Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Hooded Crows on holiday

Oh dear... that's the Dunvegan Castle Seal boat trip left without me :-(

What's that you said... it will be back in 25 minutes?

Perhaps we could have lunch while we wait... is this table free?

Ah... there's a queuing system... are we the only ones observing it?

Yum.. our sandwiches were tasty! Is that the engine of a small boat we hear?

I'll walk off my lunch and head down to the jetty to meet everyone.

Back to the holiday cottage... let's take in the evening view... is that supper on the grass?

A beach trip for a tasty bites served on seaweed. No queuing required in this quiet spot ;-)

Isle of Skye alfresco dining again... some 'moorish' bites before we head home?

Ha-ha… these Hooded Crow images just begged to tell a story – didn’t they? They amused me while the others were on the boat trip. It was fun discovering a new bird on holiday back in September. We first spotted it on moorland by the side of a single track road in the Waternish area of Skye, a few miles from our holiday cottage. I thought them quite eye catching and was eager to find out what they were.

Of course, crows being smart, they were the ones who were watching me when I put out a ground tray of bird food to the side of the front lawn at our holiday cottage! In recent years, I have packed a small bag of bird food when we’ve gone on UK cottage holidays as an experiment to see if birds would find it. It hasn’t exactly been successful but I am ever the optimist and always put out peanuts in the hope of red squirrels – no luck there yet :-(

To tempt birds to my small ground feeder on Skye, I tried throwing bread bits en route to the feeder with the theory that it would be more visible from above - especially with the contrast of colour on the grass. Of course, as you might expect, the hooded crows watched from their vantage spot on the powerlines and didn’t come down when I was gardenwatching from my holiday cottage window. So... no photos there.

Gardenwatching windows 2 of 4, food on top of picnic table & feeder on path below it.

Birds spotted around our holiday cottage included Goldfinches (first birds spotted/heard when we arrived), Chaffinches, House Sparrows, Dunnocks (shown on table above), Blackbird, Thrush, Robin, Great tit & Robin. Rabbits were seen under the picnic table, on the grass, paths, driveway and the single track road outside cottage late in the evening and early in the morning. No deer were heard in the hill/moor behind cottage – phew!

Coming back to the main stars of this blog post… the Hooded Crows… here’s some info I found on them...

The Hooded Crow Corvus cornix:

”Once thought to be the same species, the Hooded Crow replaces the Carrion Crow in north Scotland, the Isle of Man and Northern Ireland. In areas where the two species overlap, hybridisation can occur with individuals showing mixed plumage. Like Carrion Crows, Hooded Crows feed on carrion, invertebrates and grain, as well as stealing eggs from other birds' nests. They are more sociable than Carrion Crows, and may be seen feeding in groups. Breeding populations are joined by winter visitors from Scandinavia.”
The Wildlife Trusts

”Hooded crows have a folkloric reputation as harbingers of danger. They are very closely related to the carrion crow and the two species sometimes interbreed. Hooded crows are opportunists, eating whatever is available - berries, shellfish, eggs, insects and carrion. They are very smart and have been seen to drop shells from a great height to smash them open, and to pull in fishing lines to steal the catch or the bait.”
BBC Nature Wildlife

“The hooded crow, or 'hoodie' is now recognised as a different species to the carrion crow (Corvus corone). Both are around the same shape and size as a rook (Corvus frugilegus), but the hooded crow is easily identified by its two-colour plumage; the body is a dirty grey, while the wings, tail, head and bib are black. The calls are harsh and croaky, and include a 'kra-kra-kra', which may have given rise to the imitative name 'crow'.”

It’s been fun sharing Skye and the Hooded Crow with you all - there’s more to come on Skye another time too. Alas, this holiday seems even more miles away with the heavy garden works of late. All I’ll say on that, for now, is that I might have something to share for the Wild About Gardens Week 25-31 October. Can you guess what it might be? You'd like a clue? My back aches and I've been working in my garden with wellies on ;-)

This post was published by Shirley for shirls gardenwatch in October 2013.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Seal boat trip at Dunvegan Castle, Scotland

Dear wildlife watching friends, as you well know, holidays can afford new sightings and opportunities. Dunvegan Castle, on the Isle of Skye, wasn’t a completely new holiday visit for us having been there many years ago (bc). However, on our visit in September 2013, the opportunity to get close-up views of a colony of common seals on the small islands of Dunvegan Loch definitely was!

