Sunday, 22 November 2009

A Mixture and Memories

The weather here for most of the past week has been dire! The days have been short, dark and miserable. Like much of the country we have had heavy, driving rain and very high winds. Because of this and because I still have a backlog of un-posted photographs this post will mainly feature more photos from the Summer and early Autumn. Incidentally, I have at last worked out how to resize photographs so that when they are clicked on they can be viewed in a more manageable way. Hopefully now I won't use up my quota in Picassa so quickly either!

There was an amusing incident in the garden, just a few days ago, when I went to top up the bird feeders ready for the following morning. It was early evening and getting dark and as I have a small mesh tray, tucked at shoulder height, deep within the woody stems of an old Clematis I took a torch to enable me to see inside the vegetation. As the beam shone on the little tray I saw a tiny mouse sat in it happily feeding on the remains of the seed I had put there the day before! It seemed completely oblivious to the torchlight and to me, it really was quite a magical moment and I would have loved to have got a photograph of it. When I first placed the tray there it was in the hope that Dunnocks and Wrens might find it but I had caught a brief glimpse of a mouse scurrying away from it earlier in the year. I knew the seed was still being eaten regularly but had not realised a little mouse had decided it was its dish! I think it was a Wood Mouse, hopefully I may get a photo eventually.

During a very brief break in the bad weather a few days ago we managed to check out our small local reservoir which is where I took the photograph (above) of Hawthorn berries. I was hoping some interesting birds might have been swept in with the storms, unfortunately there was nothing of particular note. This Magpie was perched on a post on the approach to the reservoir,


there were the inevitable Black-headed Gulls

Black-headed Gull

and six Cormorants flying over were quite an impressive sight.


'Then, from the wood, across the silvery blue,
A dark bird flew,
Silent, with sable wings.
Close in his wake another came,
Fragments of midnight floating through
The sunset flame.'
(Henry Van Dyke)

Earlier in the Autumn we visited a small local lake. We go quite often as it is only about fifteen minutes away by car. The Mallard Duck in the series of photos below treated us to quite a prolonged and amusing preening display.

'Now ! You look like you need a preening lesson!'

'This is what you do!'

'I hope you're paying attention!'

'This feels good!'

'Don't miss the bits at the back!'

'It stretches the neck a bit!'

'Ooh lovely!'

'Nearly done!'

' I think I'll audition for the new ballet, Duck Lake!'

'Back to pristine loveliness!'

This Mute Swan was hoping we might have brought some bread but I'm afraid it was disappointed!

Mute Swan

'When goodly, like a ship in her full trim,
A swan, so white that you may unto him
Compare all whitenesse, but himselfe to none.'
(John Donne)

The following butterfly photos were taken in the Summer, the first two in the garden of a National Trust property which we were visiting, in fact the same place where I saw the Nuthatch which I showed on the previous post.

Meadow Brown Butterfly

Gatekeeper Butterfly

Speckled Wood Butterfly

The appearance of the Speckled Wood changes from north to south. Individuals in the north are dark brown with white spots and those in more southerly areas are dark brown with orange spots. This has resulted in a number of subspecies.

It is unique among British butterflies being able to overwinter in two stages, as both larva and pupa. It is also unusual because the adults feed on honeydew which is a sticky sugary substance secreted by aphids.

Also unlike other butterflies, it favours dappled shade and is often seen when the weather is overcast. The male will patrol its territory looking for females to mate with and seeing off other males.

Red Admiral Butterfly

My deep love of Nature was first instilled in me by my Mother who used to regularly take my brother and I on walks in the countryside where she would point out everything we passed, she knew the name of every wild flower and tree we saw, I just wish I had retained all of the knowledge she imparted! I was never a child who enjoyed playgrounds, funfairs, amusement parks etc. I was happiest in fields and country lanes just enjoying the splendour of Nature. I remember I used to set up a Nature table in the garden where I would display any precious finds from our walks. I would also try to draw them.

