Thursday, 24 April 2014

I do believe we have…

…a Great tit (Parus major) egg first at shirls gardenwatch! Okay, I don’t have any images to illustrate this claim. However, this morning I set an alarm for 0510 (as my intention was illustrated by my phone alarm pic in last night’s post) to see if there was enough daylight to see an egg being laid in my nestcam box (such a pity the extra IR cam has gone faulty to see more clearly and to share these images).

Yep… when I asked the question on last night’s blog: What's going on in the garden tonight’ the answer was: ‘A bird is roosting in our nestcam box after completing the final stage of her nest build perhaps with the intention of laying her first egg of the season in the morning. How did I think this?

Well… in previous years, three nest builds have been watched live via a cam in my nestbox. Two have failed sadly, but in all previous years which have had Blue tits (Parus caeruleus) the pattern has been the same pre egg laying. Although motion capture systems are available (similar to gardenwatch assistant Mr Bushnell) I have always enjoyed watching nesting action live - it's so much more fun that way.

This morning’s story went… at 0512 my PC was showing very dark images from the nestbox as daylight was low. I could hear a bird repeating a call from outside my window – again and again it called. On opening the curtains a little, a Great tit was spotted on the top branches of a tree just below the nestbox. I believed this to be the mate of the bird inside.

Previous observations of nesting activity at this point, tell me this is classic behaviour of a male bird expecting an egg to have been laid inside the nestbox. As, I’ve said above I have no image but just behaviour to go upon to come to the conclusion that there is an egg in our nestbox tonight and perhaps another will be laid tomorrow morning (no alarm set tonight though).

The great tit female discovers the soft material left (in a dry place)
on the bird table for her final soft material layer of her nest.

Classic behaviour (my observations) back on the nest after an egg has been laid is for material to be pulled over to cover the egg to hide it and keep it warm. Then the female might have a quick doze – despite the insistent calling from her mate outside. Laying an egg takes a bit of effort - doesn't he know that :-)

By 0525 this morning the nestbox was empty again and all outside was quiet for a while. Then… the Blue tit pair that have been interested in this nestbox appeared at the feeders (they didn’t approach the nestbox this time). Back came the sound of the male Great tit calling again!

Soon after, the female Great tit returns to the nestbox with some of the material I put out on the bird table (so I could see her there). Once again, she covered the eggs with the material allowing my camera or any intruder no view of her egg! She leaves the nestbox and all is quiet in the garden again.

The soft material can become a challenge for the beak of nesting birds ;-)

This story repeats once more, before I finally switch off the PC at 0640 (I hour later than planned). So fellow gardenwatchers, I do believe we have a nest box family to follow for 2014! How exciting. I’ll gather up a selection of images to share the story of how we have got to this stage over the weekend and perhaps I’ll get some views and images captured of eggs in our Great tit nest.

Oh yes, and another nesting update… the House Martins have returned to a nest built at the front of our house for a third/fourth consecutive year! I captured images at the time of that build but there was family stuff going on at the time and I never posted them. I’ll look them out and see if I can capture some new footage over the weekend (although rain is expected).

Quite a few plants have come into flower in the last few days too – the garden is really coming alive now! I noticed small tortoiseshell butterflies in our garden today, I must keep an eye out for any other ones fluttering around – have you seen butterflies or birds nesting in your garden? Enjoy your garden this weekend and any gardenwatching you do too.

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

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

What's going on in the garden tonight?

Well… my gardenwatch assistants have told me that... a mouse is very likely to be having a grand old time of it helping itself to the food in Hedgehog Manor (my hedgehog feeding station with IR cam). My assistants have also told me that I can expect at least two different hedgehogs dining at Hedgehog Manor tonight on crushed unsalted peanuts, sunflower hearts, dried mealworms and sultanas - word is getting around it seems ;-)

Opening up a new clear garden access point will help hedgehogs find the food and dish of water I put out for them which is brilliant. I'll get Mr Bushnell out checking this spot for garden arrivals soon. It's ever so handy having night gardenwatch assistants - fun too! But what else is going on in my garden tonight? Here are a few clues...

Clue number 1: On the Buttermere bird table – is that snow?

