Wednesday, 28 November 2012

New bird seed mix, new Coeliac & Blogaversary

Would you ever believe it - gluten free bird food? I kid you not. Okay… perhaps I am slightly, however Blackbirds were feasting and fighting over pieces of gluten free breakfast health bar in my garden yesterday morning (homemade with rice flakes, apple juice, butter, soft brown sugar, eggs, nibbled almonds, sunflower seeds, chopped figs and dates).

A short time later the Starlings arrived and the early morning diners had to run away with their posh breakfast grub. Needless to say, it wasn’t long before the dish was empty! Yep, once birds like the Starlings find something to their liking they don’t forget and the food doesn’t last long.

Feeding birds is an added expense to the household budget - especially at this time of year. I absolutely appreciate this as I experiment with a variety of foods and more bird species find my garden feeders. I have been considering my choices of foods in regard to best value for bird species and money. I have been closely watching the birds feeding in my garden for six years now.

During the winter our diets change to hearty, warm meals - here in Scotland anyway. All the bird websites, books and nature programmes tell us that birds need hearty, high energy foods to keep them warm when winter takes hold too. Birds need to build up enough energy through feeding to survive a cold night.

During years of shortages in natural food sources birds can come to rely on the foods available in our gardens. I am guessing this is one of these years as we had never seen the Great Spotted Woodpecker in our garden until recently. Now we have a least one regular female visiting daily and our temperatures have yet to get proper chilly!

Wishing not to waste household food like the breakfast bar above (which I considered reasonably high energy) I guessed the birds might try it if I cut it into beak sized pieces. If they hadn’t eaten it during the day, I would have removed it as leftover foods like this has the potential to attract unwelcome visitors such as rats. I would apply the same rule to bread too.

Wishing not to waste money and energy on bird seed at my garden feeders and tables I have tended to favour sunflower hearts over mixed seed mixes over the years. Unless they become damp and stick together, I find sunflower hearts are always eaten and are popular with most of our regulars. They can be expensive so this year I am trying to supplement this with a small group of peanut feeders for when the sunflower hearts run out quickly. This is working well for now and my garden is buzzing with bird life.

Taking a good guess, more people are likely to put out food for the birds at this time of year. When the garden plants die down and bird activity is more noticeable, the idea of hanging up bird feeders or putting out a bird table can sound an attractive idea. I would absolutely recommend it too with the added incentive that the birds do need our help.

Okay, despite all that I promote here on my blog… I’m going to be completely honest and truthful here – there are some unattractive things about putting bird feeders out too!

Weeds can be classed as plants just growing in places where they aren’t wanted. What I don’t want in a bird seed is uneaten food falling or being tossed in to my borders, cracks in paving and through my shrubs. This seed usually germinates and then when your gardening back is turned a weedy wonderland grows! It’s for this reason that I have not favoured mixed bird seed mixes.

Yes, I have heard (but not tried) that by putting bird seed in an oven you can sterilize it and then uneaten seed won’t germinate. Does it work? I couldn’t tell you – has anyone tried this?

Yes, I have used the ‘no mess’ mixed seed varieties. Did they work? I think to a degree they seemed to work (it’s been a while now) but I found the birds didn’t find all the seeds to their liking. The smaller grains were left uneaten which I then had to clear away… so food energy and money was wasted.

When an email came in from the RSPB headquarters in Sandy, Bedfordshire asking me if I would be interested in testing “a new extra table mix that has 10% more energy than standard RSPB Table mix” that has recently gone on sale, I instantly thought that it might be fun to experiment with this in my garden. Could they actually convert me to a mixed seed mix?

Would the birds visiting my garden find this new mix to their liking was the question? “We added a higher proportion of smaller and husk-free seeds such as sunflower hearts, oats and millet, making it easier to eat.” Would there be any waste though? That’s what I want to know. I also want to know if this mix will attract any new birds to my garden. Lol… yes I want it all ;-)

My seed sample came last Friday (thank-you RSPB) and I have to say early indications in my seed trial suggest my bird visitors might just be approving. However, I have some experiments I wish to do to thoroughly test this seed in the variety of locations and feeders in my garden. I want to compare it against sunflower hearts too. Lol… expect a lengthy, illustrated review when I'm done :-)

The minute I opened my seed bag and spotted the black sunflower hearts I knew who my first diner would be – I was correct. Lol… it began with one Coal tit :-)

This morning the blackbirds enjoyed another gluten free breakfast option. The Starlings turned up on cue as expected too. It was eaten even quicker today! I’ve an airtight container that will provide a couple more breakfasts over the coming days. Providing tasty gluten free food for a newly diagnosed Coeliac – well that’s another matter!

