Nature Notes at Chestnut Spinney: 2008-2016

(with apologies to Simon Barnes)

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January to April:

Again very mild, no snow and, by May very little rain. Lake is lower than I've ever seen it before at this time of year.

Was it the warmer winter, meaning a gradual awakening, or has there been a terrible problem, but NO FROGS this year! Didn't see a single live one migrating to the lake or the pond. Saw one mangled dead one, in mid March. No live ones in the water and no frog spawn!! Comparing to last year (see the pics and videos) this is a calamity. Should we be very worried? Just hope and pray this is a cyclic matter, and that the population will recover.

On the other hand it is Muntjak paradise! They are nesting (is that the word?) in Mike's woods and often shelter the night under the Grandiflora by the pond. Frequently on our morning walks, Woody flushes them out - but it doesn't deter them. They have been by the lake, in many positions, behind the gate, by the rockery, in the spinney and of course, daily trekking across the garden.


Second Half 2016:

Busy, busy, busy - problem keeping up with notes, although pictures going up.

Beautiful summer for Rhododendrons and young birds, with baby tits shouting in the nesting box outside the backdoor, and loads of goldfinches on the feeders. Warm winter months devoid of snow, and not much rain.

Real disappointment was the Gunnera this year. Grew tall and fast as usual, but whether it was too dry or too warm, it outgrew itself with plenty of height, but on very spindly stems. As a result, by August the first of the big leaves started collapsing, and had a domino effect on others. I couldn't clear the fallen ones quickly enough, and within two weeks or so, he whole plant had collapsed. Will have to watch it next year.

April 17th: Green woodpeckers:

Green woodpeckers in great abundance this year, and 'sword fighting' for territory. See video in the gallery.

April 16th: Coots:

First baby coots born today, climbing up in the nest into pouring rain. Then it snowed briefly in the afternoon! Fortunately, the next day was nice and sunny, for their first outing on the lake. Mother had built a nest in a pretty exposed part of the lake, nearest the house, so as soon as the babies were born she started to build another nest, in the usual place down the far side in front of the protecting gorse hedge. Caught some of the nest building in video. See video in the gallery. There are two coots on the pond also - nest started but she is not on it yet. Moorhens also co-existing on the pond surprisingly.
Ducks are a disappointment again. A pair stayed on the pond for several weeks, whilst Woody and walked very carefully around them every morning. They also were on the grass a lot - even saw them walking across the grass, 11.00pm at night when Woody went out for a last water. However, sadly, they seem to have departed now


Still waiting for a show of frogs and toads this year, but slowly fearing the worse!

April 5th: Fox cubs:

Visited by fox cubs this month - quite mature so I don't think the set is in our garden, as it was in 2011. Quite a good display of rabbit catching and practising hunting though. See video in the gallery. 

March 24th:Muntjaks:
Two families of Muntjaks are around, one group spend most of the time in the woods by the fruit trees. That's the one who tried to jump the width of the drive, when we returned home one day! A couple of very young ones parade across the garden most days, with parents leading the way. Caught a couple of the older ones getting very friendly in the Spinney one morning. See the video in the gallery

 Jan to April: Weather:

Unseasonably warm weather might have meant no snow, but it sure meant a lot of rain....and wind! Not seen the ground so wet in the 12 years we have been here. So boggy behind the pond, and top of the garden, behind the fruit trees, that at times it was impossible to keep standing. Winds were so strong at times, that I was too scared to take Woody into the woods. First priority every morning was stick picking off the lawns.
Despite that, the camellia was in bloom before Christmas. However not much else was advanced, here, anyway. Snowdrops just beginning before Christmas but full by mid Jan as usual, then daffodils quite late, only just in full bloom early April. Barely a sign of bluebell leaves beginning to peep through.
And as for sign yet! Seen two very cold stragglers on the path, mid March, two in the pond first week of April, and a totally eviscerated one on the grass! No mass migration yet.


Christmas Day:

Was it the continued warmth, pure joy on Christmas Day, or had they been at the Buck's Fizz also? Our three Kites gave us an amazing display all morning, over the lake, and the field opposite, spending a lot of time balancing precariously at the very top of the spindly willow trees, just behind the lake. They spent a lot of time hunting very low in the field opposite, and across the garden. I have not seen them in one place, and so low, for such a sustained period before. I am really not sure what was the attraction. Got me into a lot of trouble as I couldn't take my eyes off them, when I should have been watching the family open their presents!

November 16/17/18:

Remarkably warm Autumn and early winter continues. So much so that a thrush was encouraged enough by the warmth to come out and serenade us, loudly, for these three mornings. Wonder if he attracted a mate?

November 5th:

Amazing sunset suffused the whole area with a beautiful pinkish hue. Difficult to catch faithfully on film, but my attempt is in the Gallery.

October (but throughout the year):

A pair of young Muntjaks have taken up residence in the woods behind us, and are occasionally caught sheltering in the 'den' by the pond. Autumn saw them scrumping apples in the evenings, but with a bountiful crop of chestnuts, they were emboldened (or hungry enough) to come close to the house to feast. See Gallery.

September 28th: Blood Moon:

Rare confluence of a total eclipse of the Moon, and the Big Moon, at it's closest to Earth. 3.00am picture taken of the Blood Moon, but unfortunately without a tripod, so a bit blurred. Later that day, trying to capture the beauty of the Big Moon, and was lucky enough to catch Easy Jet flight to the moon in the same picture! See Gallery.


A Kestrel, now, has taken up residence - Kevin kestrel. All day long perches on the very top of one of the fir trees in the rockery, occasionally flying down onto the grass, sometimes at quite a distance, to pick up something to eat. Often was joined by a second bird for longish periods. Not quite sure what they were eating, unless it was small dragon flies, of which there were lots about, especially little blue darters. Good eyesight what? See picture in gallery.

June through July:

The kites (Kenny Kite and his partner!) entertained us daily. Most mornings and evenings swooping around the garden, sometimes really low over the lake. On one occasion the male (?) attempted to take a young squirrel from under the centre magnolia, in full view of us, whilst we stood on the patio. Missing it the first time, it came round for a second swooping attempt, but failed again. Could be quite scary as they circled low over your head. They were always most inquisitive, coming out to see what was going on whenever I worked in the garden, particularly around the pond.

Frequently, evenings were spent either in the large Christmas tree, centre of garden, or in the fringes of the woods alongside the badger path. Became increasingly certain the nest was in our woods near the badger sets.

In early July, heard typical Kite's call - a sort of cat's meowing - only to be followed by a similar sound, but much higher notes, almost a whistle. Kite young!! There followed frequent sightings of not one, but two, young, perfect images of the parents in miniature - well half the size, so still pretty big.

Sightings reduced, until by mid August, hardly to be seen at all - but weather really bad, cold and windy and wet.

April 20th: Baby fish:

A beautiful warm sunny evening rewards us with the sight of a shoal of about 50 baby orange Koi in the lake. It must be a very healthy environment. What with the young fish and the frogs, a number of herons are very regular visitors now. We have even seen them fighting over a favourite pitch on the edge of the lake.

April: Sycamore trees:

Not seen it before, but there must be thousands of germinating Sycamore (or Chestnut) tree shoots growing in the lawn. If we didn't cut the grass soon, would soon have another wood.

