Monday, December 19, 2011

We've finished the house!

It's finished! More photos on our renovation blog here.


Just two birds feeding in a ploughed field containing 145+ Corn Buntings and 85+ Yellowhammers near the house on 7 Dec.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Birdfair 2011

So, its August which meant Birdfair! Three days of slogging around the tented birding festival at Rutland Water. And as usual, three days is never enough! Sorry if I missed you. My weekend in brief!

Day 1 - arrived at 0900 and spent an hour with Vine House Farm enjoying a nice latte from the best coffee stall at the Birdfair - the Coffee Man outside Marquee 2. My 1000 appointment with Minox was running late (plane from Germany delayed) so I got to spend an hour catching up with folk including Mark Avery who extracted a tenner from me for his excellent book, Blogging for Nature and Mark Thomas and an update on his amazing building of a heligoland trap on the Yorkshire coast - cool!

Minox finally arrived for our meeting and I enjoyed more of the Coffee Man's fine latte. At 1215 I met up with a very nice man from Thomas Cook to finalise details of the 2012 spring birder flights to Lesvos, and of course another cup of fine latte from the Coffee Man (good job the loos are close by).

I had a very late sandwich with friends before my meeting with Leica at 1500 - coffee, but not from the Coffee Man :-( and finished in time to catch up with my friends at Newpro (now distributing Vortex bins) before finding a not-so-comfy seat to while some time away with mucker Ian Rowlands of Planet Whale - thankfully no coffee!

So day 1 as usual taken up with business not a jot of browsing the marquees. Tomorrow? Spent no money (other than on coffee and sarnies!). Saw some birds flying around including Great Spotted Woodpecker and Osprey.

Day 2 - I spent most of today in more meetings, but thankfully had time for a nice lunch with my friends Pam and Roger Crofts from Rochdale talking all things birds and football (Dale and Posh mainly). I spent a long time in the optics marquee catching up with all my optical friends (Leica appear to be solely responsible for populating Zeiss and Swarovski!) before managing a little bit of browsing and catching up with folk on stands who cant get away! BTO stand was fab with the live Cuckoo updates. Saw some birds (Osprey again). Drank coffee. Still no money spent in anger. Left the Fair early to make the Posh vs Ipswich game at London Rd to enjoy the Posh thumping the tractor boys 7-1!

Day 3 - Liz and I had a lay in due to thunderstorms over Farcet Fen got us thinking the Birdfair would be knee-deep in mud by now. How wrong we were when we crept in at ahemish and spent a very nice day leisurely strolling round the marquees trying hard not to spend money! Nice man Paul Doherty, Bird Images, gave me a copy of his Birdwatching in Europe DVD on which Lesvos features (review on Lesvos Birding soon) while we talked Eagle Owls (one of our pet subjects). Eventually committed to purchases in the art marquee, a Harriet Mead Long-winged Conehead and (another!) Carry Akroyd print. Neither of which we paid for there and then! Nice gals these artists! Drank coffee (from the Coffee Man!), ate a very nice hot pork bap and enjoyed a lovely ice cream. Went home shattered! See you next year.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Turtle and pecker in the garden

There was a time I used to get up to a dozen Turts in the garden. Not any more. They stopped breeding on the fen a few years back. They still breed within three miles of here but this is the first Turt of the year hear.

Despite its relative lack of trees, the fen can be good for peckers. I've seen all three species in ten years here. A single record of Lesser Spotted just outside the village in a winter tit flock, mot winters we get Great Spots hanging around the nut feeders, and in summer we get Green Woodies coming in from neighbouring areas to feast on all our ants.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Bamboo clothing - some reviews and thoughts

Over the years many of us have ditched natural fibre clothing for the technical benefits of man-made fabrics. I know I was fed up of damp cotton t-shirts, so swapped them for high-wicking, polycotton alternatives which stayed dry.

In recent years though I’ve been trying to be more ethical in my purchases and trying to reduce my carbon footprint (haven’t we all?). And one of the itches here was the wearing of all those man-made fabrics, high on the use of petrochemicals and other non-eco manufacturing methods.

But what natural alternatives are out there?

Cotton? Nah, been there, worn the t-shirt, got wet. Nope. Not going back. And, its the least environmentally friendly of all the natural fabrics.

Hemp? Whoa! Sack-clothing and non-stop itching. No thanks.

Bamboo? Bamboo?! Are you kidding?