The first Violet of the year would give me a huge thrill as would finding Catkins and Pussy Willow and my favourite wild flower of all, the Primrose. Then there were Bluebells, Cowslips and of course all the lovely Summer flowers too. At the other end of the year of course there would be Acorns, Chestnuts, Beech Nuts and Conkers which I especially loved finding, not particularly to put on a string and play the childhood game with, (my brother enjoyed that) but just to collect and admire their glossy brown colour and their tactile nature. I still can't pass them on the ground without bringing one or two home!

(the fruit of the Horse Chestnut Tree)

Something else I always looked forward to seeing was the Spindleberry

(Euonymus Europaeus)

'See the rosy-berried Spindle
All to sunset colours turning,
Till the thicket seems to kindle,
Just as though the trees were burning.
While my berries split and show
Orange-coloured seeds aglow.'
(Cicely Mary Barker)

and the

(Symphoricarpos albus)

Unlike the Spindleberry the Snowberry is not a native of this country but is a North American plant introduced here in 1817. It is an important Winter food source for Quail, Pheasant and Grouse and is also a food plant of the Death's Head Hawk Moth Caterpillar.

Another fond memory from my childhood was gathering Elderflowers and Elderberries for my grandmother's wine making exploits. Sometimes there would be a loud bang from her larder when 'something went wrong' and a bottle exploded! I never recall her or anyone else drinking it and indeed understood her to be teetotal so I'm not quite sure how that equated! I can't remember if she ever made Sloe Gin but it is supposed to be very good.

(The fruit of the Blackthorn: Prunus spinosa)

'And now is Autumn here, and lo,
The Blackthorn bears the purple sloe!
But ah, how much
Too sharp these plums,
Until the touch
Of Winter comes!
(Cicely Mary Barker)'

Well, I will finish with two more photos of a Heron taken on one of our visits to Draycote Water.

Grey Heron

I do hope all my blogland friends in the UK are staying safe in the atrocious weather we are experiencing and my thoughts are particularly with the people of Cockermouth and elsewhere in Cumbria who are suffering so badly at the moment...


  1. ShySongbird ,
    Another very enjoyable read .
    Re. Slow Gin , I make it and Carol drinks it . She says it keeps Winter's ailments away .
    Re. Spindle , the wood is very hard , and was once used to make skewers and spindles , hence the name .

  2. That is a wonderful series of the duck preening; it does look exactly like a lesson.

    The bad weather and flooding is even making headlines in the US news media, which are notorious for ignoring what is going on in other countries. I hope you dry out soon.

  3. The series of photos of the duck is just so cute, Shy Songbird! It does indeed look as if he's showing you how to do it:) I enjoyed hearing about your childhood and how your love of nature came about. I'm trying to share some of the little knowledge I have with my grandchildren; Granddaughter, in particular, loves to identify butterflies.

    So glad you posted some of these photos of the summer, but I hope, too, that the storms end soon and everyone is safe and sound.

  4. Hi Jan,

    I know what you mean about the Weather, these last few weekends have been a complete write off for me with lots of rain and high winds..hence no posts from me. Just feel for Cumbria right now.

    I love the memories of the Summer and the Autumn all seems a long time ago. Lets have some frosty mornings.


  5. Jan a delightful post as usual with so much good content its hard to pick out an individual item. But love the Mallard sequence, and reading about how you got into nature. Yes hope this weather breaks soon and the folk in the North have a chance to get back to normal. We are quite lucky here in Cornwall no large rivers and lots of hills so it all drains away quickly.So as I said lovely post and well done.

