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Monday, May 31, 2010

Bittersweet Sunday

I arose quite early yesterday morning to find hubby coming out the shed with the garden spade. "What are you doing?" I laughed, as 99% of the gardening jobs are mine and it was too early for spadework. The smile soon left my face when he told me he was going to bury one of the robin chicks which he'd found lying lifeless on the path. It didn't have any apparent injuries, so we ruled out cats and bigger birds, and guessed that it could have been blown against something when attempting to leave the greenhouse, as it was very windy yesterday. We were devastated but had to put a face on things as we'd promised Charlotte, our daughter, that we'd have a look over to the coast.

This is the beach at the village of Hawthorn in County Durham, looking down from the cliff-top. It's a fantastic view and to get down to the beach from here, you have to climb down a winding series of wooden steps, which was lovely because you get to see all the beautiful tiny wildflowers at eye level, growing on the cliff-side.

You can see some wonderful photographs of these wildflowers by going to Phil Gate's blog. Click here. I'd been to Hawthorn many years ago and it was Phil's post that made me want to return.

This is a closer view of the beach which has been blackened by the tipping of colliery waste during the industrial days of coal mining. The pits were closed by the 1990s and the action of the sea is restoring the sand to its natural condition.

It was very windy and the sea was rough as the waves pounded the shore. Exhilarating! We even managed a game of tennis with the plastic racquets that Charlotte had bought from Poplar Trees Garden Centre at Shincliffe, when we stopped there for something to eat. Whilst attempting a magnificent tennis dive I had a fall and grazed my right knee but it could have been much worse..... if I'd fallen on my left side, I would have broken my camera which was in the left-hand pocket of my coat!

Evidence of pre-medieval settlements have been found all along the Durham coastline, being ideal for fishing and foraging for other foods further inland. We found traces of modern-day campfires and empty bottles of Frosty Jack.

Fungi growing on a felled tree

To get to the beach, we walked through Hawthorn Dene. Some parts of the woodland here has existed for 400 years!

Although tinged with sadness, it had been a good day out and when we came home I saw that the nest had been lined with new pieces of moss...... so it looks like Mrs Robin will soon be laying a new clutch of eggs. They're still busy feeding the other chicks at the bottom of the garden. Sometimes I wonder if it's worth getting so involved in watching wildlife closely....... but how can we help ourselves?

Thursday, May 27, 2010

"Aye pet, they're not babies for long........"

Click the photo to enlarge and see the chick

One of the first things I do in the morning is pop into the greenhouse to make sure everything's alright. This robin chick had moved to the top of the nest, the spot where mummy robin perched in the evenings. I took a quick photo and left. Before I went out yesterday, I checked the greenhouse again and there on the ground was the chick, looking up at me with its bright little eyes and taking a few tentative hops backwards. After a gasp of delight I backed out of the greenhouse, leaving only the smallest of gaps in the door so that no cats or larger birds could get in.

I couldn't wait to get home later to get another glimpse of the chick and mabye peep into the nest again to see how many were left. I did see the chick but when I looked into the nest there were no babies there at all! I'd assumed this was the
first chick to leave the nest when, in fact, it's the last. Both parents are still frantically busy taking food into the greenhouse so the chicks must be sheltering in various 'hidey-holes', which is a relief as they should be safe in there till they're ready to fly properly in the big world outside. No more dashing in and out of the greenhouse for me and the dogs are barred out for now.

It doesn't seem like two minutes since I noticed the presence of the new family and now they've left the nest, soon to be fending for themselves. I'm going to leave the nest in place though, perched on top of the seed trays....... just in case they have a second brood. :)

Mummy Robin

Click the photo to enlarge and see mummy robin..... she is there, honest. :)

Monday, May 17, 2010

Updade: Robins' Nest & Baby Harry

Mummy and Daddy Robin have chicks! A couple of days ago I peeped into the nest, standing on an upturned stone pot. Amidst that pile of leaves is a compact cup-shaped structure, but I couldn't see anything. Neither of the Robins were present and I wondered if there were eggs so I very gently reached into the nest. I felt something warm and soft, quickly withdrew my hand and up popped some little heads with beaks wide open. I don't know how many there were as I was too excited to stay long enough to count. I went running to the house to tell hubby that there were chicks in the nest only to be firmly rebuked for having felt inside it. He's right and I wont do it again now that I know there are babies there.

The Robin parents are on the go all day long, bringing food to the babies..... then in the early evening the female sits on the nest with them. I'm doing as little work in the greenhouse as possible so that they can get on with the feeding undisturbed. When I need to do potting on, etc. I have a table on the patio where I can work and catch glimpses of them flying in and out of the greenhouse window.

