Wednesday, 30 July 2008


And the bird that woke me at 5 am THIS morning was a greenfinch, singing most beautifully, chirring and trilling away. But please, birds, try to sleep in a little tomorrow...

Monday, 28 July 2008


I couldn't work out what the piercing, unusual song was that was waking me at dawn. I could just make out the guilty bird, perched on a twig atop next door's graceful silver birch. Then yesterday a very odd looking bird was pecking at crumbs on the lawn. I grabbed the binoculars and noted the yellowish colouring and the fluffy, speckled breast. When I looked it up, it was, of course, a yellowhammer. I had never seen one before and was quite thrilled. This one holds its tail quite high and flicks it every so often like a wagtail would do. Is this a quirk of this individual bird, I wonder, or do they all do it? Anybody know?

Saturday, 19 July 2008

A swoop of swifts

Walking down my street in West London on Wednesday, my eye was caught by the sight of a couple of swifts zooming over the treetops. Then I saw that they were hurrying to join an enormous group that were darting, banking, wheeling and generally performing swiftian aerobatics. A swift count (sorry!) totalled forty or more. I had never seen so many in one place at a time.

I have often wondered whether the story of swifts sleeping on the wing is fact or myth. I Googled my question and found the answer on a wonderful website called where not only are the some stunning photos of a notoriously difficult bird to capture on film (I apologise for 'stealing' the photo earlier in this blog) but all one's questions on this beautiful, graceful bird are answered. Mr Edward Meyer and his enthusiastic fellow swift-lovers are willing to give talks on swifts to groups of bird lovers. Email him via the website for further info.

And do swifts sleep on the wing? You'll just have to read website, which tells all!

Thursday, 17 July 2008

Plant Mystery Solved!

Thanks to Jacula, I have discovered that my mystery plant is Inula Magnifica, which grows
to 8ft tall and has lower leaves that can be as much as 3 feet long. If anyone wants seeds to grow a monster in their garden, let me know!

Sunday, 13 July 2008

Ten foot high plant in flower: ID needed!

My on-line friend Jacula suggests that it is elfwort (Inula Helenium) but this grows to only 5 feet high and my plant is easily twice that. Also, I was wrong about the flowers growing in clusters. They grow singly, each one shooting up like a dandelion (see photo taken last year). Come on, plant lovers. Name this enormous beast! Remember, the leaves are 2 feet long by 8 ins broad, silvery on the underside and slightly rough to the touch on the topside. The tallest one in the garden right now is 8 feet high and still growing.

Hedgehog heaven

Our last resident hedgehog went to heaven by the route most hedgepigs take - being flattened on the road. (Q: Why did the hedgehog cross the road? A: To see his flat mate.) Since then, the slugs have proliferated so that I didn't dare walk out on the deck barefoot at night for fear of feeling that hideous sensation of squishing slime beneath my sole. Slugs were slithering up the patio doors; they were leapfrogging the copper tape on my flowerpots to get to the tasty violas and petunias. They were even taking hazardous trips across the pond netting and the corpses of those that didn't make it float like bloated, decaying sea cucumbers and have to be fished out before they pollute the water.

Last night at 12.45am (or rather, this morning), I decided I was chilly and in need of comfort so I got up to make myself a hot water bottle. In the dark. Yes, I risked pouring boiling water into the neck of the HWB in darkness, because I knew if I switched on the light, it would wake me up. As my eyes adjusted to the gloom, I made out a dark shape next to the curry container I had put out for the foxes. I blinked. It moved. I blinked again. It couldn't be... could it?

I groped around for the torch, one of those big halogen spotlight ones, and caught in the beam was the biggest fattest hedgehog I have ever seen, merrily munching slugs. Hooray! I hope it and its family will continue to denude the garden of every slithery citizen. And may this well-stocked sluggery be the only heaven this hedgepig inhabits for a very long time.

Saturday, 12 July 2008

Can you identify this plant?

First there were two, now there are nine. They grow to ten feet high or more, the leaves are up to two feet long and a foot broad and when it flowers, they are bright yellow and look like small dahlias, in clusters. I thought it may be a kind of exotic sunflower but I have been unable to find it on any website. I shall post a photo of the flowers in a few weeks' time.

Oliver Twist

The littlest cub has adopted us. We have named it Oliver, as in Twist, as it always comes back for more. It appears first thing in the morning looking hopeful and steals the birds' bread - unless the crow gets there first. It's terrified of the crow and scarpers when it appears. It's also a bit nervous of the pigeons. Obviously, the fact that pigeon would make a jolly good meal hasn't yet occurred to it. I have a feeling it may be a little vixen, in which case we'll have to change its name to Olivia.

Comma and common hawker

It hasn't been a good year for insect life so far, especially as I have seen no stag beetles. That's a great shame. I can only hope that, as they take seven years to mature from egg into beetle, there may be an increase in some future year.

A couple of days ago I was lucky enough to spot this comma butterfly taking the sun in the garden. Today, a common hawker dragonfly strafed my head then settled on the waterlilies to lay her eggs. At least one a year hatches out of the pond and as they usually return to where they were born in order to lay, I should think this one is 'home grown'.