Thursday, April 16, 2015

Nesting Birds

I absolutely love Spring and one of the finest things about the garden just now is all the birdlife. Yesterday I took a break to sit in the garden and there were birds flying all over the place, many with twigs and moss in their beaks!

We made a big effort in January year to take part in the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch, setting up some bird feeders with various treats in the old pear tree and getting ourselves nice and organised to spend a happy hour watching out for birds.  I wasn't sure how much the girls would get into it to be honest, an hour is a long time to just sit and watch, and there's always the question of will any turn up! However the RSPB have a great app you can use to count the birds which includes trivia questions and I also printed out a load of bird colouring pages which the girls loved.

I was really surprised by quite how many did appear!  We saw a huge number of blackbird, great tits, blue tits, robins, and what I now know as a Dunnock. Nothing unusual, but it was great to identify these fellows early on in the year as they have been regular visitors to our garden since! All these photos were taken at maximum zoom through a window so I apologise for the quality.

That same weekend we went to an event at the Castle where you could do various bird related activities run by the RSPB. One of the things we really enjoyed was making bird boxes. The pieces were all pre-cut and it just required us to assemble in the correct order. It was a neat and easy design and pretty simple to copy if you wanted to. There's a pattern here.

 Obviously nothing so plain would be allowed in this house so we spruced them up with a lick of paint and chose two sites just hoping that one at least would be suitable. The first was on a fence facing North, but is probably too close to the ground to be interesting, but the second was about 3m up in a tree facing North East. I had high hopes for this one. Who wouldn't want to live in such a beautiful house?

In a hopeful mood, come March, I decided to make use of some of those odds and ends of wool I had and make a nesting ball for any comers. We used a wicker ball and stuffed short lengths of garish wool and then hung it on the food tree hoping the birds would spot it when they drop in for a snack.

And then we waited....and watched....and didn't see any interest in either box.

Until early April, when a couple of blue tits started spending a lot of time hanging around.  And finally this:

I tried to leave them to it but I was so fascinated and hopeful!  I don't have a huge amount of time to just sit and watch, so I didn't actually see them looking around until Little My and I spotted Mrs blue tit going in with a whole beakful of moss. I say going in, it took her a good few minutes to poke all the moss in the entrance hole. I didn't have my camera on me when we saw her, and I didn't want to rush inside in case I missed it.

But today we've had some real fun. The hot weather has caused the exciting loss of Blackberry's dewlap. Check out this girl packing some chin last week: baby got front!

This morning the whole lot was gone, mostly in a big ol' chunk, so I picked it up thinking the blue tits might like it! This morning the blue tit was hard at work bringing feathers and moss to the nesting box

so when when I saw the blue tit was high in the tree singing away I went over and placed the fur high on the fence and as soon as I walked away she was down like a shot grabbing that fur.

We played this game for a little while, with me putting fur up when she was singing and then her coming and taking it to the nest. I knew she needed a little bit of colour in that nest so I gave her the option of some yarn too, but the fur was preferable

Still I knew she was tempted

And finally she succumbed to the temptation.

I can't wait to see that nest when it's empty again!

We've registered our nest with the BTO, and if you have any nesting birds you can do the same here.  I'll be posting updates as and when we have babies.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Book Review [2015:12] The Winter Garden by Jane Thynne

432 pages

This is the second of the Clara Vine novels, which I discovered earlier this year when I read Black Roses. 

The year is now 1937, and Clara remains in Berlin which has changed considerably for the worse since the early 30s of the first book. Clara continues to tread a dangerous tightrope, feeding information to the British Secret Services and also to the Nazis via Joseph Goebbels (a complex double bluff). The focus of this book has moved slightly from the fascinating Magda Goebbels and on to the bizarre and notorious Nazi Bride Schools. It's not a topic I know much about and the incidental characters in the bride school are well drawn and the experience very believably described.
Again, Clara is confronted with the apparent murder of one of her acquaintances and has to tread carefully to try and determine the truth in a complex world of Nazi smoke and mirrors. Clara now has care of the son of one of her friends and this is a really good addition to her character, as she has to deal with his fascination with the Hitlerjugend without compromising her beliefs.

Thynne bravely continues to introduce real characters into the story, this time involving The Duke of Windsor and Wallis Simpson, The Mitford Sisters and Charles Lindburgh, as well as Eva Braun and Ernst Udet. I often find that sort of contrivance frustrating and false, but such is Thynne's ability as a writer that they pass into and out of the story, often as rather believable sideshows, and the wonderful Clara often doesn't pay them too much attention, not realising their significance until later. Unity Mitford in particular is such a marvellous addition. Clara's unwitting stumbling into the lives at centre of the Third Reich proves a brilliant foil for some amusing background stories.

The complex story of the progression to the second world war is handled competently and the war in Spain is weaved into this story without becoming too much of a historical exposition. Clara's character is totally believable and her behaviour having found herself in this rather dangerous, unpredictable situation never seems too fictional. I did balk slightly at the central premise of one of the main points of the plot which I won't discuss to avoid spoilers, but such is the joy of Thynne's writing all was quickly forgiven.

I'm really enjoying this series of books, and I look forward to the third!

Book Review [2015:11] Tamara Drewe by Posy Simmonds

136 pages

I have a warm place in my heart for Tamara Drewe. For me it conjures memories of happy times reading the paper over a slow weekend. It's the first comic strip that I followed week on week, and I loved it. D bought me the book for Valentine's this year and I have happily settled down to reread and reminisce.
This is what I think you are meant to call a graphic novel, which means a comic for grown-ups. I'm not going to pretend to be some sort that is knowledgable about such things but I really love Simmonds' creation, and not just for nostalgia. Her drawings are actually beautiful. Every single panel! Have a look at these two pages:

All the characters look like real people and the writing and storyline is totally engrossing. Her observation of naughties life is so perfect, particularly the teenagers. Each character has a depth that you don't always find in 'normal' novels. Is this because you can see them as well as read their stories?  
When I first read the comic strip in the paper, I didn't recognise the story as Hardy's Far From the Madding Crowd. I'm sure I'd read it before that time but the conversion to modern day is so well done you don't immediately harken back to the original. Hardy's tale happens to be one of my favourite classics, so perhaps there was a subconscious attachment to the tale. In any case Simmonds has created something quite wonderful here, and it's worth a read if you get the chance. It's absolutely a keeper and I will enjoy it again.

On a side note I enjoyed the movie of this book as well, and I thought the characters were extremely well cast, and true to the book. It's worth a watch if you can!