Clue number 2: A gardenwatching hanging basket ;-)

Clue number 3: The times set on my alarms ;-)

2014 is going to be a fun gardenwatching year. Please do share any guesses in comments. That’s all I’ve time to give you tonight… I need to get to bed early now ;-)

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

Saturday, 19 April 2014

The University of Dundee Botanic Garden

Reflecting the sunshine of this past week, were blooms in the Glasshouses of Dundee Botanics on Thursday. It’s been a glorious week of weather so a Garden Visit just had to be on the cards - even if it was just to continue testing my camera fix again. Ha-ha this could be a fine excuse for future garden visits ;-)

Granted, it’s not as big as RBGE but Dundee Botanics has a nice feel to it and there is always some feature that catches my eye. I had one area in mind on this visit and it didn’t disappoint. :-)

Purple Pitcher: Didn’t spot label - Sarracenia purpurea perhaps?

Purple Pitcher: Longer view. Growing in Glasshouses.

Glasshouse plant: Spotted white bugs and not label - looks familiar.

Established climber: Enjoying warmth of Glasshouse - couldn't see label.

Pond opposite visitor centre: I was looking forward to seeing this again:-)

Pond plantings: This is the look I am going for :-)

Pond wildlife: Something is swimming under the lily pad leaves…

Garden visit surprise: Large terrapins (2) swimming in a pond in Scotland!

The Gunnera view: No terrapins spotted from this side of the pond.

The grass path view: In a few months border plants will really change it.

A nutrient rich loch: from a mountain stream feature through native plants.
This small loch is bigger than my wildlife pond - a wilder look than I was going for.

Who lives in a house like this? It looked like an open door in this tree trunk.

Trillium blooms: Growing in clusters under trees in parts of the garden.

Photographed label: Delicate pink blooms of Rhododendron albrechtii

A fitting entrance: The Garden of Evolution with dry-stone dykes.
Plants from green algae to flowering plants over the last 1200 million years.

Suspecting that the outdoors will beckon everyone this weekend, I’ll not chat on. I whole heartedly recommend garden visits as something the whole family can enjoy as well as for inspiration for your own garden - especially if you are working on a new area like I am with my wildlife pond.

Dundee Botanic Garden It is situated just off Riverside drive, above the River Tay – postcode DD2 1QH. If you'd like to know a little bit about this garden here’s a little on its history and ethos…

“The need for a botanic garden at the University of Dundee was identified by the University botany staff in 1966. A case was then made to the University administration, but it was promptly shelved for lack of funding.

The botany staff had considered how a new garden could be maintained in the longer term, bearing in mind the more complex traditional designs which were labour-intensive and thus costly to run. Dundee's proposal was therefore developed to allow an operation on a shoestring budget: a policy which continues to this day. This low cash demand has remained one of the Garden's important attributes and was the key to reviving interest in the project.

Our current aim is to encourage more visitors to access and enjoy the Garden; and to increase the facilities for their education. Thus enabling them to appreciate the vital role plants play in everyone's lives.

The founding principles of the Garden are science, education and conservation. Moreover the aim has always been to bring these principles to the attention of the entire community, and for the Garden to act as a one of the main links between the University and those who live in this part of Scotland.

Core functions have included the cultivation of plant communities in appropriate layouts and the supply of materials for teaching and research to organisations that have need of them. These users greatly influence the choice of plants grown and the groupings in which they are displayed. At a time when the survival of many plant species is threatened, conservation is a necessary further aim. Increasingly important objectives are the encouragement of visits by schools and colleges and promoting the use of the collections for biology classes, environmental education and instruction in the fine arts.”
History and Ethos of the Garden.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend :-)

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

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Fixed: error 99 with Canon EFS 17-85mm :-)

Message read ‘error 99’ on the back of Canon 400D display (LCD monitor) when using the Canon EFS 17-85mm lens. This camera worked fine with other lenses so we concluded that it was the 17-85mm that had the problem.

Advice given on camera display: Turn power switch off and on again or re-install the battery. That didn’t work – despite the odd single shot working. Online search suggestion of using rubber on contacts didn’t solve the problem either.

Rather than adding to the lists of this same problem on forums, I directed my query for help closer to home - to my other half (OH). His online searching took us to a blog by Roman Paulov ‘Canon 99 error or how to disassemble Canon 17-85 IS USM and replace diaphragm unit’ with excellent step-by-step photographs which gave OH confidence to attempt this with my lens!

