Tags: garden

Dublin

All creatures alive and dead

Had a gorgeously hot and sunny couple of days here, which in the last couple of hours has suddenly become that deep gloom that signals either a solar eclipse or a heavy rain shower. Unsurprisingly, it turned out to be the latter.

Presumably this is because our cats have begun sacrificing mice to appease the Great Sky God. For some weeks now Pixie has been intermittently trotting into the house just after dusk with a tiny grey mouse clamped proudly between her teeth. I, in turn, have been rescuing said mouse, checking that it appears uninjured, and releasing it back into the wild where it runs off to forage happily (until its next impromptu trip to our hall carpet).

Last night however I was summoned to the hall by Pixie's plaintive cries, and discovered her patting her pet mouse indignantly. It had rudely stopped moving, probably on account of the gaping hole in its side. Sad. Even later last night I went into the kitchen to find our other cat, Charcoal, excitedly patting yet another small rodent in the hopes that it would rise from the dead and do a bit more scampering. This one had no injuries, but was just as deceased. Clearly it's time to keep the cats in of an evening, in order to spare the local mouse community any further atrocities.

On a positive wildlife note our swifts are once again nesting in the eaves of our house. Every so often they launch from the rafters in a high-speed parabolic curve and whoosh past your ear.

We also went for a nice walk in the local park on Saturday, which has some really big old trees, and came across a nesting pair of woodpeckers (possibly the same ones that visit our garden, but just as possibly a different pair). They were scouring the bark of an Ash tree, which had three neat circular holes drilled into its trunk. I've never seen an actual hole made by a woodpecker, so that was quite cool. I'm still amazed that a bird can drill-out such a large space. We could hear the near-constant twittering of what we assume were woodpecker chicks coming from the general direction of the holes.

Which reminds me - Springwatch starts again tonight. Bill Oddie has been replaced by Chris Packham, in what is almost certainly an improvement. I remember Chris from kid's TV, when he had the same hairdo as Limahl from Kajagoogoo.

Dublin

Springwatch

No inhabitants in our bird box yet. Tantalisingly we actually saw a blue tit leaving the box a couple of weeks ago, but we weren't recording from the camera at the time. (Naturally.) Since then a couple of suspicious-looking feathers have appeared, but no actual sign of nesting. They're probably having trouble getting a mortgage.

On the plus side, last month we were pleased to realise that we have not one but two Great Spotted Woodpeckers visiting our bird feeders on a daily basis (they particularly like a hanging length of birch log plugged with bits of fat feeder). We've only seen them both together once -- if it weren't for that we'd have no clue it wasn't the same bird. The only difference between males and females is that males have a red flash on the back of the head, but we've only seen clearly enough to know that one of the two is female. If it turns out we have a pair nesting nearby that would be fantastic. Very pretty birds.

We also have several Dunnocks (aka Hedge Sparrows) hopping around our garden for the first time this year. They look a bit like a cross between a sparrow and a wren. The bird book reckons these are wee timorous birdies who are supposed to dart nervously from the undergrowth, but ours are bold as brass - all over the bird table and the garden. They've been fluttering around recently doing what we think is either Mortal Kombat or courtship displays; either that or they enjoy driving cats to distraction.

My wife still goes out for her nightly Newt Census. We're regularly seeing seven palmate newts lurking in or around the pond just after dark which is more than we could ever have hoped when we built the pond. Very gratifying. They don't actually do much, but it's the next best thing to having lizards in the garden.

Or maybe this is the next best thing to having lizards in the garden...

Dublin

Easter

Had a great Easter weekend involving no (count it) no work, and lots of relaxing. We had friends over for most of the weekend which was fun.

We did a pseudo-BBQ on Saturday (cooked indoors, eaten outdoors to ensure that Janet didn't get any undercooked meat) which was lovely. We did some potato and tomato 'curry' as a side dish which in no sense is a curry involving only some chopped potatoes, tomatoes and onions fried with mustard seeds, turmeric and coriander. Very nice, very mild.

