Category Archives: Wildlife

Ham Wall, Somerset Levels

Ham Wall

Here is a post that has sat in my drafts folder for several years. I am not quite sure why it has sat there, maybe I couldn’t decide on the photos, maybe it felt too personal, I really can’t remember. At a time when the Levels are experiencing their worst floods in years I thought it might be a good moment to share one part of them that I know and love as they have been and hopefully will be again one day.  All these photos date from May 2011.

Walkway

Before I baked there were birds to take me out of myself and make my heart leap with joy and long after my last loaf has crumbled to dust there will be birds.  And before I baked and before I had dogs, we used to go out all the time to see them.  Now our visits are rarer but we still go down to the Levels when we can.

Clouds on the Levels Continue reading

UK National Fungus Day

Bread in Morning Light

Sunday 13th October 2013

Some bread out of the oven cooling in the early morning sunshine.  The one in the front is in reality very small but because of the way the camera works it looks quite big. Thanks to the kefir and whatever yeast (fungus) we use we have bread and can make our own as human beings have been doing for a very long time now.

Fungi and bacteria work with the building blocks of the living world to create and destroy. The more we learn about how they work the more amazing they turn out to be. Maybe we should have a National Bacteria Day too?

Here are some of this autumn’s crop of fungi photographs, taken at Westonbirt, Glos and in the Forest of Dean, which is on the other side of the Severn Bridge, but on this side of the border with Wales. It is a good year for fungi in the UK, so have a go at seeing what you can see, or go to an organized walk or a talk, lots around ! This is the first UK Fungus Day and I think it is a great idea!

I have had a stab at identifying some of them but as ever warn people not to go by my identification as I am not a mycologist. I used to be quite reasonable at identifying about a dozen or so of the edible fungi, but as the years pass I have got out of practice. If you go on a fungi foray with a group or a self-styled forager be sure to ask them how they learnt their trade and ask lots of questions. In these straitened economic times, people turn to all sorts of ways to earn a living and foraging and ‘teaching’ foraging is one of them.

For most of us, wild fungi are not an essential part of our diet, but rather a treat, a flavour, an aroma, something maybe that one wouldn’t desire if not driven by media hype and an urge for different experiences.

I am not saying don’t or that it is wrong to want to taste and touch new things, just be extremely careful. There are cases of poisoning each year, usually well-documented in the press, of people who eat the wrong fungi, or the wrong berries or plants.

What is fun and completely safe however, is to go out and take photographs and look for them. We are sticking to that this year unless we see the ones that I know I can id positively.

And not to create any confusion, we didn’t bring any of the fungi depicted here home with us, only took their photos. Please do not ask me to identify your fungi finds!

larch Boletus Brian Kent

I am pretty sure this is the larch boletus, with its spongy underside.

Yellow Stagshorn Calocera viscosa

and I think this is Yellow Stagshorn( Calocera viscosa) – because it was growing on wood but it’s not one we see very often, it is very small and delicate but has this outstanding glowing colour.

autumn fungi

Haven’t looked this one up yet…

…and finally the most glamorous one we have seen this autumn which I think is a magpie inkcap but I haven’t found an image exactly like it so who knows?

magpie inkcap?

One of the hardest things is keeping the dogs out of the field of shot, as anything that interests us, interests them and we don’t want them to eat the fungi either!

Anyone want to tango with a wet poodle?

Anyone want to tango with a wet poodle?

So for those of you who miss him, here is your small friend Zeb, following an exciting jump into a mud bath on the edge of a small pool which contained a stick of desire that he had to have, (just had to).  We are taking him and his sister to the beach this coming week. I forsee many early evening baths.

Red Admiral Flowering Ivy

8th October 2013

Red Admiral Ivy Flowers Clifton Bristol Zeb Bakes

I associate butterflies with summer and it isn’t summer anymore. However both yesterday and today the ivy on the Downs (where we currently walk the dogs) was crawling with honey bees and other species of wild bees, bluebottles and Red Admirals  – all feeding on the nectar from the flowers.

The moral of this tale is, don’t cut your ivy back before it has flowered, it provides valuable food for all manner of beings at a time of year when flowers are not so readily available.

Photo taken with great difficulty, this was the best of them, windy weather, a flighty butterfly and a little hand held camera which I have never really had the patience nor the inclination to learn to use properly.  I have a blind spot about cameras, I just want them to work, I don’t want to understand them. So I have tried to enhance the red which was brighter by far than the image portrays.

Hope you are all well!

Big Moon and a Frog

24th July 2013 1.29 a.m -– just now as I turned to leave the kitchen to go upstairs to bed I realised there was a frog silently staring at one of the poodles asleep on her blanket.

I was slightly baffled – the back door was shut and the frog must have come in the house much earlier in the day.  I picked up a plastic pudding basin and popped it over the frog and found He who loves Frogs and used to rescue tropical ones from the bananas when he worked in Safeways and take them home with him and look after them when the zoo didn’t want to know.

