December Skies

For the first couple of days of December we have had clear skies meaning frosty mornings and sunny days. The blue skies have been punctuated by the high altitude wispy cirrus clouds, formed by ice crystals. The vapour trails of planes (contrails) are also very visible; indeed these can also go on to form cirrus clouds as they spread.Photo of Cirrus Clouds and Contrails

However, warmer moist air has now arrived so the sky is blanketed by thick cloud, which I think can be described as “Wood Pigeon Grey”.Photo of wood pigeon sat in tree

Garden Birds

Being lazy I decided to let the wildlife camera take the photos for me. Here are some birds that visited the garden. First of all, a female blackbird.Photo of female blackbird

Male blackbird.Photo of male blackbird

Robin.Photo of robin

Female chaffinch.Photo of female chaffinch

Magpie.Photo of magpie

Blue tit.Photo of blue tit

Great spotted woodpecker.Photo of great spotted woodpecker

Oh hello …. what a surprise! Mrs Fancypants-Tail and “friend” dropped by.Photo of squirrels

#CharityChristmas5 No.1

The thing about insomnia is that while you are lying there, failing to repair mind and body with restorative sleep, the brain comes up with silly ideas. This is one of many that my brain has come up with, but as it can be labelled “mostly harmless” I shall commit it to the World Wide Web.Photo of festive twigs

I thought of the Twitter hashtag #CharityChristmas5 whereby 5 times during December people could donate five pounds/dollars/euros etc to a charity. By 25th December, Christmas Day, 25 bits of currency would have been donated to 5 different charities by each individual. I thought perhaps people could choose smaller unsung charities. The people who run these don’t get executive levels of pay, they often do it to their own financial cost. They also don’t have armies of volunteers cold calling or chugging for them. I know that in these difficult times even this is a lot of money for many people, but even if people could think of a charity and retweet them with the hashtag it would raise useful publicity for them. You never know, a millionaire might see the tweet!Photo of £5 note

My first charity nominee is @otslondon and their sister campaign @breakfastinabag They help people and their dogs who are sleeping rough, in any way that they can. Take a look at their Twitter feeds to see the many things that they do and how to help them. They also have Amazon wish lists and donation pages here and here so that you can purchase items directly for them with your fiver. I’m looking forward to seeing who other people nominate.

Photo of Rodney a street dog

Rodney – provided with collar, food and treats by @otslondon – image courtesy of @otslondon

Being charitable to those less fortunate is a natural human trait for people of all religions and none. The Nativity story is a powerful one; a Jewish child who grows up to be the inspiration for Christianity, a prophet of Islam and a champion of other sects (Samaritans) is visited by rich Magi (probably Zoroastrians) and impoverished shepherds alike, all united by their hope of peace on Earth.

November Berries

Most of the berries around at this time of year are red. However, the ivy berries are green, turning purple. Poisonous to humans, they provide a great meal for a variety of birds including black birds and wood pigeons. Apparently they contain, gram for gram, as many calories as a Mars bar.Photo of ivy berries

Onto the red berries, most of which also provide winter nutrients for birds. The cotoneaster is putting on a colourful display with red leaves as well as red berries.

I think this might be a different sort of cotoneaster, the red berries are more obvious against the green leaves.Photo of red berries

A popular favourite around this time of year, the holly.Photo of holly berries

The birds have almost stripped the firethorn bush of its berries already.Photo of firethorn berries

For the bigger birds there are of course the rose hips.

Autumnal Seed Heads

As the garden dies back towards winter dormancy, the seed heads make for attractively melancholic scenes. The skeletal remains of the smoke tree frame a wintry sky.Photo of flame tree in autumn

The golden rod looks more like silver rod.Photo of golden rod gone to seed

Bladder campion husks contrast starkly against the autumn colours of their background.Photo of bladder campion seed heads

Michaelmas daisies add some soft fluff to their autumn backdrop.Photo of Michaelmas daisy seed head

They glow spookily in the darkness.Photo of Michaelmas daisy seed heads at night

Frosty Night

While other parts of the UK have been enjoying scenic wintry weather, Hereford has just been chilly and grey. Tonight we seem to be about to have our first proper frost of the season, with temperatures set to dip to minus three Celsius by the morning. The starry night augurs a chilly one.Photo of starry night

The frost is starting to form on the fallen autumn leaves. The wildlife will need extra food and the ice broken off their drinking water.Photo of frosted leaf

Wasp Nests

I recently undertook an expedition to the far reaches of the loft. Amongst the wondrous things to be seen up there are a couple of wasp nests in various stages. A wasp nest starts life in spring when the queen finds a suitable spot and creates a stalk (called a petiole) with a single hexagonal cell hanging from it. She will then build more cells around that and lay eggs in them.Photo of early stage of wasp nest

These will then develop into worker wasps who continue to build the nest, while the queen dedicates herself to laying more eggs in it. The nest itself is made from strips of wood that the wasps tear off from your fence panels or garden furniture, mixed with saliva and wax. It truly is a thing of great beauty. Photo of wasp nest in loft

Wasps regulate the temperature of the nest with water and by fanning it with their wings. The queen will now lay eggs that eventually hatch into more queens and male drones, once they have gone through the larval stage and pupated. These will leave the nest to mate. The drones will die and the fertilised queens will find somewhere to hibernate over winter, before finding a new nest site in the spring. The worker wasps and the old queen left in the nest will starve to death.

