Monday, 28 July 2014

Operation Garden Meadow - Part 4

I hadn't been to Marks Mansions for two weeks, so on Saturday and Sunday I was dying to see if any of my cuttings or seeds had taken.
I had previously planted a pot of wild foxglove seeds, a pot of wild sweet pea seeds, two pots of native honeysuckle cuttings and a pot of mixed wild flower seeds. And I have had some success. The only seeds that haven't 'taken' are the sweet peas. The whole of the top of the pot was covered in slug and snail trails, so I'm guessing they had a feast on my seedlings. I don't have any more seeds so will have to harvest some more on my next trip to the woods.
But what pleased me the most was at that two of my 13 honeysuckle cuttings have new tiny leaves on them. I'm so chuffed. I hope some of the others root too, so I'll have more stock in case anything happens to any of them.
It was incredibly warm in the garden on Sunday, and I didn't really feel like doing much at all, but eventually with a gin and lemonade under my belt I found the energy to plant out three of the self seeded sunflowers.
With all the recent hot weather and me not being on site to water my 'patch', the mind-your-own-business that I had started to plant around the slabs for the stepping stone path, had mostly dried up to a crispy brown mess. I harvested some more from the Lady of the Manors spreading pile by the conservatory and with more care than last time, buried some of it in a very wet trench along the edge of one of the slabs. I watered both the ground and the matted plant very well.
Whilst pottering about a tiny toad emerged from under the membrane. After taking the photo below I carefully placed him on one of the tiles on the new insect/toad hotel that I constructed a few weeks ago. It took just seconds for Little Toad to crawl into the hotel. My first amphibian resident !
We have another toad in the garden, he's about two thirds bigger than Little Toad and he resides in the compost bin. As he seems so happy there, we haven't bothered trying to move him. If he doesn't like it there, he can move out himself.
As I'm not planning to plant my meadow up until April of next year, I've re-covered my area in membrane. However the Lady of the Manor has her half of the bottom of the garden too, and she's itching to get some plants in the ground. So between us we've started digging it over.
The top of the slightly sloping area is really compacted and quite hard work. As you move down the slope it becomes easier to dig into. Mum had a bag of rotted manure left over from a previous project so I chucked some of that down and dug it in where I could. I'm hoping that where I couldn't dig, the worms and critters from the manure will help break up the soil a bit.
Mum keeps saying we need to get a big strong man in to dig over the ground, but to be honest I'd rather do the work myself. I'll get more satisfaction next year whilst enjoying the new garden, if I can say with hand on heart that all the work was done by us alone.
However the thought of a tanned, topless, sweaty, rippling muscly hunk of a male digging over the soil whilst we watch from the luxury of a seat with a glass of wine in our hands, is also quite tempting......
Anyway, enough of that ! Back to the blog....
As you can see below the Lady of the Manor has already got quite a collection of plants to put in her new shady patch..............
She is in danger of doing what she has already previously done. Buying too many plants then wondering where to put them all !!
After sweating my way through a few hours of digging and planting, I captured this view from the conservatory looking down the garden whilst I supped on my second gin and lemonade......
Just lush.
Last but not least, on Saturday night the Lady of the Manor and myself took a torch down to the buddlia tree which is in a corner of my area of the 'estate'. Buddlias not only attract butterflies. At night their perfume also attracts moths, and that's what we watched for a while.
When we went back into the conservatory we found a couple of moths had made their way indoors, but out of reach. So we left the windows open, turned off the light and hoped they would find their way back outside.
The following morning we thought we had succeeded until I found one of them on the conservatory rug.........
A stunning Elephant Hawkmoth. For a while he sat on my hand warming himself up by fluttering his beautiful wings, and just as I was about to place him on the wisteria trunk to sleep the day away in shade, he took off and disappeared from view. Lovely.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Getting my Kestrel 'fix' at Cranford Park

Before I begin my blog post today, just a quick update on Spike the Hedgehog. He escaped from his 'pen' during the night, so must have been feeling much better after a long rest, some water and a bit of food. Mum reported his pen was completely trashed so Spike must have been desperate to get out. Good luck for the future Spike.
Back to today. I'd arranged to meet Mark C at Cranford Park. He has become as addicted to the Kestrel family as I am and wanted to try a different camera and lens out on them. I arrived before Mark and after briefly looking for the Little Owls, and not finding any, I headed out in to the grassy meadow.
First thing that caught my attention was two of the three juveniles squabbling. They were quite far away, so my photos aren't that clear, but they were definitely being quite aggressive towards each other.  