Well, actually, no. In recent years there's been a number of bamboo fibre clothing items introduced, and outdoor clothing is at the forefront of its use.

Bridgedale mens bamboo socks £11.99

A couple of year ago I bought a couple of pairs of Bridgedale bamboo walking socks. They’ve been worn non-stop ever since, nigh on daily, and are still going strong. They’ve been great in all but the hottest of weather, when they do get a little damp (then all my previous socks did too – so no black mark). No, they’re great and I’ll no doubt replace them with the same again – what more recommendation can you give than replacing something with the same again.

What the Bridgedale info claims (from their website):

Mens Bamboo Crew socks by Bridgedale. Bamboo is an excellent natural and renewable fibre with a silky texture that quickly absorbs moisture. It is a naturally anti-microbial and hypoallergenic and grows without the use of chemicals or pesticides. Bamboo benefits the environment by guzzling greenhouse gases storing four times more CO2 than a similar stand of trees while releasing 35 percent more oxygen. Bamboo is a great solution to global climate change!

Impressed with my Bridgedale socks I recently added more bamboo clothing to my wardrobe.

BAM t-shirts £20 each or £60 for four (when I bought them)

First up were four BAM t-shirts. I’d been searching for thin, lightweight summer t-shirts for several years, but nothing cut it for me. They were either too thick or too hot. In spring a friend showed me his BAM t-shirts and I liked the look of them. On checking their website they had a 4-for-the-price-of-3 offer on, so I bought four short-sleeved t-shirts and they haven’t been off my back since! They are simply gorgeous next to the skin – silky soft – you simply forget you’re wearing them. Importantly for me, they are thin enough to wear under a shirt and they are brilliant at wicking so I stay dry and comfortable. They are quite simply the most comfortable t-shirts I’ve ever worn.

What the BAM info claims (from their website):

The most comfortable performance workout T-shirt you'll ever wear is also great for everyday wear. Luxurious, temperature controlled, non smelly, moisture wicking. 70% bamboo, 26% cotton, 4% elastane.

Brasher Natural Short Socks £11.99

So, next up was another pair of socks – a pair of Brasher Natural Short Socks. I added these ankle socks to wear with my trainers and like the Bridgedales, they’re wonderfully comfortable, high-wicking and stay dry in all but the warmest of weather. They have a very thin bridge for the upper foot (for increased ventilation) doubled with a thicker, cushioned sole – the combination is great. They have a strange double cuff, but this is great too, stopping the sock from slipping (something some of my other ankle socks suffer from).

What the Brasher info claims (from their website):

The Natural Short Sock is a lightweight travel or everyday sock made from natural, 100% bamboo fibres. Cross sectional micro fibre to absorb and evaporate perspiration with natural anti-bacterial properties. UV resistant and quick drying, perfect for adventure travel. Mesh construction on top of foot for extra ventilation to keep feet cool and dry in warmer climates. Cushioned sole for enhanced comfort. Lycra support bands in the arch and ankle areas prevent slippage and rotation. Double cuff gently holds the sock in place. Protective Achilles tab. Composition - 81% Bamboo, 13% Nylon, 5% Elastane, 1% Lycra. Available in Grey / Blue

Tog24 Subi long-sleeved t-shirt £24.99

Recently I was bought a Tog 24 Subi long-sleeved t-shirt. Extremely comfortable but, its been too warm to wear for summer use. It feels like it will make a great winter base layer, but out of all my garments, it has the least bamboo composite, being only 50% (mixed with 50% nylon). Time will tell.

What the Tog 24 blirb says (from their website):

A technical mens polo shirt in technical fabric for outstanding levels of performance. With a 50% Polyester, 50% Bamboo Charcoal mix, this t-shirt is quick drying, lightweight, fast wicking and naturally anti-odour. It also helps to protect against harmful UV rays and is easy care. Ideal for a wide range of activities such as walking and hiking. Browse the rest of our mens outdoor clothing online. Breathable fabrics allow perspiration to escape helping to keep you comfortable. Quick dry fabrics allow moisture to disperse and evaporate rapidly. Lightweight design and instruction for enhanced performance and comfort. Helps to provide protection from harmful UV rays.

So, what are the benefits of bamboo?