Then on Sunday the sky was blue and the sun was hot so we pottered around the garden fixing and weeding things while Janet's brother carved a new paddle for his canoe. The cats helped, of course. Here's Charcoal helping:



More helping here. Pixie helped too, but in a more sedentary way.

On Saturday night we watched Doctor Who (what I thought), which included a nice shout out to Tom Baker's first story 'Robot', but was otherwise slightly dull.

On Sunday we also watched Skellig on Sky, in which John Simm continued to be as great as he is in everything not called Doctor Who. I was expecting something slightly twee and cosy, which it was in places, but mostly it was surprisingly honest, real and edgy for a kids drama. A bit low key and moody, but otherwise quite interesting. It's possible that the moral is to talk to scabby-looking strangers, but I'll let that pass...

It's a good job we had the nice weekend because the weather has been relentlessly foggy ever since. Yesterday with sea fret (but we had a nice pub lunch anyway). Today with full-on fog and low cloud extending well inland. Chilly, dank, and gloomy. But at least we had a lovely Easter.

Dublin

Bird-brained schemes



You're looking at the inside of the bird box in our garden. The so far uninhabited bird box in our garden, but we're coming up on that time of year when a young bird's thoughts turn to twigs and trying to impress Bill Oddie, so fingers crossed.

Here's the outside:
We invested in a bird box with camera and attached it to the side of our garage, and then I painstakingly laid the cable (just visible on the photo). The set up was very easy - plug and play, essentially. There are audio, video and power leads coming off the camera unit (which can be disconnected at the box end mercifully), and thankfully all three cables (bound with a single coating) run the whole 30 metres so the power can be supplied from within the house. The cable snakes along the garage, around the kitchen, into the house next to our patio doors, and around the wall to our DVD recorder.

(Or nearly all the way to our DVD recorder. The 30m cable sounded like a lot, but when you're hugging the contours of a house it gets eaten up pretty rapidly. At present it has to take a slightly more direct route under our armchair rather than hugging the wall all the way, but I'm sure I can get a bit of extension cable. We thought about wireless ones but internet consensus seems to be that the wireless bird box cams can be a bit flaky, and despite a bit of faffing the only real difficulty I had with this one was getting the cable through the wall and into the house.)

We're really happy with it. We now have a bird box with a live feed that we can watch on the TV and record from. The camera seems to be in focus, shoots colour in the day and infrared when light levels are too low, and has a built-in microphone which has already picked up bird song and the sound of birds hopping around the exterior of the box looking for insects.

We've been meaning to do this for years. We get hordes of birds in our garden and we know they nest all around us in the trees, and even in our rafters. You already get a fantastic view of them feeding from our kitchen window, from where the outside of the new bird box is clearly visible. We just want to go that one step further1.

On the downside it cost us a fair chunk of money. It's this one as endorsed by Simon King. There are many cheaper ones on the market it has to be said! Ultimately we decided that we may as well buy a decent one rather than risk it being poor quality. It also comes with a bird feeder that the camera can slot into if the little buggers persistently refuse to nest...

*waits expectantly for birds to move in*

*drums fingers*

To be honest we've had three sparrow boxes up on the back of the house for over a year now without any sign of habitation, so I have no illusions about how quickly we might get a lodger. On the other hand the new box is well away from the house and several blue tits and coal tits have shown an interest already while foraging, so I'm quite hopeful. Possibly a "room to let" sign next to the bird table might help.

Progress reports will follow as and when we, y'know, have any progress.

--
1 Also it gives the cats something to watch on TV. You should have seen Pixie's ears perk up when the sound of twittering started coming from the speakers.

Dublin

Newts: This Time It's Personal

Our newts are still here. Hurray! The pond froze over very convincingly several times over the last couple of months and I'd begun to fear the worst, but today Janet began cleaning out plants and gunge and general detritus and found both an adult newt and a baby newtlet1.



