Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Wings on Wednesday + Spring is Just Round the Corner

Spotted this commercial airliner flying over the village a few days ago. It's the first time I have noticed one with the name of the airline painted underneath. (Small crop as it was a long way up)


To replace the Lavender bushes which had died in the front garden I ordered four Lavender Munstead which arrived Tuesday morning. These were soon planted out. If I am lucky they might flower a bit this year but should make a good show from next year and attract butterflies and bumble bees.. (top left photo below)

Signs of Spring to Come1

With the warmer weather recently there are several signs of the approaching Spring. The first of my miniature daffs are starting to flower (bottom left).  My narrow raised bed has some colour from the Pansies  plus bulbs are shooting from the eleven clumps I transferred some time ago (top right) Finally there are lots of seven spot ladybirds emerging to take advantage of the Sun's warmth.

While I was out in the garden on what turned out to be a pleasant sunny day I thought I would get round to clearing the dead leaves from under the Corkscrew Hazel bush.

Corkscrew Hazel

As well as noticing that the catkins are now expanding there were dozens and dozens of Ladybirds emerging from the dead leaves under the bush. Seems like it was a good job I didn't get round to tidying up before the Winter. In fact I only cleared a small patch and left the rest of the leaves so the Ladybirds still have somewhere to hide during the colder nights. That's my excuse and I'm sticking to it.

Monday, 27 February 2012

Macro on Monday - Guess What + a Round Tuit Finished

Brilliant. A full house last week with Jan, Wilma, Keith and Adrian gaining my congratulations and the   gold star   for correctly identifying the ladybird / lady bug.

IMG_0186 glowing edges filter IMG_0186 Ladybird

I wonder how people will get on with this week's mystery photo. This is the first time for many months that I have used stacked photos and had nearly forgotten how to do it. 14 stacked photos processed using CombineZP.
Guess What:

Got Round Tuit
Quite some time ago, while in Heath Robinson mode, I built a little gizmo for animating a 3D object. Yesterday I got round to finishing the project which consists of an Arduino programmable 'computer' driving a stepper motor. The object is turned 1/48th of a turn and a still photo taken, repeated 49 times. The resulting stills were reduced to 1/4 original size as a batch using IrfanView. Those were processed as a video file using PhotoLapse 3 and that video repeated 8 times in Corel Video Studio Pro X4 to make this final video file of a small pine cone:

The setup is shown below.
A Canon 350D with LED ring flash on the left, electronics gizmo on the right:

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Crescent Moon + Coronal Mass Ejection

As last night Jupiter, Venus and the crescent Moon were bright in the sky. When I looked tonight they were no longer in line. Venus appears much nearer to the Moon in the sky:

Venus and the crescent Moon:
Crescent Moon and Venus

A bit more of the Moon was visible and I could still make out its full circular shape, which was difficult to capture with the camera: You can just make it out on the first photo.

Crescent Moon

Coronal Mass Ejection (CME)
I have just seen a report that a CME from the Sun will hit the Earth's magnetic field on Feb 26th at 13.30 UT +/- 7 hours. This could cause a G2 class magnetic storm with Auroras seen as far south as 55 degrees North.

The Sky at Night

Last night was an opportunity to see Jupiter, Venus and the crescent Moon shining brightly in a line just after Sunset. The first photo was taken with the Canon 350D fitted with an EFS 18-55mm lens set to 24mm. It was a longish exposure of 20 seconds at f3.5 and the Moon was over exposed to say the least, losing its crescent shape. The three bright objects running top left to bottom right are Jupiter, Venus and the Moon. The red streak below Venus is the lights from a commercial aircraft. What initially caught my eye was the Moon, though most was in shadow the full circle could be faintly made out.


This cropped photo of the Moon was taken with the Canon 50D fitted with an EF 100-400mm lens set to 400mm:  1/32 second at f5.6


I don't know why but photos seem to end up darker when they have been uploaded to Flickr.