Last Monday, we got the unexpected news that my youngest (training to be a chef) daughter has Coeliac disease. Having never come across this in anyone I know I’d welcome any tips anyone has to share – for others too. Please drop me an email if you are unable to leave a comment and I’ll add your comment here. We have much to learn and adapt to.

As with bird foods (added expense in household budgets) gluten free foods are on the expensive side and what is needed here is tasty food with no waste if possible. My daughter has joined the Coeliac Society UK and is now awaiting her welcome pack with food and drink directory. This directory is going to be invaluable when grocery shopping.

We’ve browsed a local health food shop for basics, browsed gluten free food isles in supermarkets to see what they have and back in the kitchen a store cupboard has been rearranged to accomodated different ingredients and instant food choices. Lots of airtight containers were involved :-)

Although we can aceess recipes online and are able to buy books cheaper there too, we have also browsed bookshops and bought a gluten free recipe book. As you will have guessed from above - the first home baking trial wasn’t to my daughter's liking. I didn’t like it either. However, I am always up for a challenge and currently focusing on finding ways to continue providing as many favourite family meals as possible by adapting them. This food trial is going to be a true labour of love for me.

My blog has also been a labour of love over the last six years. I have enjoyed storytelling, taken many photos, captured much video and have experimented with layout and content. There is always something I want to add or adapt should I have more time. Gosh… and I have a huge backlog of unseen stuff I want to share… one day :-)

Due to lots of difficult personal stuff over the last year and a bit, my posts have been unpredictable and sparse. I’d like to say A HUGE THANK-YOU to everyone who has continued to visit and comment especially when my blog visiting has been on the quiet side. I really appreciate your loyalty. I have been very fortunate to come across so many fellow enthusiastic, kind and caring people over the last six years.

My 6th Blogaversary came on the day my daughter was diagnosed as a Coeliac. Understandably, my thoughts were elsewhere and I didn’t post a blog to mark it. However, I had planned ahead the night before by buying a cake which I photographed for my post. Spookily, we ate a piece then too not knowing what the next day would bring. My family had fun with a card and I put seven candles on my cake as I saw my blogaversary as stepping into a 7th year of Blogging. I was looking forward. I still am :-)

This Gardenwatching blog has opened my eyes in many ways over the last six years. To think it all began with pictures of the little chap above :-)

Regarding feeding garden birds, I hope my enthusiasm has helped others to experiment with foods and feeders too. My ultimate two tips would be to keep bird feeders clean and to be patient - don't give up if you don’t see birds come to your feeders right away. I’d add to that, don’t be frightened to move your feeders and mix up the bird foods you put out as then you are more likely to attract a wider variety of species especially during the cold winter months.

I often remember one past post title “if you build it they will come” in relation to a new Nestcam birdbox. What will come to my garden during year seven and where will my blog take me? Now that is indeed the question… hopefully back to garden visiting as I’ve missed sharing that. Wherever we go, I’d like to invite you to join us. Lol… thinking of you and my late nights at the PC, I’ll worker harder at shorter regular posts ;-)

Year seven… here we come!

This post was published by Shirley for shirls gardenwatch in November 2012.

Friday, 16 November 2012

Shy female Great Spotted Woodpecker

A 30 second video clip of a female Great Spotted Woodpecker at a garden feeder, although a very special first for me, would have taken the limelight away from a star sighting in my lengthy last post. So yes, you were right Sue, the ‘W’ was for Woodpecker too :-)

What’s really special about this video capture is that it highlights the one concern I have about seeing quite few glimpses of this nervous, exciting to see, bird at my feeders. Nesting time is my concern. The Woodpecker will raid nests and nestboxes for eggs and young and I have a nestbox in my garden that is favoured by the little Blue tit which is seen above feeding happily with the Woodpecker.

Oh dear… it’s a case of being careful with what you wish for. Introducing our new (shy) regular at the bird feeders, a female Great Spotted Woodpecker…

Seeing as it’s the weekend, I’ll keep this short like my video clip above. If you’ve more time and missed my last ‘I spy’ post you can see it here. The photos here are screen captures from the video clip. My weekend challenge is to capture photos with my camera – if I’m quick enough. If it’s dry I might get some garden tidying up and the winter duvet on my Gunnera to protect it.

