Sunday, April 30, 2006

Computer fun!

One of the things I love to do with my computer is play with photos and other graphical images. Here are some of the things I've done in the last few weeks:

That's a picture of John with Ella in Townbrook Hollow. We took her for a walk a couple of weeks ago. In fact, I've been feeling guilty about NOT taking her lately. The photo manipulation came from Picassa (the free Google product). I was able to improve the lighting of the original to show more detail and to make the picture warmer than it originally was.

In the following set you can see the original abstract graphic (created with Windows Paint) followed by the manipulated image. The manipulations were done with GIMP which is a FREE Gnu opensource program which you can use with many operating systems including Windows and Linux.
Send me e-mail:

Gosh! How time flies!

I've just realised that it has been quite a while since my last post. We've been pottering away at various jobs and time just flew past.

The photo above is a Peacock butterfly. I first saw it feeding on a dandelion, but then it obligingly moved to warm itself on some gravel. It's the first butterfly I've noticed in the garden, though I'm sure there have been others.

Insect life has been steadily increasing. At first there were just a few gnats about, then the bumblebees started buzzing around. Now the place is humming with life: the Japanese Maple is covered in black aphids, there are queen wasps looking about for places to nest, the honeybees have started to gather nectar and pollen and I've seen a few ladybirds, moths and lacewings about the place.

A haze of green is appearing on deciduous shrubs and trees now and further surprises are revealing themselves on a daily basis. In the next picture you can see the blue of forget-me-nots and the yellow of forsythia (on the left and now nearly finished) and Kerria ( a vast clump of suckers from a very old original shrub that's the size of a small tree). We're still seeing new varieties of daffodils - we have so many different types it's impossible to count.

What you can't see in this picture are the black spots in the lawn where John has been fixing the badger diggings! Some parts look like the lawn has measles. Oh well! It's well worth the hassle. We actually had 4 badgers at one time on the patio one evening. One of them seemed much smaller than the others. It could be a cub, but seemed a bit too large for one of this year's cubs. I guess we need to do some more reading to be certain.

On the bird front, today is a red-letter day. We had our first Siskin (a life bird, in fact) and our first baby of the season. It was a little fat, streaky, dunnock chick - chasing its parent and opening a wide yellow rimmed gape for the input of tasty bits and pieces. No pictures of that yet, but John is now the proud possessor of a digital Nikon SLR camera. He also has lots of lenses to go with it from previous film cameras so I'm hopeful that we'll have lots of amazing bird pictures once he learns all its bells and whistles.

Our work at the museum continues on its way. We're both learning about the birds we catalogue. It's nice to have them in the hand so we can study the markings at close quarters. It's also good to get out once a week. We find ourselves talking quite animatedly on the bus going to and from "work" and at dinner afterwards. I think we both miss the social stimulus and gossip potential of having a job.

We had visitors on Friday: Barbara and Dick - old friends from Nuneaton. Barbara's late husband, Colin, was our best man and one of John's oldest friends. It was lovely to see that Barbara has been able to build a new life for herself and find happiness with a good friend. We had a very happy day, eating and talking a lot and taking a bit of a walk round the town. Barbara and Dick are both good gardeners and were able to help me identify a few more things.

I spend a lot of my time poring over gardening books trying to identify things as they come up. I'm enjoying that along with all the time I spend outside wandering along the paths, looking at all the stuff, dreaming about possible changes, wondering what will come up next, etc. Last week I took advantage of some warmer weather to get down on my knees and do some serious weeding. It's good to get up close and personal with your plants and the soil they're living in. Too bad I only managed to do such a little bit of work before I got tired, my back started to ache and I thought up a few excuses to come in!

Stay tuned ..... and send me e-mail:

Sunday, April 16, 2006


This is more like it! The sun has been shining quite a bit over the last few days, it's warmed up and spring really feels like it's here. Of course, we have been having a few little showers, but nothing like the ice and snow of last week.

I just made John come outside with me to take this picture in the garden. The red flowers are flowering currant and the yellow is forsythia.

