Thursday, 11 December 2014

Where's Wally the Ringed Plover

There’s no sign of a red and white striped shirt, bobble hat, or glasses in today’s challenge. Wally (or Waldo in the US & Canada) has competition from a small wading bird very well hidden along the pebble shoreline of Loch Ewe at Aultbea. This is the bird mentioned in my last blog that had me smiling and stumbling in a hurry to capture photos!

Wet pebbles and seaweed along this shoreline made for tricky walking at times. Too busy looking down at our feet we didn’t even notice the delightful small group of Ringed Plovers (possibly juveniles by their less distinct black collar) until we were upon them – and we got very close!

Having remembered the Little Ringed Plovers that captured everyone’s imagination when BBC Springwatch were at Pensthorpe National Park back in 2010 that was what I thought I was seeing! However, not being as familiar with wading birds as garden ones I didn’t realise there were two quite similar Plovers.

One of the main differences between the Little Ringed Plover and the more common Ringed Plover is in the eye detail - the Little Ringed Plover has a distinctive yellow eye ring. As the name suggests the Little Ringed Plover is smaller too but I couldn’t tell these differences when taking my photos. Ringed or not this was one of the highlights of this ‘gardenwatching’ year!

Where's the Little Plover then? Let the challenge begin… can you spot it? Note some image files are larger so you have a sporting chance - just click on them ;-)

(1) There’s a definite two Little Plovers above – perhaps there’s even a third ;-)

(2) Zooming out - can you see three Plovers now? I believe there’s a fourth ;-)

(3) A good challenge now (answer at post end) - there are five Plovers to spot!

(4) An even harder challenge (answer at post end) - five Plovers to spot ;-)

(5) This is what we are looking for - it’s brownish grey matches the pebbles.

(6) Here’s some views from different angles to help you :-)

(7) Two Plovers this time – after the clues can you spot them more easily?

(8) Two Plovers again – have your eyes become used to seeing them now?

(9) So very well camouflaged as a pebble – only one Ringed Plover this time.

(10) A tricky two Ringed Plovers – I missed the second until just now ;-)

(11) Doubting myself now - could the sure two Plovers have a companion hiding?

So our snow predicated last weekend and so far this week has been pretty much a no show (all slush) allowing me time to indulge in some fun with this post on my first ever Ringed Plover sighting back in August. I hope you enjoyed the fun too - how did you get on?

Perhaps today we will see heavier snowfall and the newest little garden visitor I thought I spotted here might return. The snow does bring more garden visitors to the feeders. However, the winds have been wild and we don't want blizzards on the roads for drivers. Wishing you all a safe weekend where ever you travel.

There’s a little more info from the RSPB on the Ringed Plover below and if you follow the link you’ll see a distribution map showing it as a resident around most of the coast of the UK and Ireland. Where’s the Ringed Plover… well if you know where to look you might just spot it ;-)

”The ringed plover is a small, dumpy, short-legged wading bird. It is brownish grey above and whitish below. It has a orange bill, tipped with black, orange legs and a black-and-white pattern on its head and breast. In flight it shows a broad white wing-stripe. Breeds on beaches around the coast, but has also now breeding inland in sand and gravel pits and former industrial sites. Many UK birds live here all year round, but birds from Europe winter in Britain and birds from Greenland and Canada pass through on migration.”
RSPB Birds by name: Ringed Plover

Answers: Locations of the five Ringed Plovers in images (3) and (4).

Copyright: Original post published on by blog author Shirley, December 11th 2014.

Friday, 5 December 2014

Friday @ the Flicks - Swallows before the snow

The forecast of snow for Sunday has triggered another unplanned Friday @ the Flicks! It doesn’t seem that long since the Swallows were seen swooping along fields and across back roads making drivers jumpy. Gosh… how fast this year seems to have gone.

Are we really ready for snow swirling around us when we walk outside? No? Okay let’s head back to the middle of August to Swallows swirling around instead. Just how I managed to stay put as they flew so close around me I really don’t know...

Swallows feeding & chattering, 53 sec without music, try HD quality.

