Thursday, 22 December 2011

Merry Christmas!

I have been seriously lax in keeping up to date with this blog in recent weeks. I hope to remedy that in 2012. We were away for a couple of weeks in November - a wildlife holiday of course. So, I would like to start with one of my holiday snaps. This was definitely NOT taken in my garden!

Lion carrying cub in its mouth

This harrassed mother had 3 cubs, just a few weeks old. The runt of the litter could not keep up with the others so Mum kept giving it a helping hand, or should I say mouth.

Well, back in the UK, life in the garden has been busy as usual. The weather has been very changeable but not particularly cold. November was apparently one of the warmest on record around these parts. It is causing confusion with the plants, of course. We had primroses flowering in November and some daffodils are in bud at the moment.

There has been plenty of fungi around but not as many as last year. Unusually, there have been huge numbers of Trooping Funnels (Clitocybe geotropa), not only in the garden but all around the village.

Trooping funnel mushroom, Clitocybe geotropa

Trooping funnels are large mushrooms with a cap that can be up to about 8 inches (20 cms) diameter. As the name suggests they grow in large rings or "troops". They are apparently edible but I don't advise eating any fungus without first checking with an expert.

Trooping funnel mushroom, Clitocybe geotropa

2011 has been a good year for squirrels. There are dozens of them, all very hyperactive, running up and down trees and along fences. Luckily there are plenty of acorns to keep them away from the bird feeders.

Talking of bird feeders, in the last couple of weeks we have had a regular (unwelcome) visitor - a sparrowhawk. It sits on top of the bird feeder, which is a bit stupid because, of course, all the little birds fly off and hide.

The deer have been a bit elusive recently, although we have seen the Roe Deer twins, those born this year, in the field in front of our house. A couple of muntjacs have also been foraging in the garden - a female with a youngster.

Sadly it is not going to be a white Christmas this year, but I wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and a happy and healthy 2012.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Astonishing October

There are definitely big changes in the weather patterns compared to previous years. Whether or not this is due to global warming is yet to be proven. This October has seen some very pleasant weather with above average temperatures and just a couple of frosts. The result is beautiful autumn colours with most of the leaves still on the trees. In addition, there are shrubs flowering which normally only flower in springtime (Kerria Japonica and Ceanothus). Here are a couple of photos.

Kerria Japonica


Also, one of the primula that I mentioned in my previous post has been flowering, Primula Vialli - very pretty.

Primula Vialli

October is normally a month of misty sunrises, when the ground is wet and the nights cold. Very few of those this month, but here is one of them.

October Sunrise

The birds have been hyperactive this month, feeding frantically on the feeders. In their exuberance, they sometimes overshoot and hit the window. This happened to a little long-tailed tit. He/she was a bit stunned and I stood by waiting for him to recover in case any predators decided to have a tasty meal. Great opportunity for a close-up photo which is not normally possible with these shy little creatures. This is probably my favourite bird.

Long-tailed Tit

We changed the clocks today. Nice to have an extra hour in bed, but the evenings are now very dark. Hibernation seems a very attractive option. I am so looking forward to next spring.

In the meantime we will have to make do with the beautiful autumn colours, here is a shot across the valley and over the garden fence. If the wind does not take the leaves off soon, I think the colours will become even more spectacular.

Long-tailed Tit

Friday, 30 September 2011

Surprising September!

This month has certainly been interesting. It is going out with some superb weather in the mid-twenties centigrade which is very unusual for this time of year. I guess it cuts down on heating bills.

I am always busy in September when we have visitors from the north. This year we were able to entertain them with some obliging badgers.

I have been quietly watching the badger sett in the woods next door for most of the summer. Sadly, several weeks ago, I spotted some undesirables out shooting in the woods. I was not just concerned with my own safety but I did not want these guys to find the badger sett. So, I decided I should stay in my own garden to watch the badgers.

I have been putting out peanuts each evening, spread over a wide area. The badgers pass by at a very regular time and we have been watching from our conservatory. They literally "hoover" up the peanuts. There are 2 of them, one from the sett in the woods to the east (with a vertical line down his snout) and one from the sett in the woods to the west (with a spot on its nose). Unfortunately, every time I set up the camera and try to trigger it remotely, they get spooked, so no decent photos.

The roe deer family have been more obliging...

Roe Deer Doe and Fawns

A week or so ago, Mum and twins were all on the front lawn. The twins are both boys which you may be able to see from the photos. Their little antlers are just pushing through.

