Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Where does the time go?

Blimey, been a while hasn't it?  As you know, moved house of late and as you can imagine, been rather inundated with DIY and if not DIY, very busy with work, which I hasten to add is going rather well.

So what has happened in my world that has dragged me back here to enlighten you dear reader, well, lots actually. So lets begin.

Unwelcome guests

So, we live in the country now and things are a little different here, especially the wildlife. One species in particular, is the rat. Now I have no problem with rats, I grew up seeing them on debris sites next to the railway line where I lived in London. From what I can remember, they were huge beasts, the size of a cat, but then that could be my childhood memory playing tricks. Everything seemed bigger when we were kids. The rats here though are different, they are after all, wild animals that are living in the countryside, like mice, voles, shrews, etc. The rats in London lived in the sewers, the filth and squalor of an urban population. Yet, there's something that the very word 'rat' brings out in people. An immediate disgust, filthy, viscous creatures are words coupled with revulsion upon peoples faces. I must admit, I too am not too happy to see them in my garden, especially at 11am under the bird table whilst sparrows and dunnocks hop around it without a care in the world.

Rats become sexually mature at 5 weeks old! They are capable of having large litters of up to 12 young! So it doesn't take a genius to do the math that a pregnant female with access to a regular supply of food beneath my bird table, could mean, that in no time at all, I could be overrun with them, not good.

So they must be got rid of and I'm not reaching for my gun, because I don't have one, neither am I looking for the rat poison or the deadly rat trap. No, call me soppy, but I really do believe there's plenty of room for everything on our little planet, however, I don't want a breeding colony of rats to live with. So I purchased a Humane rat trap that captures them alive. So far, it's caught 4 (2 males, 2 females) and I have moved them to an even more rural location than where I live now. With mice, you need to remove them at least 100yds from where they were captured to ensure they don't return. Rats however, is 2 miles. So each morning, I check the trap and each one I find goes into the back of the car and is driven way out into the countryside. I always make sure that I find somewhere away from any human habitation, I'm not going to dump my rats onto someone else. Then I flip open the cage and rat runs off into the hedgerow with a squeak to chance its legs somewhere else.

The other unwelcome visitor came as bit of a surprise. My fish pond, which I forgot to show you a picture of last time, here it is:

A work in progress.
Has been up and running for a few months now and I wanted to get some of the fish from my original pond, that have been staying at my Father-in-laws pond during the move, into it. So I managed to catch 3 Koi and two goldfish, one of which came from our very first pond in Dagenham back in the early 90's.

By adding these hardy fish, they will help get the filter going and get the pond ready for the rest of the fish. I would check on them from time to time to make sure all was well, then one day I noticed something rather odd. Instead of my usual 5 fish, there were only 3! The two goldfish were missing, a bit odd I thought, maybe they're hiding. But after a couple of days, still no goldfish. So I set up my trail cam next to the pond and on the first night it caught what I had secretly been dreading.

Heron by the pond.
It seems my lovely goldfish were sushi for this pesky bird. So annoying. The pond is new, it's not an established pond, and it's the only garden pond for quite some distance. So this really was pot luck for this bird who must have spotted whilst flying over. Needless to say, that day, I went out and bought netting and it hasn't been back since, fingers crossed. I just can't wait now to get some plants growing in the pond to give the fish some much needed cover.

Welcome guests

There's been a few of these, with an array of birds at the bird table all day long, a Robin nesting in my soffit boards, a Dunnock singing at his post at the bottom of the garden, a field full of Fieldfares all winter long, Skylarks singing in the skies above the house, Yellowhammers calling from the hedgerows around us, the Sparrowhawk trying his luck at the feeders, Hares and Fallow deer running across the fields outside and the odd buzzard floating over the garden. Yes, the welcome guests completely outnumber the unwelcome.

This week, not far from our house, whilst driving into town, I could not believe my eyes. As I drove into the little village of Denham (or the outskirts of) a Hawk swopped past in front of me on the gusty wind. It was being followed by three rooks and I was so amazed I pulled the car over to a stop immediately. Thankfully, I decided on not leaving my binoculars at work the day before and they were still in the car, I picked them up and focused and there drift lazily on the wind was a Red Kite! 