If you feel like making comments about this picture, or if you just feel like writing to me, please send e-mail to

Just for contrast, I've included a picture taken in 1965, at Swansea University's President's Ball (no rude comments please!). I had a 24 inch waist back then! My escort was Steve Ellis - I wish I knew where he was now. I've tried to locate him, but to no avail. I'm pretty sure he was stationed at Edgware Police Station up till a few years ago, but now I don't know where he might be. He must have retired by now.

This weekend is Easter. Good Friday and Easter Monday are Bank Holidays over here, so the valley and the hills are full of walkers. I was happy to see lots of family parties out hiking, too.

I have continued to walk with Ella - but now it's more of a pleasure because I'm not lumbered with a down parka. I've had to keep her on the leash more, however, because she ran off the other day and it was a long time before a kind person brought her back to me. It turned out that that kind person is a neighbour and one of the family who take Ella for walks on a regular basis. Apparently, she heard their voices and took off after them. Had I known that I wouldn't have panicked and called home for reinforcements! Today I relented and let her off to go for a swim in one of the reservoirs. I threw sticks and she did a pretty good imitation of a killer whale going after them. She has quite long hair, so we both got soaked, but it was great fun and we enjoyed it.

Our trip to the Museum on Tuesday proved to be very interesting and it looks as though we are going to be able to make a contribution to their work. There are lots of stuffed birds that need to be identified and they have not been stored well, so there's work to be done in labelling, cataloging and storage. We're going back on Tuesday and I hope they'll be able to find things for us to do over the next few weeks and months.

At home on the bird front we've had a new visitor to the feeders. It's a gold finch, at last! This is the first time we've seen anything at our nyger feeder since we put it up in the autumn. The mix of birds in the garden has changed now. We're seeing lots more blackbirds, robins, dunnocks and chaffinches. The pair of bullfinches are still around along with a couple of pairs of great tits, another couple of pairs of blue tits and a couple of greenfinches. The large flocks of tits we had in the winter are a thing of the past, now.

I guess they're all getting territorial now. I've seen lots of nesting behaviours - chaffinches with huge beakfulls of fluffy stuff and jackdaws, rooks and crows flying about with twigs. The local rooks have a rookery right over the main shopping street in town. It's a terrible mess with poop and twigs all over the street. And it's noisy too. I'm surprised, but pleased, that the town council don't try to scare them off.

The pheasant population has changed in our garden. Mr Big has disappeared, having had his way with his harem of 4 females. This left a space which has been filled by Darkie who has reappeared accompanied by 3 females. He's not in very good shape, even though he throws himself around the yard and crows repeatedly. One of his tail feathers is broken and his feathers look very rough. I don't know if this is due to a season of debauchery or just too much fighting with Mr. Big! I haven't actually seen him mating with any of the females although I have seen him displaying to them. Usually they just run away when he tries anything!

The badgers are still coming by every evening for their peanuts. On Thursday night our neighbour, Dave, joined us for dinner and they were late. We thought they weren't going to come now that we'd showed off about them, but in the end they appeared and we were able to watch them for quite a while. Have decided to call one of them Herbert because they appear to Hoover up the nuts! You could swear they inhale them!

Monday, April 10, 2006

It's still awfully cold here!

Brrrrrr ...... Night time temps are still dropping below freezing and we're lucky if it gets above 10C (50F) during the day.

Here's a worm's eye view of the Helleborus that Val White bought me earlier this year. It has settled nicely into its new home and has produced lots of white blossom almost the size of tea saucers!

First, I thought I'd tell you a bit more about the badgers. For the last week we've managed to entice 3 of them up onto our patio with peanuts. They've come every night between about 9 and 11 pm. It's such a priviledge to see them that we forgive them all the digging in the lawn!! I wish I could go outside and pet them, but they'd run away and probably never come back if I tried! There are two of them that sometimes arrive together. They are so similar that we think they may be siblings, and could be yearlings. Then there is another who is paler in the face. I think he may be an old boar .