The little one still has gills but is much bigger than the last ones we saw back in September - at least an inch long now. The older one looks like a Palmate newt, which is the kind we thought we had last year. If it's been in the pond all winter it must be very good at holding its breath and own a thick woolen scarf. Maybe it hid in our woodpile and has just decided to pop into the pond for a quick bath. Who knows.

Janet is extremely pleased. Newts are one of the main reasons we built the pond.
--
1 Technical term.

Dublin

Leaf peeping? Is that something we do now?

It's really windy outside, with autumn leaves whipping past the window and collecting in rustling heaps that creep around our drive like sand dunes. Very cool. Our three-legged cat Pixie has been driven into a state of nervous hyperactivity all day, dashing from window to window and trying to bat leaves with her paw through the glass. She was less keen on actually being outdoors, since it's quite chilly.

All the more surprising, then, that we couldn't find her in the house this evening. Being outdoors in the dark, windy drizzle seemed a bit intrepid. An exhaustive search finally located her, nestled in the cocoon of warm air between the sofa and the radiator. Snoozing. That sounds about right.

Dublin

Cheesy Peas

It's been another bring-work-home-in-the-evening kind of week for both of us, and Janet is working on Saturday too, so we were very glad to have Friday off. We decided to head down to my native Yorkshire and visit the Harrogate Flower Show so that Janet could spend her hard-earned cash buying Even More Plants to squeeze into the garden.

How to tell you're in the North of England: On the way past York we found ourselves behind a Lorry transporting Mushy Pea Fritters (from Lockwoods, "the Mushy Peas Specialists"). No really. Take a look at that photo and tell me you don't want to throw up just a little.

At the show we picked up a 'wooden man carved into a tree trunk' sculpture, which is currently looking for a home among the tree ferns at the foot of our garden. I think it's possible to overdo this kind of garden ornamentation, but I have to say it looks pretty cool.

We were very lucky with the weather which miraculously held off from its scheduled pissing-it-down until we were safely back in the car and heading home.

I seem to have acquired a headache at some point during the day, but that's probably because our cat Pixie decided to try to find us at 7 a.m. this morning by deploying the feline equivalent of sonar - this involves sitting in the hall downstairs and miaowing loudly until you hear a response, then (and only then) trotting happily upstairs and jumping onto your owner's head.

Dublin

Newts: The Next Generation

It had been a while since we'd seen any newts in our pond, having at one stage counted nine newts swimming around simultaneously. We'd more or less decided that the newts had left the pond, as newts are (so they tell me) wont to do.

Then, on the very day my wife declared that if we didn't see a newt she'd give up, we found the tiniest of tiny baby newts (okay, larvae). And then two more. These really are small: only just over a centimetre long, about the size of a 1p coin. They have little gills and four tiny legs. Awww.



I've no idea how many others there may be lurking in the depths of our small pond, or what the chances of them surviving are, but this is a very cool discovery.

Dublin

Pond Life

Last year we built a pond. The construction process was fairly arduous for a soft northern shite like my good self. (There are various other pictures from the construction process here.)

One year on, I'm really pleased with the way it's naturalised in, something that owes a great deal to my wife planting lots of things, and very little to me watching her plant lots of things.

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Best of all it's full of wildlife, something we only faintly dreamed of one year ago. I'm genuinely amazed at how quickly the local fauna have moved in. They include various frogs and newts, about a million snails, some strange wormy things, and enough insect larvae to stage a 1950s B Movie. Today we encountered this lovely frog which poked its head above water between torrential showers, and obligingly posed for me:



There's another picture of it here.

We also went out for our regular Newt Watch the other night and discovered a hedgehog quietly snaffling all the dried meal worms we'd put out for the birds. Awwww. Being very soft, we're now putting out meal worms every night for the hedgehog. EDIT: And it was there tonight.

EDIT2: Huh. The pictures weren't working with 'new' Facebook links, but it's all fixed now.