Finding work for idle hands: making, baking and more.

Down on the farm May 28, 2013

Filed under: Nature and wildlife,Places to go — lauravw @ 3:08 pm

pigletsMy mother commented the other day that it’s been a while since I posted anything here. Not a good sign. The usual excuses apply: busyness, laziness, procrastination.

Anyway… The other day I took a trip with my parents to a small farm where you can pet the animals. It’s an ideal time of year to visit a place like this – there were baby animals a-go-go. There was also plenty of cherry blossom, and a tea-room that was worth a visit.

I’d like to think that one day I will live somewhere where my neighbours keep goats. (Or have goats myself, but it would be so much easier to just live near some.) There was a small family of them on the farm, and I always like seeing their smiling faces.

I was also rather keen on the rabbits, and for a short time was able to hold one of the younger ones. He was promptly returned to his hutch when he started to nibble my Boden coat though – and there is still evidence of teethmarks. While we were there, mum and I spotted that one of the rabbits had been making a nest, and we actually spotted two tiny rabbits be born – it was quite exciting to be there for the first few moments of their lives.

If you’d like to see more pictures of cute little animals, there are plenty more on my Flickr account.



Bird choreography February 26, 2013

Filed under: Nature and wildlife — lauravw @ 9:53 am

murmurationJust before dusk falls, the local starlings have been getting together and dancing in the skies.

It’s a murmuration – albeit on a very small scale. Like most areas of the UK, our starling population has dropped dramatically in my lifetime, but we’re lucky enough to still get quite a few, and it has been very cheering to watch them assemble and dance around in the sky.

On one level it makes me sad that the numbers are so few that they can’t form the giant flocks of the past, but at the same time I think it’s wonderful that they still pursue this hobby, just as a small group. The other evening I spotted a few of them doing laps of the sky above our house, and gradually more joined in. I wonder how they let each other know what their plans are?

I stayed outside and watched them for some time, and they flew right over my head several times – I could hear their wings as they went.

If you’d like to see what a murmuration looks like on a bigger scale, this lovely video is the next best thing to being there.


RSPB garden birdwatch 2013 January 29, 2013

Filed under: Nature and wildlife — lauravw @ 10:49 am

greenfinchI expect the figures from this year’s RSPB garden birdwatch will be a bit different from those of recent years: with much of the country covered in snow on Saturday, birds would have been very visible in people’s gardens as they searched for food.

I’m glad we did our bird watch on Saturday – the rain that night washed away all trace of the snow, so that by Sunday colour had returned to the garden and many of the birds had departed. (Also departed were the two snowmen on our neighbours’ lawn – but they left evidence of their existence in the form of two carrots on the grass.)

In our allotted hour this year we saw:

  • 11 blackbirds
  • 6 starlings
  • 3 chaffinches
  • 5 goldfinches
  • 2 fieldfares
  • 2 dunnocks
  • 2 blue tits
  • 1 greenfinch
  • 1 great tit

There was also a robin two gardens over, but he stubbornly refused to come to our garden and so couldn’t be counted.

If we’d done our bird watch the weekend before, it would have been a very different picture, as we would have struggled to accurately count the vast numbers of birds that were here. But it’s still a pretty good showing.

This picture shows a greenfinch visiting our garden about a week ago, when the snow covered every surface.


The birds and the snow January 22, 2013

Filed under: Nature and wildlife — lauravw @ 11:59 am

The frozen canal near our house.The first snow of the season fell just over a week ago, and ever since then I have been out in the garden at seven every morning, putting out bowls of water and topping up all the bird feeders. I’ve learned that it is the blackbirds who get up first, and they can usually be seen lurking in the still-dark garden while I set out food for them. They have been here in great numbers – 15 or more in the garden, when usually our limit is four or five.

On Sunday night there was another layer of snow added to the mix – perhaps another couple of inches. The garden on Monday morning was entirely white, but by the time I’d been in and out feeding the birds, there were footprints all over the place.

Over the weekend the fieldfares dominated the scene – there were perhaps three hundred of them that could be seen from our house, perched in every available tree. Many of the berries they rely on have long since been eaten, and I worry and wonder about what I can do to help them. About 18 months ago we planted a hedge at the end of our garden, and this year it is bearing its first crop of berries. But they are low down and so not ideal for the fieldfares, who seem to prefer to eat higher above the ground. By next winter it will be ideal for them. For now though, they are starting to make use of it – it clearly wasn’t their first choice, but it will still be of benefit. Andy read that they will also eat apples, so I bought a few of the cheapest ones, and put a quartered one on the lawn this morning, Within about an hour, it had all gone. I put out a second, and then a third, and the fieldfares and blackbirds are wolfing them down.