Next, I am getting my petting done, but it's on our neighbour's dog - Ella. I volunteered to take her for a few walks. She is a golden retriever and the most lovable, loving dog I ever met. She can go off leash and loves to run on the hills chasing rabbits (although she never catches them). She NEVER chases sheep, which is a good job as the hills are full of ewes with lambs, right now. We've been heading up the valleys and up onto the Long Mynd where she can go off leash.

Yesterday we got so high the rain turned to ice pellets and then snow! That didn't stop her from rolling around on the grass and the bracken - in fact she rolled about so much she tumbled off the bank and into a stream! So she laid there and had a drink for a while before finding the muddiest piece of path to run through. After a couple of hours (we went much further than intended, but I just had to see if I could make it all the way to the top) we returned covered in mud (both of us), exhausted and happy!

Today was cold and sunny and we headed up another valley where she found lots of big fat rabbits. Of course they all took shelter in the gorse bushes after leading her a merry chase up the hills and down the vales, so no-one was hurt! She again spent a lot of time lying around in the various streams and brooks on our way. Jason used to do that, too! I took the precaution of rolling up my trousers and came back a lot cleaner this time!

Church Stretton has been voted the most dog-friendly town in England and it is really nice to meet lots of dogs on our walks. They also seem very friendly. Down in the main valley of the Long Mynd National Trust park there is a chalet which serves tea and coffee and light meals. They have a long verandah equipped with dog bowls too!

(Here's a white Aubretia from the rock garden)

Thirdly, we start an interesting volunteer project for the Shrewsbury museum, tomorrow. The museums used to be scattered about the town and they have been consolidated now into two buildings. However, they are going to move again and prior to that need to sort out the mess created when they moved the first time! Our job is to sort through the collection of Victorian stuffed birds. We have to get them out of the storage cupboards, make sure they're what they say they are and where they should be, make sure they're properly sealed up in plastic bags and then store them properly. It sounds pretty easy, but there are some extinct birds amongst them that we don't even know. The other drawback is that they may be preserved with arsenic. We're going to have to wear gloves and I'm going to wear a mask, too, as I'm allergic to dust.

If we do a good job on that there may be other projects, including a whole collection of birds-eggs to sort out. It's nice to get out and into a bigger town, and it's nice to deal with younger people too. The volunteer coordinator is quite a young man and the museum manager is a lot younger than us, too!

(The flowering currants are coming out now. And I've also seen an increase in bumble bees. They have quite a few different flowers to visit, and this is one of their favourites.)

And finally, in spite of the cold weather, I've been pressing on with the garden clean-up. In fact, I'm now done with phase one. This is a distinct relief. I've found lots more interesting things coming up including lots more astilbes and peonies that I didn't know we had. Remember, we first saw the house and garden in June last year, but we only had a cursory look around the garden. Then we didn't see it till we moved in at the end of August, so we've really no idea about what spring and early summer things we have.

Some things have been damaged by frost, but may recover so I've left them for the moment (e.g. Ceanothus and Rosemaries in the wall bed. I haven't pruned anything other than the bushes along the front of the house, yet, but some of our shrubs are getting very leggy and interfering with each other. I also notice that the two Pieris near the front door are both yellowing. Maybe they need a feed.

Now we need to start in on the various problems. John has promised to help with some of these.
  • Repair badger damage to lawn, reseed, maybe remove moss from lawn.
  • Prune the holly like shrub that is interfering with the big cypress tree.
  • Remove the dying parts of the Olearia macrodonta near the green gate (another holly like shrub).
  • Sort out the climbers on the various trellises
  • Weed to get rid of ground elder, dandelions, blackberry
  • Put up a framework to train the tayberry (a thornless, cultivated, relative of the blackberry)
  • Set up a composting system which is warmer and easier to work than the present one
  • Pruning on both sides of driveway.
  • Feeding and fertilizing

In addition I need to continue with my identification and documentation project. This involves photos, html documents and an Access Data Base - OK, OK, I know I'm a nerd!!!!!

One of the interesting things to emerge is a whole area of ramps (the American term) or ramsons (the British term) or wild garlic or bear's garlic or Allium ursinum. I'm looking forward to harvesting some of it for breakfast with scrambled eggs. The last time we ate them was with Tom and Jackie Wolfe in Guelph, Ontario back in the 60s!