Ha-ha… the lengths we bloggers go to get a video for a blog post ;-) Perhaps joining Midmarsh John on a regular basis will help me get through all the many video captures I have sitting. Ha-ha… but then if I plan to do so it may not happen. We will take this idea on a week by week basis then ;-)

A holiday week in the small fishing village of Aultbea in the North-West Highlands of Scotland was where the video capture above was taken. The weather could have been kinder but our cottage location on the shores of Loch Ewe (about 30 km west of Ullapool) more than made up for it.

We stayed in the very well appointed, long white house on the right.
You can see the field where the swallows were feeding alongside it.

We had a delightful driveway and walk down to the road with swallows
feeding on the left in this view. The video was taken at the bottom.

In contrast, across the road an open view of Loch Ewe and over to the Torridon Mountains was still. Aultbea has a small harbour at Aird Point on the RHS.

Morning and evening walks along the pebbled shoreline kicked up some surprise sightings. How very well camouflaged the feeding birds there were. At the start, I didn’t even notice them (just like in my first gardenwatch days) but once my eye accustomed to this new environment I had the fun of trying to identify what I was seeing and trying to capture images.

One bird species that I had never seen before was also darting around in groups around the fields beside our cottage and its ID had me struggling. However the highlight (in garden/shore watching terms) was a small group of birds spotted on a sunny lunchtime walk further along the shoreline to where the first photo was taken from. Having an idea on ID this time, I was thrilled and smiling for the rest of the afternoon.

Should snow dust/cover the garden this Sunday we can look forward to some interesting garden visitors with photo and video opportunities. If the snow’s a no show then I’ll sort through the delightful shoreline bird sighting that had me smiling. Any guesses which bird it was?

Wishing you all a great weekend – whatever the weather brings you :-)

Copyright: Original post published on by blog author Shirley, December 5th 2014.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Wordless Wednesday: Hairy shield bug

Hairy shield bug, surprise find weeding in Mum’s Rockery, May 2014 (iPhone).

Copyright: Original post published on by blog author Shirley, December 3rd 2014.

Sunday, 30 November 2014

A harsh winter ahead?

Weather folklore and the images below taken at the Royal Botanical Garden Edinburgh back in mid-October might suggest it just might be!

“When berries are many in October, beware a hard winter”

Myth or not, could nature really be providing more food for birds to survive a harsh winter? What about the birds themselves - do they recognise this bountiful crop of berries as a sign to eat up now and fast? I'm thinking they might do.

Cotoneaster on Chinese Hillside

Having seen the berries on my small Cotoneaster 'Hybridus Pendulus' tree being left too long on less harsh winters makes me think that the birds knew there was no hurry to eat them. Unfortunately the cold wasted the fruit these years.

Watching the birds in my garden over the last eight years has certainly shown me that bird species do pay attention to the feeding areas of the other birds in the garden. They appear to follow each other out of curiosity at the start but quickly learn new food sources.

Here’s a thought then, in bumper berry years do a wider variety of bird species recognise this extra food source nature has provided? Do the smaller birds, the seed feeders, notice there is more feeding on berries and see that as a signal to feed up more often? Again, I'm thinking they might.

For sure, birds appreciate high energy foods like fat cakes, fat balls, peanuts and sunflower hearts during cold days. The bustle of activity at the fat cakes and balls especially tell me that!

The harsh reality of a harsh winter is that birds don’t survive the night if they don’t feed enough during the day – sadly they perish. I might wonder if the birds know the fat cakes and fat balls are so valuable to their survival. Do they watch the clever species of birds and follow their lead? Have they learnt which species to gardenwatch?

There is certainly an abundance of weather folklore results on an internet search on the suggestion that an abundance of berries relate to a harsh winter. However, no stats or pie charts were to be found - perhaps Chris Packham will produce one on Springwatch next year ;-)

Dwarf Rowan, Sorbus reducta

Many articles can be found on Waxwings feasting on berries here in the UK when Scandinavia has had a shortage. These special visitors have caused quite a media stir in recent years.

