I have anxiously been listening out for the sounds of Spring – the birds are singing, the expected flowers are starting to show up in various places and it is therefore with some anticipation that I have been listening out every morning for the sounds of frogs singing in the pond.

Other people had seen frog spawn in their ponds weeks ago, I was beginning to wonder if it was the fact that I had a north facing garden or whether we had upset the frogs by renovating their home last Summer. We spotted our first frogs last week, and this morning we saw frogspawn. See the photoevidence – please accept my apologies for the poor quality.

Frog and SpawnNow the worry starts – we have had the pond for a few years now, but apart from some tadpoles from some imported spawn we have not had any tadpoles yet. The frost has usually killed it all off in the past, but we are hoping that the fact that we have deepened the pond and the spawn is near the bottom may give them a chance this year. Fingers crossed!

Migration – the lengths that some creatures go to.

I have become a huge fan of podcasts in the last few months, one of which I subscribe to being the BBC’s best of Natural History Radio. The last two weeks have been ‘World on the Move’, a series looking at the migration of species around the world.

Some of the highlights have included a visit to Gambia to look for the warblers that will be returning to the UK to breed in the Summer – it certainly puts a different slant on things to hear about ‘African’ rather than ‘British’ Chiffchaffs and Whitethroats. Apparently the Housemartins already appear to be on the move north. We are also asked to look out for Painted Lady butterflies and report in our first sightings of them. These amazing creatures migrate over from Africa – 1000 miles; there are networks of people looking for them all the way from Spain through Europe, they have even managed to reach Sweden in the past! Not bad for such a fragile-looking creature. However, one of the hardiest creatures is possibly the Alaskan Bar-Tailed Godwit. One of these was tagged and flew non-stop from Alaska to New Zealand, 11,700 kilometres in 8 days – not surprisingly she now holds the record for the longest non-stop flight. I think you have to agree that this is pretty amazing.

Should you want to find out more there is a lot of interesting information on the BBC website –

What’s so musical about a song thrush?

Whenever anyone talks about song thrushes (particularly as it now seems as though they are yet another previously common bird that are apparently in decline) they always seem to wax lyrical about their song (I guess that explains the name; turdus musicus).

This has always been a bit of a mystery to me. When I grew up we used to have a large tree at the bottom of the garden on which a male blackbird used to perch and sing every evening. To me this always seemed more musical than the song thrush. It is certainly a more varied song than that of the song thrush which is a bit repetitive.

However, I am now changing my opinion. After starting my contribution to Nature’s Calendar late last year I have been listening out for song thrushes to see if they are singing all through the Winter or not. Yes, you’ve guessed it they are – there are two round here, one on the old railway track that I can hear through the double glazing and another closer to work, both of which have cheered otherwise dull, dark Winter days as I slogged to work through the rain.

I have never really thought twice about the thrush’s song until recently, in fact it is only in the last year that I realised how recognisable its depth makes it. I then started to wonder why it is so well loved as to even give rise to the latin name, after all robins are pretty musical, not to mention nightingales, but they are apparently not musicus enough. It was then that I found a quote in an old book that I have (British Birds and Their Haunts) that was published nearly 100 years ago that I think sums it up eloquently. ‘However near it may be, its song is never harsh, and heard at a distance its only defect is, that it is not nearer.’

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!

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.

A good year for fungi? – Continued

So is it a good year for fungi – to be honest I am not sure. We certainly found quite a few different types in Gamlingay Wood (don’t ask me to name them – I am assured that a list will be forthcoming), but apparently, although it has been quite damp – good for fungi, quite warm in the days – also a good thing, it has also been cold at night – not good.

So, did I learn much? Not sure – I know the difference between a toadstool and a mushroom – there is none, I know I will never know much about fungi – there are so many different varieties, and I know that there are some that only grow on dead things, some that have a symbiotic relationship with living things, and some that grow on living things often transforming them into dead things. Some are also apparently very fussy (can you get much fussier than growing only on LAST YEAR’S MALE birch catkins).

They also come in a variety of shapes, colours (some are bright purple, not all are brown) and sizes (some are tiny, others are about 12 inches high) and these are only the ones that I saw on Saturday.

A good year for fungi?

At the end of the week I am due to go on my final wildlife training workshop. This time it is fungi. After looking for birds on a wet and windy day in May when it was difficult to hear yourself, let alone any nearby birds, learning to identify flowers in one of the wettest Junes, looking for butterflies on the day after the Midlands flooded I am hopeful that the wet damp weather will this time be to my advantage.

Shaggy Ink Cap

I am boosted in this hope by the large numbers of fungi that I have seen lazing about gardens, fields and housing estates like the shaggy ink cap that I saw on my way to the Country Park at the weekend. Only time will tell.

Digiscoping – foiled again

I have an obsession with being able to gain a level of proficiency digiscoping. I have the scope, I have a camera (albeit an old one) and the appropriate attachment, all I need are the subjects. After having experienced a birdy bonanza in the garden yesterday I got up bright and reasonably early for a Sunday, and set up my digiscoping equipment in the kitchen and aimed at the bird feeder. What did I see, absolutely nothing. I have no idea why, but my garden has been pretty bereft of birds today – I did see a wren, briefly, and this greenfinch:

Digiscoped Greenfinch

but that was all. I am not sure when I will try again – I have more success photographing the moon with this set up – although that moves as well!

Autumn Tidy Up

I decided that as I am on holiday this week, and have been particularly stressed at work for the last couple of weeks, I should take the opportunity to do something useful and therapeutic. So, I decided to tidy up the back garden, get rid of the courgette plant that seemed to have become home to half of the county’s blackfly population. However, nature, and a growing interest in photography conspired to scupper my well-intentioned plans (not that this is difficult being easily distracted / lazy by nature). Anyway, I was busy tidying up the tomatoes (will they ever ripen, and, if they do, will I get to them before the slugs?) when I spotted :

Garden Spider

Even my modest garden in the middle of a housing estate seems to be teeming with life at long last. I spent part of the morning watching birds on the feeder (I was particularly pleased to see a coal tit popping in and out of the garden), then I discovered various kinds of fungi, and found a frog (was he lost? a matter of opinion – his or mine) hiding under the courgette – until I threw it in the bin (that was the courgette, not the frog in case you are wondering).

Just in case you are wondering about the black and white – I am reading a book about taking black and white photographs and felt like it!

Countin’ Crows

I spent my Saturday this weekend counting birds. I have decided to try a few of the local Wildlife Trust’s workshops in order to get more from my hobbies. The first one was the most obvious for me – Bird Monitoring, held at Pitsford Reservoir. (I am hoping to be able to carry out some surveys in Daventry to monitor the effect of all of the expansions on the area’s wildlife.)

I was not sure what to expect, and was concerned that I would be out of my depth, not to mention the change in the weather forecast!

We spent the morning learning about the different types of surveys in use and then tried looking at some of the data from the previous year’s survey. What can I say, there is a lot of data to collect for somewhere like Pitsford, and, not all of it is as easy to interpret as you would think. In the afternoon we went out and about; looking in nestboxes (the Tawny Owl chick being a particular hit) and then trying to count up the number of tiny little birds in those big verdant trees!

tawny owl chick

What did I come away with – a knowledge of how to carry out a survey, a desire to join the BTO (British Trust for Ornithology), a need to learn to recognise bird calls and songs, and a photo of a Tawny Owl.