It is the birds’ use of water that has surprised me the most – I knew they would need water to drink, but I hadn’t appreciated how keen they would be to bathe. Andy broke the ice on our pond the other day, and the blackbirds and starlings were queuing up to splash around in the icy waters.

Yesterday morning I put on my wellies and headed out, walking through the park on my way home. The schools here have remained open, and so the snow-filled park was empty of children. I imagine they were all sitting staring at the snow from their classroom windows, waiting for their opportunity to throw snowballs and make snowmen. But I enjoyed the quiet, and it was disturbed only by the nose of a group of birds flying out of a tree. They had been startled by a sparrow hawk, who I saw flying away from them, empty-handed.

There are more photos of the snow and the birds here.


Warmer winter food January 15, 2013

Filed under: Food,Nature and wildlife — lauravw @ 2:08 pm

prashadI am looking out onto a garden that is both covered in snow and filled with birds. It’s my day off, and I’ve spent much of it watching the birds and filling up their feeders – and hoping that the extra bird food I ordered will arrive soon. This morning I counted 15 blackbirds on the lawn, which I think is a new record for our little garden. Since then we’ve had fieldfares, starlings, blue tits, great tits, and lots of finches. It’s the finches who are running out of food: the ones in this area are very picky and like sunflower hearts. I’ve topped their feeder up with mixed seed and am hoping they will tolerate it until the new stuff arrives – there are dozens of them out there though, and I fear they will be tapping on the glass to complain any moment now.

But I am safely indoors where it is warm and cosy, and I’ve had time to do some baking – the first time the cake tin has had something in it for a week or two (tiramisu cupcakes, in case you’re wondering). I’ve also been going through a new cookbook and putting sticky notes on the pages of recipes I intend to try. It’s a bit of a new thing for me – an Indian cookbook. I’ve always avoiding cooking Indian food, fearing it would involve buying dozens of esoteric spices that go off before they get used. But I made one recipe at the weekend, and only had to buy two new spices for it (turmeric, and cumin seeds).

Now that I’ve flagged up a few more recipes, I think I’ll only need to add garam masala and mustard seeds, which won’t exactly break the bank. If I’m feeling particularly brave I may venture out to an area not too far from here where there are lots of Indian and Pakistani grocers. I managed to track down one of the ingredients for Sunday’s meal of pea and paneer curry in Tesco – the shop assistant asked me what it was wheh he scanned the paneer through the till, which made me feel better about the fact that I’d never tried it either. I have now, and it was delicious – though one of my wooden spoons is now stained yellow from all that turmeric…


The waxwings, we found them! December 23, 2012

Filed under: Nature and wildlife — lauravw @ 4:59 pm

waxwings2012I wrote last week about my fruitless search for waxwings, and I’m thrilled to report that today we finally found some.

It was a bright sunny morning, and we were keen to go for a walk, having been cooped up all day yesterday due to the heavy rain. I wasn’t even planning to take my camera, but Andy thought I should, and I’m so glad I did. (I just took my compact camera, but luckily the light was good and so I could still get decent enough pictures of the birds.)

I wasn’t even looking for waxwings really – we’d been out for about an hour and a half walking around the neighbourhood, exploring footpaths and seeing where they went. On the way I’d been pleased to find a school I’d seen featured in Country Living magazine last year, with its own farm. There were two pigs in a muddy field close to the school, and some chickens nearby.

And then we headed for home. As we walked down the hill, Andy saw a tree ahead that was filled with birds – there were about a hundred of them. They are quite confident around humans, and we were able to watch them for several minutes before a passing car spooked them. As we approached the tree, there was a man walking towards us, completely oblivious to the birds above his head. It’s odd to think that for me, this was a real treat, but for him it was something he didn’t even notice.

Anyway, I’m counting this as an early Christmas present. I hope you and yours all have the kind of Christmas you want, whether that be one packed with family, or with the chance to enjoy some peace and quiet. Whatever form it takes, merry Christmas!


Looking for waxwings December 14, 2012

Filed under: Nature and wildlife — lauravw @ 9:26 am

Tuesday was a bright but cold day, and I had the day off work. I’d got all my jobs done, and so was able to react quickly when I saw a report on Twitter that a flock of waxwings was in the area, near a shop just ten minutes’ walk away.

I grabbed my camera, swapped the lens over for the telephoto lens I bought last year for taking pictures of birds, wrapped up warm, and trotted off down the road, optimistically.

Of course by this time the birds were nowhere to be seen. I wandered around, just in case I could find any berry bushes on which they might be feasting, but no such luck.

Earlier that morning, a noisy flock of birds had flown right over me when I’d been in the garden. The local birdwatching site lists of flock of waxwings as having flown over our area at that time, so it was probably them – but I didn’t get a good look at them.