Mar/April: The Kite show:

For three weeks we have been blessed with a Kite show - a pair of Kites who seemed to have adopted us. Not sure what attracted them. It could be nesting hatching baby rooks or the frogs, but the lovely birds have been wheeling and 'mewing' around the garden and in he woods three/four times a day. Frequently attacked by the rooks, they calmly lift and turn to escape, only to return shortly. They are most inquisitive, and as Woody and I walk out into the garden, or emerge from the woods, they arrive, investigating us, from only 20 or so feet above us. They haven't attacked us yet! One of them appeared to have an object protruding from it's legs. Initially I thought it was carrying wood for a nest. When it remained in many of the photos, I realised it might be tied to a leg, and it appears to be a leather thong. Could one of them be an escaped bird form the falconry centre? See photo montage in the Gallery.

March 28th: It's frog-time!

Long awaited and anticipated - it suddenly arrives! Home late one Saturday evening to find two cold frogs huddled under the light in the porch. Next day, several are found on the grass behind the lake, including one female transporting two males. Two days later the edges of the lake and the pond are heaving with frogs, and the croaking can be heard all over the garden. Included in the pond 'show' was on of the 'frog balls' I hadn't seen for a long time - some 20 or so frogs and toads twisting and writhing in a solid ball of green, black and brown frog flesh. Presumably there is a poor, tired female in the middle somewhere. See video in the gallery.

Mid March: Wild Flowers:
It may be no earlier, but the profusion of Spring wild flowers is better than we've ever seen! Aconites and snowdrops followed by primroses, crocuses, the blue ones (!) and for the first time white wild anemones (where did the come from?). A selection are in the Gallery, courtesy Luke.


Quiet start - away a lot. A pretty warm start to the year, but despite what a lot of people are reporting, I do not see activity starting earlier than most years. We are at the end of February, and the usual good showing of Snowdrops has just arrived. Gallery 2007-2009 shows them in January. Global warming alarmists?


October: Autumn:

Dry and warm so was expecting a really golden Autumn as in 2010 (see Gallery 2010). However the leaves stayed green for a long time, so there was very little time as Autumn passed, before lack of moisture encouraged the trees to shed their leaves. Some colour though a mix of greens, browns and reds as shown in the Gallery

July 13: Full Moon:

The moon is at it's closet point to the earth, since a long time ago, and for a long time in the future. Difficult to photograph, but just caught it low down as it came out of the clouds. Picture in Gallery.

July 2: Baby Tawny owls:

We have had our usual brood of tawny owls. The young sit high in the trees giving out their continuous alarm signals, a sort of raspy tsk tsk call - the kewick call. Struggled to find them in the foliage with the torch, even with teasing calls apparently right overhead and seeming so close. Finally rewarded with a view of 4 on a branch, side by side but without the camera. Had to settle for a picture of one on its own , shown in the gallery.

June 27: Mist over the lake:

Strange weather combining intense rain showers with immediate sunshine. The result one evening was a deep evening mist apparently rising out of the ground. It rolled across the garden and the lake, giving the beautiful view shown in the gallery.

June: The pond:

It is a beautiful season for the pond, after the clearing out work performed in the winter. The water lillies are magnificent with the James Brydon (deep pink) and the Rene Gerard (pale pink) looking especially lovely. The Gunnera is the star feature this year at over 12 feet tall. See pic in the gallery

May overall: Fledglings:

It may have been a bad season for water birds (only 2 baby coots soon reduced to one, and one bay moorhen) but it has beena great year for song birds. See pictures in the gallery of blue tit and wren fledglings. We had to worl hard to save them since their exit was a bit premature!

May 4th: Nature comes through!

My mid March fears about a survival problem for frogs and toads this year, because we just hadn't seen the usual mass migration to the lake and pond, nor indeed found any spawn, were unfounded! A warm sunny afternoon, and in the shallows of the lake, was a writhing black mass of tadpoles fighting for the warmest spot. Should be a good year after all. See pic in Gallery.

May 1st: Visitors for breakfast:

Geese frequently arrive, and stay for short periods on the lake. None stay for long, but we were a bit surprised when a group of 3 greylag geese tried to come for breakfast. See pic in Gallery.

April 30th: Bluebells:

Finally bluebells are everywhere. Pertinent to my earlier musings, things are actually later this year in some cases. Some unusual and lovely pink ones in the woods.

April 22nd: A first for Chestnut Spinney:

This morning I heard the first cuckoo I have ever hared in CSH! How uplifting.

March 17/18: It's beginning:

The flowers on the White Magnolia unfolded themselves in a day. Purple one not even showing coloured buds yet. Then, few days later, purple one in full bloom. How quickly they develop

March 15: At last!

Spotted the first female toad of the year labouring across the lawn with her male passenger. Then next few days rescued two very cold ones in the morning behind the lake. All is not lost

March/April: Is it early or is it late?

Despite the 'global warming' doom-mongers, I am having a hard time deciding if things are early or late this year. On balance things are later. It's warm but I haven't seen a frog yet (Mid March), daffodils are just appearing, there's little sign of bluebells sprouting through.

February 25th: If you want the rainbow.....
As Dolly Parton said....then you have to have the rain! A rainbow presented itself  today in conditions that combined such bright sunshine, and a very heavy localised downpour, that the resultant rainbow was absolutely dazzling, and in touching distance. A pot of gold must surely be just across the lake. The photograph in the gallery, barely does it justice.

February 22nd: Snowdrops:

The upside of a warm wet January is the best show of snowdrops we have seen for a long time. Spreading themselves like a blanket, they really cheer up a leaf sodden landscape, as the gallery shows.

February 10th: Another casualty:

We were away and missed this last really windy day. We didn't escape unscathed, though, and lost the second poplar tree. Oh well, couldn't hang my hammock up, anyway, since we lost the first one. Made a bit of a mess - see gallery.

January: Wet Wet Wet:

Well wettest January since record began - we hardly needed to be told that. Every cloud..... however. Never seen the lake and the pond so full up. Had a good clear out of the pond edges, giving best view of water than I've ever seen and makes the pond look larger. See Gallery.

January 26th: Big Garden Bird Watch:

Oh what a disaster this year! A very wet and windy day, both Saturday and Sunday. I kept putting off the hour on Sunday afternoon, after filling the feeders, hoping for better conditions, which did not appear. Finally started counting as it was getting dark. Only seven species, and that included the moorhens and the coots! Of course Monday morning, a weak sun was out and the trees and feeders were filled.

January: Latrines!

Much badger activity down by the boat shed, with badgers continually digging fresh 'poo pits'. I fill them in so they don't used - hopefully they will find another site! 

Jan 5th: Sounds of Spring?

A cold cloudy and damp morning, but how the spirits were lifted by the sound of not one, not two but three song thrushes singing their hearts out with their triplet melodies. Quite uplifting. The delight continued on and off through January.


Dec 10/11th: Winds: 

The gales put paid to a large sweet chestnut in the woods, and our lovely, healthy plum tree - trunk snapped completely in half. See Gallery_2014.

October 28th: Marque:

Luckily both the marque and the bonfire, erected before our firework party on 2nd Nov withstood the strong gales. Lighting the fireworks proved harder! 

October 19th: Visitors 

Following a noise reminiscent of the klaxons of a veteran car valley, which Woody quite excited, rounded the house to find a large flock of geese were using the lake as a temporary refuge. There was about 50 of them, but they only stayed some 30 mins before equally noisily taking to the air again. Picture in the Gallery.

Oct 3rd: Funghi: 

If only I had the knowledge, (or courage!) to find the edible ones, since it is turning out to be a fantastic Autumn for the funghi. We do pick and eat the field mushrooms, since they are the ones I can identify with some confidence. I am sure I found some chanterelle in the woods, but despite referring to Carluccio's book, could not be certain enough. A few varieties shown in the Gallery. 