I've seen plenty of these birds in my time as a trucker and over the years I slowly watched these beautiful birds slowly spread east across the country from Devon and Wales. One place where you was almost guaranteed a good show was on the M40 driving into Oxfordshire. Here they would hang on the wind that blew over the Chilterns like they were hanging from the sky itself and here, in my little part of rural Suffolk, was one of these birds. this is the most furthest east I have seen a Red Kite and I can only hope that I will get to see more of them around these parts in the future.


I've got a new camera control set up as I was impressed with the camera last year and now have a whole host of projects I want to get started on. So I now have a way of recording several cameras at the same time via a DVR.

Still room for another camera!
Last year, I had one camera in the nest box, which happily saw the Blue tits raise their young. I brought that camera with me from our old home and replaced the box I took away with another non-camera box. I've set the camera up here and for the last month, the Blue tits have been in it every single day for a good couple of hours pecking away at the hole and checking it out. However, two days ago, all activity stopped and they haven't been back. Coincidentally, the strong winds started about two days ago too,, so maybe they are just taking cover from the storm at the moment. Strangely though, Facebook sent me a reminder this morning from what was happening this time last year.

The first eggs were laid this time last year!
Despite all the attention the Blue tits have been giving this nest box this year, they are somewhat lagging a bit!

The view today, a bit sparse me thinks.
On the Sparrow box, no action whatsoever, except for the occasional look in from the Blue tits, the Sparrows have paid it no attention. Might need to move it into a new place. 

I do have a new camera though and this one is currently placed by the small wildlife pond I've dug in the front garden. 
The small wildlife pond in the front garden.
Apparently, there used to be a larger one here years ago that crossed into both properties, but they were filled in due to the neighbours concerns over their young children. I've decided to re-instate it, although much smaller than the original, this is not a problem. My old neighbour (Hi Mick & Lisa, we miss you) used to have a sunken flower tub in his back garden that actually had newts in it and this year has even got frog spawn in it! So every little helps and I'm pretty sure that in no time at all, wildlife will find it beneficial to them. 

The wildlife pond cam in place
Already I've watched my tribe of Sparrows and Flash the Blackbird having a good old wash in it. Build it and they will come!

So just a small blog this time to keep you in the loop as it were, bear with me during this time of transition in our lives, the blog will get back on track soon, promise.

Till next time, keep safe, keep smiling. 

Friday, 16 January 2015

Happy new year one and all

Happy New Year everybody, I hope you all had a enjoyable time and I wish you all good things for the coming year ahead. Things have been slowly improving here in the sticks despite the cold and windy weather of late. The pond is now up and running and a couple of the Koi from my original pond in Ipswich, which have been holidaying in my Father-in-laws pond during the move, have now been moved into the new pond. At the moment, they're looking a bit lost in the pond as there isn't much vegetation for them to hide under. But plants have been added, including some fast growers, so hopefully, it won't be too long before they get settled. As you can see, I still need to trim the liner in places, but I just need to make a few more minor alterations before any final cuts are made.

Thankfully, the website I bought the liner from have a few issues with their measurement charts and despite giving them the correct pond dimensions, they still managed to sell me more liner than I actually needed. But it's not all bad, as the excess liner will come in handy for lining the wildlife pond in my front garden, which despite me lining with clay from the bottom of the big pond I excavated, still won't hold water for very long. My neighbour, who works as a landscape gardener, reckons the clay needs to be much thicker. I guess he's right, but most of the clay I have is now inaccessible (beneath the liner of the big pond) and it killed my back just moving the small amount of clay I've already placed in there. So when the water drains out of the little pond, I'll place a liner in it instead, much easier.

Early arrivals

Got an email from my boss last week asking me what's this? The email contained a picture of an insect, possibly a bee in a jar.

What's this?
Apparently, during the end of 2014, one of the managers was splitting some wood when he came across some cocoons inside the wood.

Concealed cocoons. note the visible entrance tunnel through the wood.
These he thought, and quite rightly so, would make good education tools. However, what he didn't realise was, the cocoons were still occupied. Bringing them into the warm indoors, fooled the developing insects inside to think it was late spring and begin to emerge. Needless to say, I popped into the office to collect said bee for a proper identification. On closer inspection, I could see that the cocoons were that of the leaf cutter bee, something I videoed in action last year.