The reasonably priced seal boat tickets (£6 with a valid castle or garden entry ticket in 2013) seemed too good an opportunity miss out on. We were all very keen. There was one big problem though – me! How big was the boat?

We would assess our seal boat trip after out visit inside the castle where the MacLeod Chiefs have been living for nearly 800 years. At present Dunvegan Castle is the family home of the 30th Chief, Hugh MacLeod of Macleod (link to images). Dunvegan is in fact the oldest continuously inhabited castle in Scotland. I do love visiting castles that are occupied by a family - don't you?

The front view of Dunvegan Castle, on a dull wet day, is perhaps not its prettiest but as you walk over the bridge and through its entrance you absolutely feel its ancient roots. It most definitely has a historical romance about it.

Walking from room to room (no photography allowed) I have to admit to being drawn to the windows overlooking the loch to see if I could spot the size of the seal boat. Anticipation was building.

The Castle guide in the room with the 'Fairy Flag’ did well in distracting us with the legends (great independent blog post) behind this very old and delicate piece of fabric. This flag is the most treasured possession of the MacLeod Clan.

Meanwhile, outside, the square walled garden (which is typical of Scottish Castles) was looking pretty colourful on our late September visit. I liked the informal planting around the formal pool in the centre.

Walking down to the jetty for the seal boat trip brought a pretty special view of Dunvegan Castle with the Loch below it. This is where a dull wet day, with mist skirting the water, creates the romance and hardship of an ancient Castle perfectly. You can see the small islands in the distance. This was my favourite view.

Disappointingly, after seeing the size of the boat (seating just seven people – one at the very front, and two rows of three people behind with the skipper guide standing at the back) I missed out on seeing wonderful close-up views of the very relaxed seals.

I don’t have sea legs (my legs and arms physically shake) since being on a ferry crossing whilst pregnant with my second daughter. Fortunately for her, that wasn’t passed on and she boarded the small boat with her Dad. I was both delighted and worried for them as the boat sailed off gently across the loch.

Walking up to the picnic table view above the jetty, where other visitors were, I could follow the progress of the small boat across the water. Ha-ha the mist in the distance helped my shaking zoomed in photo ;-)

Meanwhile, back on land, I was getting entertained with brilliant close-up views of a new bird (for me) that we were seeing regularly around the landscape of Skye. The Hooded crows at Dunvegan knew exactly what could be found at picnic tables! Images of them next time :-)

Thanks to the technology of mobile phones, my husband sent me an image from the boat. I enjoyed a live view of the seals just like everyone on board. That was a nice surprise to be part of their trip. What great views they got.

The iPhone 4s video capture below also helped me feel part of the trip - although I did give a sigh that I wasn’t brave enough to go myself. I'm delighted to be able to share this video footage of the seals as seen from a boat trip on Dunvegan Loch (thanks OH xx).

Common Seals at Dunvegan, Scotland. 1:01 with background music, try HD quality.

A couple of days later we found ourselves on a road that overlooked Loch Dunvegan on our right. Spotting a parking space on this single track road I took the opportunity to stop and walk across to the edge where I was delighted to get my own views of the common seals at Dunvegan – albeit in the distance and with binoculars.

Zooming out to a longer view you can get a better feel for this rugged landscape with the pretty little white painted houses that could be seen in clusters on hillsides and shores throughout the landscapes of Skye.

We were very lucky with the weather on the rest of our holiday where we found breathtakingly beautiful landscapes as we travelled around the island by car - especially along the west coast towards the Inner Hebridean Island of Raasay and across the Sound of Raasay (link to images). What a stunning island this can be with both mist and sunshine.

So, dear wildlife watchers perhaps the small intimate seal boat trip at Dunvegan is for you (note sailings April-Sept check website for dates). Then again, perhaps an Exhilarating Whale, wildlife-watching and sightseeing boat trip (from Elgol, on the south tip of the Isle of Skye) is more for you. Or another option (middle ground perhaps) would be the Semi-Submersible Glass Bottom Boat on the mainland at Kyle of Lochalsh? Of course, I can’t comment/recommend either ;-)

Finally, dear wildlife watchers, have you any favourite holiday moments on boats or on land? Oh… we do believe we spotted Golden Eagles on one road trip but alas no photos to be sure.