Twitter users tweet sightings under the hashtag #waxwings and @WaxwingsUK track and notify all Waxwing sightings in the UK. I’ll be keeping an eye on twitter and will be gardenwatching the mature tree seen from my window where they have been spotted in previous years. My last sighting was in November 2010

Scottish flame flower, Tropaeolum speciosum

Brrr… as we move into the month of December tomorrow, the weather forecast tonight suggests our temps will be dropping a bit. Ha-ha… living here in Scotland that isn’t making me rush around trying to find hat, scarf and gloves - yet ;-)

In view of a possible harsh winter I have been stocking up on high energy foods for my garden visitors. Berries or not, I’m ready. I’m also working on a potting shed experiment for storing the food which I’ll come back to another day ;-)

The warm colours of Autumn could soon be a distant memory by the end of the week - potentially. This final burst of colour just had to happen tonight. However, potentially by the end of the week colourful new garden visitors could be following the current fat cake crowds of House Sparrows! How exciting :-)

Well… brrrrr! I’ve just popped out in car to collect daughter from bus stop to find back car window frosted and the car temp reading 3 deg C! Ha-ha… I went out without a coat on and didn’t feel cold until I saw the little warning crystals come up on the temperature display – the power of suggestion ;-)

Coming back to gardenwatching, what fun it can be at this time of year – I do so love it! What do you enjoy about this time of year? What new garden visitors might you expect to see? Little gardenwatching was done here over a busy weekend – so no sighting or video footage yet to report on our newest visitor :-)

Copyright: Original post published on by blog author Shirley, November 30th 2014.

Friday, 28 November 2014

Friday @ the Flicks – A foraging Wren

Today’s planned blog post remains in draft after being bumped back for yesterday’s sweet video capture of the shy Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes). Apologies for the slightly bumpy tripod work at the start but these birds scurry along the ground like mice and it’s hard to predict which direction they will take next.

Fellow blogger Midmarsh John regularly posts ‘Friday at the Flicks’ with recent video footage and often more than one video too. I thought I’d join him today seeing as my footage was current too.

Short Wren video, 36 seconds with background music, try HD quality.

If you find yourself looking out your window you too will find that it’s much easier to spot small, ground foraging birds with the border plants dying down at this time of year. However, the Wren was not what my video camera was sitting on my tripod poised for yesterday. It was a very nice second prize though :-D

What could beat a Wren capture I hear you ask? Well, I do believe we had a gardenwatch first on Wednesday. I do need video footage of this visitor to confirm my suspicion (should it return). I'm quietly confident it will but will I be gardenwatching at the time - I do hope so :-)

Can you guess what I’m guessing was spotted foraging on my pine tree branches just below the fat ball feeder? Wishing you all a great weekend and hoping my US blogging friends have enjoyed a good Thanksgiving with their friends and families :-)

Copyright: Original post published on by blog author Shirley, November 28th 2014.

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Back to gardenwatch basics – The Bird Table

Where, oh where, have all the garden birds gone? In reality they probably haven’t gone anywhere. It’s more than likely they have been hiding in the undergrowth and among shrubs and trees in or nearby your garden. This is the fun upside to plants dying down and leaves falling from trees at this time of year – we get better views of visiting birds. I do look forward to spotting them scurrying and darting around again :-)

Lurking alongside the Christmas displays at Garden Centres just now, you will be spotting bird table displays as a possible gift to ourselves or for others (great idea btw). The reality is that birds do appreciate tables and feeders stocked with food being available all year round, especially during their busiest time of year (the breeding season) when you might not spot visits until they bring in their noisy, newly fledged young.

Due to their height, as with tall plants, bird tables can make a bit of a statement in the garden. It can be appreciated that not all gardens have the space and not all gardeners have the desire for a bird table in the design they have created. Pre gardenwatching I might have been in the later camp but not now. Winter visitors of passing Blackcaps have been my bird table highlight so far but the usual suspects entertain all year round!

Following the garden advice of right plant, right place the right location needs to be found for a bird table too. If you have put out a new bird table and are disappointed by lack of visitors, the RSPB give the following advice:

“A quiet location with a good view from the house is normally the best place for a bird table. This allows you to enjoy observing the garden birds while they feed with little disturbance.

Choose a site sheltered from extremes of weather, but where the birds have a good all-round view, so they can see that they are safe from predators while they feed.