Later in the day, we found one of the juveniles with some fresh feather damage on it's wing.

I'm starting to think this was one of the juveniles that I'd seen squabbling with it's sibling. Luckily the damage seems to be more cosmetic than anything else, and several times  today we watched her flying ok, although her take off wasn't as fast as the others. But once in the air she had no issues.
Scruffy and her siblings spent a lot of time today on the grassy paths again, and also practise hovering just a few metres from the ground. The tree guards are also  proving to be very handy for the juveniles to perch on whilst scanning the grass. This is a very important lesson, as when they reach full adult hood and claim their own territories, a lot of their time will be spent on high perches like the tops of phone poles, looking for prey with their amazing eyesight. Cranford Park at the moment, is a bit like a Kestrel Academy. The juveniles are learning more and more each day.
When the birds weren't hunting on the grassy paths, or flying, or hovering, they were fluffing themselves up and preening their new adult feathers.


Several times today we saw all five birds, though both adults rarely came on to the grass. I managed one distant photo of the adult female.
and one distant shot of all three of the juveniles. Scruffy is on the left hand side.

Today I'm not going to post any photos of the Kestrels flying or hovering, basically because all of the photos I took are crap. The Kestrels don't care if the sun is behind you, or gone behind a cloud. The little darlings aren't that considerate. So every flight and hover photo was either shot against the sun, the bird wasn't facing me or the shot was too dark. So instead, here are six of my favourite perched photos taken  today. You can clearly see by my photos that we were really fighting against the odd light today. But it was just nice to observe these beautiful birds of prey at such close quarters.


So why do we keep spotting them on the grassy paths ? They're practising to hunt, and their prey are these.....
Grasshoppers. Plus the occasional butterfly or dragonfly. If you walk along the grassy paths, it's as if they become alive. Grasshoppers are hopping all around your feet. The sounds are really quite amazing. If you watch the juvenile Kestrels when they're on the paths, you can see them both listening and watching intently, before suddenly 'running' towards it's chosen grasshopper and grabbing it.
The photo that I really want to capture is of a Kestrel with a grasshopper in its talon or beak. I came close to it today, but my photo was out of focus. I'm hoping to get back to the park one afternoon next week. So if you are walking through and see a woman flat on her front with a  long lens camera resting on a rucksack, don't worry, it'll just be me. If I have a fag in my hand, it will mean I've been unsuccessful again !!
Lastly, a quick update on the Little Owl family. The last time any of my friends managed to see and photograph one was last Monday. This morning I briefly heard a juvenile one 'hissing' but couldn't locate it, and both Mark and I heard an adult calling later in the afternoon. We found the tree it was calling from, but it flew off towards the ancient woods before we could locate and photograph it.
Sue G and I had already previously seen one of the teenage juveniles eating a mouse, so I'm guessing the youngsters are already catching their own food, which possibly means they will  soon be moving on. The adults will stay. Occasionally Little Owls hatch a second brood of  chicks. As they had an early one due to our  great spring, it wouldn't surprise me if we see another batch of juvenile Little Owls in August. Last year there was  just one brood, again due to our weather. Spring 2013 was cold and wet which not only affected our Little Owls, but also our Kestrels. They too fledged their youngsters much later in the summer than this year.
So overall, it was a very pleasant day. The predicted rain didn't fall, we both got our Kestrel photo 'fix' and I got to sit and study my favourite birds of prey for hours.

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Opertion Garden Meadow part 3 - with an extra special guest