Tuesday, April 04, 2006


Inspired by what we learned at the badger watch on Saturday night we laid a trail of peanuts across the back garden, crossing the badger trail and leading to a cache of peanuts near the patio. We weren't sure if it would work because of the patio and lawn lights , but we thought our local badgers would be used to such things since they share the environment with humans.

Yesterday the badger turned up at 10:45 as we were watching the telly. He didn't seem too bothered to be close to the house, although I'm pretty sure he/she didn't see us.

Today I mounted a watch upstairs in my room. I spotted him as he followed the trail from the far lawn through to the one near the house. It was 10:45 again and he was right on time!

John came upstairs to watch with me as he came right up to the bird feeder area where the main pile of nuts was. He then hung around eating for some time. Long enough, in fact, for me to get my camera and attempt to get some photos. The originals were almost completely black, but with the miracle of computer technology I was able to enhance the image enough for you to see that it really is a badger.

The rest of the photos were taken earlier today as I wandered around the garden marvelling at all the wonderful things that are appearing now. These are some of the small miracles - they're primulas.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Calm Skies and Still Wind!

The wind has finally died down, the clouds have lifted and dusk is falling. The Ash brook is still swollen with rain, we can hear its tumbling and rushing throughout the house. But that's just the background to the lovely melody of the blackbird as he sings his evening song. This is music which takes me back to my childhood when I used to sit under the damson tree in our back garden and the blackbird would be singing right above my head.

We're so lucky to live here!

Badger Watching!

Many thanks to John who started writing this in a note to his sister. I've just added a few bits.

We are working inside today as it is windy and showery. I am doing garden records and John is writing a review that is overdue. For the last few days I've been trying to do a bit of gardening, but have had to dodge persistent showers. At least it's warmer now - hovering around 10C or 50F.

We went on a fantastic badger watch last night. It was organized by the Shropshire Wildlife Trust and there were only us two signed up so we went in the leader's car rather than the bus they usually use.

Follow this link to see a badger watch web cam along with movies and other information. This is NOT the badger watch we went on, but it will give you an idea of what we saw.

The hide was about 10 minutes over wet muddy fields but it was good, with padded seats (good as you are watching for 2 hours). We saw a total of 7 badgers above ground at once and they were playing and eating the peanuts that had been put out for them. We watched badgers for at least 90 minutes, I think, before they dispersed to forage for the night.

It got dark after about half an hour but we were lent night-vision binoculars that enabled one to see them very well. It really was a fantastic experience and the chap who led it was very pleasant and knowledgeable. I think we may go again and take visitors when they come to stay. Our leader recommends the May sessions as the young should be seen then. Right now they are still living underground, having been born during the last couple of months.

We've also learned a few things that may help us to watch our local badgers. They are very shy and don't like to come near humans. Since they have keen senses of smell and hearing you have to be totally silent and stay downwind of them. Their eyesight is not terrific, but they can be spooked by new shapes and outlines, so you should sit/stand in a way to prevent them seeing your silhouette.

Joy and John came over for the day with Uncle Wilf and Janice on Thursday. In the evening Joy and I went out with our big torch and shone it up the bank towards the sett. We were rewarded with the sight of two little black and white heads peering down at us for a few moments. Now we have to encourage them to come down at predictable times so we can see them properly. I think peanuts will be the answer!

As well as the badgers, we had a good day with the family. We went for a ride around in the hills, ending up at the Dingle Nursery and gardens. It was a blustery day and we were quite late arriving there, so we didn't go into the gardens, but just looked around the sale area. They have lovely plants and I think we'll be going back there when the weather's nice and we can spend some time browsing.

The lovely thing about our drive was seeing all the daffodils. There are swathes of them along the sides of the roads. I suppose someone planted them originally, but they're spreading all over the place. It was gorgeous.

Our standard large-sized daffs are just coming out now. We have a good show and I've brought in some that were lying down so we have a cheerful bunch in the kitchen too!