Winding Down

After a bit of a hectic week (if only by my standards) I decided that Friday would be a day for doing the things in life that make me happy. This inevitably means photography or birdwatching and definitely a good walk. So, once more, I combined the two into one trip and spent an hour at Ryton Organic Gardens looking for a good photo opportunity and some inspiration for my flower garden, followed by an hour at Brandon Marsh.

I took a few photos that I quite liked, but I am not sure that I obtained much inspiration. Many of the flowers were still looking good, but I am not sure how much will be there in a couple of months time. There was also a fair amount of clearing being done, preparing the vegetable beds for Winter. The apple trees look as though the harvest will be a good one, ready for their Apple Day on 5th October, but, unfortunately I don’t have room for an orchard.

Brandon Marsh always seems to be an all or nothing place, and this week was closer to nothing. I didn’t have my ‘scope with me and was reliant on a small pair of binoculars, which meant that I probably missed quite a bit of what was on offer. However, no matter what the state of the bird population there it is always a relaxing place to walk around. The trees are starting to change colour and the Viburnum Opulus (Guelder Rose) were full of berries.

There were lots of lapwings and gulls about, and a red kite had been seen earlier (maybe that was responsible for the expensive glassware on show in the Carlton hide?), but there was a bit of a dearth of birdsong in the woods. I shall have to have a wander to the Country Park to check on the state of things there (any excuse for a walk!).

Help maybe at hand to recycle plastic bottles.

An article published on the New Scientist website this month highlights research that has discovered a strain of bacteria that could make recycling PET (polyethyleneterephthalate) drinks bottles more lucrative. These are a strain of pseudomonas bacteria that can change the low value PET into higher value PHA (polyhydroxyalkanoates) plastics some of which are used in the production of medical devices. According to Wikipedia PHAs are polyesters that are ‘produced in nature by the bacterial fermentation of sugars and lipids’.
The incentive to recycle the billions of PET bottles produced is currently low because the low value PET is recycled to more PET. Now, a team of researchers in Dublin, may have found a way to convert this low value plastic into higher grade PHA. By heating the PET in the absence of oxygen they break it down into terephthalic acid (TA). They then found a strain of bacteria which will convert this into PHA.
Not only would this reduce the amount going to landfill it could also make recycling more profitable – maybe mining landfills for plastics will come a step closer after all.

Travel – the good, the bad and the ugly.

Last week I attended a conference in London for two (non-consecutive) days.  I decided that the easiest and most environmentally friendly way of getting there would be by train – no worries about getting lost (!! although I managed this anyway) or congestion charges.

Houses of Parliament
Houses of Parliament

First, the good.  I booked my tickets online and the process went smoothly.  I opted to travel from Long Buckby which is the closest station (I thought about Rugby, but that doubled the price) and managed to get a one day travel card incorporated into the ticket – bargain!

The journey – the first day was fine.  I discovered that the train from Long Buckby went all the way to London, but took about 30 minutes longer than the Virgin Pendolino service that was non-stop from Northampton.  I opted for the Virgin train as I had to be in Lambeth by 8:30.  The train was quite full, but there were some seats.  I got to London on time and negotiated the tube OK.  Coming back I had to catch the London Midland train which stopped at various places on the way.  This was busier (until Milton Keynes) and slower, and then I still had to get home from Northampton.  

The second day was a different story.  I only had to be there for 9am, but the Virgin train was cancelled, so I stayed on the train from Long Buckby.  The train before this one had been cancelled, so it was busier, and there was a break down further down the track, so it was late.  I got into London 30 minutes later and the tube was heaving.  I had to wait for three before I could squeeze on (thank you to the woman who stood in the entrance blocking the way with her suitcase – not!).  When I got to Lambeth the roads were also noticeably busier, but I reached the venue with a couple of minutes to spare.  The journey back involved a race across London to get an earlier, direct train to Long Buckby – again down to standing room only, but better than sitting in Northampton station at 7pm.