Friday, 24 February 2012

Friday at the Flicks - Blue Tit + Rooks

It's not often I get a long clear view of a Blue Tit at the Birdy Bistro. More often than not they zoom in, grab a bite and zoom off again so I was really pleased to get this piece of video:

In the following sequence a Rook is helping itself to bread. It flies off to a nearby tree to eat. After a while a second Rook joins it and the first feeds some of the bread to the second and then changes places. This sharing of food is common with Rooks which are very social birds:

Have a great weekend observing the wildlife around you.

Word Verification Update
It looks as though the powers that be at Blogger HQ have taken some note of the outcry against the new word verification system. Last night I hit three bloggs still using it but on each the letters were clearer and with no sight of the negative block in the middle of one word. I managed all three first time.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Feed Your House Spider With Beef

If you want to keep your house spiders healthy in the Winter months when there are few flies about all you need is a bowl of boiled minced beef and a dog with a missing tooth who scatters bits of food around the floor.  ;>)

This is what happened a couple of days ago. An hour or so after Bobby had eaten some of his tea time meal I went in the kitchen. Once I had switched the lights on I noticed a large spider on the floor. Surprisingly it did not run away even when I bent down to have a close look. Nor did it move when I shone a torch right next to it. Why? It had found a small piece of Bobby's minced beef he had thoughtfully left on the floor. The spider was not going to lose its prize.

These four shots make up one picture which can be enlarged:
Spider and Minced Beef

I went back several times, took several photos, some illuminated with flash, others with an LED torch. Even though the Lumix TZ7 was just a couple of inches away from the spider it stayed put obviously treating the tasty morsel of beef the same way it would its natural prey.

For anyone who wants to know how to have several photos on one image with a transparent background - this was a slight modification of the process shown HERE on YouTube which explains how to add multiple photos using Photoshop Elements.  Instead of overlapping the photos as shown in the video I first cropped each one, added a border and then resized each one on a transparent layer so they stayed separate.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Wings on Wednesday - Female Blackbird - First Year?

Spotted this bird at the Birdy Bistro. I would imagine it is a first year female Blackbird, looking at its general colouring which is paler that all the others which visit the garden and the prominent pale bar over the eyes which none of the others show. It is the correct size, if slightly slimmer than other females.




Monday, 20 February 2012

Macro on Monday - Guess What

A range of suggestions were given for last week's mystery photo. Wilma was spot on saying it was frost on a window (it was -10C outside that morning) so receives my congratulations and the   gold star  for a correct identification. Matron was close when she said she scraped it from her car windscreen each morning. I think the brown background may have fooled some. That was caused by direct sunlight shining on the glass.

Taken with the iPhone4 with miniature microscope:
IMG_0175c   Frost on a Window

This week's mystery photo was also taken with the iPhone set up. The creature was about 5mm long and the photo was modified using the 'glowing edges' filter in Photoshop Elements. Can you spot what it is?

Guess What:
IMG_0186 glowing edges filter

No prizes, just for fun.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

A Word Verification Too Far + Unwelcome Visitor

I noticed Keith's mention of the new word verification being introduced by Blogger just after I had battled with it on a couple of sites. Talk about Over The Top! The old system could be difficult to read at times but the new one is awful, stupidly complex, a real bug bear when you read and want to comment on several blogs. What should be a pleasant pastime becomes a chore.


I found a link on Keith's blog to Theresa's blog post HERE where she puts a point of view I entirely agree with and an explanation of how to set up Blogger to remove word verification. I ditched it some time ago though I do use comment moderation to filter out the occasional comments which are really just advertising or irrelevant to my topics.

If you come across one of the modern word verification monstrosities and what you are presented with is  unreadable, click on the circular arrow nearby which keeps changing what is offered. I had to do this several times before finding one which was easily readable on a blog where I wanted to ask for some information.

I think there will be a steady build up of protests in the Blogger Feature Suggestions and Feedback section of Blogger Forums which can be found HERE.