  6. Lovely photos Jan, sadly it's that time of year when I have no inspiration to get out and take photos... Perhaps when we have good frost or snow I will!
    November depresses me, it's still a long way to Spring, and it's very hard now to see beauty in anything.
    Hmmm I'm beginning to wonder if I suffer from SAD...
    Anyway, I love the Cormorant shot, it always shocks me to hear they're able to fly, I always just assume they're like penguins! :D

    The floods seem so strange, it's so easy to forget that in real life others may be having such a nightmare at the moment.
    We've seen very little problems here, mainly just high winds (they've ripped my plastic greenhouse/growhouse to shreds)
    Today is lovely and sunny with clear skies - as was yesterday, the only shocking day was Saturday so far...
    I hope they manage to recover quickly, I know when we had floods here two years or so ago, it took years for some areas to get their houses back due to all the damage - and we don't even live in flood areas, Sheffield is extremely hilly sharing its boundaries with the Peak District!

  7. Hi Jan.

    Another lovely set of photographs and text as usual.Things for most of us are slowing down what with the appalling weather conditions and bad light that we now look eagerly to the arrival of spring. Still I am determined to get out and try for some extra special winter wonderland shots.
    Let us all remember the hardship of the Cumbria flood victims and count our own blessings.

  8. I had never heard the name spindleberry. I have one of the trees on my farm. Very pretty in the autumn when it is covered with pink seed pods. The conkers we call buckeyes;)

    I hope you get some relief from the rains very soon.

  9. Ah! memories of Butterflies and bright sunshine! I'll have to have a look at my Butterfly pics, to put some cheer back into me. :-)

    PS. In answer to you comment you left on my blog - I don't have a hide as such, but I sit in the garden shed with the door open - and wait...and wait...and wait.....

  10. Once again, a most enjoyable post
    shysongbird, when i was a youngster, we would love to go and play in the nearby marsh land, and there we would find these huge caterpillars clinging to the bullrushes, never found out what they where, we called them SIX EYED JACKS, could they be the DEATHS HEAD HAWK caterpillar that you mentioned in your post?.

  11. Hi Jan.....I wished we had lived near each other as children we would have had great fun together. I to liked nature more than playgrounds etc. I never found a friend who shared my interests.

    I have spindleberries and snowberries in my garden and I really love them.....the spindleberry tends to take over, its runners travel all around the garden.

    I love the mallard grooming parlour.....and yes they must get parts for Duck Lake, I think that may take

    There are some lovely photographs there Jan.....another beautiful post, thank you.....

  12. Hi - another great post & photos - especially love the Mallard series! Fantastic that you saw a Woodmouse - we have one in our back garden, they are so adorable! Little tip for you, they also like peanut butter - I found that out when I left some for the fox! Hope you're luckier than me trying to photograph it!

  13. Dear Shy Songbird,

    I am so sorry to hear of all the flooding in the UK. I do hope you get some relief soon. I am sending good thoughts of dry sunny weather your way!

    I loved the pics of the Mallard. So funny--he looks like he is doing his morning exercises. What a handsome fellow.

    We call Conkers, Buckeyes, and have a candy named after them--made out of peanut butter and chocolate--yum! I make it every Christmas.

    I identified with your girlhood so much! I was always playing in the garden, and I loved to listen to my grandmothers tell me all the old fashioned names for the different plants they had in their gardens--I still prefer them to the Latin names.

  14. ...I've read in the paper about the horrible rains and the damage. I hope the weather turns soon.
    I really enjoyed your story about your nature walks with your mother and your little nature table. That is so sweet...and sounds like something I would do as a child. Lovely photos, and I really liked the Cormorant poem...

  15. I had to smile reading about your encounter with the mouse. I had hoped my night cameras would catch one but I think the feline night prowler spoils that opportunity.
    Lots of lovely pictures of the autumn fruitfulness.
    Great series of the Mallard preening and what a great shot of the Heron in flight.

  16. How lovely to have such a close encounter with the mouse, they are great to watch. I love to read the poems you add to your posts, they along with your beautiful photos really brighten my day!

  17. Greenie,

    Thank you. It sounds like you have a very good partnership there and that Carol has come up with a very good excuse! I mean reason ;) to indulge in a little tipple :)


    Thank you. The preening 'lesson' went on for quite some time and was very amusing to watch.
    The weather really is horrible here but we are much luckier than some as we live on a hill so thankfully don't get flooded.

