Monday, 29 June 2009

Flying Bugs

I actually enjoyed the Biggin Hill Air Fair this year as for once it wasn't too noisy; even the Vulcan Bomber's display was reasonably quiet. I spent both days sitting in the sun at the end of the garden, where, in the moments there were no aeroplanes flying, I could admire the flying antics of many butterflies. I didn't realise there were so many down there. I am not very good at identifying butterflies or moths so if I have got these wrong please let me know.

Marbled White

Meadow Brown

Burnet Moth

In a previous post I mentioned how frightened the deer get during the Air Fair and showed a picture of them by the woods, right under the flight path, the evening before the Air Fair. This picture is of the same woods with a Virgin Jumbo Jet flying over the exact spot where the deer had been. It was huge but remarkable quiet for it's size, although, I am glad it only puts in an appearance for an occasional Air Fair. There was no sign of the deer so hopefully they were not too traumatised.

This year the Virgin plane was accompanied by the Red Arrows and while they were flying around I glanced across the garden and saw a Sparrow Hawk trying to grab a little chaffinch who was taking a bath at the edge of the wild life pond (he didn't get it). Both birds were totally unconcerned by the big birds in the sky:-)

Saturday, 27 June 2009

Slow Worm Invasion

In the past we have watched the Air Show (see yesterdays post) from a sunny bank set higher up in our garden but a couple of years ago we put a weed suppressant membrane over the area with the intention of then covering it with a thick layer of wood chips (the weeds on the bank are 'super weeds' that grow twice as fast and twice as large as anywhere else). However before we managed to get the wood chips the Slow Worms had taken to living underneath the membrane so it is now a no-go area.

We spent a very pleasant day viewing the flying from another part of the garden although I have to say I found the passing wildlife more interesting and was surprised at how many butterflies there are at the end of the garden. I will have to take my butterfly book with me tomorrow to see if I can identify any of them.

Friday, 26 June 2009

Air Fair Trauma

The Red Arrows have just flown over and landed at the airport ready for the Biggin Hill Air Fair which takes place tomorrow and Sunday. Living near the main runway and in the valley over which the displays take place, some, including the rest of my family, would say we are really fortunate to have such a good view but after 33 years of having t0 calm traumatised pets I don't agree. Lizzy the old cat has to take tranquilisers for it and will spend the two days hiding under a bed. I give the guinea pigs extra hiding places and lots of hay and then close all the doors, windows and curtains around them to try to deaden the noise. Thankfully (as far as the air fair is concerned) we no longer have the dogs as they used to bark all the time and strangely the hens that we used to have never minded and our Guinea Fowl (also deceased) only ever squawked at the very noisiest of the planes. So at least I know the wild birds are unlikely to be affected too much.

For the other wild animals it will be a different matter though. The first time I saw a deer here was during an air fair and it was charging around the field in desperate panic. Unfortunately, on our walk in the valley yesterday we came across some deer. The place where they are standing in the picture below is approx 200metres from the end of the runway and the wood in which they shelter during the day is even closer and runs up the side of the valley to the road at the end of the runway. Poor things they will really suffer especially this year as the Vulcan Bomber is due to fly over and that is about the noisiest plane ever:-((((

I wonder if the underground animals like the badgers are affected by the noise and vibration.

To cheer myself up I will end with another lovely poppy picture from yesterday morning's walk:-)

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Weed or Flower?

I love this time of year but it always leaves me feeling a bit confused.

The field behind us is full of horrible yellow flowering weeds (Hawks Beard I think) whose seed heads are blown into our garden and totally wreck it. This really annoys me but at the same time when I step out of the garden and into the field I love seeing the orchids and other less invasive wild flowers that co-exist with the annoying ones and I love the fact that it provides a habitat for butterflies and ground nesting birds.

Yesterday I pulled out loads of these yellow flowering plants and other weeds from the garden, got covered in stinging nettle stings and hurt my back trying to pull up copious wild poppies from the rockery. Then I went for a walk in the fields to the side of us and spent ages trying to capture the beauty of fields covered with the same poppies I'd been pulling out of the garden.

I think there is a saying that, 'a weed is just a flower in the wrong place'. After seeing the poppies I'm so pleased there are still some 'right places'.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

We had just finished watching our recording of Springwatch Close Encounters, and, as there was still some daylight left, we decided to walk across the field to the SSSI land and see what had changed while we had been away. This area of land always used to be a mass of Orchids and other wild flowers at this time of year so I wanted to see what effect the scrub clearance using heavy machinery has had.

As we walked up the field we had a close encounter of our own. I narrowly missed stepping on a female pheasant that was sitting totally motionless and camouflaged in the tall grass. She didn't seem at all concerned that she had nearly been flattened by a big human foot, although, by the time we were going back home again she had sensibly gone.