This post was published by Shirley for shirls gardenwatch in October 2013.

Friday, 18 October 2013

Harrogate Autumn Flower Show 2013

Dear gardening friends, may I ask you a question? What do you think - are garden/flower shows really worth visiting? Our expectations before we spend hours travelling, queuing at car parks and at ticket gates are perhaps just too great for the new and experienced gardeners amongst us. Yet, we make these trips again and again – sometimes coming home disappointed but many times inspired.

A Flower Show visit to celebrate a ‘special’ birthday for my Mum covered a fair few miles from Scotland as our organised bus trip picked up passengers en route. So, was the long trip worth it? Yes, without a question of doubt. We were both well impressed with our visit to the Autumn 2013 Harrogate Flower Show. Would I recommend it to others? Truthfully – absolutely!

Organised by the North of England Horticultural Society and sited at the Great Yorkshire Showground I’d go as far to say our Harrogate Flower Show visit was the best show organisation I have seen*. I’d like to make particular mention of the rows of seating available outside marquees and halls which was very much appreciated by my Mum and many other visitors - of all ages.

So, dear gardening friends, you arrive at your chosen garden/flower show wearing your show-comfy shoes and a spring in your step. To keep that spring in your step for the duration of your visit, you need firm footed and wide pathways for your show-comfy shoes. A simple and clear layout of pathways to navigate halls and exhibits would make your visit less tiring too.

Harrogate Flower Show’s location was a winner here for both, with an established network of paths which included road surfaces. The paths were in straight lines direct to the halls with straight spurs off for the show gardens, other exhibits, plant & garden sundries sales and refreshments. I suspect, even rainy days would be a comfortable walk at the Harrogate Show. We had a warm, sunny day for our visit :-)

The centrally placed Bandstand made for a great meeting point and entertaining break during the day. The brass band playing added to the bright airy mood of the show. We particularly enjoyed the large Gardeners Rest Café nearby where we could hear the music as we ate lunch and had a coffee at the end of our day. A variety of refreshments were available and well placed around the show – and of course there were the food halls where samples could be had!

Praise must go to the Gardeners Rest Café. Chandeliers hanging from warm, pale yellow, pleated fabric swathes in this refreshments Marquee gave it a wedding reception style feel. It was light and airy - very pleasant to sit it. The smartly dressed attentive waiting staff clearing tables and at the buffet style island tables (a great selection of local and fresh foods) was very much appreciated and added to the atmosphere. We were definitely refreshed after we ate.

Ah... all that being said, the best decoration in this marquee was to be seen on the grass floor. Resting there were show visitor's prized, plant ans sundries purchases peeking out of bags and boxes. You knew you were dining with like-minded folk :-)

Dinner chat back at the hotel later, with fellow Harrogate visitors, showed the diversity of interests in people that attend flower shows. Yes, some people were there to see those prized flowers and as many to see the giant veggies (the bonus of an Autumn show). Not surprisingly, there were others like me interested in the plants, planting combinations and the opportunity to purchase plants direct from nursery suppliers!

Yes, as you might expect, veterans of visiting both the Harrogate Spring and Autumn Flower Shows were also in attendance but I loved hearing of the few that had just been at their very first flower show - good choice there then!

So, dear gardening friends, you ‘think’ you know what you are going to enjoy most when you get to this flower show that has been marked on the calendar for some months now. Ah… but then you get caught up with different interests from your show companion and find yourself looking more closely at exhibits that you would have normally walked on by if you were show visiting solo. Does that sound familiar?

As my visit was a trip for my Mum, our first destination when we arrived was to head to the Hall that housed the floral art displays and exhibits. This was what interested her most and she was very keen to see what Harrogate had to offer - she was well impressed and so was I. Our bus got us to the show sharp for it opening so this hall was fairly quiet for browsing - a bonus for photos too.

Floral Art wasn’t really my thing, but… I found myself taking many photos which can be seen in my Harrogate Autumn Flower Show compilation video at the end of this post. You'll also see many dahlias too - blooms that I've never really looked at in detail before.