The table should be safely away from cat ambush sites. A small bush or a tree about two metres from the table gives the birds somewhere safe to perch while they look to see if it is safe to feed, to ‘queue up’ for a place on the table, and to dash to if disturbed. It may take a few days before you see any birds on a new bird table.

Once the birds discover the food and convince themselves it is safe, they should visit regularly.”
Sitting a bird table by the RSPB

I’ve had a pretty special, garden feature of a bird table in my garden for almost a year now. I offered to review it as I thought it would look great during the dull winter months – but would I keep it in the same location over the summer?

Agreeing with the last point in the RSPB advice above, I was nervous about the idea of moving my bird table when the birds seemed happy to use it where it was. However, during the summer months more walking access was required to the right of the bird table going to my greenhouse and potting shed.

Both the birds and I have been happy! My bird table has blended beautifully into my summer garden at the same location as in winter with only just a couple of simple tweaks. The angle of the table was turned round (RH image below) to bring the base further into the basket border. Another brick was placed in the border to protect the base foot.

Changing the shape and colour of the pots decorating the base of my bird table was next. The border planting addition of the shrub Euonymus gave me my garden design fix too, adding light in a shady area and complimenting the colour of the bird table at the same time.

As it grows, the Euonymus will scramble over the table base and up the planting basket becoming a pretty feature for my eye and a safety feature of ground cover for birds like the Dunnocks that scurry along the ground. I do enjoy the fun challenge of tiny garden make-overs don't you?

Being a plantswoman at heart, I have to admit to being a tad worried about the possible competition my colourful table could give the colours of my spring and summer flowering plants. Many are quite special to me like the blue Meconopsis poppy.

Silly me… there was no competition… the bird table stepped back gracefully when the Meconopsis opened its delicate, stunning blue blooms in the early morning sunshine :-)

Meanwhile, stepping forward with confidence and winning the competition on the bird table, a lot of the time, have been Wood Pigeons. They appear to have increased in numbers with visiting the wildlife pond this year. Up on the peanut feeders Jackdaws are regular visitors now resulting in less peanuts going past their best which is a good thing!

House sparrows and other small birds still manage to feed at the bird table, peanut feeders, and fat cakes that are attracting the bigger birds so no real worries there. Captured on film at the wildlife pond have been small groups of Magpies - more new regulars for 2014. It has been a busy garden this year :-)

The final video screen grab above shows a young 'innocent' looking Magpie discovering the bird table buffet. They are smart birds right enough – more on their antics another time! However, it isn't all good news with the Jackdaws and Magpies. One or the other has been up to mischief :-(

Recommending the addition of a bird table to a garden is easy – definitely! Seeing birds choose to land and feed there is such a privilege to see. Recommending the brightly coloured, stylish Buttermere bird table as a purchase or gift is easy too – yes, I have loved mine! (Please note that the links to this bird table in my review blog are broken at present. I am unsure if this product is still available or the website is being redesigned).

Views of smaller birds feeding can be seen in a previous wordless Wednesday post as can my original review of the buttermere bird table.

Update since posting: Enhanced views from the bird table can be enjoyed if a small camera is added in the roof - see MIDMARSH JOTTINGS video footage posted yesterday :-)

Copyright: Original post published on by blog author Shirley, November 22nd 2014.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

A blog post in time saves nine

Dwindling regular blog posts after eight years of blogging isn’t really that surprising. So is it time to gracefully bow out? I hope not. Gosh… eight years… who would have thought? I certainly didn’t that’s for sure, nor did it occur to me that the special place in my heart gardens have always held could increase tenfold when I watched my own and others in closer detail.

Year nine needs more PC time to save shirls gardenwatch, plain and simple. On the other side, 2014 has been a great year for claiming back the garden. Yep… after all the photo and video edits, the stories and internet searching for further info and links it had become all chat and no real garden action at times. Hands up now… I’m guessing I’m not the only blogger here?

Nor I suspect, will I be the only blogger that has folder upon folder of photos and videos clips taken for blog posts that missed their seasonal slots. Gosh… I have some going back years! I’ve also got word docs with part written blog posts and draft blog posts with just images uploaded that need to be written. Does this all sound familiar too?