· Bamboo fabric feels luxurious and silky-smooth

· It absorbs and evaporates sweat quickly and doesn’t stick to the skin

· Its natural breathability keeps you comfortable and dry – even in hot weather

· It stays warm in cold weather and is a good winter base layer

· It is anti static, so it sits very well next to your skin, not clinging to it

· It is a UV protective cutting out 98% of harmful UV rays reaching your bare skin

· It is anti fungal, which is great whether its on your back or stuffed in your bag

· It is also said to be good for sensitive or allergy prone skin due to the lack of chemical treatments which can irritate skin; being much smoother than other fibres; and the high UV block rating.

And bamboo is better for the environment too

· Bamboo is 100% naturally grown and 100% sustainable

· As the fastest growing plant in the world, bamboo grows to its maximum height in about 3 months and reaches maturity in 3-4 years. It spreads rapidly across large areas. Because of this, bamboo is known to improve soil quality in degraded and eroded areas of land

· Growers have no need for pesticides or fertilizers

· Bamboo fibre is 100% biodegradable – 100% bamboo garments can be thrown in your compost bin!

· As a grass, bamboo is cut, not uprooted, also helping soil stability

· Bamboo can also grow on hill slopes where nothing else is viable

· The yield per acre is 10 times greater than the yield you get from cotton – relieving pressure on land use

· The water requirement for bamboo is small, mainly just from what falls, so does not require high irrigation from precious water resources. – cotton on the other hand requires high irrigation

· The more popular bamboo clothing becomes the more bamboo is grown which means more photosynthesis and less greenhouse gas compared to other fabrics – it would contribute just a little bit more to the battle against climate change.

A recent article by The Ecologist asked ‘cotton, hemp and bamboo – which is the green choice?’. The answer was simple, hemp. But it too conceded it was near impossible to produce a decent cloth from it. Some have blended it with other fibres, such as silk (hemp-silk). They go on to affirm just how environmentally damaging cotton growing and production is - extensive agrochemical use, monocropping and immense water requirements needed to grow it – and that organic cotton, whilst not using pesticides and fertilizers, still drinks huge amounts of water in order to grow it. When it comes to bamboo they say its still a thirsty plant, but the fast-growing and hardy properties means that it will use less per unit than cotton, but the article failed to take account that many plantations grow with the minimum of irrigation – so the comparison with cotton is hardly fair.

Other options for eco-clothing are of course buying second hand, but you tend to find very little quality outdoor wear in secondhand shops – most outdoor folk wear their clothing to near destruction and there is little life left in it for second-time wearers.

Then there is recycled – clothing made from recycled materials, including cotton, nylon and now plastic bottles – but right now this is a kid brother within the clothing industry and finding such garments is like finding hen’s tooth!

So in the meantime I’ll keep adding bamboo garments to my kit bag and recommend you consider them too.

Note – I have no connection with any of the above companies. All the garments featured above have been bought for personal use. The idea of the article was to simply share my thoughts on this new clothing fabric.

Leopard slug

One of the joys of working from home is being able to do those household chores at lunchtime. Oh joy. Today I thought I'd have a look at the rainwater harvester (which flushes our loos and runs the washing machine). On lifting the inspection cover I was firstly amazed at how little the water had gone down - good - but it was still filthy after the neighbours kitchen waste had been somehow wrongly connected to the system, and it still smelt. Oh the joy.

Inside there is a covered trap which catches leaves and debris from the guttering. Imagine my surprise when I opened the trap to firstly find it full to the brim, and secondly, a lovely adult Leopard slug was sat on top of it all!

Leopard slug is my favourite British slug, by some distance, and our garden remains the best place in Britain for this species ;-) Its only one of three sites I have ever found it, the other sites being nearby Woodwalton Fen and the other Glen Feshie in Speyside, Scotland. I find it regularly each year around the garden.

Monday, May 30, 2011

The Posh 3 - 0 Huddersfield Town

League 1 Play Off Final at . . .

. . . the Theatre of Dreams - Old Trafford, home of the great Man Utd, 19 times league champions.

It's little wonder the Huddersfield Town kit is so popular when Tesco carrier bags are free!

OT's East Stand filling up with Posh fans.

Away we go with the usual razz-ma-tazz.

The two teams line up in front of the dug-outs. Posh in their new Nike all-black change strip, the Terriers in their blue and white home kit.

Ouch! But true. CMS scores his 99th, and no doubt his final, goal for Posh during the game.

And we're off! Posh are quick out of the traps and press Town during the first half. Second half was all Town until 72 mins played - then the Posh do what we do best - score goals! Three goals in seven minutes and its all over. Posh 3 - 0 Town.

A lap of honour on the final whistle.

