Archive | January 2018

RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch 2018

Yesterday we took part in the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch, an annual survey of wild birds seen in the gardens and public spaces of the UK, which gives a snapshot of the health of our native bird population. Last year’s survey recorded some 8 million birds, with around half a million people taking part.

During my stint I had the most amazing encounter. The garden was busy with all sorts of birds, including blackbirds (Turdus merula) and goldfinches (Carduelis carduelis) and long-tailed tits (Aegithalos caudatus), feeding on the sunflower seeds and fat balls and mealworms we had put out around the garden. Suddenly most of the birds flew off, and a sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus) pitched up right below where I was watching from an upstairs window, perched on the fence panel. We occasionally see a sparrowhawk flying overhead, but rarely have such a good close-up view.

Sparrowhawk (Accipter nisus). Photo by Mark Robinson.

It was looking into our large Mahonia japonica bush by the fence, in which several small birds were sheltering. The mahonia is a dense and prickly bush, so as long as the birds stayed in there, there was no chance of the sparrowhawk getting at them. It spent a few minutes peering in to the bush, then flew sharply round to the other side, pitching up on the fence panel again, and then completed the circle by flying back to its original spot. After a little while it scythed off to land on our shed roof at the bottom of the garden, partially hidden by a large Garrya elliptica ‘James Roof’ bush. At this point several small birds flew sharpish out of the mahonia in the opposite direction. I was watching the sparrowhawk so only saw them out of the corner of my eye, so didn’t identify them positively, but I think they were likely long-tailed tits, which seem to use the mahonia as a shelter from which to nip out to grab mealworms.

Long-tailed tit (Aegithalos caudatus). Photo by David Friel.

Just the other week there was a lovely programme on the box, Hugh’s Wild West, in which Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall learned about the life of long-tailed tits, how they huddle in a group on a branch to roost at night, and lay their eggs in a downy nest made of moss and feathers and cobwebs. They are such delightful little birds, and it was so interesting to learn more about them. The episode is available on the BBC iPlayer for a few weeks here.

Mark E Smith and the Fall

A sad day yesterday, learning of the death at 60 of Mark E Smith. He was the leading force in the Fall (or the Mighty Fall, as John Peel used to call the band), and provided a soundtrack to my youth.

I went to quite a few Fall gigs in the early-mid 80s as my boyfriend of the time was a massive fan. At one gig at Leicester Polytechnic we passed the great man himself on the pavement as we were walking to the venue and he was walking away from it (possibly in search of a pub) … he looked very dapper in a bright red satin shirt. The gig was blistering, as they all were. I found their music challenging and infectious: it took me a while to get in to it. I feel the band went off the boil in the later 80s and never regained the glory days of the late 70s and early 80s, but what a legacy. Here are some of my favourite Fall tracks:

Thanks Mark.

Guardian report and link to obituary

BBC appreciation

A quick bit of google-fu and lo, the internet giveth: photos of the very Fall gig I mentioned above, with Mr Smith resplendent in his shiny red shirt. Apparently the support band (that Mark almost certainly missed) was Felt – I’d completely forgotten that. The gig was on Saturday 19 November 1983, so my boyfriend and I must have come to Leicester from Cambridge for the weekend as our college term didn’t end until early December. Happy days.

Rings that remind me of things: Part 18

Part 18 of an occasional series about rings in my Etsy shop that remind me of things.

Ring:

197o amethyst modernist sterling silver ring, hallmarked in London. For sale in my Etsy shop: click on photo for details.

Thing:

1:60 scale wooden model of a screw propeller of the SS ‘Great Britain’, the magnificent and innovative ship designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, and built in 1843. The ship is now a museum exhibit at Bristol; this model is in the Science Museum in London.

So far I have had rings that remind me of an Iron Age hillfortan alien spaceshipa cream horna radio telescopeNoah’s Arkan octopus tentaclespider eyesPluto and its moon Charonthe rings of SaturnThe Starry Night by Vincent Van Goghsome lichenthe stepped Pyramid of Djoser at Saqqara in Egypt, the Quality Street ladya herb knifea sea anemonean Iron Age miniature votive shield and the Mayan Temple of Kukulkan at Chichén Itzá, Mexico.

Another pied male blackbird

In January 2016 I did a short blog post on a pied male blackbird (Turdus merula) we’d been seeing around a lot. We’ve seen a pied blackbird intermittently since then, and yesterday it put in appearance after quite a period of absence. I snapped some photos on my crappy camera, so the quality isn’t the best, but it gives an idea of its markings. Click on all photos to enlarge.

We had thought it was the same bird, but from comparing the photos of the two, it seems that they are different birds. Our newcomer seems to have a ‘Z’ of white on the top of his tail by his body, whereas the 2016 one didn’t. I wonder if the newer one is perhaps the son of our other one.

Our 2016 visitor.

Our 2016 visitor.

Normal male blackbird. Photo by Sannse.

Rings that remind me of things: Part 17

Part 17 of an occasional series about rings in my Etsy shop that remind me of things.

Ring:

1971 modernist sterling silver ring, adjustable. For sale in my Etsy shop: click on photo for details.

Thing:

The Mayan Temple of Kukulkan, also known as the Castillo, at Chichén Itzá, Mexico. Photo by frankmx.

So far I have had rings that remind me of an Iron Age hillfortan alien spaceshipa cream horna radio telescopeNoah’s Arkan octopus tentaclespider eyesPluto and its moon Charonthe rings of SaturnThe Starry Night by Vincent Van Goghsome lichenthe stepped Pyramid of Djoser at Saqqara in Egypt, the Quality Street ladya herb knifea sea anemone and an Iron Age miniature votive shield.