These photos were taken through the window, so are not the best. Just opening the window to take the shots, would have made them flee.

Roe Deer Doe and Fawns

I also recently visited a local garden centre in a quest to find more summer-flowering pretty flowers which the deer will not eat. Someone suggested Pentestemmon which I had never tried before so I bought some to give it a go. So far, they have not been touched by the deer. Hopefully, next summer we may have more colour during the summer months.

I noticed a long time ago that the deer don't eat Primula. The primroses in our garden run rampant in the spring but I did not know how many pretty types of primula there are. We visited Armadale Castle and Dunvegan Castle Gardens on the Isle of Skye in Scotland this year. They had some wonderful displays of primula (primula vialii, primula bulleyana, primula beesiana, etc). I have planted some this year and hopefully they will do as well in the garden as their native cousins.

Finally, the buzzards and red kites are continuing to thrive. They do their best to avoid posing for the camera, but I did get one reasonable photo this week.

Red Kite

Monday, 29 August 2011

Deer, Deer and More Deer!

This year, unlike last, we have apples on the apples trees. This means that our garden is a choice destination for the deer who love to eat the windfalls. They are backwards and forwards all day (and probably all night) feasting on the apples.

The other evening there were four muntjacs under the trees and, interestingly, another muntjac fawn. It was definitely not the fawn I spotted last week. This one was much bigger and without its spots. However, it was still suckling and very demanding on its mother. So, there must be at least two families of muntjacs around this year.

Sadly, it was too dark for decent photographs.

However, Mrs Roe and the Twins have also been hanging around much of the time. The twins are getting big now, almost as big as their Mum and their spots are just fading. They are about 3-4 months old now. I did not manage any good shots of the three of them together, but the other evening as it was getting dark Mum and one of the twins were in the field at the front. I got the following photos.

Roe Deer Doe and Fawn

Roe Deer Doe and Fawn

Roe Deer Doe and Fawn

The middle photo is quite amusing. The mother has an apple and some grass in her mouth and the little one is pulling at a piece of grass!

You need to click on the images to see larger versions.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Flash Photography

Birds Foot Trefoil

I have reached a stage in my photography where I don't feel I can improve until I have mastered flash and lighting in general. So often there is not enough natural light to take the photos I want.

So, I recently booked myself on a Lighting Fundamentals course run by Shutterbug Training ( James Stone, who runs the course, is very knowledgeable but above all he is able to impart his knowledge in simple terms - ideal for people like myself.

The course was excellent and I came home with a much better understanding of lighting and lots of ideas that I wanted to try.

Sadly this time of year in our garden is very boring. Hardly anything is flowering. I was desperate to find something to practise on so ended up picking some Bird's Foot Trefoil which was growing wild in the grass. The photo above is one of my early efforts. I am quite pleased with it and certainly could not have taken a photo as good as this before taking the lighting course.

As soon as I found a rose flowering, I pounced for more practise with the following result.

Wild Rose

I have continued to watch the badgers for the last few weeks. The little baby is fearless and follows a trail of peanuts to where I set up my camera, with this result...

Baby Badger

The roe deer twins are doing well. The farmer has cut the grass in the field out front and we can now see them when they are browsing in the field. They regularly come up to the fence to eat the blackberries. There are thousands of blackberries this year. I have been picking them every weekend and more keep coming.

Last week, I was very excited to catch a glimpse of a new baby muntjac. Very tiny, it is probably two or three weeks old and Mum is very protective. No chance for a photo, yet!

There were three hares on the front lawn yesterday, one of them a younster. Sadly, I found a young one dying in the garden today. I don't know what was wrong with it.

Finally, today there were dozens of dragonflies swooping around in the back garden enjoying the sunshine. I can never identify dragonflies without getting a photo and there was no chance of photos today.

Sunday, 31 July 2011

Badger Watching

I have been seriously neglecting this blog during the last few weeks. The reason this time is because I have been out virtually each evening watching badgers. I happened to wander through the woods just over our garden fence one evening and spotted a whole family by their sett. They are absolutely mesmerising to watch.

Badgers are protected in this country and it is an offense to disturb them at their sett. However, I don't really see the logic in this when they are planning to allow farmers to shoot them on sight in an effort to control bovine TB.

Anyway, because of this I don't have any photos to show. I just stand and watch them each evening just as it is getting dark. They are real little characters. Firstly, when they emerge, they have a good scratch - a seriously good scratch, even scratching each other. I guess if you had been holed up underground all day, you would want to scratch, too!