Sep 11th: Preparing for departure: 

Several evenings this week saw a large flock of nearly 100 house martins, wheeling overhead the trees and grass, and swooping low over the pond to feed, gathering energy and companionship before departing to sunnier climes. Suddenly one day, there they were - gone! 

Aug 27th: Dragonflies:
It's been a great years for dragonflies and damselflies. Large and small red and blue-tailed damselflies, hawkers and many emperors. The emperors, darting backwards and forwards, really come up and study you quite closely in the face in a quite disconcerting manner. Gives the impression of a semi-autonomous 'sky-bot' from a Philip K Dick novel. Tough to get on film, but did capture a couple of pics. See one in the Gallery.    

Aug 6th: RSPB Big Wild Sleepout: 

Graced with another visit from BBC crews this evening and Tim Muffett to film a family camping  out to observe nocturnal wild life. An evening when CSH just would not perform at all - not a thing moved, despite me accompanying Tim, a camera man and two RSPB folks, and children, into the woods, to stand for 20 minutes to try to see badgers! Thank goodness for the owl hooting and the moth trap, to inject some 'wild' interest. 

Aug 2nd: Sky Rainbow: 

On a dry but slightly cloudy day, saw the unusual phenomenon of a rainbow in the clouds. Not grounded at either end, the rainbow appeared to float. The effect of sunlight through water droplets in the atmosphere. See Gallery. 

June 25th: Perigee Full Moon: 

Across these few days the moon was at the closest point to earth and appearing 10% larger and 30% brighter than normal. Also helped by the optical illusion as it was visible low in the sky. Made for 
some good pictures though. See Gallery. 

Jun 16/17: Badgers like peanuts:

Great Badger-Cam shots of 3 badgers snuffling peanuts around the main set. See Trophy Cam Gallery

May6th: Tadpoles finally:

 I had given up hope, particularly when I saw the frog spawn all dissolving in the water, with no signs of life. I assumed it had not been fertilised, what with the weather being all mixed up. However, today, cleaning the boat out, warm sunny day, there were millions of tadpoles, all warming themselves just off the 'beach'.

 April 30th: Summer starting? Swallows and Koi:

 Saw the first swallow over the lake. All alone though! This was not the case with the Koi. Last years offspring have really grown, mostly 'natural' default colour, but a group of very light ones also. Counted upwards of 50 fish.

April 29th: Pheasant on the nest:

 Had a young sycamore come down - gave us the butterfly picture on April 17th. Sawing up the logs, something not quite right in the brambly undergrowth caught our eye. It was a female pheasant on a nest. Really hunkered down and beautifully camouflaged, she still looked so vulnerable. See Video in Gallery. (Ed Note, still there on May 8th!)

 April 17th: Butterflies: 

Who says butterflies are rare this year? Just see what we found inside the trunk of a fallen tree. See the April Gallery, for which picture I am indebted to Luke Harris 

April 14th/15th: Spring!! 

After weeks of gloom and despondency, suddenly a bright sunny (if still very cold) morning. Suddenly all seems right with the world. Just this morning I see: Frogs in the pond, the swirling sound as countless small fish leave the surface of the pond, I count over 30 Koi sunning themselves at the top end of the lake, frogs swimming across the lake, I rescue a female frog carrying two males, and help her to the lake, the May trees are going green. Oh joy!! 

April 12th: Hooray: 

Simply one word (or is it two?).....Frog Spawn!

March 4th to early April: Kites:

 Such excitement, a pair of Kites appear to be starting to nest in the Spinney. The exact location is not clear, but the pair have been taking it in turns to circle low over CSH, giving me some amazing close up views. A lot of the time they are carrying large twigs, which leads me to believe the nesting intentions. Later in this period, there was an amazing scene as the group now appeared to be three strong, and were being attacked by the nesting rooks. There was a tremendous scuffle going on in the sky, with the kites 'mewling' piteously, and the aggressive rooks cawing loudly. On one occasion a kite was driven down into the Spinney. I am desperately trying to catch some good video for the gallery. (Ed: Now completed - see Gallery)

  Feb 12th: Pigeons:

 We have never seen so many Pigeons in one place as we keep seeing this year. When the flock takes off the sky darkens. I'd estimate some 300. One morning I had quite a start when they took off all at once with a very loud, extended  'swoosh'. They are driving the farmers mad with their nibbling of the tops of the rape shoots. I guess the cold, snow and frost is driving them to congregate here. The bad news is several loud explosive bird scarers in the vicinity. They make a pretty site, though, as they decorate the very tops of the chestnut trees around the Spinney. See the Gallery picture.

 Feb 7th to 10th: Swans:

 We got really excited when a pair of swans arrived and seemed to make the lake their home. Fully 5 days they lasted, and gave us hope. Sadly, although Woody was kept well away, amongst much shouting at each other they flew away on Feb 11th never to return. Was it a lover's tiff?

 Feb 11th: Long Tail Tits in the snow: 

Another long period of deep snow, keeps the pressure on us with the feeders. It's all worth it when you see birds as attractive as the Long Tail Tits on the feeder.

 Feb 8th: The first Dunnock spotted at CSH:

 Another species to add to the list ( - see item for Sep 14th 2009) and the Gallery

 Feb 5th: First Thrush:

 Finally after all the snow, a crystal clear sunny morning, but icy cold. The cold did not deter the first thrush of the year!

 Jan 21st to 26th: Muntjacs in the snow: 

Put down peanuts and carrots to attract badgers to the Trophy Cam. However only succeeded in attracting the Muntjacs. It did lead to some rather good video, though, in singles and as a pair. See the video in the Trophy Cam section.

Jan 11th: Nuthatch: 

The feeders were empty, so we were rewarded by some good pics of the Nuthatch in the cherry tree outside the family room. See the Gallery




Dec 17th: These red berries are just too big!! 

Despite what I reported in October about the bumper red berry crop, actually the black birds are complaining! They are too big to swallow in one go, and too tough to break up on the tree. It’s really amusing watching them attack the berry and then drop it. They are clearing them up from the floor though. See picture in gallery.

November 22nd: Red Carpet: 

Autumn colours on our trees were not so great this year, even though leaves remained in place until much later than usual. However the beech trees on the lower path did not disappoint and when they fell it gave Chestnut Spinney our very own ‘Red Carpet’. I felt like putting on my DJ, and walking along it looking for the paparazzi! See picture in the Gallery (of the red carpet but not the DJ!) 

November 20th: Red Kite: 

Today, and across the next three days it would turn out, not one but two Red Kites have been circulating over CSH. It was very windy, and their soaring skills were in full display as they balanced beautifully on the fierce air currents. There was a shooting Party a couple of fields up, and maybe that had drawn them to the area, looking for missed ‘kill’.

Oct 20th: Autumn Berries: 

Beautiful sunny day with the first really deep frost. It may have been a bad summer for fruit, but it’s a great year for berries. (See the picture in the gallery). Look out for some really fat blackbirds and blue tits (and wood pigeons!)

Sep 25th: Swallows: 

A dry but windy day, so took a long walk across the fields to the steam. Very surprised to see quite a large number of swallows, still around, ducking and diving over the fields, where late autumn insects were in profusion. The swallows looked small and young - this year’s generation I am sure.

 Sep 19th: Badgers: 

EJ reported extensive lawn damage at her cottage. On inspection it looked like badgers, but Badger-Cam did not reveal a suspect, other than MadMax, a cat and a very large bird! However, the very next day, patrolling behind the CSH lake revealed we had been very extensively ‘badgered’ too. Who sent them here – EJ says it was a badger ‘flash-mob’.

