OK, so I’m a bit behind the curve but I wanted to log this for posterity.
I always try and take part in the Big Garden Birdwatch, and some years I’ve managed to blog about it – usually when something notable happens. Which it did this year. In fact it’s still happening.
The usual suspects visited the garden in my hour on the morning of Sun 27th Jan (9am-10am before I took service) – see the list below. I wasn’t at all surprised to see increasing numbers of Goldfinches – they love the fact we’ve gone over to feeding sunflower hearts as the mixed birdseed was causing too much waste and weeds. What I hadn’t stopped long enough to notice up until that morning was that some of the flock of 20+ Goldfinches were in fact Lesser Redpolls!
We’ve had Siskin in the past (though not yet this year) but I’d never seen a Redpoll before, anywhere, ever, even though a near neighbour had said she’d had them about 10+ years ago. So a ‘lifer’ for me and a new ‘tick’ for our little suburban garden.
What’s more they’ve stayed among the flock of Goldfinches who arrive several times a day. I may therefore have spent more time watching the garden birds than I might normally do!
Big Garden Birdwarch 2019 – list
Goldfinch 21 (!!!)
Collard Dove 4 (on the increase)
Feral Pidgeon (another, less welcome addition to the list)
In other garden wildlife news, the little pond is now 6 months old, some the fish we never put in are still alives, and so is one of the backswimmers! Roll on spring-time.
I’ve been sitting on the patio for lunch in the lovely autumn sun this week, admiring our new pond and watching the creatures already living around it.
We’ve dreamt of having a wildlife pond for some years. However, in effectively twelve years of ministry training, it wasn’t a priority, and there was always the significant likelihood that we’d rent the house out and move on. However God had other ideas, and having discovered this year that we’re staying put for the foreseeable future, it seemed right that a few home improvements were in order. Ponds are so much more interesting than new bathrooms (though we’ve done that too)!
We only have a small garden, so it had to be a small pond. We also know the ground we’re on well enough that layers of builders rubble lie under our garden, and with a gravel-bed geology, digging even a small pond was going to be very hard work. So, I’m afraid we found someone younger and fitter than us for that bit. The lovely Matt (son of a friend and colleague in ministry locally) even provided a pre-formed liner he and his father had never used!
However, we wanted a pond that hedgehogs could live with, without drowning, that insects could drink at, that might encourage damselflies and dragonflies, and host interesting creatures. So it needed a shallow-end of gravel. So we sunk the preformed liner an additional 3 inches below ground level, under the edge of the house near the patio, and not directly under the trees. It was dug and filled with tap water on 16th July, and allowed to settle for a couple of days.
This was I guess the other part of our wedding anniversary present to ourselves – the first bit being a trail-cam to video the hedgehogs! So, on 18th July we were able to add plants, gravel and pebbles, and start to see what happened. On that very first day, we had a bumble-bee drinking on the gravel, and I was a kid at Christmas… the project was looking like it was going to be a success.
Over the next two months, various things have been added. Some plants came home from a holiday visit to RHS Rosemoor. The collection of rocks was added to with fossils we’d collected on visits to beaches, favourite hills, and other significant places in years passed. Tidying out the shed allowed us to use our son’s cast-off wood (he carves greenwood spoons) to create a small woodpile that was accidentally positioned under a drip from the guttering where it will rot nicely we hope. Effectively it’s a pond of memories as well as for the future.
Yellow water irisIris pseudacorus – put on the shelf of the pond one end; the wind kept blowing it over, so eventually it was weighted into place by having some ‘fairy-stones’ wired to it. Chosen for the lava of dragon- and damselflies to crawl up to hatch.
Water mint Mentha aquatica – very attractive to insects, and should give shade, nooks and crannies for the water creatures to hide in. Purple Loosestrife Lythrum salicaria – initially put on the shelf the other end, but it regularly got blown over too, and was really too close to the Water Mint. Dad has a plant in his flowerbed that has flowered endlessly this year, so we moved ours out into the ground surrounding to the pond. FrogbitHydrocharis morsus-ranae – went in initially floating on the surface, as a native oxygenator, but very quickly looked like it would take over in our small pond, and became home to a lot of snail eggs (see below) so that went after about a month. Water-lily (for which the label is still in the pond!) A small specimen recommended by the lovely lady at Maidenhead Aquatics for our size of pond. Initially on a shelf, and then moved down onto an old roof tile in the bottom – the tile is curvy so will also provide a home for water-creatures that need to hide. Lampranthus brownii, Coreopsis rosea ‘American Dream’, Dianthus ‘Whetmans Stars Supernova’, Agastache ‘Kudos Silver Blue’ and Ajuga reptans ‘Braunherz’ were all planted around the pond to attract insects.