The thing that surprised me (not having commuted for years and certainly not to London) was the sheer volume of people that move around each day, each year.  

The tube works amazingly well considering there are about 2.7 million people using it each day (figure taken from Tube Life).  But my question is, why are we making that many journeys?  The figure of 2.7 million doesn’t include those who drive, walk, take the bus, these are just people using the underground in London.  When I look at the trains, these were all full, as were the platforms at the stations we passed through.  Then, when I listen to the travel news, the roads are all full.  When you add the fact that there are 200 million airline passengers each year, it seems as though we are all on the move.

So, my questions are as follows:

Where are we all going?

How many of these journeys are really necessary?

The trains to and from London are packed – why are there not more trains?  In particular, if there is a direct train from Virgin that gets to London by 8am, why is there not one from London to Northampton (OK, I would allow it to stop in Milton Keynes) between 5 and 6pm to take all of the morning commuters home?

Why does it cost twice as much to travel from Rugby to London as from Northampton to London?  Is it because most journeys from Northampton have to be with London Midland, and Virgin, whilst being much faster, is also much more expensive?  (The direct train to Long Buckby with London Midland also stops in Rugby.)

Why is there not a better transport policy in Daventry to take people to and from Long Buckby station so I wouldn’t have to take the car at all?

Would you separate your food waste?

A number of local councils have apparently been trialling separate food waste collections and these are being heralded as a success.  

According to the BBC’s website the 19 councils had around a 70% uptake of the scheme which diverted over 4000 tonnes of food waste from landfill (although they don’t say where to).

I recently filled in a questionnaire on the local council’s website which included a question about food waste collection.  I have mixed feelings about this, I already have a wormery which takes care of my food waste, so do not want another bin for this.  The council used to take some food waste (vegetable peelings and teabags in the main) in the compost bins, but they stopped this shortly after bringing in the bins for the compostable waste.  More than anything though, we have dramatically reduced our food waste by only buying what we are likely to eat (and have therefore reduced our weekly bills by about one third over the last 5 years) so don’t have much waste.  

Maybe, by seeing how much food they are wasting, then some people will reduce the amount they throw away.  According to WRAP 6.7 million tonnes, or, more topically at the moment, £10 billion of food are thrown away in the UK each year.  However, if people’s wallets are not reducing this food wastage, I am not sure that being confronted by the waste will have the desired effect.  What do you think?


It didn’t rain yesterday, so I took advantage and came home for my lunch.  When I got home I discovered that the butterflies had given up waiting for any sunshine to warm the air and were just pleased that there was no rain for a change – I guess they were getting pretty hungry as well.

This year has been pretty bad for the butterflies, with only the occasional sunny day.  We have had quite a few red admirals and whites when the sun has come out, but have seen no painted ladies this year and very few tortoiseshells.  

Brimstone ButterflyAnother new butterfly that I have noticed in the garden this year (in addition to the Holly Blue in the Spring) is a Brimstone (Gonepterix rhamni) one or maybe more of which have been coming to the garden intermittently for the last couple of weeks.  I normally associate these with Spring as they are one of the first butterflies that I see when the sun starts to come out in March and April (this year being a bit of an exception).  

They are easy to recognise; varying from yellowy green to a yellowy cream colour depending on whether they are male or female (males are darker coloured).  Their leaf shaped wings that they always fold back when feeding and resting have an orange spot, the veins improving their camouflage when resting beneath a leaf as nicely demonstrated in the picture that I managed to grab the other day.

Is it too soon to say farewell to Summer?

Early Morning Robin on Fence 


Early Morning Robin on Fence

I have been thinking recently that autumn was well on its way and I might as well say goodbye to Summer.  The rose hips, particularly the rosa rugosa are now very red, the rowans are covered in red berries, during the week the sun gets up after I do (although there have been some days where I am think it may have stayed in bed) and the call of the chiffchaff has been replaced by the steady tic tic noise of the robin as I walk to work.