Yes, dear gardening friends, you might join me in appreciating the fun, the use of colour and creativity in the floral art displays. However, on closer inspection many of these floral displays do have flower and foliage combinations that could be magical in a garden setting – albeit a tropical one perhaps.

I found myself just swooning over the ‘planting’ in the cocoon floral display above - especially the orchid/viola combination. I loved the use of Lichen with ivy too. In truth, I had difficulty walking away from this one and nearly lost my Mum... boo hoo ;-)

Many gardeners, I know a few, give the garden and flower shows a complete miss. Perhaps, the hype of fanciful Show Gardens so far away from what the average gardener will do/can afford/have space for in their own gardens just isn’t appealing. Granted, plantings can include unrealistic combinations too, for example, full size alpines flowering in season next to a very young shrub out of season. This is not always the case but I accept this artistic licence can be misleading at times.

Granted again, on the other side of the garden gate, I’ve come away from Show Gardens wishing the exhibitors had spent more money or imagination to get that extra garden wow factor. Being truthful again, I would have loved to have seen more larger show gardens at Harrogate - but then again I said the same of my Chelsea visit many years ago. On the practical side, if you look at the small details in show gardens they can work in our real gardens too.

Dear non- garden show gardeners, I’d like to convert you - let’s take another view on garden shows. You find yourself planning a meal for a special occasion - you may head to the specialist food shops as well as the supermarkets. As gardeners with different tastes looking to make that new border or revamp that tired unloved garden corner, heading to a garden or flower show can be exactly the same.

The garden/flower show ‘supermarket’ has an abundance of aisles with different garden related products – just make sure don’t miss the ‘chocolate’ aisles that are the specialist plant nurseries! Actually, food also has a strong place in garden and flower shows with many local producers exhibiting. For visitors travelling a distance this is a huge bonus to be able to sample their produce.

Where the supermarket may have a samples table to tempt you to taste a new product line, the garden/flower show always have a variety of Plant Societies to tempt you to their species/plant group. We were well impressed by Harrogate’s displays showing the practical side of taking cuttings and propagating like the British Streptocarpus Society table above.

The Societies all had photo display stands as well as specimens at their tables – they were actually judged too which was news to me. The chat and enthusiasm of the group members at the tables was wonderful to hear as you walked by. Everyone was so friendly and approachable which was great. I have never considered growing Streptocarpus but found myself chatting about its propagation – then again, I am a propagation fan :-)

Oops… my chat and enthusiasm may be running out for you now. You may have comfy shoes/slippers on and are sitting on a comfy seat but I do want to leave you enough time to watch the video below before you go. I’ll come back with more chat another time as there was a product that caught my eye.

Oh yes… before you click on the play button… I’d also like to say a huge thank-you to everyone behind the scenes at the Harrogate Autumn Flower Show – you did a great job! It’s a pleasure to recommend a visit. Perhaps I’ll see you for the 2014 Harrogate Spring Flower Show. Although... next time I think I’ll give the bus ride a miss and find another mode of transport ;-)

Harrogate Autumn 2013 video, 1min 16sec compilation with background music, try HD quality.

Wishing you all a great weekend in your gardens. Have you plans? Weather being fair, looks doubtful, I hope to finish more Autumnal garden jobs. I've been busy - more on that once the weather breaks. Best of all, I've enjoyed reconnecting with my garden. Autumnal Garden Shows can kick you into garden planning again! We really did enjoy our visit to Harrogate :-)

For those who gave answers to my last post – the bird was a Hooded crow at the small harbour at Portree on the Isle of Skye. The holiday destination was Skye (a small island on the North west coast of Scotland) and I’ll be back with tales from there next time :-)

Let's end now with the question from the beginning of this blog... What do you think - are garden/flower shows really worth visiting?

*I’ve visited a few Garden Shows over the years including RHS Chelsea (pre new marquees), RHS Tatton Park (its 2nd year) and yearly visits to Gardening Scotland (where, being truthful, I have come home disappointed some years).

This post was published by Shirley for shirls gardenwatch in October 2013.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Wordless Wednesday: Guess the holiday destination

This post was published by Shirley for shirls gardenwatch in October 2013.