It was over to Marks Mansion this morning, to finish laying the stepping stone slabs at the bottom of the garden.
I'd just got off the bus and was taking the shortcut when I spotted something on a grass verge by the road. It was a Hedgehog, a large one, and it was laid out flat with all four legs splayed. Fearing the worst, I stroked its nose and it moved and soon curled up in to a ball. It was alive ! I checked him over (I'm 99% certain it's a male) and there were no maggots, which may have indicated an old injury, and there was no blood, which may have indicated a fresh injury.  But why was it out in the open in hot sunshine ? And why had it been laying flat out ? I couldn't leave it, so carefully put it in my bag and took it to Mum's.
We put it in a cardboard box with some water and dried cat biscuits while we decided what to do.
I'm not going to name all the wildlife associations that I called. They all do a great job. But it appears not many of them work weekends, which I found very strange. One of them even told me they weren't interested as they had no room to take in any more hogs. Another very well known association doesn't even let you speak directly to anyone at weekends, you have to call back during week day office hours. Several times I was referred to local Vets, and they all said their surgery hours were now closed. After calling every one I could think of, I tried one more Vet which is very near to where Mum lives. They suggested as the hog wasn't in any apparent pain or suffering, was drinking water and eating food, that we should keep him over the weekend and get him checked over by an association or vet on Monday morning.
Well the Lady of the Manor had no problems with that at all. We had already both got quite attached to our little hog. We called him Spike, and set him up in a little run on the patio. We don't want him in a cardboard box all weekend. Spikes temporary home has a shallow dish of water and another of food, and we made him a den out of a couple of house bricks, a few old terracotta tiles and a big bundle of leaf litter.
He made straight for the den when we put him in, and for the rest of the day we checked on him hourly by lifting up one of the tiles. It didn't take him long to curl up in the leaf litter and fall asleep.
I did take a little vid clip of him snoring, but for some reason I cannot upload it to this blog post.
When I left Marks Mansion later in the day, the Lady of the Manor was already planning on what to give Spike for his tea ! One of her friends on another forum recommended we soak the cat biscuits in water and mash them up a bit, and also recommended we feed Spike some mashed cooked carrots.
At this rate Spike isn't going to want to be released back in to the wild !!
Because Mum's garden doesn't have hogs visiting, we cannot release him there. All we can do now is look after him until Monday. Let's hope the little man makes it.
So while Spike slept and snored, I went back to Operation Garden Meadow.
When I mentioned on my Facebook page that I was planning to plant a small meadow, a very dear friend of mine messaged me to say he had some left over seeds from the Kew Garden 'Grow Wild' project and would send them to me. I was expecting a couple of packets of seeds, but look what I received instead.......
Ten packets of un-opened seeds, plus two Bee 'hotels' and a really useful guide !! I'm absolutely over the moon. Thank you so much Derik. The coffee and cake are on me when we next meet up. Knowing I had more than enough seeds for my patch at the bottom of the 'estate', I couldn't resist sowing some seeds in a pot so I can get a little show of them this year, rather than having to wait until next year to see the meadow flowers.
After that I finished placing and laying all the slabs for the stepping stone path. Because of the slight slope of the garden, I've had to position the slabs in to the soil like mini steps, ascending downwards.

At the top of the garden the plant 'mind-your-own-business' has considerably spread. I really love  this hardy little plant. It's mat forming so suppresses weeds, and it's fast growing too. I know it's not really a native wild plant, but it will certainly do well planted in between the slabs while I source some native saxifrage and other low growing and spreading hardy plants. I placed some out today around one of the slabs, and am really pleased with the effect.

So it was a very interesting and productive day. I'm back at Marks Mansion next week to maybe help Mum dig over her patch, and to maybe dig over mine before covering it with membrane again until next year.

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Two in one day - London Wetland Centre and Cranford Park

I had arranged to meet up with a few of the regulars at Barnes this morning, and it really was nice to have a coffee, banter and catch up with them all (thank you John C, Therese, John F, Phillip, Martin, Joe, Rick and Keith). As always with these types of meet ups, we all wander off and re-meet for more coffee later.
The Centre was alive with woodpeckers today. The most prolific being the big Greens. We saw them in trees, on path ways and even on top of the Sand Martin bank.

Spot the Woody
There were also good numbers of Great Spotted Woodpeckers around too, males and females and juveniles.
From the Peacock tower and with the aid of Phillips bird scope, I could finally see the nesting resident Little Ringed Plover. It's quite hard to see with just the bins, and unusually for these birds the nest isn't on shingle, but on a open short patch of greenery. Impossible to get a photo of the female on the nest, but as luck would have it the resident male chased an intruding male right into my eye view.
The intruding male

Resident male on the left, intruder being chased on the right
Resident male having a victory feed
Elsewhere  there were good numbers of Small Skippers...
The Wildlife Garden wasn't looking as good as I've seen it in previous years, but it did give me some more ideas and inspiration for my own patch back at Mum's.