Rosa Rugosa Hip

However, maybe I have been a bit hasty in this assumption.  Yesterday, the Country Park was teeming with swallows, house martins and terns.  OK, so maybe they are massing and preparing to be off, but they are not gone yet.  Last week I was surprised to hear a chiffchaff calling as I walked to work, again, he may have been heading south, but it was still a reassuring noise.  

Whilst the damp (understatement?) weather has brought some fungi out there are still some flowers at the roadsides and in the hedgerows, primarily achillea and white nettle-like flowers, but they are there nonetheless, providing an additional source of food for the bees which are still about in good-ish numbers whenever there is a letup in the rain.

Elder Berries

Also at the Country Park yesterday, amidst the blackbirds and thrushes feeding on the glistening black elderberries were a pair of blackcaps – more Summer warblers that are still about.  So, maybe the last observation doesn’t count, I have seen an increasing number of blackcaps overwintering around here, but they are still a bird that I primarily associate with Summer, and for now I am sticking with that thought!

Where to look?

I decided to pull on my waterproofs and go for a wander to the Country Park today. It has been a while since I have done much birdwatching, and, despite the rain, I felt the need to get out and about. I wasn’t expecting there to be much there, the Summer visitors will soon be going (if they haven’t already) and the Winter migrants are still in Summer mode.

For once it wasn’t windy, so I set up my ‘scope on the dam. The number of birds was quite impressive (it can often be pretty barren for such a large piece of water). To start with there were the terns, still patrolling up and down looking for fishing opportunities. This time, they were joined by some of the younger family members, constantly calling to each other, although it could be described more accurately as squawking. Watching them through the ‘scope, whilst not impossible (and not absolutely necessary as they do hunt close to the water’s edge) was difficult as the scoured the water, diving up and down.

More difficult to follow were the house martins and swallows, these careened around like crazies, swooping between the gulls that were bobbing about on the water. I sometimes thought they might get walloped by some of the larger gulls as they stretched out their wings, but I didn’t notice any casualties. From time to time a flock of black headed gulls would come streaming in, purposefully looking for their chosen place to land. I assume that they come here quite often, there was no circling round, deciding whether or not to land, they just headed in a line for the shore.
This was in marked contrast to the lapwing flocks that flew in. They wheel and circle around, making their characteristic peewit call, some dropping to land as they glide in, others turning away at the last minute as if they have changed their mind and have seen something they don’t like, only to do the same again a few seconds later, the flock gradually getting smaller until they have all put down at the edge of the water, or in the shallow margins.

Later in the year there may be some golden plovers in with the lapwing, they are often spooked when the lapwing go up in a great mass, but the plovers stand out. They catch the light (assuming there is some sun) and fly more purposefully than the lolloping flight of the lapwing, looking more like the flocks of waders that are often shown in strange formations on programmes such as Autumnwatch. At the moment there is a juvenile ruff (apparently) at the Country Park. I saw a bird that could have been the aforementioned wader, brown, wader shaped, beak probing the ground, a bit smaller than a lapwing, so I am going to assume that it was as described by more experienced (and fanatical birdwatchers than myself). This is a first ruff (although it was ruffless) for me.

One bird that I can recognise instantly however, which I have seen there only once before, was a little egret. I wasn’t expecting anything as exciting as this, the last time I saw one was at the end of October a couple of years ago, but in more or less the same place. I didn’t get a great view as it was across the water from me, but my scope did as good a job as possible, allowing me to follow it as it waded, fished and then rested, before going hunting again. It was near to a grey heron, so I got a very good impression of the difference in size of these two related birds. I watched it for some time, then felt that maybe I should watch the terns more, as they will be leaving soon, but then I was drawn back to the egret (it was, after all, only the third one I had seen). But was I missing anything else, there was a common sandpiper, but I have seen one of these and a lot of its green friends at Brandon Marsh, there was the ruff, but I couldn’t get too excited about a brown bird that I couldn’t have personally identified. No, I have to say, the egret was the highlight for me, its glowing white plumage certainly brightened the miserable, dull day.