  18. Rose,

    Thank you. It was fun watching the duck, he was very close to us and didn't mind our presence at all.
    I'm sure your grandchildren will remember what you are able to teach them and look back on those memories with great pleasure.
    The weather is still pretty wild here, I hope it is better where you are.


    Thank you. Yes at least some frosty mornings would give us some good light, it is so dreary here and no opportunity for photos at all at the moment.

  19. Some really Fabulous photos you posted today! I was especially pleased to see the snowberry...I ran into a similar berry while hiking in the foothills of the blue ridge mtns last summer. I had no clue what they were!! Never ran into that plant before. Love the Duck Preening lessons really a lot of fun reading your blog today!

  20. Dear Jan,
    Blessings to you and your fellow countrymen who are suffering because of the rains and winds. I worry for the wildlife too.
    All of your photographs are amazing...I am very fond of your butterflies.
    Thank you too for stories about when you were small. I also have always loved nature.
    Stay dry!

  21. Monts,

    Thank you Monty, you are very kind. With the weather we are all experiencing I think we are going to struggle to get any photos to post, unlike your recent post I don't have any real bird gems in hand so am hoping there will be at least a few days with some decent light soon.
    We are lucky regarding flooding as we live on a hill.


    Thank you. I think we must all be starting to wonder if we suffer from SAD, it really has been very depressing and as you say, so long until Spring :(
    We don't seem to have had any decent weather lately and the wind has been wild for days, so sorry to hear about your greenhouse, what a shame!
    The Cormorants made quite an impressive sight and although it wasn't possible to get a very good photo I was so glad I saw them. I know what you mean about them flying, I always think that about Herons as well and Swans for that matter!

  22. Nice shots of the female mallard.
    the mute swan really does look a bit miffed you did not bring it some lunch. you should toast the bread before giving it to the swans then it does not swell up in their gizzard' I know the ducks are snail and slug eaters not sure what the swan eats in its natural habitat.
    berries and seeds I suppose as it has a gizzard the same as all foul.( I used to breed rare breeds on a 13 acre small holding I had in mid wales)
    one of our ducks "Welsh harlequin" died and I wanted to know why it just dropped dead literally, so I did an autopsy and found it had swallowed a condom
    most likely thought it was a juicy slug. the rest of its sack was full of slugs.
    just wish I was into photography in them days.
    some of the sights and stories working with animals but they are all in my head wish it was a digital brain that I could just plug into my computer to extract the photos I have in there. like all the mallards that I used to feed, there is a story and a few mallard photos on the

    after the cat photos.

  23. What lovely photographs! I have only just found your blog and have really enjoyed looking through it.
    Sloe gin is wonderful, especially if it's homemade. I love it with a dash of tonic, some ice and a slice.
    Your mute swan is beautiful - I was lucky enough to see and hear a swan flying over our garden last weekend. I couldn't work out what the noise was until I looked up and saw it flying over - the noise was the wind through its wings, it was one of those moments where you really appreciate the beauty and grace of nature. -x-

  24. Hi Jan.
    Nice shot of the Grey Heron in flight. It is my favourite of the batch.

  25. Absolutely stunning set of pics shysongbird, just love the preening duck!!!! You really do produce a fantastic blog!!! Im so envious!!!! x

  26. What an excellent post. A real lift on a dull windy day.
    Some cracking pictures there along with the childhood memories. Love the one about the wine making exploits lol

  27. Hi,
    Wow quite a good numbers of pictures and a nice post!
    I love the heron shots and, surprisingly I saw one here over the week end. They are usually very rare in Iceland. Beautiful post with very nice shots. Thanks for sharing that.

  28. Hello my lovely! I really hope you are able to get a picture of the mouse. It is always such a pleasure to visit…I loved every minute of it looking at all those beautiful pictures.