I said before that I wouldn't release Harry into the wild until he was at least the size of a Nasturtium seed. That time has come, so I've begun the process of hardening him off..... just like a plant. I think it would be too big a shock to his little system to put him outside after being in the warmth of the house for so long. I've been putting his jar outside during the day and bringing him in for the night. Gradually, I'll leave his jar out all night until I think he'll be accustomed to the temperatures outdoors, then I'll take him from his jar and find a safe place to leave him. Shouldn't I just keep him protected for a while longer..... until he's the size of a pea perhaps.... or an olive.... or a chestnut.... or a....... I knew this would happen!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Maternity wing in the potting shed!

Click on the photo to enlarge ~ Mrs Robin is just to the right of the topmost tray. I altered the lighting of my camera in order to see her better as it's fairly dim in the shed.

Sorry about the pun but it's apt. Look what I discovered this morning..... mummy Robin in her nest! You have to click the picture to enlarge it so you can see her more clearly.

Why haven't I reported the nest in our shed before? To be honest, from below it just looks like a pile of leaves and, despite hubby's best efforts, there are lots of gaps (I call it ventilation) where leaves can be blown in. I had seen this 'pile of leaves' and not given it a second thought; they could have been arranged there in one clump 'Harry Potter style' for all I knew. Anyway, I just went about the daily business of sowing, pricking out and potting-on, unaware of the important events that were going on simultaneously.

Hubby and I had seen a Robin going in and out the greenhouse, via the open window, but we thought it was going in for insects. Then yesterday, while I was potting up some violet seedlings, I turned round for a pot and there was Robin with a grub in his beak. He wasn't taking food from the greenhouse, but bringing it in. That's when I realised he was obviously feeding something...... I may not be very observant but I'm not entirely thick. :D

I abandoned my potting-up activity and watched the goings-on from behind the patio window. When Robin entered the greenhouse, he was in for about 12 seconds. He was gone for about 1 1/2 minutes before returning again and this went on constantly for as long as I made my observations, and longer I expect.

I couldn't fight the urge to have a closer look, so this morning I carried a chair down to the shed to stand on. There, amongst the leaves was Mrs Robin sitting still and quiet, her dark bright eyes just feet away from mine. I'd seen this particular Robin before because her red markings struck me as unusual. We all know that Robins have a red breast but this Robin's red pullover goes right over her face! Because of the richness of its colouring, I had assumed this to be the male. Now I know it's the female ...... and sitting on eggs!

Encountering our 'neighbours' in the potting shed was one of those moments that make life seem so worthwhile. Joy like this can't be bought but is freely given. Cheers Mother Nature, I owe you one!

This is what the nest looks like from ground level, with normal lighting. Thank goodness I didn't get round to tidying up all those pots and trays!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Durham Botanic Gardens

Living in beautiful County Durham we're very lucky to have an excellent botanic garden nearby. It's about a half-hour drive from our home, so on Saturday off we went.

Cherry blossom rain
Showering me in swathes of pink
I feel like a bride

(me ~ May, 2010)

In the scree garden there's a beautiful clump of gentian. The colour is amazing! There is a distinct lack of blue flowers in our garden. I need to sow some gentian seeds.

I zoomed my camera in on this little fella sitting on a bough about twelve feet or so above us. He was giving it rock all, singing his little heart out in accompaniment to another robin on a nearby tree. He's obviously used to people, as passers-by didn't distract him at all. By the look on his face I wonder what he's thinking, as me, hubby and daughter gaze up at him. :)

This is a new development since our last visit and I can see it's going to be one of my favourite parts of the garden...... a beautiful woodland walk by the stream, a place where you can wander peacefully away from the busier more crowded areas. We did meet this family though..... Mr and Mrs Duck, possibly searching for their offspring.

...... could this be her? Mary the duckling, basking in the afternoon sunshine. See if you can spot her when you visit the Botanics at Durham. :)

Monday, May 3, 2010

Who lives in a house like this?

I was doing some planting down at the bottom of the garden near the old stone sheds. Engrossed in a little world of my own, I became aware of a bee that was going in and out of the ivy that covers one of the sheds. My first thought was that perhaps there was a bees nest there. Do bees nest in ivy on walls? When it finally left I peeped into where it had been investigating, to find this tiny immaculate 'self-build' tucked firmly in between the branches of the ivy. Not cup-shaped but about six inches deep, it's made mostly of moss with an entrance about two and a half inches wide. I didn't want to hover round it for long, but parted the ivy slightly to get a photograph, making sure to leave it as it had been.... perfectly hidden in the greenery. I would never have noticed the tiny nest had it not been for the inquisitive bee.
I'm not entirely sure but I think it's probably a blue-tit's nest. I'm hoping one of the experienced birders can help me out here. Nearby is a Weeping Birch tree where the blue-tits like to pick off the caterpillars and eat the seeds. The wall where the nest is, is not visible from the house so I haven't noticed any comings and conclusion is guesswork. I'm not even sure if it's a new nest or one left over from a previous season but, thinking back, we did enjoy the company of baby blue-tits last Spring.
Whatever the situation, it was a joy to see this tiny skilled piece of engineering and it reminded me how wonderful the works of nature are. To put it in a nutshell, it made my day!

All nicely covered up again