The SSSI land looked awful with hardly a wild flower in sight and I noticed that the hawthorn that had been cut down, is regrowing with renewed vigour. There was also no sign of the lizards that used to frequent the bank. The clearance work of this area of chalk downland was commissioned by English Nature so presumably they approved the use of the heavy machinery and have been monitoring the work but I wonder how long it will take to recover. When I have got time I must walk down a bit further where there is an area of SSI land that was hand cleared of scrub by the Old Surrey Downs Group. It will be interesting to compare the rate of recovery of the two sites.

There is good news though, the Orchids are beginning to take a strong hold in the uncultivated fields adjoining the SSI land including the one we back on to. It has taken about 10 years of the land being set-aside to reach this point so maybe that is what I should expect with the SSSI land but it shows it should eventually recover. The trouble is I will be an OAP by then so I just hope I will still be able to scramble up the hill to see it:-)

Monday, 22 June 2009

Happy Returns

I've only been away for a week but if you saw the garden you would think it was more like a month. It is a jungle with weeds growing everywhere and bindweed climbing over everything. The vegetables are coming on well though. This year we have put netting over a lot of things as the pheasants like pecking at the leaves and end up eating more of the vegetables than we do. It seems to have worked and I think we might even manage a decent crop of cauliflowers and cabbages.

When I got back from the Isle of Wight I was pleased to see a female pheasant in the garden but I wasn't sure if it was my friendly one that disappeared a few weeks ago (see post 23rd May). I opened the window and rung my little bell which tells the birds I am about to throw out some goodies and sure enough she came running over. So she hadn't been shot or got by the fox. She must have been sitting on eggs all this time (I think they take around 22 days to hatch). Needless to say she has lost a lot of weight but I'm sure with a bit of a helping hand from me she will soon put that back on and maybe she will bring her babies for a visit to the garden.

Saturday, 13 June 2009

Wonderful Wildlife

I am going off for a weeks camping on the Isle of wight tomorrow so today I have been busy preparing for the trip. This includes typing out a load of instructions on how to care for all the pets while we are away. There are so many do's and don'ts like... 'don't feed cabbage to the guinea pigs as it gives them wind'... but... 'do give them plenty of freshly cut grass'... but... 'make sure there are no buttercups caught up in the freshly cut grass'. I think my son, who is pet sitting, will want to leave home when he sees all he has to do.

Caring for pets makes me appreciate just how fantastic wild animals are as they manage all on their own. I think it is amazing that a big animal like a deer or a badger can find enough food and shelter to survive even extremes of weather and birds despite having many predators still manage to raise new generations to keep their species going. Its incredible.

This is a picture of mummy woodpecker feeding her baby in the garden this morning (at least I think it is mummy and not daddy). Not a very good picture as it was on full zoom with no tripod but quite sweet.

I won't be able to do any posts while camping so the next one will be in a week or so's time:-)

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Badger or Fox?

This evening the garden and valley have been very still, no wind and no wildlife. Evenings like this tend to leave me feeling a bit flat, although, tonight, the absence of wildlife was probably down to me.

Around 6.30pm I had suddenly realised my cat Lizzy was missing. She is 18 yrs old with a thyroid problem and never ventures far from the bungalow these days. The furthest she has been for many months is the veg. patch, so I was very worried. My family and I all separately checked the garage and shed as both had been opened when my husband had mown the lawn earlier. Then we searched the whole garden, front and back, and then the field right up to the woods, calling her name all the time. After about an hour of this I thought I would check the garage again and thankfully there she was waiting at the door to be let out. I was sooo relieved, however, I am guessing that all the calling has put the wind up the creatures that usually venture our way.

I had hoped to see the foxes because I was keen to know if they were responsible for a fairly large deep hole that had been dug in the middle of the lawn and which had a scent mark dropping in it. Later on when I went to fill it in I discovered that it was actually the entrance to a bumble bees nest which either a fox or badger had been trying to get at (needless to say I didn't fill in the hole).

The badgers tend to visit the garden later at night and since our security light has broken it is usually too dark to see them (must get round to buying a new one). There is a strain of albino badger around this part of Biggin Hill and for several years we had one visiting the garden.

Even though I can't see the badgers at the moment I always know when they have visited the garden because of the numorous holes they leave behind but I have never noticed droppings in them before so I am thinking that it was the fox that was after the bumbles.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Fossils in the Chalk

I was watching yet another TV program about global warming and rising sea levels. It made me wonder if Biggin Hill would ever be covered with sea again.

Biggin Hill is on the edge of the North Downs and as its name suggests it is fairly big hill at about 500ft above sea level. However at one time it must have been at the bottom of the sea as when the field behind us used to be ploughed up it often exposed fossils of shells.

