Bird feeder news – exciting update

There is a famous tea shop in Harrogate called Betty’s. It’s very genteel and renowned for its beautifully presented afternoon teas. When you look through the window you can see delicate and perfectly formed dainty cakes and sandwiches adorning doily clad silver serving stands whilst over attentive waitresses in crisply starched traditional black and white uniforms fuss over the customers that sip Earl Grey from fine china. It’s the archetypal perfect English tea room setting. Now imagine that scene of sweet charm and refinement and then imagine Giant Haystacks and Big Daddy sitting down to tea.

That’s the kind of image that comes to mind when I look out of the kitchen window at our lovely delicate bird feeding station. We have been thrilled to witness an increasing range of birds visiting the half coconut of compressed fat and the seed feeder over the last few days.

Blue tit

Blue tit

Tiny little blue tits and long tailed tits are delightful as they perch precariously to peck at the rich food source whilst the larger great tit (clue in the name) sits confidently on the perches and munches on sunflower hearts.

Great tit

Great tit

The blackbirds, both male and female love the special food that Gill puts in the small shallow feeder tray which suits their less agile nature. And of course, the super charged robin is still raiding the seeds like a small red breasted bolt of lightning. It’s exactly what we had hoped for when we set everything up apart from one thing. Just like those great burly wrestlers visiting Betty’s, a couple of great big, fat, loved up wood pigeons are hoovering up all the food like a couple of avian vacuum cleaners on turbo mode. They are enormous! They are like the silverbacks of the bird world and I’m worried that the feed station might be suffering from metal fatigue. And their appetites! No sooner have we filled up the tray and the blackbirds have eaten the equivalent of one quarter of a cucumber sandwich, sans crust, of course, but the oversized, over weight pigeons have cleaned up and they are stomping around and demanding seconds. I mean really! We’re not made of meal worms and fat pellets you know?

Fat git

Greedy git

Then there are the magpies. They have been less inclined to raid the food stores but they do take great delight in tap dancing on the roof, particularly early in the morning. We’ve only actually spotted two of them at any one time but when they decide to trip the light fantastic at five am they could give a line-up from River Dance a run for their money.

I suppose I should just be glad that the variety of visitors is growing and we are doing our bit, or lot, in the case of the pigeons, to help our native wildlife.

It’s funny really how we make these arbitrary choices between different species, blue tits and robins being almost universally fawned over whilst the poor old wood pigeons and magpies are castigated as vermin more often than not. But if some visitors are clearly loved or hated the next feathered friend on our spotting list definitely has the potential to divide the judges. I had seen this bird flash between our unit and the next one a couple of times and I had an inkling of what it might be. My hopes were confirmed the other day though when it actually alighted on a fence and sat still long enough for me to identify it clearly as a hobby. A small but lethal bird of prey and one that I have only ever seen on a handful of occasions. I would never have expected to find a bird like this making regular visits to our domain and I was sufficiently intrigued to do some background reading on its habitat and behaviour. It’s a small bird, somewhere between our blackbird and the pigeon in stature but what it lacks in size it can more than make up for in deadly accuracy as a hunter. Which raises a bit of an issue for birds such as robins, blue tits and great tits. Because for the hobby, they are a spectacular lunch. Not only can it pluck them clean out of the air with its razor sharp talons but it can then perform the rather neat trick of dismembering and eating them on the wing. Pretty cool eh? But maybe not if you are blue tit.

Just a random picture of a hobby

Just a random picture of a hobby

So it would appear that we may have created a bird feeder like nothing we could ever have imagined. To the tits, blackbirds and robins it’s like Betty’s tea shop. For the pigeons we seem to have put up a transport café serving all you can eat breakfasts while our newest visitor, the hobby, must be absolutely delighted to have found a new fast food drive thru’ in the neighbourhood. It’s not quite what we had in mind but I think it could be very entertaining.




Life on the park, the bird watching experiment

We don’t have much in the way of a garden around our new home. Just a space occupied mainly by gravel, flagstones and a few pots that we haven’t yet planted up. It’s a bit barren. We do however back on to a large field and a thick hedge between us and the field provides a potential home for all manor of wildlife. Gill is keen to attract birds to entertain us and with this in mind she has set up a bird feeding station consisting of a tray with pellets of food and meal worms on it. A dish of water serves the dual purpose of thirst quencher and bathing facility and a hanging seed container and half a coconut shell full of fat provide for the more agile of our feathered friends. So far it hasn’t been a great success.