Badger-Cam, deployed the next evening, caught some interesting pictures of the culprit, coming back for a second dig. 

Sep 3rd: Frogs: 

Strimming brambles and long grass around the back of the lake, and had to stop several times to allow young frogs to get away safely. Hooray! 

July/August: Where has summer gone? 

Wet, wet, wet! Several ‘badger watch’ outings with absolutely no luck.

June 25th: No froglets: 

Not seen any froglets yet – am I panicking too early? 

Jun 10th: Barn Owl: 

We were treated to an astonishing display of the barn owl, circling the lake and our lawn, very early in the evening circa 5.30pm! It was not unconnected, we guess, to the presence of four baby moorhens and two baby coots on the lake. 

June 4-11: Baby Wrens: 

The wren has once again nested in the hanging basket by the back door. Below the watering system it was a pretty damp location, but three baby wrens looked healthy. Problem was it was time to change to spring planting, so very carefully the nest was removed and ‘replanted’. Within minutes the mother was back feeding again. The feeding didn’t really start until mid morning. I guessed she was feeding herself up first. But then the feed rate was an astonishing once every three/four minutes, until mid afternoon. The picture in the gallery shows two of the three babies, pretty close to fledging, which we missed over the weekend of Jun 16/17, whilst we were away in Norfolk.  

May 8th and 9th: Fox Family: Meaning of ‘foxhole’: 

Another result of two balmy late spring evenings, a family of fox cubs appears in the sunny grassy area in front of the Gorse bushes, behind the lake. In total five delightful little cubs appear, and ‘play-fight’ each other in a pretty acrobatic manner. If this is practice for hunting, then this family will not starve! The vixen has evidently taken over one of the vacated badger sets, under the bracken in the hillside behind the gorse. There is a small hollow in the grass, where they take turns to lie in, with barely two large ears visible, then pounce out onto a passing sibling, or get pounced upon. When the vixen appears, she barely looks much bigger, and has quite dark legs, a characteristic mirrored in just one of the cubs. Two days later, it pours with rain all day and evening, prompting us to ask ourselves whatever you do with five active fox cubs in the set when it is raining. What is the Reynard equivalent of colour pencils? See video in the Gallery. 

May 8th: Tadpoles by the billion!

After having been worried about the frog population seeming rather scarce this year, and the weather not being conducive to a warm mass migration, I get a lesson in how nature can compensate with margins of security. There may only have been a few frogs that I saw made it to the lake, but this morning, a sunny day, in the shallow margins of the lake, there are billions of tadpoles, a literal black cloud some six feet wide by twenty feet long. Should keep the population going.

March 18th: Red Kite come to CSH:

Family room watching the Grand Prix, when catch sight of a buzzard, wheeling and wheeling over the garden, and doing low level swoops. I assume it is after frogs (or baby rabbits). At one moment, lands on the grass, and appears to eat something – it’s a big bird. Just manage to get a bit of video before it swings away over the trees. It’s only when I come to view the video, and see the distinctive concave tail, that I realise it was the red kite! (See video).

March17th: Lucky survivors:

Finally can see upwards of 50 frogs cavorting in the margins of the lake, with some low level croaking including beleaguered females, entrapped by 5 or 6 males, trying vainly to escape their clutches. Unfortunately, no signs of frog life in the pond, but sunny/cold night weather continuing, so we may still be too early for the mass migration.

March 14: Frogs or no frogs:

This time of year, that is the big question! We are experiencing unseasonably warm and dry weather, but despite day time sunshine, the really cold nights are inhibiting the wakening process. Occasionally find one or two at night, frozen into still life by the cold. Over the next few days, countless half eaten bodies are found, captured I assume ‘en route’.

Feb 23rd: Valuable Snowdrops:

I have been reading about the snowdrop corms, from a rare variety, that were valued at £700. The distinguishing features appeared to be a green ‘face like’ image on the white flower, so I went out and looked at mine. Lo and behold, some of my flowers, the larger ones, exhibited just such a feature, and I have got loads! Am I a snowdrop millionaire? Judge for yourself in the gallery picture.

Feb 11th/12th: Brambling:

On several occasions a large (greater than 50) flock of birds sat high in the trees in the spinney, or in the poplars, on sunny occasions. I had to photograph and zoom heavily to identify them, I believe it to be a flock of brambling. They sung so extensively and prettily, with a kind of tuneless twittering. It was such a lovely spring like sound that so loudly filled the air, that it was quite uplifting. (See picture and video in gallery)

Feb 4th to 10th: Cold:

Across this period we saw some 5 inches of snow that lingered for 4 to 5 days. Bewildered Herons drifted across the icy lake, wondering where the fish had gone.

Feb 2: Visitors: 

Today a visit from five little partridges, dressed up for the occasion. They took a long time to meander around the garden, pecking juicy bits from under each of the trees in turn.



December 25th: Trophy Cam arrives!

Watch out for Trophy Cam Gallery!

Dec 5th: Redwing:

Always when the camera is not to hand! View from the bathroom window, was a large flock of redwing, beautifully coloured, as though in full military uniform, they just lacked the medals. The flock numbering some 20 to30 birds was avidly feeding on the very large red berries in the tree by the playground.

Oct 27th: Bees nest:

Whilst shooting to keep the rabbit population under control, our gardeners spotted a wild bee’s nest some 15 feet up in the trunk of a chestnut tree, at the back of the garden at the edge of Mike’s wood. There were four very clear ‘squared off’ honeycombs clearly visible, with lots of bee activity, adding to them. Good to see it all looking so healthy, as the picture in the gallery shows.

Last two weeks of September and on into October: Warm and dry:

A period of warm, dry, balmy Indian summer, just wonderful to witness and be out in. Plant life totally confused with all the Yuccas presenting their third set of flowers for the season, and fresh blooms on the rosebushes, peonies, penstemon and crocosmia. (After note: we witnessed flowers on the Gorse and blackberry bushes in mid November – although the blackberry crop was exceedingly poor this year).

Sep 13th: Fledgling Goldfinch:

Extensive application of the Niger seeds this year to the feeders on the lawn have kept the Goldfinches very excited and close by. Sitting in M’s study, we noticed a dear little goldfinch fledging clinging on to her window sill for all it was worth (see gallery). It took off after about an hour. 

August 30th: A good year for the Koi:

A shoal of baby Koi, with upwards of 30 fish, has been seen on the surface of the lake recently. This is the largest quantity of young I have witnessed. Conditions must have been good, despite record low water levels. (Shallows are completely dry, showing level down some 24 inches from the peak!). I need to keep the cormorant (and heron) away! Picture in Gallery. 

August 17th: Alien life form in the loft!

Midday I went to retrieve a box from the far end of the loft (‘it’s well boarded and high enough for me to walk upright in the centre). Turned around with my box, and looked up, to receive the shock of my life – one that literally made hairs stand up on the back of one’s neck! There on the chimney breast, just below roof level was an enormous alien life form, clinging to wall. It was white, round and lumpy, nearly a yard deep, and two yards long, with a longer thinner region (it’s neck, I immediately thought) protruding from it. It was only the presence of some 50 wasps, crawling over the surface that bought me back to earth, with the realisation I was looking at a giant wasps nest. To see why I was so scared, just view the picture in the gallery.

August 14th: Heron’s viewpoint:

Just recently the heron has taken to surveying the lake from the top of the birch tree behind it (picture in gallery). Wasn’t sure why, until the entry for August 30th!