Wishing you a great weekend :-) I know at least one other blogger that is trying to capture video footage of a Great Spotted Woodpecker at garden feeders - Good luck John! Have you any challenges and garden works planned? Lol... Mrs Woodpecker below is thinking about it ;-)

This post was published by Shirley for shirls gardenwatch in November 2012.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

I spy with my little eye… something beginning with ‘W’

Would it be the white stripe on the back of the speedy Coal tits darting through almost every tree and shrub in my garden just now? …Nope :-)

Would it be the white cheeks of the Coal tits as they briefly slow down before changing direction through the wonderful coral stems of my Acer tree? …Nope :-)

Would it be the white collar of the rather tropical looking Goldfinches that impatiently queue to get a feeder space? …Nope :-)

Would it be the white spots on the back of the black tail of these charming Goldfinches? Lol… you need to be quick to spot them ;-) …Nope :-)

Okay, yes, I’m playing a game with you now… but the ending is good! Through my last six years gardenwatching, I have found spotting and identifying birds in/from our garden great fun. I would definitely recommend this as something for young families especially ahead of the RSPB’s annual Big Garden Birdwatch which takes place during the last weekend in January.

The game I play with my garden visitors is by moving the feeders around from time to time (this reduces the spread of disease below) and in changing the foods I put out depending on the time of year. I have great fun setting new feeding areas up - also as I wait to see who will discover the food first.

I spy with my little eye… something beginning with ‘W’… Window views? Yes… you’re getting warm now ;-)

Spying birds in overlooking garden trees when you don’t have mature trees in your garden can be fun but tricky too (remember they don’t count in the RSPB Birdwatch). These overlooking trees act as a great viewpoint to activity in gardens which will bring birds to your feeders. From my window view, I nearly completely missed seeing the Robin above until it moved its head :-)

I spy with my little eye… something beginning with ‘W’…

A window view... way out into the distance? Oh yes… getting hot now! The tree photo above has been cropped to show two birds spotted on Sunday. This is a very large tree that can be seen from my window – fortunately this one doesn’t overlook my garden! I was also fortunate that I was looking at my window at this particular time :-)

I spy with my little eye… something beginning with ‘W’… Winter visitors? Yes… burning hot now!

Here in the UK, berries in gardens and parks can bring in winter visitors like Redwings and Fieldfares especially when the temperatures drop. The answer to this ‘I Spy’ post is a special Scandinavian winter visitor which has recently arrived in parts of the UK.

On Sunday, I spied with my little eye… something beginning with ‘W’… WAXWINGS!!!!! Okay, so it was only two Waxwings and a distant view at that, but I'm delighted that they have been in my area – even if it’s only been for a short while. I suspect this pair are part of a bigger group nearby somewhere. It is also possible they have just been passing through.

It seems, due to food shortages, every few years this bird will travel away from its normal winter range to the UK and further south into Europe. That's what makes Waxwing sightings sought after in the birding community. Of course, once images of these striking pinkish brown birds with distinctive colour markings appear in local newspapers etc then interest and fascination to see these visitors in gardens and towns spreads.

Above is a cropped, screen grab from the short piece of video footage shown below. It was the head with pointed crest and its size, that I could just make out in the distance, which made me pick up cameras to get images to confirm I was actually seeing Waxwings from my lounge window!

Can you spy with your little eye… a Waxwing (Bombycilla garrulus) preening in the sunshine high up in a tree in the video below?

I spy with my little eye… something beginning with ‘W’… Winter feeding? Please conintue reading... this game isn't finished yet. There's more Waxwing chat and images to come ;-)

Coming right back to outside my window, also on Sunday, a Blackbird was spotted feasting on berries from my small Cotoneaster tree. I planted this tree especially for the birds and do enjoy seeing them eat the berries. Note the detail in my photo captures where the Blackbird’s tongue can be seen in the first image and the berry gets squished in the second.

Here in the UK, it’s not just berries in gardens and parks that bring in winter visitors like Redwings, Fieldfares and Waxwings to feed. Orchards and gardens with fallen fruit like apples can become invaded by groups of feeding birds too.

Back in 2010, inspired by a blog post with fantastic close-up Waxwing feeding images from the Fair Isle (an island in northern Scotland, lying around halfway between mainland Shetland and the Orkney Islands) I tried a feeding experiment with apples (bought from my local supermarket). I didn’t get lucky – but the fun was in trying.

Through Twitter feeds I read last Saturday, I discovered 2012 is a year that Waxwings were being seen in the UK. Thinking of Tommy’s Fair Isle Blog once again I went shopping for apples as my small offering of berries that the Blackbirds were raiding had no chance of attracting Waxwings to my garden.

Since my first 2010 Waxwings sightings, we have a homemade feeding station that consists of good sized, pruned Rowan branches from a tree in my garden which are bolted to a 4x4 inch post in the ground. I hang a mix of bird feeder types and foods on this natural looking feeding station that is positioned next to an established clump forming bamboo.

Since Saturday, I have cored apples, (with a thin slice off the top) spiked through some of my feeder branches which is seen in my video and image above. Wow… would I love to get images of Waxwings from here!