Unwelcome Visitor
Yes, I know Sparrowhawks have to eat but there are times I wish they would look somewhere else. I had just transferred some video clips to the PC and was mounting the camcorder back on its tripod when I spotted this Sparrowhawk sat on top of the Birdy Bistro. Most of the feeders hang below the wood it is standing on.

It looks as though it was unsuccessful this time, in my garden anyway, and took off when another bird made a sound and gave away its position.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

A Song for Saturday - Mistle Thrush

As we exited the front door yesterday afternoon I could hear a Mistle Thrush singing fairly close by. As we walked up the lane it got louder. It took a while to spot the bird sat on a thin branch at the top of a tall tree. Normally the thrushes disappear before I see them. This time I was in luck as I had remembered to take the Lumix with me so I tried to get some video of it singing. I didn't dare to get too close but managed to get a few seconds of its song before other dog walkers coming from the opposite direction scared it away. Not the best by a long way but only the second time I have managed a piece of video of the Mistle Thrush.

Friday, 17 February 2012

Friday at the Flicks - Blackbirds Love Apples

During the snowy, cold weather a short while ago I put out some sliced apples for the birds hoping to encourage Fieldfare or Redwing but I think the number of Blackbirds milling round the garden put off any strangers visiting.

At one stage a female Blackbird even spent some time eating a rather wizened apple which was still attached to an apple tree in the garden next door.

Have a great weekend observing the wildlife around you.

A couple of nights ago there was a spectacular, though unexpected, aurora display over the Arctic. A US Defense Meteorological Program satellite captured some views from space which can be seen HERE. A photo taken from the ground can be found HERE.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Wings on Wednesday - The One That Got Away?

The Sparrowhawk visited regularly while there was snow on the ground. There were up to twenty Blackbirds milling around every morning and they must have been easy for a bird of prey to spot from quite a distance away.

I have noticed this male Blackbird visit each day and have wondered if it was one which managed to escape the clutches of the Sparrowhawk. It certainly has a bald spot where feathers are missing. Another possibility is that it escaped the clutches of a black cat which regularly visits the garden. Either way it seems healthy enough, eats well and is able to fly.

Blackbird IMG_3722

Black bird IMG_3725

While the snow was around I did see the Sparrowhawk make one more successful kill. That time it caught a Starling. There is a still photo HERE and a bit of video HERE. The video has two parts. Interestingly in the second part you can see the Sparrowhawk (I am informed it is a mature female) looking apprehensively upwards and at the same time you can hear a Magpie which is out of view of the camera. As raptors  are often mobbed by various corvids the Sparrowhawk decided to take it breakfast somewhere safer.

Petition to drop the NHS Reform Bill

For those UK residents who are interested and concerned about the governments real motives in the Health and Social Reform Bill going through Parliament there is an e-petition requesting the bill be dropped. At the time of writing 113,881 people have signed the petition. If you wish to add your name, you must be a UK resident, then the petition can be found HERE. A petition achieving more than 100,000 signatures has to be considered for debate in parliament. The more signatures there are the more forceful the impact.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Macro on Monday - Guess What

There were some good guesses for last week's "Guess What" but only one correct answer. My hearty congratulations and a  gold star  go to Jan who worked out that it was a Hazel flower. In fact it was one from my Corkscrew Hazel bush. I was more than a bit surprised to see that tiny splash of red at this time of year. Especially as the catkins were still tightly closed.

IMG_0152 copy    Corkscrew Hazel Catkins and Flower

I think it will be easier to work out what this week's puzzle picture is.
Guess What:

No prizes. Just for fun.