Dinner is now served

Quiet day on the feeder

We have seen a timid male blackbird taking food from the tray once or twice but the only other visitor has been a robin. The robin has targeted the seed feeder but not in the way that provides a lot of entertainment. His technique is to sit in the hedge protected from predators (he probably doesn’t realise that one of the park rules is ‘no cats’ or he might be more relaxed) and from there he launches his attack. I say attack because it’s more of a raid than a visit. He appears out of the hedge like a small heat seeking missile. Without missing a wingbeat he manages to grab a sunflower seed and is back in the hedge in about five nano seconds. It’s very impressive but it doesn’t really provide us with much in the way of bird watching. It’s more a kind of bird glimpsing, which isn’t really what we had in mind.

We have also glimpsed a kestrel and a hobby which was very exciting but doesn’t bode well for the prospect of exotic songbirds lounging around on the feed station and performing entertaining acrobatics for us while we are doing the washing up. I have noticed a profusion of small birds and animals around the park but they are entirely made of stone or resin and tend to be not to scale. (Some of the butterflies are terrifying!) We really don’t want to go down that road.

I suppose if the birdwatching experiment isn’t successful we could always join the majority of the other residents and just resort to watching each other. It seems to be quite a popular pastime.




Gathering sun beams

There are sun beams out there if you just go and look for them.

image

The last week riding through Wales has been full of precious moments. The sun beams have been real at times, shining down through the trees so bright and strong that I almost felt them as I passed through. They also act as a lovely metaphor for people, views, moments of delight, even a pint of golden ale at the end of another day of endless ups and downs. The Welsh coast is certainly hilly, giving Cornwall a good run for it’s money both in the effort required to ride it and the visual rewards that appear around every corner.

Wales coastal scenery can rival anywhere

Wales coastal scenery can rival anywhere

I thought I knew this corner of Wales quite well but my visits have all been car based and even though Gill and I love to take to the quieter roads when travelling I quickly realised last week that I haven’t even scratched this landscape’s surface. Take Cardigan for example. I have passed through this busy little town dozens of times before. I have wandered it’s streets and enjoyed it’s picturesque river setting before moving on down the A487 towards St. Davids. What I have never done before is to go north up to Cardigan Island where you can find some amazing coastal scenery.

image image

We camped opposite the island a couple of nights ago and took a walk around the headland in the evening light.

Gill enjoying a moment

Gill enjoying a moment

The sun was low behind hazy clouds producing a golden light that picked out the drama of the cliffs in pin sharp clarity. We scanned the flat calm seas for any signs of dolphins but had to settle for a couple of seals, one of which bobbed curiously in the water, seemingly as pleased to see us as we were to see him.

 

Who you looking at?

Who you looking at?

The next morning as we left the camp site we startled a couple of badgers as they strolled nonchalantly down the lane only to disappear into the undergrowth in panic at being caught out well past their bed time. As I cycled down a quiet lane a short time later I was treated to the sight of a hobby flying just inches above the road ahead of me. It alighted briefly in the hedge, thought better of it and put on a further display of breath taking aerobatics as I chased it down the lane. Wonderful sights that will live in my memories long after I have hung up my panniers.

We stayed in Aberystwyth last night with another sun beam in the form of Hannah, aka the Seaside Donkey. That doesn’t sound quite right but it will make more sense if you go and read her blog. Hannah is one of those people that are good to hang around with. She exudes positive energy and it was lovely to be able to talk to someone who has so recently come to the end of a long journey like ours. We sat on the prom last night, surrounded by dozens of seagulls intent on stealing our chips, and we talked about ‘coming down’ from a big adventure and how easy it is to underestimate the amount of rest required before normality returns. Being aware of these things is going to be a distinct advantage when we get home, staying aware will be the difficult bit I fear. It was interesting talking to Hannah about our respective trips and the one theme that kept recurring was the generosity of strangers when you put yourself at their mercy. It’s another memory to cherish and to hang on to once we are being bombarded again by media negativity every day.

With Hannah in Aberystwyth. Swapping tales about sleeping with strangers.

With Hannah in Aberystwyth. Swapping tales about sleeping with strangers.

Tonight we are staying in Machynlleth, somewhere Gill and I lived close to for ten years and I for ten more before that. I must say that riding towards the market town today past so many familiar landmarks it really felt like a bit of a home coming. Almost like a practice run for our arrival back in Freckleton in about ten days time. Thinking of all the people we left behind when we moved from here and those back home now makes me realise how much home is ninety percent friends and family and ten percent place. I find my thoughts turning more and more to these things as our adventure draws to a close. It’s getting harder and harder to avoid thinking about the end of our travels and how we will settle down again once we get home. For the next two days we will be diverted from such thoughts by seeing old friends and enjoying their company and on Saturday we head for the beautiful Lleyn Peninsula and a bit more more sun beam hunting. I’m sure we will find one or two to put in our pockets before we get home.

Aberystwyth basking in the sun

Aberystwyth basking in the sun