The next day, which was again freezing cold, I got the bus to work. As it passed through a part of the city not too far from where we live, I spotted an unusual flock of birds in a tree near the road, moving around and adjusting their perches. While it crossed my mind to get off the bus to go and look at them, I decided not to as a) they might be starlings, b) I’d be late for work, and c) without my camera I would be annoyed that I couldn’t take pictures of them.

Later that day, I saw another report on Twitter saying there had been a flock of waxwings right in that spot. I should have got off the bus after all.

So while it’s likely that I have technically seen two flocks of waxwings this week, I’ve not been close enough to be sure – and certainly not close enough to see how beautiful they are. I will keep looking! There are plenty in the country this year, as there were two years ago – when I did manage to get a picture. But since then I’ve got a bigger and fancier camera, so if they would please come back I’d be able to get even better pictures. If you want to know when these Scandinavian visitors are in your area, following the UK Waxwings twitter feed.


Autumn is on November 12, 2012

Filed under: Nature and wildlife,Places to go — lauravw @ 4:32 pm

We got up early(ish) yesterday to head to nearby Wollaton Park.

It seems a lot of other people had the same idea, as it was unusually busy for a cold Sunday morning.

The bright sunshine was illuminating all the trees, and if you stopped and watched them, you could see leaves gently falling to the ground.

We saw a few deer – you can see this stag’s breath in the cold morning air. These two were a little more cautious, quietly pottering around under the cover of the trees.


The pond: an update August 20, 2012

Filed under: Nature and wildlife — lauravw @ 6:14 pm

Well the main thing to say about our pond is that it is now a thing that exists, as opposed to just a plan. My role in the project has been ordering the necessary bits and bobs – I can’t claim to have done any of the digging and hard work that brought this about.

I ordered this pre-formed pond liner, which I liked because of the fact that it has shelves at two depths, to cater better to different kinds of pond plants. It also has a built-in escape route for any non-aquatic creatures who are unlucky enough to fall in. (We’ve supplemented this by adding rocks that would also allow creatures a place to rest/climb out.)

The most exciting part of the process was when the pond plants arrived. We ordered this starter pack of native species for wildlife ponds, and a few days later a big brown box marked fragile turned up. Inside were nine (!) separate packages, each with their own instructions as to what to do with them – plant with 10cm water over the top, allow to float on the surface, allow to sink to the bottom, etc. Some of the plants were in little plastic baskets, which you just lower into the water. Others came in sealed containers with a little bit of water in – so we put that in as well. There were several different kinds of creepy crawly in there too, which is good news in terms of developing our pond’s ecosystem. We’ve seen a little water snail, and other things that I will have to look up in a book to learn more about. Opening each of the little packages felt Christmassy, in that we had no idea what type of plant would be in each one.

Though we’ve never had a pond before, there are frogs in our garden, and I’m hoping the pond will improve their quality of life. We also get bats flying around the garden at night, and the pond will hopefully be something that brings flying insects to the garden, generating food for the bats. In the long term, we’re really hoping we’ll see newts at some point, but we’ve not seen them in the garden before, so that could take a while.

For a few days the main wildlife activity was from our little cat, who likes to head down to the pond for a drink whenever we take her outside. But on Saturday morning there much excitement when a frog was spotted in the water! He had a good swim round, and then stood up, with his head just out of the water. We watched him for a while before heading out to do our Saturday morning errands, and he’d gone by the time we came home. I hope he visits again soon.


A learning curve August 12, 2012

Filed under: Nature and wildlife — lauravw @ 3:06 pm

I bought a squirrel feeder a couple of months ago.

We have quite a few birdfeeders, and the local squirrels have been helping themselves to food for years. This tends to involve them hanging upside down, or doing other daring things. And while they are doing this, the cat from across the way likes to try to catch them, which I find very upsettting.

So while I don’t mind the squirrels eating the food I’ve bought for the birds, I would very much mind if that darned cat were to eat the squirrel.

I found you could buy squirrel feeders from the same place I get my birdfeeders, so I ordered one, and enthusiastically filled it with all sorts of food that I thought the squirrel might enjoy. I thought it would be safer for the squirrel if he had his own feeder that was designed for him, since he would no longer have to hang upside down. The feeder has a little ledge for him to sit on, and from there he can be more aware of when there is a cat approaching. It’s also on a higher fence, so he’s further out of reach of cats.

I watched. And waited. Occasionally a squirrel would approach, look through the glass at the food, and completely fail to realise that the lid lifts up. So it’s been pretty much unused for the past two months – very disappointing. We tried propping the lid open with sticks, so that they could get used to accessing the food, and that has finally worked – last week we saw a squirrel lifting the lid by himself and eating from the range of foods inside (you can see a picture of it in action here).

Well done squirrel.