Late August up to Mid September: One swallow may not make a summer….but:

We have witnessed the most amazing flocks of swallows, quite late right up to mid September, and presumably gathering strength for the great migration. Seemingly hundreds collect on the roof and aerials, and feed high in the sky when it’s warm and low on the grass and over the lake when the insect life is kept low. I have tried to capture some of the excitement of kamikaze swallows, on the video in the Gallery.

July 3: Poppies:

 Again, due to perfect weather conditions, there are poppies everywhere. A blood red field, centres our view from CSH, and the footpaths along the stream are lined in red

 Jun 30th: A leash of foxes:

 Thanks to a warm spring, and appropriately timed rain, we have seen a bumper supply of beautiful black cherries this year. Too many, in fact, for the squirrels to consume, so we have had box full’s ourselves. One legacy, though, from squirrels feasting, is a lot of cherry debris on the ground, to be ‘hoovered’ up by all and sundry. Foxes came from far and wide, including this group of five one evening – two parents and three cubs (see gallery, Jun 30th). The cubs were in real playful mood, preferring to practice their fighting skills than eat cherries. Watching them, I much preferred the alternative collective noun for foxes ‘a skulk’! Managed to get a good video clip also, under poor light conditions.

Jun 11th: Skylarks and a Black Squirrel: 

Walking Woody down by the stream, bottom of the field, serenaded by a couple of Skylarks, just the other side of the stream, barely 10 feet off the ground, hovering and singing their beautiful lilting song. Did more to attract my attention to where they were nesting, than the intended distraction. I had heard a lot about Black Squirrel sightings in Hitchin, and as close as Appley Woods, and finally today, in the Spinney, caught the first glimpse of one CSH. Picture in the gallery.

Jun 4/5: Bold Baby Badger:

 On a number of occasions, on of the baby badgers I encountered earlier this month, still did not know he was only supposed to come out at night, and Woody and I bumped into him on several occasions, in the longish grass, at the edge of the field, through Mike’s wood. It was pretty tame, attempting a bold hiss as I got close, but soon getting comfortable with my presence, as I man-handled it to position for a better photograph. I could have picked it up, it was so relaxed. Saw it mid morning, and mid afternoon, on a couple of occasions before the rogue fellow was bought suitably under control by it’s parents. See Gallery picture under May 21/22.

 Jun 3: Chartered Accountants:

Family Coot and Family Moorhen on parade, keep the Chartered Accountant’s presence in the CSH garden.

 May 20th: Angry fledgling:

 Found a very young blue tit fledgling on the patio, under the garden seat. Blue tits had nested in the top of the air conditioning conduit, on the back wall, and had been feeding like crazy. This poor little fellow looked like he’d left a bit early. Watched him slowly make his way to the steps down to the lawn, where I captured his picture looking pretty cross about the world. Finally made his way to the lawn under the cherry tree, where the parents continued to feed him. Fledgling tried to climb cherry tree, and just made it to fork in the trunk. Such a shame, next day, to see he had not survived a chilly night. (Picture shown in Gallery at May 20th, and, gratifyingly, was used in an RSPB press release.)

May 12th: ‘Long Tail Tits fan club’ continued:

 As if to confirm my entry for February 2nd, on the morning walk today, by the large gorse bushes, at the back of the lake, a real commotion in the gorse drew my attention. A group of some five or six, recently fledged long tail tits were enjoying the morning sunshine, and wreaking havoc with the local insect population. Look at the picture, and understand the meaning of love at first sight!

 May 5th: Baby badgers: 

I was blessed today with the sight of three baby badgers, so young they were not black and white, but dark grey and light grey. Woody and I were walking back through Mike’s woods along the lower path, at approximately 4 o’clock in the afternoon. It had been warm and sunny – like everyday right now. Woody ran ahead to sniff something small and grey on the path, which at first I took to be a dead pigeon. When I got closer, it was not dead, but moving slowly and very much alive, and not a pigeon but a baby badger! Furthermore, in the low bracken there were two more. They did not seem stressed, but very leisurely shuffled away into the undergrowth, and down separate set entrances. I got some rather poor photos, since I had only the telephoto lens with me. Try and try again, I never was able to repeat the sighting, although, later that evening, spurred by the experience, we did see a big badger in the set in our woods.

 April 26th: Babies, babies everywhere!

 Returned from Easter in Norfolk to see baby coots on the lake, baby moorhens on the pond, and baby robins in the green house! As the camera clicked to photograph the sleeping baby robins, up came the ugly little mouths, thinking it was food arriving.

 April: Good Show:

 Bolstered up by winter rainfalls, the spring flowers show this year has been the best for many years, particularly the daffodils and magnolias, as the picture shows.

 April 9th: Still Life in the pond!

 An unseasonably warm day, and whilst walking around the pond, I heard a sound I had not heard since last summer, and wasn’t sure I would hear again. It was the sudden ‘Whoooosh’ of many small fish, suddenly departing their sunny surface basking places, and diving for cover. Joy oh Joy, it was small fish, again, in the pond, dozens of them. Some too were not so small, and most definitely Rudd. So all was not lost last winter – such resilience. To complete one’s sense of satisfaction, I saw my first swallow diving across the surface of the lake.

 March 23rd: Frogs:

 Early warm weather, and the frog migration is well under way. Hardworking females seen lumbering across the lawn with pairs of males hitching a ride. Still cold in the wind, so I was rescuing several at night, seemingly frozen into statues. Although many frogs were seen tumbling in the pond, and their croaks were all around, this year I did not see any frog spawn, nor, in fact, looking ahead, any tadpoles! Is it going to be a bad year for frogs?

 March 8th: Unknown Flock: 

Through Mike’s woods, to the edge of the field, the morning walk, on a lovely sunny morning, my attention was grabbed by a whole tree of lively chattering birds, just on the edge of the Pheasant Spinney. Still not completely sure what they were, but my favourite theory with the creamy orange breast was brambling. Took my camera for the rest of the week, but didn’t get another sighting.

 February 4th: Poplar Crash:

 After a very windy few days, just returning from the morning walk with Woody, and adjusting the watering system by the taps, when this almighty crack had me ducking, lest the roof was coming off. A continued din of cracking and splintering tugged my eyes away to the left, to see one of our pair of Poplars in free fall! Such a disaster, no less because these two poplars, situated just 20 feet apart, formed my perfect hammock location. Now where can I go? Top marks to the ‘Tree People’ who warned me only last year that the presence of funghi growing on the base of the trunk, meant that the tree wasn’t going to last much longer. 

February 2/3rd: Long Tailed Tits: 

Are these birds the prettiest, most beautifully balanced and designed song birds ever? They make all other birds appear clumsy. Certainly the ‘super-models’ of the bird world – without the tantrums! Caught some lovely pictures on the feeders.

January 18th: One of those magical moments:

Making an early start (for me anyway: 7.45) to get the train to London, just pulled left out of the drive to see the magnificent sight of a mature barn owl quartering up and down the ‘Rhubarb patch’. I risked missing the train as I just had to stop and watch, as it finally flew the length into Mike’s woods. Could it possibly be roosting there?

January 14th: The first thrush:

Not all is gloomy though! Despite a cold drizzly morning, the thrush was at the top of the spruce, singing loudly of spring. An event more significant, to me, than the first cuckoo!

January 14th: RIP!

