coquet nature lover

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Into the orchard

Blossom is a sure sign that spring has arrived! There are also numerous signs of summer approaching. Swifts have been circling high over the garden in search of insects and the swallows are sitting on the electric overhead cables. I've seen several colourful butterflies fluttering in search of nectar-rich flowers and, two weeks ago, a flurry of bats flew along the long narrow lane at dusk. Mind you, it was much warmer than one recent morning when the thermometer recorded just 6C. It certainly didn't  feel like summer to me...

Here in my small Northumberland orchard, the pear blossom has come and gone but the deep pink buds on the apple trees are only just beginning to burst open. With the risk of late frosts in the Northumberland hills, this could actually be good news for my apples but bad news if I'm hoping to poach pears in the Autumn!

I usually manage a good yield of apples and plums but growing pears has not been quite so successful. As pears need more warmth to develop well, they are at risk in this part of the country, especially given that they flower earlier. If you decide to grow pear trees, choose a protected south or west facing site in your garden if you can.

You can identify apples from pears by looking closely at differences in their blossom.  The photo below demonstrates this quite clearly where you can see the black speckly bits (anthers) on the blossom without the petals.  When the pear blossom appears, these anthers are pink however as the petals open out, they turn black whereas this does not happen with apple blossom pictured above.

Pear Louise Bonne of Jersey
Pear Williams' Bon Chretien
Pear Beurre Hardy

Unless the pear trees are self-fertile, they will need to be cross-pollinated by insects to make fruit. Several years ago, I planted Louise Bonne of Jersey (RHS pollination group 2) and a Beurre Hardy (group 3). To explain this further, the group represents the flowering period, with 1 being the earliest in the season. A variety can be pollinated by another of the same group or one to either side as the flowering groups do overlap somewhat. Having said this, Louise Bonne of Jersey did not produce any fruit until I planted a Williams Bon Chretien (group 3) which produces flowers at more or less the same time. Now this is bizarre as I recently read that Williams Bon Chretien doesn't pollinate with Louise Bonne of Jersey and vice versa.. It would therefore appear that cross pollination must have taken place with a compatible tree in a neighbouring garden which is strange as I've only seen apple trees next door! 

I'll have to think of planting an additional tree that will blossom at the same time as Pear Louise to increase the chances of an abundant harvest! Perhaps it will be safer to stick with the same 'flowering group' rather than rely on pollen from a neighbouring tree.

Morello cherry

In March I planted two bare rooted damson trees. They seem to be settling in well and produced a small amount of blossom last month.

Yes, I know what you are all thinking... 'there's not much chance of damson gin next Christmas!'

December 2016

Often you will find that trees in an orchard are all planted at the same time and this can become a problem. I think that was the case with my small plot so over the past five years, I have been gradually replacing the old trees that have died.  It will be a while until the younger trees mature but at least I've started the process.  It's a long term project but hopefully it will be worth it in the years to come!

As Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) famously wrote: 

'La patience est amere, mais son fruit est doux'
 'Patience is bitter, but it's fruit is sweet'


Four and twenty blackbirds...

The birds just love the long grass and tall trees in the orchard. Admittedly, species include mainly starlings, thrushes, blackbirds and jackdaws but there are also goldcrests, chiffchafs, warblers, redpolls, wrens and yellowhammers. These are much harder to photograph and when I do see them, I don't usually have the camera on me! 

There are at least six pairs of blackbirds nesting in hedges round and about the garden and that doesn't include those in the orchard! One pair has included the greenhouse in their territory which probably explains why the buds of the apricot tree have vanished! In fact, they are becoming quite tame.

Starlings love to perch on the tree tops in the orchard and gaze around

Now the last thing I need is a rabbit!
male and female blackbirds listening for worms
female blackbird collecting nesting material from the pond
female blackird sitting on oil tank about to fly up to nest in Leylandii
sparrows stripping the Pampas grass to line their nests
Chimney liner is approved as a nesting material by these jackdaws!
unexpected squatter in my brand new owl box!
Perfect place to nest on my neighbour's parasol?

Last of the early spring flowers

view of rainbow over Coquetdale

Monday, 24 April 2017

Iceland gull - Angry or kind?

With the wind dropping and the sun out, a late afternoon walk at Low Newton by the Sea seemed like a good way to end the weekend. Yes, there was plenty to see with the paths along the clifftops flooded yellow with lesser celandine and cowslips, attracting numerous bees with their delicate egg yolk flowers and pale green stems.


Several seals were swimming close to the shore, gently nudging their heads and noses up to take a quick look around. Up above, streams of gannets could be seen heading back to Bass Rock after a successful fishing outing whilst several low flying cormorants, and one lone shag, headed south - perhaps back to Amble pier where I often take pleasure in counting them. For once, it was possible to identify the shag. With its slender bill and green sheen, it stood out from the cormorants.

Before heading home, a quick look at the flooded field next to Newton Pool proved to be a good decision.  It was actually quite dry and although there weren't that many waders or ducks on it, there were yellow and white wagtails running on the ground foraging for insects on the far side. Having almost given up and ready to head home, a keen birder drew my attention to a large white gull across the field which he confirmed was an Iceland gull. Now I've not seen one of those before so yes, it's a 'first'!

At this time of year, small numbers of Iceland gulls are passing through the north east on migration to Greenland where they breed. Generally they winter in north west Europe (including Iceland) but the bird at Newton Pool probably spent the winter further south in England. I am not sure why they are called 'Iceland' gulls as they don't breed there - unlike the common ringed plover I follow!

Typically I didn't have my camera with me so I had no choice but to use the mobile which wasn't ideal given the bird was several hundred metres away and could only be properly seen through binoculars. The photo below is in its raw state (taken with an iPhone through a telescope) Still, it's good to have some context....

