Archive | January 2016

RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch 2016

Every year, on the last weekend in January, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) asks the British public to take part in the largest wildlife survey in the world: The Big Garden Birdwatch. We are asked to sit and watch our gardens for an hour, and to count what species and numbers of birds we see during that time. The results help the scientists at the RSPB to get an idea of the health of our bird populations.

Chap and I do this every year. Normally we do it at the same time, with one of us watching the front of the cottage (where our small garden is) and the other watching our tiny back yard. This year we’re doing it slightly differently: I did my stint yesterday, and Chap is doing his today as I type.

Our kitchen has a window that looks out over the back yard. There is a bird feeder with sunflower seeds hanging about a metre from the window, and we have a ‘borrowed landscape’ of our neighbours’ garden, with its shrubs and trees and fat balls in a feeder. I have to admit that I probably slightly skewed the results yesterday: we were sitting at the kitchen table when Chap glanced up and saw a goldcrest (Regulus regulus), creeping about and poking for bugs among the white mossy froth of the woolly aphids that live on the old apple tree. We haven’t seen a goldcrest in the garden for years. At that point I said ‘I’m starting the Bird Watch right now’.

Female Goldcrest (Regulus Regulus). Photo by Missy Osborn.

Female goldcrest (Regulus Regulus). Photo by Missy Osborn.

It’s always a very zen time, just taking an hour to do nothing other than watch the wildlife around us. I watched two robins (Erithacus rubecula) having a noisy territorial dispute, with lots of chest puffing and chasing each other, and the occasional physical spat. They were so wrapped up in their fighting that they didn’t notice the third robin who crept in and had a good feed while they were scrapping.

Robin (Erithracus rubecula). Photo by Ramin Nakisa.

Robin (Erithracus rubecula). Photo by Ramin Nakisa.

A pair of blackcaps (Sylvia atricapilla) visited the sunflower feeder too, separately, but I hope they are a breeding pair.

Male blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla). Photo by Spacebirdy.

Male blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla). Photo by Spacebirdy.

Female blackcap. Photo by Stefan Berndtsson.

Female blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla). Photo by Stefan Berndtsson.

The fat ball feeder attracted a gang of noisy house sparrows (Passer domesticus),

Male house sparrow (Passer domesticus). Photo by Lip Kee Yap.

Male house sparrow (Passer domesticus). Photo by Lip Kee Yap.

whereas the sunflower seed feeder was preferred by the even bigger gangs of goldfinches (Carduelis carduelis) – our most common garden bird here.

Goldfinch () Photo by Ómar Runólfsson.

Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis). Photo by Ómar Runólfsson.

Last year’s results are impressive: over half a million people took part, counting a total of 8,546,845 birds in total.

There is still time to take part: the survey runs til midnight.

RSPB website

Sunday stroll: Portland Bill

Today we went for a walk at Portland Bill, the most southerly point on the Isle of Portland. The Isle of Portland is a strange place, hanging off the bottom of Chesil Beach like a stony teardrop. The island is an outcrop of Jurassic limestone which has been valued as a building stone for centuries. If you know the Tower of London: that’s Portland Stone. And St Paul’s Cathedral. And Buckingham Palace. And the United Nations headquarters building in New York City. And the Auckland War Memorial Museum in New Zealand. I could go on …

The Isle of Portland seen from Ringstead Bay on a sunny summer's day. To the right of the photo is Weymouth.

The Isle of Portland seen from Ringstead Bay on a sunny summer’s day in 2012. To the right of the photo is Wyke Regis, near Weymouth. Chesil Beach – a narrow spit of land, or tombolo – joins the two.

Quarrying has created a weird and atmospheric landscape on the island, with worked-out quarries and others that are still in use, and piles of discarded, sub-standard stone and workings piled in heaps and dumped over the edges of the high cliffs.

At the southerly end of the island is Portland Bill, with its two lighthouses to warn ships of the rocks and the deadly currents – the Race – where the water of the English Channel churns around the tip of the island in a furious boiling wash of water. Pulpit Rock is all that remains of a stone arch that was cut away by quarrymen.

Portland Bill lighthouse.

Portland Bill lighthouse, and the other lighthouse (once the home of Marie Stopes) visible in the mid distance.

The Trinity House Obelisk, a daymarker to warn shipping off the coast during the day.

The Trinity House Obelisk, a daymarker to warn shipping off the coast during the day. All the land in the foreground is made ground, waste dumped by the quarrymen in centuries past.

Pulpit Rock.

Pulpit Rock.

It was a mild and windy day, and we scrambled down to a sea ledge to have a look at the stone and the seascape better.

Fossilliferous limestone exposed on the ledge by Pulpit Rock.

Fossiliferous limestone exposed on the ledge by Pulpit Rock.

Dumped rejected stone near Pulpit Rock. The black dot on the water is a cormorant - we watched it repeatedly dive for food.

Dumped, rejected stone on a waste heap near Pulpit Rock. The black dot on the water is a cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo) – we watched it repeatedly dive for food.