    Love Lou and Poppy xxxxxx

  29. The Abbot,

    Thank you Trevor. It is definitely becoming more difficult to get out and take decent photographs, as you say, we will all be looking forward to Spring. I shall also look forward to hopefully seeing your Winter wonderland shots eventually :)

    Roses and Lilacs,

    Thank you Marnie. Yes the Spindleberry is pretty, I have always liked it. Thank you for the info on the Buckeyes, I have often heard them mentioned on blogs from your part of the world but hadn't realised what they were.
    The weather is still very wild here, I hope it is better where you are.

  30. Warren Baker,

    Thank you. It all seems a distant memory already Warren!
    I'm wishing my shed was in a different place now, it is completely hidden from the rest of the garden. I should think all that waiting could be a little chilly though! :)


    Thank you Denis. I have been doing some research and from what I can find I think it is unlikely that the caterpillars you and your friends found were Death's Head Hawk Moth Caterpillars as there main host plant is the Potato, consequently they are usually found on agricultural land. I think it more likely they were a type of Moth caterpillar or beetle larvae, I will try to find out more.

  31. Cheryl,

    Thank you. Yes, I think we would have had great fun together, none of my friends shared my love of Nature so a lot of the time I was quite solitary but nevertheless very content.
    I do hope the weather is not treating you and your lovely garden too badly, we are very lucky living on a hill.


    Thank you Sharon. I'm glad you liked the Mallard sequence, it was fun to watch! I will remember about the peanut butter although the seed seems to go down very well ;) Guess what? I spotted two tonight, I suppose I shouldn't be too surprised by that though!!

  32. Morning Glories in Round Rock,

    Thank you dear MG. The weather is still very wild here but we are not suffering as badly as some poor souls in other parts of the country so for that I am very thankful.
    I have only recently found out that your Buckeyes and our Conkers are one and the same! Your candy sounds delicious.
    I hope the weather where you are is kind to you and I wish you a very happy Thanksgiving.


    Thank you. I could imagine you doing the same with a Nature table and particularly drawing whatever you had collected as you are so talented in that way.

  33. Midmarsh John,

    Thank you John. It was a delightful encounter and I am working on getting pictures ;) It seems to visit the tray regularly and I suspect has been doing so for some time, whether the birds get a look in with the seed I'm not sure!


    Thank you. It was lovely to see the mouse and I have seen it again since so am hoping for some decent photos eventually.
    How nice of you to mention the poems, it does get increasingly more difficult to find appropriate ones but I shall keep trying :)

  34. Dixxe's Doodles,

    Thank you. That is very interesting about the berry you saw, I suspect it was the same type as they are natives of America and only an introduced plant here.


    Thank you Sherry. We certainly have been experiencing some very wild weather lately, we live on a hill so thankfully are not affected by flooding and our area in general has been very lucky compared to some parts of the country.
    Now why doesn't it surprise me that you have always loved Nature too? :)

  35. ssb,

    today is our thanksgiving so i am grateful for life. thanks for sharing your beauty with us.
    happy november.

  36. Tony nile life,

    Welcome and thank you. I have always found it slightly odd that people feed bread to swans as I believe their preferred food is water plants, insects and snails!
    What an awful shame about the Welsh Harlequin duck!
    Like you, I saw birds before I had a camera which I really regret not having been able to take photos of and have never seen since.


    Welcome and thank you very much for 'finding' me and for your kind comments. The Sloe gin does sound nice, perhaps I should try making it ;)
    How lovely to see a swan flying over the garden, my husband's parents had a canal boat when he was a child so most of his holidays were spent on it and he has told me of the swans which used to fly over and the 'special' noise their wings made. Those really are the sort of moments which I think are more precious than anything money can buy :)

  37. Ken Browne,

    Thank you Ken. I have become very fond of Herons, they have a special aura about them I think.