A trophy!

Nuff said - Championship here we come! I'm sure all the Championship teams are sleeping well tonight safe in the knowledge that they have six points each in the bank. Our merry band sobered up over a nice dinner (at the Otter in Kegworth) on the way home when we went through the 2011-12 Championship league teams and soon realised that its gonna be even harder going this time round. We're the weakest of the three teams going up (Brighton and Southampton finishing 1st and 2nd) and I hope we can avoid getting fewer than our 34 points from the 2009-10 season - but I'm not expecting miracles!

The sad side of any final - the empty losers end as the victors celebrate. It was nice to see some of the Terrier's fans stay behind and applaud the Posh - well, they let the traffic clear a little at least!

Congratulations to the Posh! And in particular to Darragh MacAnthony and Darren Ferguson - a partnership made in wonderland. Darragh was brave but bring back Darren, but what a stroke of genius it was. Together they've achieved three promotions in fours seasons. The Posh fans just them you both guys!

Barca 3 - 1 Man Utd

Congratulations to Barcelona! European Champions.

Barca are quite simply the best team in the world. Rooney's goal could have been the result of a Barca move which they themselves would have been proud. But that one moment illustrates the gulf between not just these two sides, but between Barca and the rest of the footballing world. Whilst Utd can come up with the occasional moment of brilliance, Barce are brilliant for the whole game - a delight to watch even if it hurts!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

It's baby Treep time!

Juvvy Tree Sparrows, Farcet Fen © Steve Dudley

I've got at least three broods of fledged Tree Sparrows in the garden the last couple of days. They've even used one of the sparrow terrace nest boxes! Wonders never cease.

Treeps arrived here in January 2003. They'd never been recorded on Farcet Fen before (over 40 years of resident birders living here and no known records before the first of these arrived on the fen). As soon as they arrived I upped the food supply and they'vee stuck with me ever since. Although I have a host of nestboxes up (many upgraded to woodcrete ones last year) they still prefer to nest in leylandii and privet hedges around the houses here.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Posh 4 - 3 MK Dons - Old Trafford here we come!

Sheer jubilation at London Rd last night after we put the Dons to the sword! Here the crowd sing as the players appear in the directors box and rightfully claim their fans' adulation. Bring on Huddersfield Town!

Champions x19 - stick that Merseyside!

Monday, February 07, 2011

There she blows!

When you live out here on the arable fen you get used to the odd bit of wind. What happens every now and then (maybe once or twice a year) is that those winds continue solid for a few days, desiccating the soil surface of the surrounding fields and then just when you think the wind cant get any stronger, it does, and 'lifts' the soil off the fields - that's a fen blow.

Here's a view from my desk across the fen.

And here's the same view with a fen blow in full swing this afternoon.

Fen blows are not to be sniffed at. When you are in that dust cloud visibility is down to zero. And they cause real damage. In really bad ones the winds can push fields like dunes and fill in dry dykes running alongside the fields, get blown across roads - even closing them. In the worse case they can kill. A few years back a women suffocated in her car when she got stuck in a blow.

During the worse fen blow here, the ultra fine soil was pushed through any minute gap, vents, key holes - any gap - and filled the house with dust. At the end of the day it was so thick it covered everything to a depth that I couldn't read the letters on my keyboard or a magazine cover on my desk! I cleaned everywhere - for three hours. Them went to bed. And when I got up in the morning, it was the same again - the air has still been thick with dust which continued to settle overnight.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

New camera!

A female Bramblefinch feeding outside the kitchen and snapped from the breakfast table. One of five Bramblefinks that have been around the garden since mid-Dec.

Well, I've taken the plunge in to DSLR with the purchase of one these cameras and a second hand one of these lenses - don't the prices look scary! Thankfully I paid nothing like the Canon RRP! Especially the lens which was a great buy from a friend.

I haven't really used it in anger yet. I cant be arsed taking it out most days when out with Jax, so have limited it to snapping some garden birdies and the odd foray when about (mainly when failing to photograph Waxwings!). It's been bought mainly for overseas trips when I'll have the time to use it in earnest. Here's some early results.

A more distant male Bramblefinch snapped from the breakfast table.

One of our many Treeps feeding at the feeder outside the kitchen.

A cracking male Sparrowhawk found whilst not managing to find Waxwings.

A female Kestrel perched up in the garden.

A Fieldfare snapped where a Waxwing should have been.

All images © Steve Dudley