Netted hundreds of dead Rudd, out of the pond margins today, including two fine specimens of 8-10 ounces each – obviously the parents. I am now quite sure I have lost the lot. I took a picture of a significant group of them. I was also concerned that the dead Gunnera leaves might also be to blame, several having collapsed well into the pond, I was not able to clear until last week, because of the weather. I believe the leaves are toxic, but must do further research. Interestingly, a test with the pool equipment showed the pH was a perfect balanced neutral 7.
These fish have given me lots of pleasure, both just visually, and as a bit of light summer sport, so it’s very sad occurrence, but I will have to restock.

January 11th and 12th: Apocalypse in plural:

In a week of news of natural disasters; Red winged Blackbirds (not thrushes as reported) falling from the sky in Arkansas, jackdaws in Sweden, doves in Italy and frogs in Australia; I am sad to report Chestnut Spinney had its own Armageddon this week. Tuesday I noticed a few dead Rudd floating in the margins of the pond. By Wednesday there were many, many more. Rushed to put the hose in the pond for a while, suspecting low oxygen levels were to blame. There has been a very late and unusual leaf fall this year. Firstly the oaks from the woods behind, unusually, shed in this direction, onto the pond. Second the frozen pond held onto the leaves, ensuring maximum ‘capture’ when the snow finally melted.


December 26th: Hunger causes risky practice:

Boxing Day breakfast in full swim, and why shouldn’t the fox eat too? However, taking a walk across the centre of the frozen lake could have been a step too far! The fox safely made it across, though, as the picture shows, we were all glad to see.

December 19th: Deep and crisp and even!

Thankfully we are home this Christmas, with all the family, because it is going to be very ‘White’ one around here. Some eight or nine inches that looks set to last a while. [Post note: and it really did last – enabling a beautiful walk in crisp white snow on Boxing Day. The snow, in fact, stayed with us until the 29th]

December 6th: A deep frosting:

Such a deep frost this morning, that the photographs that I was compelled to take, early in the morning, almost appear in black and white.

December 5th: Attack squad:

A lot of snow, still around after a whole week. Food at a premium I assume, hence a rather unusual sight of no less than four Jays, hunting in a pack, and attacking a lonely sparrow hawk, which appeared a bit shocked at the whole situation. The sparrow hawk tried to shelter in the vines on the pergola, but was soon bullied out and finally took off.

November 13th: Visitors:

Returned to the house today mid-afternoon to see visitors on the pond, a pair of mute swans. They looked exhausted; I guess having just flown in on a migration path. Heads deeply buried under wings, they just drifted around in the centre, sleeping soundly. Even Woody couldn’t trouble them. They seemed to sleep for 24hours, after which, disappointingly to us, they took off to resume their journey.

November 8th: A Baby:

Great excitement today, as the Muntjacs took their morning stroll, to see a kitten sized baby closely following. Glimpsed us and tore back into the Spinney. Several sightings across next two weeks, but never able to get a picture. [Post note: by the end of the year, the baby was seen to be developing well – more competition for the lower magnolia buds!]

November 7th: Autumn Gold:

Much delayed, but a beautiful golden autumn, with most of the chestnuts and oaks still in full leaf. Makes a beautiful picture.

October 24th and 25th:  Wood Walks:

Video’d some wood walking!  See the Gallery.

October 23rd, 24th and 25th: Lapwings and Plovers: 

A spell of beautiful crisp sunny days, made longer walks with Woody essential. Rewarded on the 23rd with a heart warming sight of a large flock of lapwings accompanied by the mandatory plovers feeding on the young cereal shoots and on the fallow field areas. Then, suddenly disturbed, they took off, a flock of lapwing, with their stroboscopic, light/dark visual effects, a loose grouping, but flocking together. Much more exciting was the little cloud of plovers, very tightly knit, in a spherical cluster, wheeling in the sun, alternately as a white cloud and then one of puregold! It was like a continuous aerial firework display. Back the next two days with the video, which enabled some great shots on the ground, and of the lapwing in the air, but did not succeed in catching the plovers in the air. Video in the Gallery 

July 23rd: Humming Bird Hawk Moth: 

Obviously these are good weather conditions for rare visitors – that and the bright colour delights of the hanging baskets now the watering system is installed! We had seen one once before about two years ago, now this one is paying us daily visits whilst the sun is out. Long may it continue.

July 22nd: ‘Stoatally’ Fun: 

A damp day after a long dry spell, obviously sent this visiting stoat into paroxysms of delight! For about two hours, on and off, it ran round in circles, performed somersaults and gyrations in the air, dashed about in and out of the reeds, ran along the wooden ridge adjoining the ‘beach’ and altogether had a thoroughly good time! Catch the video in the Gallery.

July 12th: A new visitor:

It’s been a good summer with baby coots and moorhens on the lake, and baby moorhens on the pond, which appear to have had a reasonable survival rate, despite every sparrow hawk, fox and fox-cub, cat and jay, for miles around constantly stalking the young birds. It’s unusual, though, to report on a new arrival, so it was really exciting to see a parent with three baby chicks, moving across the centre of the lake. The parent was dark brown with bright yellow eyes, and with RSPB expert confirmation, it was identified as a tufted duck – an indication of deep healthy water.

July 3rd: Cherries and Squirrels:

Following the last item on cherry blossom, it has now resulted in just the best and biggest crop of cherries we have ever seen. In a desperate move to keep the squirrels off, with enormous skill and dexterity (!) I built a squirrel screen, to prevent them climbing the trunk, around the big cherry tree. Observing, moments later, concerned to see the enterprising little bxxxx’s climbing the adjacent apple tree, and jumping across. 30 minutes later, then, I had built a similar screen around the apple tree. An hour of relaxed contentment ensued, since I believed I had won the war! In fact, soon after, I was shocked to see I had not even won a battle, when with dismay I watched the squirrels simply leap, from the ground, straight up two feet into the tree’s lower branches! It is clear we just need to eat cherries quickly!

April 27th: Cherry Blossom:

One good result from the very wet and snowy winter, and damp start to the year, is that the blossom, now, is better than we have ever seen. The magnolias are extremely full, and the cherry blossom has to be seen to be believed.

April 26th: Tadpoles:

After being really worried about the numbers of frogs and toads this year, on this a very warm and sunny day, observed ‘a billion’ tadpole, a veritable ‘black cloud’, covering the whole of the shallow end of the lake. Armies of tadpoles were travelling in thick columns in the shallow warm margins of the water.

March 21: Fieldfare: 

Very warm sunny day. Garden is invaded by a flock of Fieldfare. I easily counted 50, probably the total could have been nearer 80! They all descended on the grass at the side of the house, mid afternoon, and then moved around to the back on the lawn and by the lake. They stayed for about 15 minutes before something scared them.

 March 19th: ‘Frogs Glorious Frogs’ 

Suddenly the temperature is lifted nearly 10 degrees and we catch the first sight of a Koi Carp in the lake. Then in the evening, a little light rain, and low and behold, out of nowhere the frogs appear! The drive and surrounding roads are littered with them, mostly young, proud heads, with near white necks looking up into the lights. Spent a happy hour rescuing stranded creatures from the cul-de-sac of the drive, and helping onto the lawn. This stranded set included one large female toad with no less than three males clinging single file onto her back!

 March 1st: A late start!

Much more snow and protracted cold weather means oncoming plant life is very late this year. Snowdrops are only just fully out and daffodils barely showing green buds.

Feb 18th: First spring birds:

A truly spring-like morning, bright and still, that has set the birds off singing. Tits and finches crying out all around. I came across about a dozen long-tailed tits, all busying around a tree in the woods - such a pretty bird. Then in the fields, Woody put up a couple of skylarks from the middle of the very young rape plants.

