago. I don’t remember now when they left. I just didn’t see them during the spring and summer months. Funnily enough during the wet summer of last year and the wet summer (so far) of this year they have stayed in my garden. I also believe now that there could have been juveniles last year too.

Why was I unsure? Well, I had never been sure what they looked like until today. I have a treat for you now in the video below. Wind, background and traffic noise often spoil video footage and that is why I add music but in this case I have left it as it was. You can hear the chirping of the young goldfinch quite well as it demands food. How mechanical its wings look too don’t you think. It looks more musical box than real!

Processing couldn’t really keep up with the speed the juvenile goldfinches wings! You will also have seen a plant blowing across the screen at the end when the wind caught up speed. The plant is teasel and I have planted it with one thing in mind – photos of the goldfinch feeding on it! I wonder if I will see this at all. I wonder if other finches and birds will feed from it too.

Last but by no means least I have video of another juvenile in my garden. This was the planned subject of this post until this morning. Juvenile blue tits from our Camera Nestbox would not be seen in my garden this year as the chicks did not survive. However, it has been wonderful to see them visit from other successful broods. They really are delightful to see in the garden.

Finally, with this increase in juvenile birds I also saw the return of another bird today – the Sparrowhawk! I’d guess this time of year is easy pickings for birds of prey. Mm… the blue tit was alert enough to the helicopter flying overhead but the goldfinch did appear a ‘sitting duck’ on the tree branches. Fingers crossed for them both.

The photos above taken from Wikipedia see GNU Free Documentation license, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts, and no Back-Cover Texts.

The video of the goldfich juvenile being feed was taken in my garden on 12th July 2008. The video of the blue tit juvenile was taken in my garden on 11th July 2008.

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Not just blue...

…. we have red and yellow meconopsis too! Yolanda from the Netherlands discovered on her recent garden tour of Scotland that there are blue meconopsis in many gardens here. Perhaps that is a surprise to others too.

What isn’t as common is the red and yellow ones but I found some on a recent visit to Branklyn Garden when I went to take photos of the blue meconopsis as I knew they had good sized planting along a path there which looks fantastic.

I did remember I’d seen a red once a few years ago but it wasn’t quite like the ones I saw on this visit. The way the light streamed through the red ones really was quite magical as you can see.

What was interesting, when I think about the location of these plantings now, was that the red and yellow were in a slightly more open situation within the garden getting more light than the main plantings of the blue. Maybe that’s the conditions that suit them.

The blue meconopsis is still my favourite and I loved the way the deeper blue of aquilegia looked growing alongside it. I wonder if that was planned planting or the seed blew there from another border. I love when that happens.

This garden is packed with plants and I love it at this time of year. I don’t often visit it in the summer months but perhaps this year I will as recently I heard it is quite a green garden then.

I love the red and yellow candelabra primulas planted in this meconopsis lined path. This is the area I came to photograph and it was difficult choosing the few blue photos to show. As you can see some petals are on the chipped bark path. I have found that the wind gets mine too although I hate to see petals on the ground in my garden as I only have a small number of flowers. However this pathway looks great with them gently blowing along it.

Continuing with the red and yellow theme I thought I’d tie in some wildlife and birds. It is been a while since I have posted on either I know. We have had a fair bit of rain and wind which always seems to coincide with time I could get outside with my camera in my own garden.

It is the school holidays here so I have been out and about. I put my camera, video camera and tripod in the boot of the car when we go out just in case I should want to use them. On some visits I know I will get the opportunity to use them like yesterday morning. We paid a return visit to Loch of the Lowes where we sat behind the viewing window with a coffee and hot chocolate as we watched the wildlife visiting the feeding stations. My video camera was ready to record!

I always look for different activity at the feeders or on the ground but if a red squirrel comes along I always try to capture images of it. We only saw one on this visit. Unfortunately with lighting and people moving around behind me (especially with light coloured clothing) there is movement in my capture which also makes the squirrel look a little lighter in colour too. But as it was a closer image than the one from my last visit I thought I would show it. I love the way it strips the skin off the peanut.

Many of the smaller birds at the feeders are familiar to me here as I see them in my own garden but the Yellowhammer is not. I have seen it feeding on the ground here but it does appear quite timid and doesn’t stay around too long. Yesterday I was on the lookout for it.

It briefly appeared in the same area as I had seen it before. I moved to another seat. I waited patiently, watching the tree branches, for it to arrive. It came and fed with the siskins and other birds on a hanging feeder. I found it amusing to watch how all the birds fed together. What I did notice though was that the yellowhammer did appear to be alert at all times where the younger siskins just got stuck in and hardly lifted their heads.