The next photo has been zoomed in and cropped. Sorry the photos aren't great but you can identify it is an Iceland gull with its long white wing tips. You can also see the gull has a kind face unlike Glaucous gulls which are supposed to have angry faces!

Iceland gull - 23/04/17

To close this post, here are a couple of my favourite wildlife shots. As I didn't manage to get a shot of a seal yesterday, here is one taken off the Northumberland coast last summer. You can read more on my post A trip to Coquet Island
Grey seal

And here is a close up of a cormorant preening. I think I may have to do a post on 'cormorants and castles' as both are in abundance on the Northumberland coast! Admittedly, this cormorant was taken at the Marine Lake in West Kirby on the Wirral but then again, you can forgive me as that's where, as a child, I probably saw my 'first cormorant'!


and castles... (Dunstanburgh - view from Low Newton)

With such diverse landscapes and a wonderful array of wildlife, Northumberland is a superb place for nature loversEnjoy!

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Update on common ringed plover 895838

Apologies for these shots which I intended to post at the end of March but unfortunately photography and blogging has had to take a bit of a back seat the last few weeks.  Anyhow, it's back to business and the borrelho strikes again! 

Just to remind you, borrelho is portuguese for common ringed ploverIf you are new to my blog, you might want to click here common ringed plover ring number 895838 to find out more about this bird which was rung as a chick in Sandasandar, Iceland in May 2010

Santa Luzia

The Ria Formosa National Park is a protected coastal region situated in the Algarve, Portugal. It was established as a nature reserve with UNESCO protected status way back in 1987. It is also part of Natura 2000 network of specially protected areas across the European Union and designated a site of international importance under the Ramsar convention (an international treaty for the conservation and sustainable use of wetlands).

Santa Luzia overlooks the lagoons and waterways of the Ria Formosa. With its amazing habitat, which includes saltmarshes and mudflats, it is a haven for migratory birds travelling through Africa, Europe and the North Atlantic areas of Iceland and Greenland.

Here are some photos of our seven year old ringed plover '895838' which Joao in Portugal kindly sent me last month to share on my blog. This stretch of coastline, just along from the fish market in the fishing village of Santa Luzia is where the ringed plover returns year after year after breeding in Iceland.  

(Common ringed plover: Fr-Bécasseau variable   D-Alpenstrandläufer)
(Dunlin: Fr-Grand gravelot   D-Sandregenpfeifer)

Santa Luzia proudly proclaims itself as the 'Capital do Polvo' (octopus capital) of Portugal and on weekdays, an auction takes place when the colourful fishing boats return in the mornings with their catch. 

Fish market where the ringed plover hangs out!

With the recent sightings, the South Iceland Research Centre, based at the University of Iceland, has been able to update their records for this individual bird and my contact informs me he is expecting her to arrive back in Iceland anytime now. 

You might be also be interested to know that the first ringed plovers return to Iceland as early as the 1st April. It is likely however that just a few will arrive at this time. More birds will arrive on the mudflats in Iceland between 15-20 April and there will be a peak between approximately 28 April and 03 May. The final peak occurs between 15-30 May and this large flock will include Greenland birds passing through Iceland on the way to their breeding grounds.

It is quite amazing when you stop to think about it!
Clutch of four eggs (Bodvar©)

Cute common ringed plover chick (Bodvar©)
For new followers of my blog, here are two photos which were taken in Iceland. I'm sure you will agree, the photography is superb and a real privilege to share with you

Now if you are thinking about Iceland or Portugal as a holiday destination, please keep your eyes open for our ringed plover and of course any other birds you might spot with rings. The research centre needs your help to continue their amazing work.

No one knows what triggers bird migration but we do know that successful migration depends largely on weather conditions. So, fingers crossed for a safe passage and favourable winds for this bird's amazing journey back to Iceland.
I am indebted to Joao in Portugal and the South Iceland Research Centre for all their assistance and also for making me smile when they told me they have named the bird after me! At last a claim to fame and I am very honoured. Thank you!

If you are interested, click here for other posts on the Algarve coastline

Ria Formosa rediscovered 

Sea birds of the Sagres peninsular

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Gliding into Spring

Le corbeau ne vole que le jour
Le hibou ne vole que la nuit
Le cygne vole la nuit et le jour
(Extract from 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame' by Vicor Hugo - 1802-1885) 

Welcome to my garden 

First up the blooms ....

next up a few regular visitors ....  

although the lesser redpoll and the brambling will be off any day now

Blackbird guarding his nesting spot

Blackbirds just love fruit!

Lesser redpoll feeding on niger seed

Yes, the bullfinch is high in the pecking order!

Nuthatch - a woodland bird that can walk down a tree

Greenfinch - male with bright plumage

Siskin (m) perched on a branch

Long-tailed tit with a tail bigger than its body

Brambling - only appeared in my garden this year in March 
Better late than never!
Dunnock showing its blue-grey head and breast

followed by a visit to the greenhouse ....
apricot blossom

peach blossom

lone olive

just one olive but..... five lemons!

and finally to see who is nesting in the orchard....

Red-legged partridges snoozing in the sunshine

Wood pigeon - photo taken 12/03/17
Now this youngster must surely be one of the earliest in the north this year! It can fly quite well so was probably born back end of January. This bird is amazingly tame considering it was our first encounter - clearly doesn't know of the local cats' hunting abilities and the many threats posed to birds from humans. Hopefully the orchard will become a safe haven.

'Now who's that over there?'

'Oh, is it Mum or maybe Dad?'

'Time for a top up feed!'

As Oliver Twist said '... I want some more'

'No second helpings for me!'

Good night and sweet dreams!