January 28th: Big Garden Bird Watch: 

BBC filmed a piece for the RSPB Big Garden Bird Watch in our garden, with two granddaughters as hastily convened ‘twitchers’, supported by intellectual Mum holding forth on the delights of bird watching! Resulted in a good piece on BBC Breakfast with Tim Muffet and RSPB’s Richard Bashford interviewed with a Chestnut Spinney backdrop. Oh yes, and Chestnut Spinney participation in the Bird Watch recorded 11 varieties, in the hour allowed, with two on the ‘scarce’ list. 


Mid October to Mid December: The Lake in transition: 

Started to get very worried about the water level in the lake! It was so extraordinarily low, I was certain there was a leak, and starting to contemplate a waterless future. However, in common with national reservoirs and such like, it soon became clear it was just the effect of a dry summer and autumn. Two months later, and after the vast amounts of mid Dec snow had melted, the lake returned to its former glory, and was in fact higher than at any time since we moved in.

September 14th: ‘In my Garden’:
Recent success with the Birdfeeders, lead me to think of doing an inventory of different species of birds I have seen in the gardens and woods here at Chestnut Spinney.
Current total 44! Here goes:

Hobby, Buzzard, Sparrow hawk: Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Bullfinch, Goldfinch, Nuthatch, Robin, Spotted fly catcher, Tree creeper, Willow warbler, Sparrow: Great spotted woodpecker, Green woodpecker: Swallow, Martin, Swift: Barn Owl, Common (little?) Owl: Wren, Goldcrest: Blue tit, Great tit, Long tail tit: Jay, Black bird, Crow, Magpie, Song thrush, Mistle thrush, Redwing:  Grebe, Moorhen, Coot, Mallard, Black foot goose: Heron: Pheasant: Herring gull, Black headed gull: Cormorant: Wood pigeon, Collared Dove. And…heard the cuckoo!

September 1st: New visitors: 

Tried a different feed in the birdfeeders consisting of a heavy Nyjer seed mix. Well rewarded on this distinctly autumnal day with a Nuthatch, in his foppish blue greatcoat overtop a golden waistcoat. Then, not one, but a pair of Goldfinches. Their aggressive, possessive behaviour on the birdfeeder, rather belied their clown like appearance. 

August 10th: Swallows:

A late evening walk across the freshly mown fields. Overcast and humid, with a distant light on the horizon casting a rather eerie glow all around and a feint drizzle in the air. Suddenly we were surrounded by a flight of swallows, all engaged in their dare-devilishly discontinuous jig-jag flight, like a sort of Brownian motion in the sky. There must have been some 200, young and old, feeding on insects just above the cropped fields, filling the air with their apparently joyful in-flight chirruping. 

July 13th: Buzzard Alarms: 

Not convinced the buzzards bred in this nest, this year, since there has been no sign of babies ‘mewling’ for food. However, this morning, the woods were full of buzzard cries, as an adult flew from tree to tree all around me, trying to attract my attention. As it was quite low, and bold, I got the best photos I’d ever achieved. I am convinced it was drawing my attention from something. This was repeated across the next few days.

April 26th: Badger watching: 

A beautiful day, dry and sunny with light westerly wind, so a perfect evening to be ensconced on the ‘seat’ for a badger watch! Treated to a lovely display, starting with the adults, quite early, whilst the sun was still quite high. This was followed with lots of activity, including as dusk fell around us, two youngsters playing in front of the set. 

 April 21st: Frequent visitor: 

A pheasant with a damaged tail became a frequent visitor, nightly, around the garages. I enticed it to come closer and closer with peanuts. After a few days it was feeding regularly out of my hand. Now it all but rings the doorbell for dinner. Tail is slowly growing back.

April19th: Spring: 

At least someone detects the onset of spring. The Buzzard is on the nest.

April 16th: Where are they? 

Much warmer now, but still no sign of mass frog migration nor any spawn.

 April 4th: Something’s Coming:

 Despite the earlier optimism, and after returning from two weeks vacation to the best ever show of daffodils, disappointed to find very little progress in ‘greening’. The trees are still defiantly bare of any signs of life. However, with the ever increasing volume of birdsong and sunlight, it is almost as though nature has taken a deep breath, and with cheeks puffed out, is poised ready to burst forth. One can almost feel the latent energy building pressure for a sudden eruption of green amongst the naked branches. No apparent frog migration yet, but a few tumbling together in the Pontederia.

 February 23rd: Further Progress:

 Temperature again 46 to 47 deg F and an indefinable sense of ‘waking up’ everywhere. Mallard ducks, moorhens and coots all active and chasing each other; the first ghostly hint of a Koi on the surface of the lake; noise and bustle. Even the grebes are back, from where I wonder?

February 18th: Wake-up Call 

After two weeks of snow – white roads and drive for a whole week, I measured eight inches - a warmer day at 45 deg F, but overcast. Nevertheless, after two weeks of eerie silence, as much as a sign of optimism as anything, on my morning walk the birds have woken up! Two thrushes, numerous finches, robins and a drumming woodpecker. How uplifting!

 January17th: The Hunt!

Today the Hunt came to Chestnut Spinney. Such a wonderful sight. For a moment all one could see was lots of the tips of tails, moving crazily, in all directions, periscope-like above the undergrowth.
Then the call of the horn, and all is order again.

January 16th: Mole City:

Not a good start to the year! I have just cleared circa 50 mole hills. This time they are bigger (i.e. deeper) than we have ever seen, thanks to the lack of rain. Three large shanty towns, with new constructions appearing over night! I have stood and watched as earth is propelled, volcano like, from the centre, to tumble down the sides. War is declared!


December 19th: Rose coloured spectacles:

A beautiful bright morning, with an early walk in the woods, and I heard it first, a  gossiping, chittering chattering sound, in a gently noisy way, high up in the Chestnut Trees, followed by a sight that first shocks, then gladdens the heart. A flock of some 20 or so long tailed tits, improbably dimensioned (and what Darwinian wrong turning could have led us here?) but with the equally unexpected pink glow on the breast, as if there had been an accident with the magenta ink-jet cartridge, and someone had tried to wash it off.

December 9th: A visitor

Whilst walking the dog, at the back of the pond, I spotted something small moving in the grass. It was a tiny shrew, half frozen – so cold it put up no resistance when I went to pick it up. After carefully carrying it home, I left it in a large plastic crate, on the boiler. On returning after 30 minutes, it had revived sufficiently well to escape, and disappear. I avoided the disaster I immediately envisaged, of a rampant shrew running around the house, with a few peanuts, and the plastic crate on its side. Returning after a little while, it wasn’t in the crate, though, but curled up in my walking shoe!

October 13th: House building 

Badgers, rather sensibly I always think, don’t like wet weather! As a result, their preference to stay indoors has caused fewer sightings this summer. That doesn’t imply inactivity on their behalf though. Just the opposite, for the badger family seems to have used their ‘set-bound’ time to good effect – by redecorating, refurbishing and extending! Some of the resultant excavated earth mounds are now nearly as tall as me. Judging by the number of ‘poo-pit’ areas, there are several groups in residence here. Now the cereal crops are all harvested, the badgers are foraging back in the garden again – frequently ‘rotavating’ areas of the lawns. Scrumping windfall apples also seems a favourite pastime.

September 28th: Autumn Sun: 

After a wet summer, a weekend respite! A most beautiful autumn, misty yet sunny morning. You could smell the ‘mellow fruitfulness’.

August 21st: ‘Aerial’ feeding. 