On this blog anniversary I’d like to include a HUGE hats off and give respect to all the garden bloggers that do manage to regularly post 2-3 posts a week and then get round all the blogs they follow and leave comments too. I feel honoured to have been part of this garden blogging community albeit lightly over the last year or two :-)

On behalf of this absentee blogger, bloggers with writers block and newbies to blogging please do leave comments sharing tips and suggestions on your approach to blogging. Do you have a system that you find works for you? What are your thoughts on images and stories that have missed their slot – would you go back to them?

My sincere and genuine thanks go to everyone that has followed shirls gardenwatch for another year. I really do appreciate your visits and comments. The image above shows perfectly how my blog posts get waylaid… selecting and cropping images at the same time as watching a live garden nestcam! Yep… you can guess what wins the attention there ;-)

Copyright: Original post published on by blog author Shirley, November 19th 2014.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

A very bothered hedgehog

No, I don’t want the house to fall down but I’m huffing and puffing so you get the message that I’m not happy and want you to leave! Clearly you’ve heard that Hedgehog Manor has a reputation for good food located in a hidden garden setting. What about the one table policy in mid July?

Can you not tell by my little dance and the very vocal sounds I am making that I’m more than a bit bothered here? This is my regular slot and you just keep eating my supper and ignoring me. Wait a minute… don’t you advance towards me forcing me into a corner!

You should know that the owners of Hedgehog Manor have a microphone with their camera surveillance system and are hearing as well as seeing all of this. Now, we don’t want this establishment closed due to altercations with diners do we?

Ok, so I’ll take the first step and move out of my corner and stop huffing and puffing so you can leave the premises knowing you are welcome to return when I have vacated my table. Come on now, please leave. I’m being quiet now and have been reasonably patient.

I don’t much care for your intimidation tactics and stop moving the table about if you don’t mind or we will both be asked to leave. I’m quietly waiting again. I see, so you aren’t interested in drinking the water available in another corner but just in moving me in the direction of the exit.

I’ll wait outside for you to leave then? I’m still not happy with you so you’ll hear my huffing and puffing as you dine inside. You would have a quieter more relaxed dining experience if you were to come back later - does that not sound more appealing?

This video above has been uploaded for the sound capture of the hedgehog huffing. Apologies for poor image quality (previous small file setting was selected). It is still great to be able to see this behaviour – HD setting might improve it.

Hedgehog Manor’s camera surveillance didn’t capture you leaving shortly after but the owners (who live nearby) put on outside lighting and took a video camera to a house window to record your behaviour. You really didn’t need to follow me over to the alfresco buffet below the bird feeders.

Video screen capture.

The owners can’t hear me huffing and puffing from inside but they can see my body shaking and can see I’m still a very bothered hedgehog. I give in for now… I’m leaving the garden… I’ll be back ;-)

Hedgehog thanks go to the owners of Hedgehog Manor for providing a second table shortly after this incident. Experiments in table layout have resulted in two of us being able to eat at the same sitting without the need for noisy huffing and puffing. This is a good result especially now in October as we need to feed up to a healthy weight of 600g for our hibernation.

This post was published by Shirley for shirls gardenwatch in October 2014.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Ryder Cup: Willow figures & garden welcome

As Gleneagles plays host to the 2014 Ryder Cup, the folk of Perth & Kinross (the area of Scotland Gleneagles is situated) have been getting ready to welcome everyone here all summer! It is my privilage, as a garden blogger living in the area, to share with you some images that might not make it to the huge TV audience this weekend.

A warm, welcome to golfers and gardeners alike...

The Fifth hole at Kinnesswood decorated with team flags :-)

A series of willow sculptures were commissioned in honour of the Ryder Cup being held at Gleneagles. Local artists Georgia Crook and June McEwan produced delightful characters which were installed in the towns and villages which successfully applied for these pieces of art depicting solitary golfing figures.