So how do you know where to look for Waxwings? Well, perhaps taking a scroll through the Twitter feed at @WaxwingsUK might list sightings in your area. Funnily enough Car Parks, where berries may be found, are a common location and City Centres too. The website BIRDNET is also another place that lists sightings that’s worth a look.

Finally, I have kept the very best to last (in my opinion anyway). The video below is really, really worth a look. It is very special. Two years on I’m back looking at Tommy’s Fair Isle blog but this time I’ve a video that he’s taken. You’ve got to see and hear this…

Was that not just brilliant? Did you hear that car alarm like sound? That’s what I thought I was hearing until I looked up to the tree to my sighting of a large group of Waxwings back in 2010. What a surprise I got that day and that’s my tip for locating Waxwings – listen out for them :-)

I wish Tommy could have seen the smile I gave on hearing his video alone. As for seeing Waxwings feeding from his hand…

I spy with my little eye… something beginning with ‘W’… a WISHLIST!!!

This post was published by Shirley for shirls gardenwatch in November 2012.

Friday, 9 November 2012

Friday gardenwatch catch-up

In hindsight, I was feeling a bit sad when I browsed through many images (taken on the same day) for my previous Wordless post and I guess the power and draw of one single image showed. Yes, looking now at the tired and tearful Anemone I can see that it reflected pretty accurately myself at that time and perhaps a different blog title would have been more appropriate like “Sad moments” or ‘Missing you”.

Only some blog visitors will know the reason for my sadness, I mentioned a dedication in a post at the time. Seven weeks ago my Dad died suddenly after a short illness. The day after posting the Anemone image a new wave of sadness engulfed me whilst driving. I am really missing my Dad now. Perhaps this image from my garden unlocked emotions that I have been keeping back.

“but when the bright sun shines on the late autumn colours they can still take your breath away!!” was the comment from Gerry at The Potters House Penketh  on the sorry looking Anemone flower in my last post. Absolutely true, Gerry! On that same day, my camera captured vibrant colour and blooms that did exactly that…

I wanted to readdress the sadness behind my last post with happiness and life that goes on. I have many happy memories of my Dad – he was quite a character. He enjoyed hearing what I was up to in my garden and what visitors came too.

I’m very happy with the way the colours are mixing in my sunnier front garden above. Below my back garden holds lots of little gems if you take closer look…

Although my blog posts have been quiet, my gardenwatching has not! I love this change of pace in the garden at this time of year. Yes, it is sad to see the plants begin to die down for another year but at the same time views of garden bird visitors are getting clearer.

During the last few weeks numbers of the tiny Coal tits have been on the increase. They are at all the different feeders eating fat cake, peanuts, peanut butter and sunflower hearts. The speed at which they have been flying about has been mesmerising! They are definitely the entertainers just now.

Since the spotting of the first Male Great Spotted Woodpecker to be seen in my garden I’ve been sitting with breakfast at my window eagerly hoping to catch some video. Alas – no joy. However one morning a female Great Spotted Woodpecker dropped by and I captured some shaky footage of her. She didn’t feed at all but perhaps she’ll come back as she saw the feeders :-)

The first image below won’t play the video but shows where to select the better quality HD image when viewing the actual video below it. It does make a difference especially when you see the speed of the coal tits at the sunflower feeder! You can see the timid Woodpecker next and at the end of the video there is another special regular visitor at breakfast time – the shy wren. Enjoy…

Finally, there have been occasional visits from another acrobatic entertainer to the garden over the last month. Back in October one grey squirrel was enjoying the sunshine as well as peanuts!

A wet day at the beginning of November saw a more nervous grey squirrel with a very thin tail sit around for ages before going to feed for a brief while at a tray of sunflower hearts at a low bird table. Being spooked by a Blackbird it returned to its lookout spot where it remained almost statue still for two hours. That’s more committed gardenwatching than I do!!

I’ve enjoyed this gardenwatching catch up. I genuinely enjoy sharing what can visit a garden if you creatively locate plants and bird feeders. This morning I was out being creative with apples in an attempt to attract any possible Waxwings flying over - should they be in my area. Oh yes… and I keep forgetting to say, there’s been a roosting Blue tit in our camera nestbox a while now :-)

I also enjoy sharing other seasonal spectacles outside the garden too – can you guess what’s coming soon? I’ve been ages editing down 66 video clips of this. What garden and seasonal spectacles are you enjoying where you are at the moment? Wishing you a great weekend to enjoy them :-D

This post was published by Shirley for shirls gardenwatch in November 2012.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Wordless Wednesday - Dirty garden whites

Autumn repaints the picture.

This post was published by Shirley for shirls gardenwatch in November 2012.