We also imported some pondweed from a neighbours small pond, complete with two Great Pond Snails, from whence the snail-eggs came we guess. As it transpires, the weed (which has since vanished interestingly) may have contained fish-eggs. Another friend donated us some nymphs from their much larger pond, a couple of Common Pond-skaters, a Great Water-boatman (otherwise known as Back-swimmers), and one small fish that crept into their net.
As I’ve sat by the pond for my lunch this week, I’ve watched not one, but eight small fish (and no more mosquito lavae)!!! Our friends swear blind they’ve not been surreptitiously filling our pond with creatures, so we’re assuming there were eggs in the weed from the neighbour who also reputedly has fish. They will have to take their chance as we’ve not added a pump, as it’s not advised if you want dragonfly lavae – they tend to get stuck in it!
Water-boatmen apparently fly at night and are attracted to light, which is why we put four cheap solar-lights round the pond; this seems to have worked as we now have three water-boatman! A dragonfly did a circuit of the pond but didn’t stop, but a Hornet has been a regular visitor, joining the hoverflies that sit in the sun on the pebbles.
To say we’re thrilled that all this has been achieved in a little over two months is an understatement. The big test will be whether we get frogs and toads in the spring, who hatches, and what more wildlife we’ve had visit by this time next year. I will of course, log all the excitement here.
With the end of the holidays we’re not being quite so regular in our setting of the trail-cam.
However, I’m pleased to report that the regular hedgehog (what we first thought were leaves stuck on it’s bottom may perhaps be scars but make good identifying marks) is apparently now using the hog-house that we cleaned out Bank Holiday weekend. Our first video of this was 4th September, but we had a second video last night 10th September, so we’re thinking the ‘hogfather’ may now be resident?
Planning additional protection for the hog-house from the elements – we need to prune a large bush out front, and think we’ll use some branches to cover it for the winter. However the question is, do we need another hog-house as well?
Back on a fairly toasty morning in early May I was gardening and heard a rustling sound. Since no bird flew away, I explored the source of the sound, and discovered a little mound of prickles under some ornamental Cuckoo Pint. We had…. our very own Hedgehog in the garden! Cue> much excitement.
Being a hot day this was a great excuse to down tools, as I didn’t want to disturb it so much that it got dehydrated. Gardening was carefully resumed late afternoon, and then late evening we stood watch. About 9.45pm we were not disappointed, and even managed a decent snap in the gloaming.
We had known there were hedgehogs in the area, and when the fence had been replaced a couple of years before had left a small unobtrusive gap between the front and the back, but had no idea that a hog was making use of it. Now, we hastily took further steps: by next evening we were the proud possessors of a hog-house and later in the week some hedgehog food!
There ensued many weeks which were acts of faith, that ‘Mrs Tiggywinkle’ was resident. We put out food, and it vanished. We guessed the local cats may have taken an interest in the food, but couldn’t be sure who was eating. There was also no way of telling if anyone was using the hog-house. There were other things going on in the garden, not least a small pond was dug in July (another story), but we made sure there was a shallow end so that our assumed resident could get out. We even arranged for a lovely local friend who had recently had Hedgehogs in her front garden to feed it whilst we were away on holiday!
On our return, there were found to be spider webs across the door of the hog-house. Daytime inspection confirmed that no-one was resident, and we feared the worst, but the hog-food was still disappearing. But, we had bought ourselves a wedding anniversary present of a trail-cam, so we pressed it into action.
The first night proved there were indeed cats in the garden. However, the following night brought great joy: we still had a hedgehog, and s/he was exploring the edge of the pond, and appearing to go to drink among other things! The first decent video is here!!
It looked like s/he was quite chunky from the stills we had and on it’s own, so by this stage we’re thinking it’s a male hedgehog and had re-‘named’ it The Hogfather! But another surprise was awaiting us.
We were intermittently at home, so not setting the trail-cam every night, but on 15th August, we were surprised to find not one, but two Hedgehogs!! One (with what we think is a bayleaf on it’s back – we’d moved the large potted bay-tree so we could see the pond and it had shed leaves!)
My first sermon as Curate at St. Mary’s Old Basing and Lychpit for 8am Eucharist (BCP) and 9.30am Sung Eucharist (CW)
TRINITY 5 (PROPER 11) Readings: Isaiah 44:6-8, Romans 8:12-25 and Matthew 13:24-30 and 36-43
The parable of the weeds and wheat as an inspiration to grow in patience and maturity.