See also: Wasps – Free e-book

Late November

This part of the UK has been blanketed by thick grey cloud for most of the latter part of November. Therefore, it was pleasing to see some relatively interesting clouds a few mornings ago.Photo of dawn clouds

When the sun did anxiously peep out from under its blanket it made the few remaining birch leaves twinkle like gold.Photo of autumn birch leaves

The conifer seeds are providing a feast for a variety of small birds such as tits – too shy to be photographed!Photo of conifer seeds

The lawn fungi are still going strong, looking like squelchy accordians.

Hedgehog Houses

Further to my post about making a hedgehog feeding station, this one is about providing a cosy shelter for your resident hog to sleep off all the food you have just filled it with. Photo of hedgehog in feeding station

Hedgehogs generally make very simple nests, but require something more substantial for their winter hibernation. They will often cosy up under garden decking or wood piles. I bought some hedgehog igloos from Aldi for £8, much cheaper than the usual price.Photo of hedgehog house

They consist of a metal frame with twiggy stuff woven around it. This is not the most sturdy or weatherproof design. However, my more knowledgeable friends on Twitter gave me some advice for improving them.

A waterproof mat is placed underneath to provide some insulation from the cold damp ground. The igloo can be secured into place by tent pegs, or by covering with waterproof material such as tarp and placing soil or stones on top. Conveniently I had some conifers that needed trimming. These offcuts provide further weight, insulation and weather proofing. I am fortunate to have quite a few spots in the garden underneath shrubs that are out of the wind and protected from rain. I put some dry leaves inside and more dry leaves around the igloo, as I understand that they prefer to make their own beds!Photo of hedgehog house

As yet they remain uninhabited. All of the resident hogs seem to have found their winter beds already and the three autumn juveniles that I handed over to my local wildlife rescue hadn’t gained enough weight to be released before winter. I am hoping that in the spring a female hedgehog might consider raising a family in one of them.

Photo of shrubbery

The hedgehog house is behind here.

If you look up “hedgehog house” on the internet you will find a wide range available to buy. You can also make your own by following the instructions here, or another one here.

 

Coal Tit

The coal tit, Periparus ater, is found throughout Eurasia and Africa. It is a common garden bird. Feeding mostly on conifer seeds they will also visit garden feeders, where they favour sunflower seeds. They have been known to stash these seeds, so any surprise sunflowers growing in the garden may be thanks to this activity.Photo of coal tit

Full Beaver Supermoon

November’s full Beaver moon rises in its full glory on 14th November 2016. It will also be a perigee-syzygy, or supermoon. This will be the fifth supermoon of the year, with the sixth occurring in December. However, this particular supermoon will be the closest that the moon has come to the earth since 1948 and the closest it will be until 2034.Photo of white dianthus flower

Tonight though it is very cloudy and raining; the only white disc to be spotted in my garden is my dianthus flower.

Trees and their Leaves

You cannot avoid noticing at this time of year trees and their leaves. One minute they are there all green and fulsome, the next they are varied shades and falling rapidly to the ground.Photo of leaves on ground

It is interesting to note that some trees lose their leaves before others. All deciduous trees lose their leaves each year.  During autumn there is less sunlight available for photosynthesis, the green chlorophyl decreases revealing the red and yellow pigments within the leaves. Photo of trees losing leaves

The tree will lose water needlessly through its leaves, so the sap carrying veins gradually shut down. An abscission zone forms at the base of the leaf consisiting of weak cells in the top layer and tougher ones at the bottom, eventually the weak cell layer is broken and the leaf falls off. Photo of autumnal trees

This varies between different trees, for instance beech and oak trees have a very weak abscission layer and often keep their dead brown leaves throughout winter.Photo of autumnal trees

So there seems to be a genetic variation in drop rate, but individual trees are also affected by disease, pollution, street lights, temperature and other environmental variations.Photo of autumnal trees

The rowan tree has lost most of its leaves, but there are still a lot of berries on it. I wonder why the birds haven’t been eating them?Photo of rowan tree in autumn

We have had a couple of light frosts just recently, just enough to give a light sparkle to the fallen leaves.