Friday, 10 February 2012

Friday at the Flicks - Tray of Tree Sparrows - Bathing Blackbirds

Several of the bird species visiting the garden seem to have started trying to establish territory. I have noticed more squabbles and chases going on which is unusual during the very cold weather we are having at the moment. Fortunately the Tree Sparrows are still able to share the available food which can be seen in this clip as several feed together in the covered seed tray:

As well as finding it hard to find their natural food birds also have a hard time finding water in our below zero temperatures. They need it not only to drink but also to bathe. Usually it is the Starlings which like to splash it all over but a couple of days ago I saw several of the Blackbirds take advantage of the little waterfall on my garden pond. Fortunately the running water has not frozen unlike the bird bath which is just solid ice.

The outside temperature was +1.5C and falling fast - that is snow which can be seen in the background. The final clip is a bit grainy as the light was fading fast:

To end with - a photo taken 9.30pm last night
Second dose of the white stuff:
Snow P1030317

Have a great weekend observing the wildlife around you whatever the weather, wherever you are.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Wings on Wednesday - Robin.

Glancing out of the kitchen window this morning I am pretty sure I saw one Robin feeding another. They were right down the bottom of the garden and it was a brief episode. One Robin had taken a seed from the bird table and flew across to the other and appeared to pass it to the other. I have seen this activity once a few years ago, though later in the year. It is part of the bonding routine for Robins where the male will feed the female.

This grainy photo was taken a few days ago. It is always difficult to photograph Robins here as, unlike most, they are very shy or wary and don't stay in view for very long.
Robin IMG_3468

Snow can be a hazard to ones health. I had booked Bobby to see the vet yesterday, just for a general check up. Last Saturday night's snow had deposited a drift over 15 inches deep across the middle of my drive so I spent a couple of days digging it out. The result was a clear drive but a ricked back so I couldn't drive and had to cancel his appointment. I see there is the possibility of another 10cm of snow over the coming days. This time it can stay until it melts!

Monday, 6 February 2012

Macro on Monday - Guess What + Fieldfare

No fooling some people - so congratulations and  gold star to Keith, Wilma, Glo, John and Jan who all correctly identified the Comma Butterfly last Monday.

IMG_0024 copy    Image2r

On to this week's macro photograph (taken last week)
Guess What:
IMG_0152 copy

I thought it was a year since I last spotted a Fieldfare but searching through my blog it was in fact two years ago when a flock visited the village. (see HERE).  This morning there was a fleeting visit to a tree just past the end of my garden. I tried to will them to come down in my garden but after a short stay they flew off together.

Just a rather grainy record shot of a few of them:
Fieldfare 3622

Later on I will have a walk down the lane to where I know there are lots of windfall apples which is what attracted them last time.

Senior Moment
Just to let Adrian know that he is not alone. This morning I searched high and low for my favourite mug I always use for a decent size cuppa. It was only when I looked in the microwave that I found it, full of cold tea left over from last night when I had put it there to reheat.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Snow For Sunday + Sparrowhawk

For once the weather forecasters weren't telling porkies. So often they get it wrong for the coastal part of Lincolnshire. The forecast was for up to four inches of snow arriving after dusk. It started at 6pm and was still going strong when I retired for the night. Along with the snow was a brisk breeze so it was no surprise this morning to wake up to a good layer of snow, mainly around 3 to 4 inches deep. Some areas with just a dusting and others well over a foot deep where it had drifted.

This is Bobby photographed yesterday sporting his padded Winter coat:


The view from my front door this morning:


Just a few of the many birds in the back garden digging in the snow to find the buried seed and suet pellets.


We went for our usual walk round the block this morning. The going was very slow as there were drifts at every entrance to a property where the wind had piled the snow.

It was inevitable that with so many Blackbirds visiting the garden and kicking up such a row as they squabble that it would catch the attention of a Sparrowhawk. I had already seen it make a couple of unsuccessful attempts but on a return visit it managed to catch one:

  Sparrowhawk with Blackbird

Saturday, 4 February 2012

The Moon and a Confrontation.