Watching the different behaviour of my visiting garden birds is something I have really enjoyed but I just don’t see to have had the time recently. It is fascinating. I captured a few more pieces of video at Loch of the Lowes that I will post soon. I must get some close-up bird feeder footage from my own garden soon. There are a number of plants in flower now too - I hope they are still in flower for Bloom Day on the 15th of the month. I cannot believe we are near that time already!

The meconopsis photos above were all taken at Branklyn Garden on June 17th 2008. The red squirrel photo and the videos were taken at Loch of the Lowes on July 7th 2008.

Thursday, 3 July 2008

A great BIG smile

The sunshine lighting up my shadier back garden does make me smile as I look out today. Who doesn’t smile on a sunny day? However, that is not why I have a great BIG smile on my face as I write this. I am thinking of another day recently when I was smiling all day long!

There had been a little shopping…

Lunch out …

And a time check…

Okay, the last photo may have got you. It is an image from Wikipedia of the One O'Clock Gun that is fired every day (except Sunday) at precisely 13:00 from Edinburgh Castle. It allows citizens and visitors to check their clocks and watches although it can barely be heard if you are walking amongst the shoppers on the busy Princes Street on a Saturday as we were.

The origin of this tradition lies in the days before accurate timepieces, when sailing ships in the Firth of Forth needed a reliable time signal to check their marine chronometers. Now, I didn’t know that until I looked for an image! Okay this is not a history lesson. This is very much a post for the gardeners, garden Bloggers and one in particular!

Oh… this has been a difficult one to keep my lips sealed on. On Saturday 14th June I was waiting at the entrance of Edinburgh Botanical Gardens at 10am waiting for it to open. A tour bus drew up. The gates of the garden opened and we all walked in together. As I stood inside the gate, waiting with a great BIG smile on my face, my mobile phone rang and the voice on the other end said ‘Hi Shirl, I can see you’. Yolanda was standing outside the gate!

For those who don’t know of Yolanda she lives in the Netherlands and writes the garden blog Bliss. However amongst the blogging community Yolanda is well known for her inspiring posts, writing style, friendship, humour, cats and….

I am guessing there are a number of garden Bloggers going green with envy now. This is the first time I have ever met anyone through the internet and let’s just say my teenage daughters were a little concerned about this. Yolanda and her friend were more than a little amused to hear the warnings I was given before I left that morning! For the record – Yolanda isn’t a dodgy character.

The Rockery was the first part of the garden I took Yolanda and her friend to see. This is one of my favourite parts of this garden. You can see the castle in the final view. We walked and chatted past many borders to and from the Chinese garden – another favourite part of of mine. Some areas you may not recognise Yolanda!

My camera remained firmly in my bag on this visit as the chat was way too much fun to be bothering with it. Anyway, I wanted Yolanda to be the one posting pics as this was her Highland Fling. We didn’t get round all the garden and when I had the opportunity to return the following Saturday I walked with my video camera through the routes we travelled and some of the ones we didn’t have time for like the glasshouses.

These videos are for you Yolanda although I do hope others will enjoy our visit too. You will see in the final video below that the musical instrument in the Palmhouse played when I returned! I was delighted that I could share that with you. I walked through the glasshouses and filmed areas that weren't too humid for the camera so you could get an idea of what was inside.

Okay so how could I end a special post like this? Well, after waving off Yolanda on her tour bus, as it disappeared along Princes Street heading off to another garden, I decided I would stop of at a favourite garden centre on my way home. I would buy plant to remember this special day by, I have bought many plants in my garden in this way. Just how do you choose?

Well, we stopped and admired candelabra primulas on our walk so when I saw them at the centre I knew it was the one! I know this plant isn’t pink, which we may associate with Yolanda, however it just said to me ‘vibrant and full of life’ and that is how I will remember her on our first meeting.

Oh yes… we will definitely meet again! For today though, we have both decided to post at exactly the same time. What fun - I can't wait to see how Yolanda has posted on our meeting...

The videos shown above were taken by me in Edinburgh Botanical Gardens in June 2008.

The photos above were taken from Wikipedia. The photo of inside Jenners was taken by Christian Bickel see Creative Commons and Attribution ShareAlike 2.0 Germany. The photo of Princes Street gardens was taken by Jaakko Sakari Reinikainen under GNU Free Documentation License. The photo of the one o'clock gun is in the Public domain at Wikipedia.