There’s something about training for ordination that means there’s much more willow herb and considerably more stinging nettles growing in my garden than there were two years ago! I could explain that it’s for the benefit of the moths and butterflies whose caterpillars thrive on both, but… er… that would be a fib, and I guess it’s best not to start my association with this pulpit by telling lies. So, no, it’s simply that there aren’t enough hours in the day, at least not ones with any willpower and energy lying around spare, for my garden to look as weed free as I would wish it to be.
Some would say that a weed is simply a ‘plant that is in the wrong place’, and to some extent that is true of the weeds in our Gospel this morning, growing among the wheat which the farmer has had sown. But, these weeds present a difficult problem.
The chances are that the weeds of which Jesus spoke, looked not dissimilar to the wheat that the farmer was trying to grow. Unlike my stinging nettles and willow herb, darnel, which some think this Biblical weed to be, is a plant that not only looks incredibly similar to wheat until it’s seed heads ripen to almost black, but it is very vigorous, has stronger roots than wheat, and is regarded as poisonous because it plays host to a nasty fungus. You can quite understand why this isn’t something you want mixed up in your wheat crop, and why, on discovering it, the immediate reaction is to get it out as soon as possible.
But no, the farmer is adamant that the weeds are there to stay until the end of the growing season when the field is mature and ripe for harvest. Only at that point, when it’s really obvious what is weed and what is wheat, and root damage to the wheat is immaterial, will the labourers be allowed to rip out the poisonous darnel and burn it. Then the wheat can be harvested and stored to sustain the community. It’s a management technique that requires patience, and an understanding of how both plants grow.
God has a habit I’ve discovered, of not being very good at conforming to any timetable that WE might wish to set him. Otherwise I wouldn’t be here to be honest; I’d still be tucked away in St. Peter’s in Yateley. As far as I was concerned, THIS (point to clerical collar) wasn’t meant to happen for several years yet, IF AT ALL!
God however, is just as adept at taking a lot MORE time than we might think ideal about sorting out some things. I am sure as we watch the news from Ukrain, Israel/Palestine, Iraq or Syria, or hear that another friend has been diagnosed with cancer, MS, dementia or some other debilitating disease, we wish and pray that God would simply get on with stepping in NOW, to solve the problems and diseases of the world. He doesn’t, because though he dislikes the weeds in the garden of his creation even more than we do, he doesn’t want to destroy the things that are maturing nicely before they are ready for harvest. Or, more accurately, he is active in the world, but he’s active in ways we perhaps find difficult to recognise or understand.
There is a reason why patience is part of the fruit of the Holy Spirit – and it is because it forms part of the character of God that we are called to reflect in our own lives! God’s judgement is delayed because he is patient. This parable isn’t particularly about who’s going to be in, and who out, of the Kingdom of Heaven; who’s good and who is bad. Rather, it is underlining the fact that God is waiting for the wheat to mature into a crop worth harvesting, one that can be clearly distinguished by it’s character from the weeds that otherwise look similar but are different and have become poisoned.
Much as we want it to be, the evil in the world around us is not going to be weeded out overnight by an army of God’s labouring angels. We’re not going to be isolated from the rubbish of the world, we HAVE to live alongside it, with the same patience as God. But this isn’t an excuse to sit back and do nothing, to live, as our Epistle puts it, according to the flesh. Led by the Holy Spirit we are instead called as children of the resurrection NOT to be fearful, but to be adventurously expectant, to grow as strongly and as fruitfully as we can towards maturity, so that we will be recognised for what we are: children of God, affected, but uninfected, by the evils of the world; a part of God’s coming harvest.
This parable isn’t about the stuff we do wrong, or a finger pointing exercise about what others foul up. It’s about the stuff we do right, the stuff that reflects the faith we proclaim. This parable is saying there’s time to do MORE of it, BECAUSE God is patient.
For example there’s time to take part in the Pilgrim Course, to share and learn more about Christ, the how and where of his work in our lives. There’s time too, carved out though it might need to be from our own timetables of living, to make our faith more recognisable to others than it is already. On the world stage that MAY mean that those people who are appropriately placed should step out, trusting God’s strength, to help humanity change for the better; equally it probably DOES mean that we should hold those situations, and the people that can make a difference to them, in prayer.
It’s worth remembering that this parable doesn’t liken a farmers wheat field to the church, because in Jesus’ time the church didn’t exist! The wheat field is the world, the world of Old Basing and Lychpit, as well as further afield, and it is in THAT context that Christ will one day be looking at us to see whether we are discernibly different to the weeds that he knows he will sadly need to destroy. That’s why we are called to engage with our local schools, the food bank, and probably a myriad of other community activities I haven’t seen yet, in ways that mark us out as people of Christ.