I just stand and watch in full view of them (but preferably downwind). Their eyesight must be very bad because they don't seem to see me. However, they do know I am there because they can catch my scent.

I have been sprinkling peanuts around the sett, which they love. They are so intent on getting the nuts that sometimes they come to within a metre of where I am standing. There is a baby one which is not quite so streetwise as its parents. This comes within 6 inches (15cms) of my boots!

It is quite magical.

Juvenile Jay

Now back to the garden - it is very busy at the minute. The birds seem to have had lots of success with their families. A little wren has just finished feeding her babies in a tiny nest hidden in the cotoneaster growing around our living room window.

The photo above is a baby Jay, out without its parents but it was with another sibling. Its brown feathers are still very fluffy and patchy, but the blue feathers have grown in nicely. The Jays are very shy, so photos are difficult.

The next photo is a juvenile Green Woodpecker. It looks very grown up but the speckled feathers show it is a youngster. There have been a lot of them around this year.

Juvenile Green Woodpecker

Finally, the baby Roe Deer that I mentioned a few weeks ago has turned out to be twins! I have still not managed a decent photo because the grass in the field out front has still not been cut. You can still only see their ears above the long grass.

Hopefully I will get a photo of them before too long.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Moths and Butterflies

Buff-tip Moth
I have not posted for a while because I have been away - exploring the Outer Hebrides. While we were away, the weather was apparently not good here, cool with plenty of rain. The grass is now green again after the drought in the spring.

The rain has brought on the fungi - lots of inkcaps and also 2 large fairy rings in the lawn (Fairy Ring Champignons).

Since our return, the weather has changed to very hot. This has brought out hundreds of moths and butterflies.

The moth above, a Buff-Tip, is one that I have never seen before. This is possibly because it is so well camouflaged. It looks just like a piece of twig. I thought it was a twig. Only when I touched it and it moved slightly, was I sure that it actually was a moth. Some moths like to play dead and don't fly away when you touch them. This was one of them. What an amazing creature!

Large Emerald Moth

The Large Emerald Moth is a real beauty. I think moths get a bad press. People don't tend to like them, fluttering around the lights at night, but many moths are every bit as pretty as butterflies. This one included.

Large Skipper Butterfly

Finally, I had never seen a Skipper butterfly until a couple of years ago. This year there are lots of them. I am not sure what has attracted them to the garden. Although this one is called a Large Skipper, it is in fact quite small with a wingspan only in the region of 30mm. This one is a male, identified by the black scales on its wings.

Monday, 30 May 2011

More Babies

Baby Squirrel
The garden seems to be full of youngsters at the moment. This tiny squirrel probably came from the drey photographed below high up in an oak tree. Not sure if it fell from the drey or was just exploring.

I would imagine that they are very vulnerable alone on the ground, so I hope it found its way back.

The photograph below shows the drey, woven out of twigs and leaves, perched precariously on the branch of the tree.

Squirrel Drey

Finally, this weekend (a public holiday in the UK) is usually the weekend when we see the first roe deer fawns, if there are any. This year was no exception.

The field in front of our house has long grass at this time of year, before the farmer cuts it for hay. This is an ideal environment to bring up a fawn. It follows its mother around but is so small that you can only see its ears sticking out of the grass! I am looking forward to a better view of it and a better photo at some stage.

Roe Deer Doe and Fawn

Friday, 20 May 2011

I Hate Woodpeckers :(

I am a little late posting this because it happened a couple of weeks ago - just no time to post.

I realise that nature can be cruel but sometimes I find it hard to take. I posted a few weeks ago about the blue tits nesting in the box in our pergola. The box is just outside my office window and I heard tapping. It was a Great Spotted Woodpecker hammering away trying to get into the box. It was after the babies.

I kept chasing it away but it kept returning time and time again. Finally, it found a crack in the bottom of the box and started pulling out moss, part of the nest. I took a photo of it when it reached one of the babies - blood all over its beak :(

I realised that I had to do more to save them, but I did not want to interfere with the box too much otherwise the parents might abandon them. So, I stuck a piece of plastic over the crack and secured it with masking tape. I could feel movements in the box so some of the babies were still alive.

The GSW still kept coming back but luckily did not manage to hurt any more babies.

Mr & Mrs Blue Tit still continued to feed the remaining chicks until they finally fledged.

I will post a link to the photo I took but I prefer not to display directly in this post because I find it distressing.