However, thanks to the experts on Twitter (Martin Harvey and Ian Beavis) I got a family ID of Coelioxys sp. When I got home, I was able to look at the specimen in greater detail and thanks to the key on the BWARS website, I was able to ascertain that it was in fact Coelioxys inermis, a cuckoo bee of leaf-cutter bees.

The female Coelioxys inermis cuckoo bee.

This bee will sit nearby to where a leaf-cutter is making her cocoons and whilst the leaf-cutter goes off to find more leaves, the Coelioxys will pop inside and lay an egg without the host bee knowing. The leaf-cutter comes back, lays her egg with a store of pollen and seals the chamber before creating the next chamber. However, the cuckoo bee's egg hatches and eats the store of pollen and even the host bee larvae, so that come spring, a new parasitic bee will emerge instead of a leaf-cutter bee.

Nesting time

It's around this time of year, that the birdies start to look for new nest sites for the coming year ahead, so now's the time to clean out your old nest boxes of last years nesting material and get any new nest boxes up ready. It really is important to remove old nesting material from a nest box as these harbour a host of parasitic mites that have spent all winter tucked up asleep waiting for some fresh warm blood from a little Blue tit and her young to feed on. Studies have also proven that most small birds will choose a clean empty box over an old box with last years nest still in it. The birds know what's best and a flea bitten chick won't have a good chance of survival if it's anaemic through being a parasites dinner.

The last week or so, I've watched Blue tit's, Sparrows and Robin's in groups chasing females, so I got busy with the nest boxes. The first box I put up is the Blue tit box which was used successfully last year in Ipswich. I also noticed that I have a lovely flock of House Sparrows outside my office window  sitting on top of the hedge. So using some bits of scrap wood from various DIY jobs around the house, I made a Sparrow nest box. So what's difference between a Sparrow nest box and one for Blue tits? Sparrows are communal birds and like to nest as a community, whereas Blue tit's are the complete opposite and are very territorial, to the point I've even seen one trying to fight itself in the wing mirror of a parked tractor near the nest.

So a Blue tit nest box is a singular affair and the Sparrow nest box comprises of three nest boxes in a row like this one I built.

Homemade shabby chic Sparrow nest box from upcycled wood.
The middle chamber does have a camera inside, so hopefully, if the Sparrow's like it, we'll get to see what they're up to.

The following day, with the nest boxes up, I got round to setting up the cameras inside them and my new Xmas pressies from santa, a 4 channel Digital Video Recorder. This is a simple device which monitors and records any activity from any of the cameras connected. Whilst I was dong this, a Blue tit actually came and inspected the box. Unfortunately, as I had only just connected the DVR up and was still trying to work it all out, I didn't record it, I did however grab this quick pic from my phone.

Blue tit checking out the nest box.
I'm also sorting out some wildlife cameras for work and have just built a critter cam that will attract and record the antics of some of our smaller mammals. I also connected this up to my DVR to try it out and it seems quite successful so far.

Indoor wildlife

Things have been busy indoors too, we've removed some panelling to reveal the original wattle and daub wall of the original dwelling which goes back over 300 years.

The thick part at the bottom was originally an outside wall.

Look closely and you'll see the twisted horse hair which helps to bind it all together.

As you will see from the photos, the wooden branches packed out with muck and hay and bound together with twisted horse hair. they really don't build houses like this anymore, certainly not in the UK anyway. 

We also noticed that there were a few exit holes from wood boring beetles and it was decided to get these checked out, along with the rest of the house. Turns out we actually have Death Watch beetle present in a couple of the old beams. This was confirmed by the man actually finding a tiny and minute beetle known as a Steely Blue. This beetle is a parasite of the Death Watch beetle and therefore is only present where its food can be found. Unfortunately, the tiny Steely Blue was lost by yours truly whilst trying to collect it into a specimen pot, D'oh!

Death Watch beetle exit holes.

Anyway, it isn't as bad as it sounds and there's no huge infestation. The house isn't about to collapse into a pile of rubble yet.

So it's been quite busy here of late and there are still more projects on the agenda, so don't be a stranger, keep popping in from time to time, you never know what might be happening next!

Till next time, Keep safe, Keep smiling