There is a deep challenge to us all within this Kingdom parable; but rather than being a source of gloom and fear, this challenge should be a cause for hope. Whatever stage of life and faith we are at, because of God’s patience there is time to grow towards maturity in our love of Christ, and the degree to which we reflect God’s character. If we will allow ourselves the freedom to grow, the Holy Spirit is eager to be at work in us, enabling us to be part of the harvest that will be stored in God’s presence as part of his glorious Kingdom.
I know that according to last years RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch suggested that Starlings are among the garden birds most in decline, but there’s never been any shortage of them in our Yateley garden. Numbers regularly reach double figures actually in the garden, and there are many dozens around our estate, often lined up on the television aerials.
They are far from being dull brown birds, with plumage that close up is not only startlingly marked, but also an amazing combination of iridescent green and purples. Yes, they really could be described as beautiful.
But, they squabble atrociously and the noise can totally dominate the garden soundscape. Especially when there’s food on offer. We can refill our birdseed feeder and an hour later these greedy guzzlers have totally dominated the feeder, chucking the majority of the seed on the ground beneath. Some of the Starlings also feed beneath, but here the main beneficiaries are the Chaffinches, Wood Pidgeons, and Collared Doves.
What it does mean is that the Chaffinches who actually quite like to use the feeder too, only get a look in towards the end of the shift, ditto the Blue Tits who won’t stand up to the Starlings, and the Robin who has mastered the perch but rarely gets to feed there.
We do have other feeders to suit various tastes, so the most of our garden bird life gets something, but the grass is being utterly ruined and I’m concerned that the dropped food might contribute to the prevalence of Fringilla papillomavirus(warty legs)that we have in our Chaffinches – could the mites that cause it be transmitted through the mess of waste food?
With this weeks snow melted, and the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch over, it is my intention to try and sweep up as much of the waste the Starlings have created as I can, but I know it’s going to build up again very quickly. So what I’m wondering is if there is some design of bird feeder that will create less waste, or discourage the Starlings, who are perfectly capable of feeding on the fat balls or table feeders we have on offer?!
It’s not that I want to get rid of the Starlings completely, but just find a healthy balance in the way we feed the birds who frequent our garden.
During the snows of the last week, we’ve had a new visitor to the garden. A Mistle Thrush.
I don’t think it arrived just to perform for the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch, though when I do my hour of recording tomorrow morning, I’m really hoping it puts in an appearance.
But, it’s feeding habits have somewhat surprised me, especially considering the details put out by BBC Nature yesterday.
When I took these photo’s on 21st January, I had put out some apple halves for it to feed on, which it totally ignored. The next day I chopped it up much smaller, and the bits remain totally uneaten. Neither do we have any berries on the bushes around our garden, because we don’t have the space for those sort of shrubs.
Instead this Mistle Thrush much prefers the birdseed that has fallen from our bird feeders (more about which tomorrow). So, what I’m wondering is whether despite their known preferences for fruit and berries, actually the Mistle Thrush is a little bit more adaptable than we might have thought? Or, is my Mistle Thrush just muddled… or desperate, because of the weather?
On Pentecost Sunday I had the privilege of leading and preaching at the church of All Saints, Minstead (at the invitation of the incumbent Revd Dr James Bruce). This was the church in which I was baptised, confirmed and married. It is also the church that my Dad has attended for the last 60 years, and the occasion also marked his 80th birthday.
The liturgy for the service I adapted from that in Common Worship especially the Times and Seasons section for Pentecost, to create something that was simple but meaningful. I used the word DARE that appears repeatedly in the “commissioning” that forms the conclusion of that service as the mnemonic that I also hinged the sermon on, producing a over-arching theme that started from the light from the Pascal Candle and the Easter story, and hopefully took them into the future daring to carry the flame of the Holy Spirit. You are welcome to see, use and comment on the form the final liturgy took by downloading this: A Pentecost Celebration
I deliberately asked for the Gospel to be read immediately before the Pentecost Reading, so that the flow of the readings was chronologically correct and drawn together into the one story;
I created candle holders that used four of the DAREs in the closing liturgy, and a variety of flame coloured card, so that people had something symbolic to receive and take home (see photo). The master copy for the candle holder is here: CandleHoldersForPentecostDARE
The ‘commissioning of people of the Spirit’ at the end of the service was adapted from the original to take account of the fact that we didn’t in fact want people to go outside the church, and I no longer live in the community. They also used the liturgical and historic spaces within the church to guide where I asked local individuals to read the individual DAREs from. These could be adapted to use in any other church and community.