Earlier in the day we had been in Weymouth looking for jewellery goodies for my Etsy shop, and met this fellow in the car park:

Herring gull on the bonnet of our car in Weymouth.

Herring gull (Larus argentatus) on the bonnet of our car in Weymouth.

Rings that remind me of things: Part 6

Part six of an occasional series about rings in my Etsy shop that remind me of things.


For sale in my Etsy shop: click on photo for details.

For sale in my Etsy shop: click on photo for details.


Oktopus (2)

Octopus tentacle. Photo by Sanja B.

Part 1 was a ring that reminded me of an Iron Age hillfort, Part 2 was a ring that reminded me of an alien spaceship, Part 3 was a ring that reminded me of a cream horn, Part 4 was a ring that reminded me of a radio telescope, and Part 5 was a ring that reminded me of Noah’s Ark.

27 February 2016 UPDATE: The ring has now sold. Sorry!

A pied male blackbird

Today we saw a very unusual bird – a male blackbird (Turdus merula) with lots of white on his body, giving him a beautiful pied appearance.

IMG_2543 (2)

IMG_2544 (2)

The photos aren’t very good because I had my not-very-sophisticated camera on zoom and was photographing through a window.

This is what a male blackbird should look like:

Male blackbird. Photo by Sannse.

Male blackbird. Photo by Sannse.

I’m hoping our pied visitor will come back and that we can get some better photos of him.

Ground control to Major Tim

Time to put your helmet on … Now it’s time to leave the capsule if you dare.

Tm Kopra on the left and Tim Peake on the left. ISSin the background.

Colonel Tim Kopra (US) on the left and Major Tim Peake (UK) on the right in the ISS.

The UK’s Major Tim Peake is, as I write, enjoying his first space walk outside the International Space Station. He has today become the first Briton to undertake a space walk under the British flag. Woop woop.

I heard at the end of BBC Radio 4’s World at 1 a lovely exchange as Tim stepped out of the ISS:

Tim Peake: Okay, I’m coming out.

Tim Kopra: Okay.

TP: Beautiful sunset.

TK: Oh, I know.

Reid Wiseman: Tim, it’s really cool seeing that Union Jack go outside, since it’s explored all over the world, now it’s explored space.

TP: It’s great to be wearing it, a huge privilege. A proud moment.

That was a really nice touch by Reid Wiseman, the astronaut guiding Tim Peake and Tim Kopra from mission control at NASA.

The 6-hour long space walk is being live blogged by the BBC, but even better, you can watch it live on NASA Television.

And just because:

Sunny days in Devon

When the weather is gloomy and wet and miserable, I like to look through my photos to be reminded of sunnier days. Here are some I took of a garden in Salcombe in Devon, designed by fab garden and landscape designer Jo Stopher:

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My poor photography skills don’t do justice to this fab rooftop garden. Yes! Really! The garden is planted on the flat roof of a modern house: the last photo shows a hint of the garden ‘up top’, seen from below. It’s so clever in the way the garden borrows the landscape beyond, seemlessly merging the rooftop planting with the surrounding trees and plants and scenery.

Jo is a stunning designer, with a particular expertise in seaside planting. I met Jo when I was writing a feature for The English Garden on a garden she had designed; I was very lucky to be shown round a few of her creations in the gorgeous South Hams of Devon, including the one in the photos here, and will post some more photos of her creations soon.

Everyday sexism at the BBC

Are things ever going to change? We’ve known about sexism for centuries; we’ve agreed something should be done about it for decades, and yet it continues. 51% of the population of the UK is female, not that you’d know it from the BBC’s output.

The sausagefest that is the BBC.

The sausagefest that is the BBC. They’ve got ethnic minorities sorted; how about tackling the biggest, most under-represented minority of all – women?

I was looking for something to listen to today as I worked, so went to the BBC iPlayer for radio. I chose documentaries, because I can always find something new and quirky and interesting there.

After scrolling through a few pages of offerings, and listening to one on Ian Fleming and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, on page 3 I was struck by something that starkly illustrates the BBC’s problem with sexism. Each programme has a thumbnail picture accompanying it. It might represent the subject matter, or it might represent the presenter. Here’s what I noticed.

37 men in photos, including one of the back of a man’s head

1 photo of an all-boys choir, with 32 boys

7 women in photos, including one photo of a female mouth and one of a female belly dancer in silhouette

1 drawing of a female head

1 drawing showing signage for male and female figures

3 photos showing figures or body parts whose sex couldn’t be discerned (1 Anthony Gormley figure, 2 photos of a hand. They all look male to me, but I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt.)

So we see a total of 70 representations of males, and 9 of females of women. That’s 88.6% males, 11.4% females. Even taking the boy’s choir out of the equation, we are left with 37 men to 9 women. That’s a ratio of less than 1 in 5 of women to men: 19.6% women and 80.4% men.

I know this is just a snapshot and is highly unscientific, but if you try it over and over again across the BBC, it is a pattern that is repeated: male presenters, male writers, male subjects, male viewpoints dominate.

Where are the women?