Perth & Kinross Council has brought all these solitary golfing figures together with a Willow Sculpture Trail (competition to collect letter clue to make a topical phrase, deadline 10/10/14). The number of willow figures represent the traditional 18 holes on a golf course plus that well known 19th hole where golfers gather after play to relax - usually the bar of the golf course clubhouse ;-)

Roadside Willow golfing figures sited at Kinnesswood & Bridge of Earn

The Sixth hole at Bridge of Earn making a big impact in a small community. Congrats to all involved helping Brig in Bloom! Nice job :-)

So... if you fancy a round of golf with a difference, you can explore the area of Perth & Kinross through its current willow sculptures. In order of play they are Auchterarder, Aberuthven, Dunning, Kinross, Kinnesswood, Bridge of Earn, St Madoes, Perth, Coupar Angus, Alyth, Blairgowrie, Little Dunkeld, Pitlochry, Aberfeldy, Comrie, Crieff, Muthill, Braco and back at the clubhouse, Blackford.

The images in the links above don't show extra amendments that the residents were encouraged to add to help bring the sculptures to life (like the bunting and flags above). Window displays in towns and flags outside buildings have appeared now too, all in celebration and support of this sporting event the whole area is delighted to play host to.

Like visiting gardens and in the Gleneagles area just now? How about a break from the golf for a couple of hours with a stroll around a garden you might not expect to see in Scotland?

The garden below was a surprise to me when first visited many years ago. We thoroughly enjoyed our recent, return visit passing all the activity and building of structures at Gleneagles en route too! What a contrast there is between Gleneagles and a garden visit like this one right now...

Drummond Castle Gardens.

Nearby (8.9 miles from Gleneagles) Drummond Castle Gardens have extended their opening hours to welcome everyone visiting the garden on the Ryder Cup week. During the period of 21st - 28th September 2014, the garden is open from 10am - 6pm daily.

I absolutely recommend a visit - it really is sooo relaxing to walk around with its pathways that just draw you in and along them clearing your mind as you walk. You feel like you could be part of a period drama. Here's a bit of chat on the garden before some photos from my visit back on the 10th of September :-)

“Drummond Castle was built on a rocky outcrop by John, 1st Lord Drummond. The 2nd Earl, a Privy Councillor to James VI and Charles I, succeeded in 1612 and is credited with transforming both the gardens and the castle. The keep still stands but the rest of the castle was restored and largely remodelled by the 1st Earl of Ancaster in 1890.

From the east gateway on the Crieff Muthill road, visitors drive up the long beech avenue to the car park and then walk to the outer castle court. On passing into the inner courtyard and attaining the top of the terracing the full extent and majesty of the garden is suddenly revealed. The dominant feature of the parterre design is a St Andrew's Cross with the multiplex 17th century sundial at its centre.

A strong north-south axis runs through the garden, down the impressive flight of steps to the sundial, through the classical archway and kitchen garden beyond, cutting a swathe through woodland before rising to the top of the opposing hillside. This idea of drawing the countryside into the garden is essentially French; however, Drummond is an eclectic garden and also rooted firmly in the Italian style with its fountains, terracing, urns and statuary.”
Drummond Castle Gardens website 25/10/14

Just imagine how many bees would have been feeding on those magnificent,
long plantings of Stachys byzantina (syn. S. lanata; Lamb's Ears).

Just imagine living here - a family does :-)

Knot the garden for you? Sorry couldn't resist ;-)

The Peacock gardenwatch team patrol the vegetable garden!
Staff benefits include regular quality control tasting of produce ;-)

Dazzling dahlias front the impressive Greenhouse.

The impressive Greenhouse packed with high quality flowers, fruit & veg.

The even more impressive cold frames behind the impressive Greenhouse!

You're impressed I can tell, but its time to head home or back to watch golf :-)

Take care on the steps and on your journey home – haste ye back :-)

On my road home now, road signs for the Ryder Cup are never far away. Back at home, helicopters ferrying VIP’s have been heard today bringing this event quite literally to our own back garden! We will be watching TV coverage with a helicopter soundtrack I suspect but that just adds to all the excitement of a special sporting event such as this.

Wishing everyone a great weekend especially the players and visitors to the 2014 Ryder Cup at Gleneagles. Finger's tightly crossed that our, not always predictable, Scottish weather is kind to everyone attending and that visits to Drummond Castle Gardens can be enjoyed too :-)

Copyright: Original post published on by blog author Shirley, September 25th 2014.