Footnote: I can thoroughly recommend The Trusty Servant pub in Minstead where my family continued Dad’s celebrations at lunch!
It looks like the Swallows left before summer had had it’s last gasp!
It’s now just over a week since I last saw Swallows heading South-East across the heath at the back of Blackbushe Airport. For the sake of the records in was 21st September.
But there are plenty of other wildlife sights to keep me interested on our regular dog walks. This week alone I’ve seen Buzzards and Red Kites riding high in the late summer thermals. There are Nuthatches hard at work in the copse, and out on the heath there are still a smattering of butterflies including numerous Small Heath and what I think was a faded Grayling.
And if you’ll excuse the pun, we’ve been swallowing the last fruits of summer too. The french beans and courgettes are over, the chard is probably on it’s last legs. We’re still pulling pot-bound carrots. I had hoped to late sow more carrots, but gardening looks like it’s going to be purely maintenance this autumn as we’re now spending alternate Saturday’s in Winchester where our son is rehearsing with the County Double-Reed ensemble. That means we’re exploring new places with the dog too, especially Farley Mount Country Park, that started our Sloe picking season. This year we’re freezing them before starting the Sloe Gin process!
We’re still eating the last few tomatoes (some were roasted with garlic and sieved to a mush for winter stews). Of particular note have been the Dasher turbo tomatoes which are by far the most delicious addition to the summer salad. I shall be looking to have more than one plant next summer. Outside the late Alicante tomatoes have meant we’ve been able to produce big batches of Green Tomato Chutney (with, and without onions). Even the rather odd apple tree is feeding us. As well as contributing to the chutney, I’ve discovered a fab Dorset Apple Cake recipe in The Countryman and they are now keeping us well caked, despite not being particularly tasty raw!
So that’s a bit of a round up of late summer interest really. Amidst it all I’ve completely failed to make a link to what I reckon is my best photograph of the summer. So here it is – photographed in August on a footpath near Upper Slaughter:
In other news, this weekends sees the 5th Reader from St Peter’s Yateley to be licensed in 3 years, and we’ll all be turning out tomorrow at Winchester Cathedral to celebrate at the annual Reader Licensing Service. In fact with a new vicar to be licensed to, we shall all be getting our new licenses I guess. It was really wonderful that (together with those with ‘permission to preach’ and pastoral training) we have so many people in our church who have committed to authorised ministries as lay people.
This is by way of a horticultural note to self – so you are welcome to ignore it.
Last year as we started to spin the greenhouse back into action after the build, Dad gave me three ‘turbo tomato’ plants, which were last years new thing from Suttons. The result was envy from both neighbours and the Mother-in-law (M), and a bumper crop: they do exactly what it says on their website: more trusses per plant, and more tomatoes per truss (like 20+ cherry toms per truss)!
So this year I ordered M and I some more. They came this week, and I potted up the little darlings today. I ordered Elegence (ordinary size tomato) and Conchita (cherry variety) – I’ll give M two of the Conchita and an Elegance, so we get more of the bigger ones (which I can roast down with olive oil and garlic to make a great sauce a la Hugh Fearnley-Wittingstall).
Then I had a slight lapse today in my local garden centre (Henry Street) because I discovered that they were stocking Suttons turbo tomato plants, and theirs were much further on than the little plug plants. So to develop a succession of turbo tomatoes across the range I bought a single Dasher, which is a plumb variety. This is now in it’s final 12″ pot, to give us some earlier fruit hopefully.
Today I also potted up three tiny Alicante tomato plants I grew from some free seed that came with my last Lakeland order. These will eventually go outside (the turbo’s will all be grown in a cold greenhouse) with the idea of generating enough green tomatoes to replenish the ‘green tomato chutney’ larder.
Other horticultural notes for today:
Climbing French Beans ‘Cobra’ planted out in the old bath
Hanging baskets planted up, but I’ll keep them in the greenhouse for a couple of weeks whilst the plants settle in
Sweet peas ‘True Frangrance Mix’ transplanted into a tub over which I fixed a rather heath-robinson obelisk of canes and wire (see left)
Courgette plants also transplanted out into the half-waterbutts (2 per butt this year) Two green ‘Yolanda’ and two yellow ‘Buckingham’. Again to see if we can increase supply, this time for the freezer after processing into ‘courgette mush’ which is a great base for doing stuff with cheese sauce and pasta (again from an H F-W recipe from his early book, I think.)
Oh, and I put slug pellets round most things including the lettuce seedlings that were sown about three weeks ago!