Photo here.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

My Book is Completed :)

I mentioned in earlier posts about my project for 2010 photographing "A Year in the Life of an English Country Garden". I am pleased to say that I have now completed my book on Blurb and there is a preview available.

Comments and/or feedback would be very welcome.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Still Fighting

Fighting Cock Pheasants

The cock pheasants have been fighting on and off all day. I would have thought it was a bit late. I think most of the females are already sitting on their nests, but there are a couple of females still wandering around. These guys really don't like each other. They have started to leave feathers on the lawn after their bouts of fighting. They are very aggressive to each other.

At the other end of the spectrum, this hare was lying in the grass all afternoon, very relaxed. I have been finding out more about hares and their lifestyle from Marc Baldwin, whose web site ( is a mine of useful information about British wildlife.

Once again I crept up on this hare and only when I got close, did it sit up. You can see from the photo it is assessing how much of a threat I was! They rely on their camouflage and speed to avoid danger.

I wanted to post this photo because it shows really well the length of its front legs. These help make it the fastest land animal in the UK reaching speeds up to 45 mph.

Brown Hare

Monday, 2 May 2011

Feeding Time

Blue Tit with Caterpillar

The blue tit eggs have hatched in the nesting box on the pergola. Mum and Dad are very busy feeding the youngsters with lots of juicy caterpillars. I don't know how many little ones there are. It would be nice to have a nestcam. The incubation period is about 2 weeks and I think they have probably only just hatched in the last few days.

I have never yet seen them fledge. I think they must take their first flight out of the nest very early in the morning.

There are not many birds around at the moment. I think they are all sitting on their nests. The bird feeders have hardly been touched recently.

However, great excitement the other day when I saw a bullfinch. It landed on my office windowsill but had disappeared before I could get the camera out.

Yesterday, I caught my first ever glimpse of the cuckoo. We hear it every year but I have never managed to spot it. This year it has been exceptionally vociferous. It is calling from morning till night. I managed to find which tree it was sitting in but still could not spot it until it flew off. Again no possibility of a photo.

The amazing weather continues. It is not quite so warm but still very sunny. I don't recall getting any rain at all in April, which is very unusual, although there may have been a shower during the night on Saturday. It cannot have been much because the ground was dry when we got up. However, the cars have a layer of yellow pollen all over them and there were water droplet marks in the pollen - but not enough to wash off the pollen.

Finally, for this week, the hares seem to have taken up permanent residence in the garden. They are coming closer to the house and we see them every day - at least two of them. Even when I go outside to take a photo, I can get to within a few metres before they run off. I particularly like the photo below.

Brown Hare

Monday, 25 April 2011

Riot of colour!

English Bluebell

What an amazing Easter this has been. The weather is hot (high 20's centigrade) and sunny, hardly a cloud in the sky. I don't remember when it last rained. This is most unusual for April which is famous for its showers.

The bluebells are a carpet of blue through the woods and all the other flowers are a riot of colour. Sadly, the lack of rain means the bluebells are dying back early. Too early!


The azaleas are absolutely gorgeous and the perfume from this yellow one is amazing. It is a pity that I cannot capture the scent for this blog.

I was standing watching this morning while the speckled wood butterflies were all over the place fluttering around in a frenzy in the sunshine and occasionally landing on the bluebells.

Speckled Wood butterfly

Finally, the cuckoo has been calling all week. No sight of him, though.

This time of year is magical.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

She's Mine . . . No, She's Mine!

Cock Pheasants fighting

I have spent a lot of time watching the pheasants in the last few weeks. They are most amusing. The cock pheasants are wandering around hopefully trying to attract the females, chasing them around the garden and displaying their beautiful plumage.

The females seem to be completely disinterested but the cocks live in hope.

Occasionally, a fight breaks out between competing cocks - really quite aggressive. The fight in this photograph broke up when they heard the clicking of my shutter. Sadly, it is not a good photo but the best I could manage.

Cherry Blossom

I spent last weekend trying to take some decent photos of the cherry blossom. It is a really gorgeous sight but very difficult to photograph without blowing the highlights in the sun. It also requires a very still day. The beautiful weather continued over last weekend but has changed for the worse during this week. Still no rain, though.


Finally, another bluebell shot. I would love to find some more unusual ways of photographing bluebells. This one is backlit. Any suggestions?

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

The First Bluebells of 2011


Everyone who knows me realises that I get very excited at the start of the bluebell season. It is such a beautiful time of year, if we have time to get out and enjoy it.