Common Lizards were also out in good numbers, but none of my photos came out very well.
After a quick bite to eat I made a short visit to the Wildside area.
One of the Common Terns was again fishing very close to the bridge in the first channel.
And by Rattys hut I finally managed some half decent photos of some damsels and dragons.
female Blue-tailed Damselfly

Blue-tailed Damselflies mating
female Emperor Dragonfly ovi-posting

Five of us then went on to Cranford Park hoping the Little Owls would put on another show like Friday. They didn't oblige. But we had fun anyway taking photos of each other.....
John F and Phillip

Joe and Rick
And the Kestrels won where the Little Owls failed.
We watched all three juveniles flying around, landing on the tree guards, practising their hovering and eating crickets and grasshoppers from the grassy paths, often joined by both of the adult birds.
We also witnessed the juveniles often being harassed by the resident Magpies.

So not a bad day out at all. The company and banter was great, and it was just a shame the Little Owls weren't playing the game. We did spot two very briefly, found by John 'Eagle Eyes' Few, but they weren't in the mood to pose for photos.
And lastly I saw my first Cinnabar moth caterpillars at Cranford Park this afternoon. The patches of Common Ragwort will soon be full of these colourful little critters.

Saturday, 5 July 2014

Operation Garden Meadow - Part 2

After yesterdays success of finding and taking cuttings of the native honeysuckle I wanted for my meadow garden, this morning it was straight to Marks Mansion with the cuttings in a plastic bag. An hour later I had two decent sized pots of compost, one with seven soft wood cuttings of the native honeysuckle, Lonicera periclymenum, and one with six soft wood cuttings of another honeysuckle, whose true identification we don't know yet.
I also prepared two pots of seed compost for the perennial sweet pea and foxglove seeds that I collected. Below are their seed cases, perennial sweet peas on the left and foxgloves on the right
All four pots are now in my 'patch' at the bottom of the 'estate'. I'm not due back to Marks Mansion until next Saturday so will be very excited to see if my new 'babies' have germinated and taken.
The log pile in Mum's corner was looking messy.....
So I tidied it up a bit and put a few of the old terracotta roof tiles in between......
I had enough of the shorter logs and tiles left over to start a new little log pile on my side of the garden too....
The tree trunks on the right of the photo above, is where I'm going to plant my native honeysuckle eventually.
The birds have already started to help my cause. We had a bucket filled with very old dried out soil that we used to put under the feeders to catch the seed the birds dropped. And with the sunny weather, and occasional rain showers, some of the seeds have germinated. I now have five sunflower plants, plus some mixed grasses.
For now I'll leave them in situ, and maybe plant one or two of the sunflowers in the ground against the fence on my next visit.
The Lady of the Manor had decided she didn't like the path layout I created on my last visit, so after discovering another large slab underneath my bird hide (I'd forgotten it was there !), she created a new path layout. Well she told me where to place them while I done all the lifting and lowering.
I'm not going to complain, it's given me more room for my meadow !!
In the photo above you can see the heavily pruned forsythia behind the compost bin, the buddlia 'tree' in the right hand corner, the sunflower bucket and mini log pile against the fence on the right hand side, and the two metre long trays behind the slabs at the bottom. I'm going to sink the trays into the ground, fill them with small pebbles and gravel, and that will then be the access path to the compost bin. On the left hand side at the back, is Mum's rambling rose. It's an old variety rose that drops its petals quickly but on the upside it does provide autumn hips. Therefore I have had my orders not to go near it with the loppers !!
Before I continue, just a quick update on Mum's condition. She had an oncology appointment a few days ago and her consultant is really pleased with how much she has come on after all that horrific treatment she had to endure. I knew today that she was feeling better as we went out for a short walk up to the church and back. This for me, was a big milestone. I've not been able to go for a walk with my Mum for over two months, and we had a nice chat about the bottom of the garden and what to do next.
It must have been the fresh air, as the Lady of the Manor has now decided she doesn't want the new garden path to be laid on membrane after all. She's come round to my way of thinking and wants the meadow plants to reach right up to the path stepping slabs, with some planting in between the gaps.
So when we got back home, I set Mum the task of drawing the bottom of the garden to scale, while I shot out and started placing the slabs in to the ground before she changed her mind again !
And to finish my blog, here's a couple of rare photos of me working !!
No, I'm not trying to lift a slab with the spade, I'm actually scoring the ground around it so I know exactly where to dig. The first two are snug in the ground and slightly raised at the front to create a mini step, as this area slopes slightly. Two down, six to go. Then rain stopped play !
In this photo, you can see Mum's part of the bottom of the garden, the area to the left of me. Not very big is it !!! Ha ha ha.
So the final cost score for the bottom of the garden so far is Wendy £0 and Patsy £5 (she's already brought a Tiarella for her part of the new garden).