My children loved to go fossil hunting after the field had been ploughed and especially after a hard frost which would make the chunks of chalk crack open to reveal its treasure.

This picture is of a shell fossil my younger son found in the field when he was eight.

When I look down the valley today with its masses of wildflowers, trees and different habitats it is hard to imagine that it was ever covered with sea or ever could be again but if it was I wonder what creatures would be fossilised and when the sea reseeded again what would the humans (if any) be like who discover the new fossils?

Monday, 8 June 2009

Rotten Tree

The Ring Necked Parakeets that visit our feeder usually look very sleek and well groomed...

...that is until it rains like it did on Sunday, then they look like this...

It is guaranteed to make me feel sorry for them so out I went and filled up the feeder to the top so that more than one bird could use it at the same time. I hooked it over the usual branch but there was a big cracking sound and I just managed to dive out the way as the feeder crashed to the ground.

Luckily for the wet bedraggled birds the feeder wasn't broken but I found that the branch and a lot of the rest of the Cob Nut tree is rotting away with several patches of soft wood and holes. No wonder the Woodpeckers and Nuthatches like the tree so much but I wonder if it will survive very long especially when Woody is hell bent on making the holes bigger.

Another update on the fox cub; he has found his mum. Both trotted happily through the garden yesterday evening looking fit and well...hooray.

Saturday, 6 June 2009

Anniversary in the New Forest

The New Forest never disappoints when it comes to wildlife. We get off the beaten track and usually walk miles further than intended because we get lost but we always come back having seen something special that compensates for the aching legs. Add to this there is an abundance of my favourite animal, the horse, and I am in my element. I love it down there.

Going at this time of year is particularly enjoyable as there are so many baby animals.

Shortly after I took this photo a stallion started rounding up her and about 30 other ponies and driving them into a valley. Another young stallion was trying to join them but the 'boss' stallion wouldn't let it get anywhere near and kept chasing him back up the hill. This happened time and time again and at one point, after chasing the young stallion, the 'boss' stallion got down and rolled, something horses don't often do when alone unless they are feeling very confident. He then got up and went back to his mares. It was a definite signal saying, ' don't mess with me.' The young stallion went over and smelt where the 'boss' stallion had rolled and after that, although still following and smelling the air, he kept his distance. It was fascinating to watch. The reason for this battle of wills was this lovely mare who was in season, not a typical New Forest pony but beautiful all the same.

There were so many other interesting things; lots of birds, dragonflies, reptiles and flowers, too many things to go into in one post so here are just a couple more pics of babies we came across.

A lovely way to spend our 33rd wedding anniversary.

Thursday, 4 June 2009

A Day Indoors

Update on the lone fox cub; he seems to be doing well. He was in the garden yesterday evening and was scent marking everything, including the birds water bowl!

The garden is beginning to look like a jungle as bindweed and ground elder threaten to take over but I have just found out that the young shoots of ground elder, which apparently was introduced by the Romans (not the cleverest thing they did), is edible so now it will feature on the menu of my grandson's guinea pigs (they live with us as he is allergic to them).


Gemma's baby, Ginger

The Guinea pigs live in my daughter's old bedroom. Despite my husband having built a lovely big run for them, they don't like it outside because they find those big birds (the aeroplanes) terrifying. Up until now I have had them in two interconnecting cages and then given them a run on the floor each day but I have just managed to get another cage so I ignored the weeds in the garden and spent the day inside spring cleaning their room and setting up the new cage. My husband then cleverly joined it on to the other two. It took ginger a couple of days to work out how to get from one cage to another but now they are really enjoying their extra space.

Now I just have the rest of the bungalow to spring clean but it will have to wait as we are off to the New Forest for a couple of days (my favourite place) for our wedding anniversary.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

The warm weather has really got the weeds in the field growing and they are now at least knee high which is a shame as it makes it a lot harder to see the passing wildlife. I sometimes catch site of a fox head peeping up to have a look around but that is it except for the deer which gain confidence with the taller growth and often make an appearance. This little chappy was getting a bit too confident as I caught him eyeing up my husband's newly planted vegetables.

One of the more unpleasant weeds that grows in the field is ragwort and after years of the field being uncultivated it now covers everywhere. Ragwort is a dangerous weed which is deadly to horses and can make other animals very ill by attacking the liver. There have been several questions raised as to whether it is also dangerous to humans as one scientist reported eating a very small amount which caused him to become ill with liver damage. For the last couple of years I have been on the verge of having a moan to the farmer and asking him to do something about it but this year for the first time we have got quite a few Cinnabar Moths whose larval food is ragwort so maybe I'll leave complaining for a bit until I can find out more about the risks to humans. This Cinnabar Moth was on the grass outside my son's bedroom window.