Last night with a clear sky and the temperature down to -4C I decided it was an ideal time to have another session photographing the Moon. This was the best of the batch:

Canon 50D  400mm 1/500sec f7.1 ISO500 cropped

Earlier, just as the light was beginning to fade, I had topped up the bird feeders and scattered some seed and suet pellets on the ground ready for the early birds the next morning. As has happened in the past a few birds were obviously watching from a nearby vantage point as it wasn't long before some Blackbirds and one lone Starling descended for a late snack. What caught my attention was a confrontation between a Blackbird and the Starling. The Blackbird was scolding the Starling and occasionally running straight towards it trying to scare it away.. The Starling stood bolt upright, still as a statue, not moving until it found an opportunity to grab a suet stick and fly off with it.


It was so funny to watch as the Starling stayed absolutely still even when the Blackbird flew straight at it. Almost good enough for a caption competition.

Friday, 3 February 2012

Friday at the Flicks - Rook - Pheasant - Tree Sparrows - Bug

Although they have been mainly regulars, for once it has been a good week for shooting video of some of my garden visitors. First the lone Rook which perched for a while on top of the bird table. From its general looks I got the impression it was one of last year's brood though I could be wrong. (No sound on this clip)

The Cock Pheasant continues to visit. This was the first time I had seen it drink. It is using my 'nursery' pool which I use to put the frog spawn in until it has developed enough to stand a chance of surviving the fish in the main pond. After drinking it had a quick preen and then wandered across to see what seed had been spilt from one of the feeders.

The Tree Sparrows continue to visit the garden.

We have finally reached some cold weather - nowhere as bad here as the media would have people believe. To see some of the headlines you would think the whole country was covered by Arctic conditions. In face here it dipped below 0C, to -4.5C, last night. First time for ages.  Anyway, like last Winter, there has been an explosion in the number of Blackbirds visiting the garden. Thursday morning I counted fifteen milling about looking for scattered seed.

Finally a bit of experimental video. A few days ago there was a small bug / beetle / weevil / whatever on my kitchen windowsill. It had been there, upside down, for a couple of days and I assumed it was dead. I decided to photograph it before disposing of it but to my surprise, once under the iPhone4 fitted with the cheap microscope (see HERE) I could see its legs were moving. This was a chance for a bit of macro video, first while it was upside down and then to try and follow it when I put it the right way up. The app used was Camera+ which I zoomed in a bit. The resulting files were zoomed in Corel Video Studio Pro 4. The bug was on my Union Flag tea towel and each weave is about 1mm wide so the bug was a little over 4mm long. Needless to say I was delighted with the result which is pretty clear even on full screen.

Have a great weekend observing the wildlife around you, no matter where you are or what the weather.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Crafty Corvid

Last year there was one particular Rook which could unhook the fat ball feeder so it was easier to get at the contents on the ground. Today I spotted this one trying the same thing though it couldn't quite work out how to get past the metal loop which doubles back on itself.

Crafty Corvid

Wings on Wednesday - Rook

Up to a few months ago I used to have regular visits from Rooks  (Corvus frugilegus) so I was quite surprised when I spotted this lone one sat on top of the bird table. At first I though it may have been injured as it wasn't moving much but I guess it was just keeping warm in the cold breeze. They don't usually stay for long and normally beat a hasty retreat if they see me through the kitchen window. It was unusual to see a lone one as Rooks are gregarious birds and normally arrive two or more at a time. Anyway this one stayed put long enough for me to take some portraits and even long enough to set up the video camera to grab a bit of video for Friday.


They are easy to recognise with their black plumage and large pale beaks which often look gnarled or warty. I think this one would have stayed a lot longer but someone nearby started a chain saw and that was its signal to find somewhere else for a peaceful rest. It won't have had far to fly to its roost as there are at least three Rookeries within a half mile radius of my garden.

On the subject of corvids I just spotted a Magpie approaching the garden which was promptly chased away by a Collared Dove. I can't say I have ever seen a Collared Dove behave aggressively like that before now.

The pictures above were put together after I has watched this YouTube video explaining how to use layers in Photoshop Elements to make a multiple picture.

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