My First Bird Atlas Survey

It was with some trepidation that we set out today to complete the first timed visit to one of the two tetrads that I signed up for. The trepidation was in part due to the dark clouds that were massing and partly because neither of us had done a survey before.

We had planned our route to take the full two hours and take in as many habitats as possible and I think we did pretty well; we managed to include housing estates (old and new), industrial estates, town centre, playing fields, churchyard, reservoir, scrubby fields and old railway track.

It took a bit of getting used to, trying to identify, count and record the birds and trying to decide if you had already seen that one. My initial worries about my bird knowledge were unfounded as it is about commonly seen birds and at this time of year I can recognise them most of the time.

Entering the data when we got back was easy and apparently the number of blackbirds (78) and house sparrows (60) that I saw were noteworthy. I have to say that the churchyard and the old railway track were teeming with blackbirds, which seems pretty representative of Dav this year. Other things that I noted were the almost complete absence of robins (I only saw 7 in the entire tetrad) and wrens, and some areas where we tend to see birds week in week out were empty (some might say almost desolate) particularly of finches.

Another result that suprised us was that the number of birds that we saw in older housing estates with established gardens was lower than in the newer housing estates. Oh yes, we also saw only one song thrush, but I did see my first redwings.

My other tetrad covers more farmland and part of the canal so there should be some different results there.

A birding first for me and my garden – are we in for a cold Winter?

Last Sunday it snowed here in Daventry (and in numerous other places in the Midlands). The snow settled, but had gone by morning. On thinking about this I cannot remember the last time I saw snow in November – it snows in April more than in November, and this time last year there were still Red Admiral butterflies about feeding on the ivy flowers.

The cold weather also seems to have brought increased bird activity in the garden. Although I am at work during the week my other half keeps me informed to the best of his ability (having only a beginner’s knowledge of bird types) of the number and varieties of birds that he sees during the day. This week he was trying his best to describe a bird that didn’t look like the other birds (his description was by necessity hampered by being colour-blind and I couldn’t decide what it was that he had seen).

Yesterday when watching a flock of 8 greenfinches in the tree I saw what I at first thought was one of the chaffinches that had been about earlier, but it didn’t look quite right. It flew away before I could confirm my suspicions, but came back later. Yes, said my beloved, that’s the one that has been in the garden for the last few days. As you may have guessed it was a Brambling (female I think) and the first time I have seen one (although I have always been hopeful as there seem to be a lot of sightings around). As this is the first time I have seen one in my garden, and it is November and the food out in the fields should not yet be too scarce I am wondering if this is a portent of cold weather to come this Winter.

First Frosts

frosty leaves

On my way to work this morning (and for the past week) everything has looked so beautiful, the sun is just coming up, all the plants are coated in frost and the air is so still that even the industrial units look stunning bathed in an orange glow and reflected in the lake.

Autumn and Winter have combined into a colourful, but subdued tapestry.

So, by walking to work, not only do I get some exercise, I get to look at what nature is exhibiting and, as an extra Brucie Bonus I arrive at work toasty warm. If I get bit chilly by lunchtime – time for another walk.

I work in an office surrounded by people that constantly complain that it is cold. Now that the weather has been a little frosty in the morning (or bitterly cold as my colleagues choose to describe it) the air conditioning has been turned up to heat the office to 26oC and, if I didn’t turn it off each evening it would be left on continuously.

If only my colleagues could be persuaded to leave their car behind and walk the 20- 30 minutes to work then we would cut costs, reduce the carbon footprint and I wouldn’t have to listen to them constantly complaining about the cold!

Carroty Contentment

I have been in the same job for seven years now and to be perfectly honest do not enjoy the majority of it. It is not that I couldn’t enjoy the job that I do, it is just that I seem to spend most of my time frustratingly fixing the same avoidable problems. This week I had one of those weeks that has actually persuaded me that it may be time to finally move on and I have applied for a job that will involve at least a 40 minute commute, going against all of my principles and for what? It is not as if (should there be any such thing) that when I am at the Pearly Gates I will be marked by the job that I have done, the size of my bank balance and the perceived success that I have achieved in the world of work (although who would judge that and against what criteria I am not sure).

So, after a pants week at work I was hoping to be able to fill my precious weekend with fulfilling useful accomplishments. Inspired by the tulips on Gardener’s World on Friday night, my beloved and I decided that we would go to the garden centre to check out the spring bulbs. We were completely thwarted, we tried two garden centres only to be confronted by a mass of Christmas tat where the bulbs used to live (don’t get me started on the subject of Christmas – I could rant for days). On Saturday night we settled down to watch a film that a work colleague lent me – 300. This was the worst film I have seen since Charlie’s Angels, I feel I was robbed of two hours of my life! The weekend was not going to plan.

You may be wondering where all this is going and what it has to do with Carrots. Well, today I had planned to visit one of the two tetrads that I have volunteered to survey for the BTO Bird Atlas. I got the Ordnance Survey map out, we planned the route to take in all the habitats that we could in the two hours, and then the sky darkened and the wind picked up. If I went out today I am guessing that I wouldn’t see many birds as they would all be sat in the trees laughing at me getting soaked. So that left all of the jobs that I had been putting off; washing the ash off the car that all those fireworks kindly scattered (it was time for its annual wash anyway), do some more tidying in the garden, move what remains of the gooseberry once the sawfly had devastated it, that kind of thing. Whilst I was out there I decided it was time to empty the tub in which I had been attempting to grow carrots.

I had had a torrid time with the carrots (and everything else that wasn’t a courgette). I planted them with Welsh Onions in order to prevent an attack of the evil carrot fly that I had read about, I had carefully watered the seeds, covered them with a sheet of plastic to keep the pests out, watched as the little ferny seedlings had appeared and slowly got bigger, looked in disbelief as they vanished overnight (I know not where), not once but twice. I finally threw all caution to the wind and chucked some seed in the same compost in late Summer which seemed to grow. I had assumed that lack of thinning and late harvesting would lead to small and weedy carrots.

Home Grown CarrotsHowever, I was pleasantly surprised with my four bits of produce (they are not anaemic, they were meant to be different shades) and I found a strange kind of contentment that despite the poor weather and the disruption that has come from spending the last two years re-modelling the garden I still managed to grow something. I have come to the end of the weekend with a level of contentment that I have sadly never had from work, and the motivation to try again next year.

Autumn Colour (in praise of green)

I went out yesterday with the intention of utilising the sunny weather and the autumn colour to take some nice, if formulaic, photographs. Although the autumn display does not seem to be as bright as last year, I assume because of the wet Summer, there did seem to be a lot of yellow around.

Although I was thwarted by the fact that a large army of grey clouds turned up to hide the blue sky, I still managed to get some nice photos.

Autumn ColourHowever, it did occur to me that it takes more than some yellow leaves and sunshine to make a spectacular autumn scene. Without the contrast of some evergreens or trees that shed their leaves later in the year I am sure even the brightest field maple would appear less attractive. I took the photograph below to illustrate this point. If you cover the green shrub next to the maple it starts to look a little less interesting.