He was asleep. I woke him. I could have maybe done it myself, I know I know, but I didn’t want to. He likes frogs a lot, I like frogs, but not so much that I want to have one jump up at me, because then I would jump and we would all scream a bit and the frog would get stressed.

So the sleepy Lord of the Frogs put on his Frog Catching Gloves and airlifted Mr Green to safety. I don’t think he really woke up, he is clever like that. He will think it was a dream in the morning.

Outside there is a big golden moon sailing high in the sky. lighting up the streaky clouds.  We saw the moon earlier in the evening and did that thing where you look at the moon upside down (easiest way is through your legs)  and it looks smaller. It worked.

Inula Hookeri

This post could do with a photo or two and I don’t have a picture of the moon, but here is a photo I took the night before of a flower in a front garden I walked past. There were lots of them and they had clearly spread through the garden in a slightly invasive way.

I asked on Twitter if anyone knew what it was and kind people made all sorts of suggestions and eventually came up with Inula Hookeri. It reminds me of something you would find stuck on a bathing cap from my childhood.  I think it is beautiful.

If I walk down to the back fence, there is this stalwart shrub covered in flowers. Every year I think it is going to die in the cold winds of winter. Its leaves turn red, and then mysteriously they turn green again in the Spring and by July it is covered in sweet white whirls of jasmine scented flowers, the shrub doesn’t grow very much but it is still here eight years after being planted in a planting pocket surrounded by concrete. It is a survivor. The Clock is telling me to Go To Bed once more.

I am becoming an insomniac blogger.

Night all x

Trachelospermum Jasmonides

Hedgehog in the Garden

1st July 2013

Watering Pot

Hot off the blogging press..

…early this morning about 6 a.m. one of the dogs met a hedgehog by the ‘chicken’ water pot and gave a little huff of puzzlement.

I last saw a hedgehog about ten years ago, out in front of my mother-in-law’s old house in Midsomer Norton.  I saw them as a child from time to time, once memorably finding a mother and babies in the field in the middle of the houses where we lived in Surrey. The babies’ prickles were soft, that I do remember, and I remember being told by a neighbour not to touch them because they would be full of fleas. I now know that hedgehog fleas rarely transfer to other animals, including us. We all have our own fleas apparently! I have a friend elsewhere in Bristol, whose home backs on to a railway embankment with a footpath along it and she has hedgehogs and babies every year coming into the garden for food.

Brian's Hedgehog

I know relatively little about them, except that you should not feed them bread and milk but cat food. as my friend Julia does when she has them visiting her home. If you are so inclined or think they need feeding there are organizations that rescue them and advise you on what to do to attract them to your garden and how best to feed them and so on. Here are links to a couple of them in the UK:

Tiggywinkles Wildlife Hospital

Snufflelodge.org

Hedgehog action shot

Hedgehogs can move fast and this one is probably on its way out to a more benign and food rich environment,  though I like the idea that she stopped for a drink on her way and had a good root around in our scruffy corners. Brian tiptoed out with his camera and took these shots catching up with her on her way out, clambering over bricks and spare roof tiles to find the gap in the fence to go next door to M’s where cats get fed on the porch and I suspect maybe she sneaks a few bits of kibble there.

There aren’t many points of access to the garden for someone of this size unless you can climb a fence like a fox or a cat, but under the gates giving on to the street there are gaps and the fence panels are getting a bit ramshackle and warped.  Wildlife sites always ask us to leave our gardens not too tidy, to leave dark and damp corners and a bit of rubbish here and there to provide cover and always leave water out somewhere for anyone passing who might need a drink. Hedgehogs are a good sign of a healthy environment and we should make it a little easier for them not harder.

Hedgehog exploring

LIttle hedgehog I celebrate your bravery in coming into the garden, I would put out food for you, except I don’t want to feed the neighbourhood cats and the dogs would eat it as well and they might get into a scrap with you.

You looked big and healthy and in no need of extra food from me today. I wish you well and a happy and long life and I have told our neighbour to look out for you too! Come back for a drink anytime!

This by the way is not a hedgehog but a Tawashi! Fantastic for gently scrubbing new potatoes and carrots and it doesn’t seem to get mouldy or stinky. I love my tawashi!

not a hedgehog

Footnote :

For those interested in pottery, the pot came from Hookshouse Pottery, Gloucestershire and was made by Christopher White. They have a beautiful garden which they open for the National Garden Scheme to coincide with an exhibition. We went last year, not this. I think the pottery is open throughout the year.

Robin Redbreast Again

Robin Copyright Zeb Bakes

29th May 2013

The English Robin or Robin Redbreast as she was known when I was a child was probably the first bird I ever learnt to recognise. Small and plump, bright eyed and endlessly curious about the world of humans, the little robin is part of the fabric of the suburban garden life of so many of us in the cities and towns of England. We never get huge gangs of them, as they are very territorial but we nearly always have one or two in residence, checking out what we do, looking in the windows and engaging in our lives.  They squabble and fight, quite badly sometimes and build nests in open fronted boxes and raise their speckly children happily there.