It’s been a while since the last note, but frankly the summer time is a time to be out and enjoying nature, not writing about it! I must record a rather lovely sight though. Enjoying a glass of Pimms in the garden, my attention was grabbed by a periodic loud ‘twittering’ from high up. On the television aerial were precariously balanced some dozen baby swallows, apparently not used to the height or the narrowness of perch. It was a feeding spot, and parents were swooping the lake, and flying back to feed a baby in flight. As the young caught sight of an incoming adult, the whole group would flutter little wings in a blur of attention seeking frenzy, until the airborne food parcel was delivered to one lucky fledging, when the group went quiet again, until the next adult was spotted.

 June 19th: A vision of hell. 

A damp and drizzly morning, walking around the top of the lake, my eye is caught by movement, movement everywhere. Everywhere is moving! The ground is moving. The grass is creeping. It starts in the periphery of one’s vision, and like a nightmare seems to stop when you dare look at it. A slight turn of the head and the movement begins again. It’s like an episode of Dr Who. But it’s harmless, this alien manifestation. It’s millions of froglets, barely a quarter inch long, migrating from the lake, across the grass, to the bushes. Good luck froglets!

June 16th: What do badgers have for pudding? 

Walking Woody, over by the boat-shed I spot a large pile of earth. Investigation shows it to be from a hole, freshly, and surgically dug, some eight inches wide, and nearly eighteen inches deep! At the bottom, a few dazed bees are wandering about, wondering what hit them. Badgers had dug out a bees nest!

June 7th:  Where do they come from? 

I can believe annual. I can believe biennial, but what is the mechanism for ‘occasional’ or ‘spontaneous’? For that is what it is. We haven’t seen the massed ranks of Foxgloves for three years, and suddenly, they are in profusion. In the woods, in the gardens, on the verges, the most serene, resplendent pinks, mauves, purples and whites, standing in great clusters, like mothers at the school gate!

June 3rd: There’s more! 

….and on the pond, out of the Pontederia, mother Duck and eight little yellow ducklings!

May 31st: New arrivals 

A busy week! A moorhen family on the pond, I estimate born yesterday, and then today I heard loud, noisy, trilling, chattering alarm calls on the far edge of the lake. There deep in the bog bean was a muddy nest, with a pretty deep red breasted, black headed small duck with a white false mouth. Then I saw the babies, no bigger than a man’s thumb. The mate was trying to call us away, so we obliged, but the three babies had already developed the art of disappearing under water and surfacing a long way away. Later as we identified them from the photographs as Little Grebe, we saw one of the parents actually carried a baby on its back!

May 12th: New collective noun - A ‘contamination’ of tadpoles 

Just back from two weeks away, so an urgent explorative walk around the lake. I got really concerned when I saw what looked like a large oil slick, in the middle of the lake, morphing into different shapes in the wind and sparkling, black on the surface. I just had to get the boat out to see what it was. Only when I was right on top of it did I realise it was a billion tadpoles, in a tight, deep ‘cloud’! Great news after the concern above, but not sure if they are ‘toadpoles’ or ‘frogpoles’!

April 21st: More precision 

To a day, on the exact date as last year (remembered, as it has a certain significance to a member of the family!) the baby coots appear! This year, again, there are seven, red billed, whiskered little creatures, full of curiosity and adventure.
No ‘risk-averse’ parents these, either. First day they are taken on a feeding tour of the lake; by day three the family is out feeding on the grass in the spring sunshine.
Already, a sparrow hawk is taking an unhealthy interest from a distance.

April 15th: Interlopers 

Currently engaged in our annual battle to discourage a pair of Canada Geese from nesting on the lake. Majestic, proud, lovely-looking birds, but who between them turn out more raw sewage, on the lawn, than a farmer’s slurry sprayer!

This pair are persistent, so I have to row out across the lake towards them, trying to look menacing, with Maureen guarding the pond against unauthorised refuelling stops, until they take to the air noisily complaining, execute a couple of ‘holding pattern’ circles, and then fly off, temporarily  defeated.

This time, though, as I rowed back to the landing spot, vacating centre ground in apparent victory, I saw them hedge-hop with absolutely no sound, like a couple of silent jump jets, over the footpath hedge, and land, triumphantly, in the back corner of the lake. Boy did they have a jeering look!

April 5th: Life Happens 

I have realised that nature does not always operate with a precisely co-ordinated 'big bang', but rather by stealth.

So it has been with the frogs and toads this year. Apart from the prior entry, with mostly cold days – and indeed 3 inches of snow on April 6th – although there has been no mass migration, day by day frogs and toads are appearing in the pond and lake.

Today the first ‘dusty’ strings of toad spawn appear in the bog-bean in the pond. Worryingly, no sign of frog spawn yet. 

 March 15th: False Alarm 

That clockwork machine back in evidence again, briefly this evening. An abrupt tick up in temperature, and a stiff downpour, woke up every frog and toad for miles around to commence the annual migration to the lake.

Slow motoring down the drive necessitated a leading ‘red-flag’ person on foot, carefully lifting the proud-headed but semi-motionless creatures onto the verge.

Then, by midnight, a sudden drop in temperature told everyone it was a false alarm, and by morning there was not one to be seen!

March 11th: More uniforms 

I have mentioned uniforms a couple of times in the prior entries, but today I saw the ultimate, a veritable commissionaire’s attire with a flamboyant bright blue and pink, with flashings of shaded braid.

Of course I mean the Jays, a pair of which was bullying its way through the woods.

Actually less like doormen at a hotel and more like ‘bouncers’ at a night club with a belligerent alternating ‘scout’ and ‘follower’ approach to patrolling.

March 6th: More helpers 

Ever wondered where all the fallen leaves and twigs go?

Leaves are still a mystery, but I’ve solved the problem about the twigs!

As the sun begins to warm us up, an army of black-coated, efficient stick collectors sets to work. Not a crow flies past, at the moment, without a twig in its mouth!

February 16th: Inspections

 The most glorious crisp sunny morning, full of birdsong.

Whilst standing in the Spinney, heard the drilling of a woodpecker very close by.

Looked up, and there was not one, but two Great Spotted Woodpeckers, hopping from tree to tree, at the very tops, like two fussy, red-coated health and safety inspectors, testing my trees with their drumming tools.

January 27th: Two visitors, a surprise and a right angle 

Two garden entrants nearly collided with much surprise today.

The first was me, tumbling out the back door onto the grass, on a sunny morning – eyes ‘early-morning closed’ – mind not quite engaged.
The second was the sparrow hawk – contrastingly awake – flying arrow fast, straight towards, unusually low at head height.

The result was the most dramatic right-angled turn, a microsecond of wings all in the wrong place, skewed upright, forcing feathers out of place
Feathers more red than brown – more red than, afterwards you dared remember.

I was awake!

January 23rd
Nature, at times, acts with the co-ordinated consistency of a precision engineered machine, in response to the environment!
Today, it is still warm, but also bright and sunny, bringing forward perceived daylight by almost an hour. As a result, life just ‘switches on’ 

- The first thrush singing its heart out

- A woodpecker banging its head up against a tree

- The smaller birds song turned up several decibels from the piping bullfinch, to the flashing  wren and the tits scrambling in the trees

 -Koi carp attempting early spawning in the lake with surface flashes of yellow, pink and orange

- Even Mr Robin, having fed happily by 8.30 in the morning, astride the very top of the tree, thrusting out a bright red breast full of song

January 16th
Beautifully sunny but very cold. Snow drops littering the woods and the aconites asserting their yellow presence. Daffodil green spears already up three inches and the first blue-bell shoots just appearing. Where have all the leaves gone? 

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