Please wait just a moment, should you be considering quickly clicking across to Roman’s blog with a view to trying this yourself. I do understand your hurry :-) However, I’d like to highlight Roman's words of warning under his list of tools required to disassemble this lens:

”This is not a official Canon guide. All responsibility is on you. Remember: after disassembling the device, you lose your warranty! “
Canon 99 error, disassembly canon 17-85 IS USM, change diaphragm unit

Below you can see a few phone shots which were taken during the process of the disassembly and reassembly of my camera lens – quickly and nervously on my part! If you want to see proof that my lens actually worked again you’ll see that on my previous garden blog on a visit to Edinburgh Botanics :-)

After reassembly: lens in and extended.
During disassembly: parts laid out numbered in disassembled order.
(The reverse rebuild was not so easy – OH described it as like climbing a tree,
but not taking a note of where you’ll need to stand to climb back down)

The faulty diaphragm
OH suggests problem was metal fatigue at sharp bend of flexy orange ribbon.
(Purchased replacement from this ebay seller).

Lens partially reassembled.
Orange ribbon seen on LHS goes down through lens unit.
PH000, PH00 & PH0 screwdrivers used for the many tiny screws.
(purchased inexpensive Rolson 6-part-precision screwdriver set)

Reassembly mistake. 
Centre fork not lined up making focusing not possible.
(shown above in correct position – took 3 rebuilds to figure what was wrong)

Binary weighted tracks.
Five metal fingers to left of number 24.
(OH likes to point out what he thinks are interesting parts to me :-0)

Good luck if you are thinking of giving this a go! I should probably add something of our experience here. After the first reassembly, OH found himself almost completely stripping my lens back again! He stripped it back to the inner part three times and other parts were stripped back twice more before he reassembled my lens to full working order again. Nerves all round there - this really isn't a job for the faint-hearted!

One last thing to consider, as may be expected, OH got quicker and more confident each time he disassembled and reassembled my lens. However, stripping back and rebuilding so many times wasn't good for our nerves or my lens. OH advised me that the percentage chance of my lens ever working again was being reduced each time! I am usually an optimist but in this situation I became a realist.

Thanks, Roman - your blog certainly helped us out and got my lens working again! Perhaps I should mention that sometimes the images don't load and a small insert is given when following your link. Perhaps this is a popular page for loading ;-)

Ah... but the biggest THANKS go to OH for finding Roman's blog and being willing to test his nerves for a working camera lens that has had so much use during gardenwatching and garden visits. For OH, let's hope this fix lasts now :-D

Finally, in the spirit of blog link equality, seeing as Roman has had a few links here, OH has definitely earned a couple too! OH is now blogging himself at LINEAR THOUGHTS. His  most popular post is: Sky SR101 Broadband router review – hardware and software. OH was interested in how this router works and thought others might do too! It seems they do :-D

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

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Edinburgh Botanics testing

Not unlike a surgical procedure and definitely not for the faint hearted… but my wide angle lens is actually working again after a very delicate operation! Ah… but it was touch and go at times during the 'changing of the diaphragm unit' procedure where I assisted (brief moments thankfully) resident technical surgeon, OH. I'll do a follow-up post on our fix for 'error 99' shortly.

For regular garden blog visitors, let’s take a brief stroll around a very wet Edinburgh Botanics yesterday with a few lens recovery shots ...

Close-up test: Magnolia blooms with raindrops – an excellent first lens test :-)

Beside the Magnolia, a very bold Robin was happy to take part in lens testing.

At foot level: pretty, purple primula blooms, the rain was getting heavy now!

Longer test: Too wet for ducks in the main pond, look who was spotted though!

Crop test: Heron slowly moving though reeds in the heavy rain looking for food.

Not that I ever doubted OH would take a good shot at replacing the diaphragm unit in my lens but, as with any serious surgical procedure, we knew the risks were high and my lens may never work again.

Why didn’t I put my lens in to a shop for repair? Well, we expected it would be quite costly. Although disappointed, I had just accepted I had lost the use of this lens especially when I read in forums this was a known fault and repairs weren’t always successful. We had nothing to lose really.

I am thrilled to be using this lens in my camera again, thanks to my brave OH! My next test subject for my camera lens will be around my own new wildlife pond. Plants are finally going in and this is becoming a much more fun and rewarding project than I ever expected it to be – and I’ve no wildlife living there yet!

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