The first bluebells started appearing last weekend. They start with just a few here and there. During the next few weeks more and more appear until there is a glorious blue carpet through the woods. Then they start to fade. The whole magical experience only lasts 4 to 5 weeks.

I saw the first swallow today, back from its winter in Africa. So spring is well and truly here.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

The Morel Season

Semifree Morel - Morchella Semilibra

After the very dry March, I did not expect to see the Morels this year. However, a few sprinkles of rain over the last few days brought them all popping out. These Morels are called Semifree Morels and are not the much sought after Morels of culinary fame. I would not risk eating them.

They are called semifree because the cap is not joined to the lower part of the stem, but is joined at the top of the stem with the cap hanging loose over it.

I find it intriguing that they appear as regular as clockwork every year during the first week of April. They are incredibly difficult to spot and last year I only spotted them after I had trampled on them, so no possibility of photographs. I was more careful this year!

Monday, 28 March 2011


Holly Blue Butterfly

The last few weeks have been unseasonably warm and dry. March is lining up to become one of the driest in recent memory. I have no doubt that April will make up for it!

The weather has brought out the butterflies - Brimstone (which never hang around long enough for a photo), Commas, Peacock and finally I have managed to get a photo of a Holly Blue. I have seen them in the garden before but they are very difficult to photograph. Firstly, they are very tiny and secondly, they flutter around the tops of the shrubs. The shrubs in our garden are very mature and many of them are at least 2 metres high. This makes photographing the butterflies very difficult.

The photo above is the best I could manage today and since the weather forecast predicts an end to this dry spell, I may not get another chance. Although, you cannot see it from the photograph, the upper wings are a darker blue. The underside of the wings is a silvery colour with black speckles.

Elsewhere in the garden, there is a frenzy of activity - nests are being built, the male pheasants are showing off their gorgeous colours and chasing the females. The bluetits have set up home in the bird box on the pergola. It is also the time of year when we see all the birds in pairs. In the last couple of days, 2 green woodpeckers, 2 nuthatches, 2 chaffinches, 2 robins.

My favourite time of year!

Monday, 21 March 2011

Hares and Rabbits

Brown Hare

Spring is most definitely here. The evenings are getting lighter and the spring flowers are appearing all over the place. The birds are building their nests but some of the animals are already rearing their young. There are baby rabbits all over the garden. As cute as they may be, they really are pests in the garden - digging holes and eating all the plants.

I thought it would be interesting to compare the hares (which I find really beautiful) and the rabbits which to me are pests.

The photo above is a hare - a gorgeous fluffy creature - which was nibbling grass just outside my conservatory yesterday. It is huge compared to the rabbits and it does not dig holes. They are much lighter coloured with very long black-tipped ears. The legs, although you cannot see them in this photo, are also much longer and they can run very fast.

The photo below is a group of baby rabbits. There are several families living in my shrubberies. The babies venture out further and further from the shrubs but dash back in when disturbed.

Baby Rabbits

Another interesting find in the garden this week are a pair of red-legged partridges. They have so far evaded my efforts to photograph them!

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Life in the Garden - 2011


My photography project for 2010 is finished. I did not realise how much it has taken out of me to continuously record life in the garden for a whole year. I was constantly looking for photo opportunities. For the first few weeks of 2011 I hardly touched my camera but I am gradually getting back into the swing of it again. I hope that I now have time to give this blog the attention it deserves.

My book "A Year in the Life of an English Country Garden" is progressing well. It will contain about 240 photographs of animals, birds, insects, flowers, trees and landscapes all taken in the garden during 2010. I hope to complete it soon.

This winter has not been pleasant - very cold and very grey with little sun to cheer things up. I don't recall such a long spell of very cold weather here in England as we experienced in January. The temperature went down to -11 degrees centigrade and it did not get above freezing at all for several weeks.

However, the first signs of spring are upon us. We have snowdrops, crocuses, primroses and even daffodils flowering already.

And, life goes on for the animals - a little Muntjac kid was born in early January. So far it has not been easy to get a photo. Mum leaves it hidden during the day while she goes foraging. Then at around 4 in the afternoon she comes back to collect it. We regularly see them together before 8 in the morning when it is usually too dark for photographs.

It is most amusing to watch and seems incapable of actually walking - it runs everywhere. It is just a bundle of energy. This is the best photo I have managed so far. About 6 weeks old it still has its spots.

Muntjac Kid