    Thank you Karen, you are very kind and I am blushing a little here :)


    Thank you Keith, I hope you have fully recovered from your 'man flu' now ;)
    I'm so glad you enjoyed it, I think we all need a bit of a lift at the moment.
    I can still remember the bangs from the larder and seeing the mess it caused :)

  38. Hi Jan. Sorry for the delay in catching up with you but so much to do since returning from Norfolk.

    Gosh, I wish I could reach those parts as easily as Mrs Mallard. Now..collecting Elderflowers..exploding bottles, now that bring back vivid memories. Can't actually recall how many time I helped to clean out the larder!

    Great post. Cheers FAB.

  39. What a treat again to see the birds, butterflies, and berries! I loved the preening session and your words!

    Our magpies look pretty similar but I don't understand why they're called Asian magpie-robins! Seeing your picture of the heron, I'm hoping that they visit my coconut tree one of these days. They usually the cooler months.

    I'd love to see more of your summer and autumn photos. Cheers!!

  40. Chris,

    Thank you. I'm really pleased you saw a heron recently, I didn't realise they are rare in Iceland, what a thrill that must have been!
    As you know they are common here but I love seeing them, it always seems 'special' to me when I do.


    Thank you dear Lou, I'm so glad you are back amongst us! The mouse is still visiting the tray, of course being nocturnal it isn't easy to get photos but hopefully...
    Lots of love and XXXX to you and Poppy.


    Thank you. I hope you and your family had a wonderful Thanksgiving day.
    A very happy November to you too :)

  41. You take such lovely photos. I'm looking forward to seeing some of the little mouse.

  42. The Early Birder,

    Thank you Frank, no worries, I am always struggling to catch up ;)
    How funny that you too are familiar with the hazards of homemade wine. I seem to remember there was quite an aroma for a while in the larder each time that happened!

    Kanak Hagjer,

    Thank you Kanak. I looked up the Magpie you mention and it seems it is similar in size and stance to our European Robin although not in colour of course. Its size is about 7.5 inches long whereas our Magpie is about 18 inches and nothing like the Robin at all.
    It was interesting to find out about your Magpie-robin, I am learning so much about 'foreign' birds through blogging :)

  43. Fantastic shots !! The Birds are really beautiful !!You are really so knowledgeable !! Everytime your post is full of information !! Great post again !!Unseen Rajasthan

  44. Unseen Rajasthan,

    Thank you Bharat. I'm so glad you enjoyed it, I'm not sure about knowledgeable although it is very kind of you to say so. I do find the internet is a great source of information when I am researching my subjects :)

  45. I love the duck preening sequence.. It really behaved for a photography sequence.
    Here no rain, but snow and darkness... I guess we are all desperately waiting for the spring to come again ;-)

  46. Thank you for the fine stroll down your memory lane. I much enjoyed it.

  47. Hi Jan, I’m sorry, I thought I had left a comment here :-)

    Love the idea of a hidden feeder. I spread mine around my garden too and some are slightly hidden too. It’s great fun trying feeding experiments isn’t it?

    Very nice bird shots, loved the mallard preening series. They are great birds to get photos of aren’t they?

    Looking at your butterfly shots again really shakes things up for me… they seem so far away now as frost has taken hold of my garden. Love the admiral shot. Love the heron in flight too.

    Favs here though are the berry shots and stories. That conker though… fit for a calendar :-D

    Hope you are feeling better and will be back to full health very soon :-D

  48. Beautiful and fantastic shots !! This post is so nice !! Great..Unseen Rajasthan

  49. Hi,
    Just passing by to wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy new year... See you in 2010.
    Cheers, Chris.

  50. Hi Jan,
    Enjoyed going through your posts.Had missed quite a bit.Enjoy your Christmas!!!

  51. Hi Jan
    Hope all is well with you and you are feeling better Belated greetings for Xmas, and A Happy New Year 2010 to you and yours

  52. Chris

    It's Time to Live


    Unseen Rajasthan



    A very late thank you to all of you!

  53. Really nice photo of the cardinal. Also, great point about appreciating areas of land that have been preserved.


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