This is the one who you saw sitting on the whirly clothes dryer in the Back Door post. I have stretched my little camera to its macro zoom limits to take these so you can see her more clearly. (If you click on the image I think you might get to see it bigger, I have tried to link to where it is stored on WordPress) .  She sits on the corner of the dryer most mornings, looking down at the grass, and then whizzes down to pick up worms and grubs. Once she has a beakful she heads off over the fence to my left where I suspect she has her nest.

Brian is convinced that she bobs her head at him to tell him the feeder is empty and needs filling and I think he is right, these are the same birds who ask for you to spray the hose for them on hot days so they can take a shower. What adaptive mechanism is at work where a little bird can figure out how to get a human’s attention like that?  Currently we are putting out fat balls, finely chopped peanuts, husked sunflower seeds, and assorted fine seed.

marguerite

The bluetits are nesting and raising their babies, I can hear them cheeping in their box on the garage wall. The blackbirds too are on the hunt for food;  there are jackdaws off to the side in the neighbours’ chimneys. Greenfinches and goldfinches fly through from time to time; they dance in the tops of the silver birches trilling away, offering glimpses of their delicate feathers and making me catch my breath when I track them down.

Even when it has rained all day and the geraniums are collapsed on the path, resembling a  damp poodle’s top knot, sodden with water and formless, I console myself for our everchanging and unpredictable weather, because rain means insects hatching, and worms wriggling; all good quality high protein fresh food for the growing birds.

Borrowed Flowers

Psst.. wanna see some American Robin eggs and babies, head over to Ardys and take a peek!

Where’s my Lunch?

Wild garlic flowers

Down in the woods where the garlic and the bluebells line the banks of the Trym the unnamed stream runs under a little bridge; there you can find  a couple of fledgling grey wagtails – Motacillia cinerea – who are working extremely hard at the business of being baby birds.  This seems to consist of a lot of sitting and squeaking and keeping a very close eye on your parents and flying into the scrub when there is too much noise and activity on the banks.

Our little woodland is so well used with all the enthusiastic dogs running around that I am quite honestly surprised and overjoyed to see these babies. The wagtails offer a flash of colour from their bright yellow underparts as they trek up and down the stream all winter, looking for insects and other food and are surprisingly unbothered by the dogs and the visitors.  I think I wrote once before that maybe these particular birds have learnt to associate mammals with their food source, as flies congregate round fresh faeces, and that they see the dogs as part of their food chain, who knows? We have had them visit the garden once or twice and always for that reason.

It isn’t an easy bird to photograph, unlke a nice sedate swan or duck, the adult very rarely stands still and even when it is stopped for a moment on a stone or on the bank, its distinctive long tail is bobbing up and down.  The grey wagtail has grey upperparts and a yellow vent, a broken eye ring and a white supercillium.

The one most of us see in the cities in England is the pied wagtail, which turns up quite often on city streets, in car parks, and shopping centres with its distinctive black and white plumage.

CT1D5856_2

I have seen grey wagtails like these on flat roofs behind office buildings, but there always has to be a big puddle or something like that there. They are birds of the water’s edge feeding on flies, mayflies, beetles, crustacea and molluscs according to Wikipedia – I wonder if they eat the leeches that live under the stones.

jo's effortThis was my best effort, what is politely called a ‘record shot’ because it allows you to identify the bird with reasonable certainty but it certainly won’t win any prizes! My camera is simply not fast enough to catch them on the move. I have just added it as a thumbnail so you can click on it to see it bigger if you want to see it.

I asked Brian to have a go at taking some photos yesterday and these are the results. He used a Canon EOS IV. way too heavy for me. The birds are surprisingly well camouflaged against the stones and the lichens and the rippling water as it runs over the rocks.  It was easiest to photograph the babies as they stood quite still, the parent’s head is almost impossible to get in focus, most of the time, her beak was stuffed with flies and food and that also creates a blurred look to her head.

At one point three primary school groups appeared to do pond dipping as well. It is all go down there!

Grey Wagtail Fledgling

“If I stand here I will get some more food soon”

Grey Wagtail fledgling on branch

“Or maybe I should stand on this branch, I am sure I will get some food soon…”

Grey Wagtail Fledgling Calling for Food

“Hang on!!!! HANG ON!!!!  come back!  I am here – where’s that food?”

Adult grey wagtail feeding baby

“Nooo-oooo – don’t leave me!!!!”

Adult grey wagtail feeding baby

“Give it to me now, give it to me, give it to me….”

I forgot this one, which shows the male’s black bib more clearly, I think both parents feed the babies.

Male Grey Wagtail

And so it goes, parental responsbilities eh?

This post is for Rose who tweets and photographs birds but I hope you like Brian’s photos too!

There is a nice bit of film here of a pair that has nested in a lock from BBC Nature.