Wednesday, 6 April 2022

                    SHARING SPRINGTIME

Enjoying our sunny garden with close friends on Sunday reminded Sue and I how privileged we are to own this little patch of southern England and all the wildlife that lives here with us.

one of our almost hand-tame robins
Our few hours together also reminded us of just how important it is to share the joy of all these wonderful spring colours, so I thought that penning a quick blog and adding a few happy snaps taken during this last week might be appreciated by those who love gardening.
tulips provide a glorious burst of colour after the drab winter rains

 planting them in our gravel garden is knee crunching
it's been a very good spring for brimstones, though we fear for them during these recent hard frosts

commas have been fewer this year, though always a colourful treat

our wooded patch and the pond close to the house which the visiting otters use as a swimming pool

sun worshiping

the little stream runs through the heart of the garden past camellias and magnolia stellata

Our two acres of woodland, flowers and shrubs is unashamedly designed, not to be neat and tidy [God forbid!] but to provide a home for the most diverse collection of critters that we’re able to attract.
 we are blessed with many jays, this lady was enjoying her sunbathing by lying on a log outside our kitchen window - lovely birds aren't they

foxes are about most nights, tidying up spilt grain

   male sparrow hawk named 'Fancy Dan' because he was always bathing in the stream
Our remarkably tame pair of sparrow hawks actually nested in a birch tree right in the middle of the garden and raised a chick, so I was able to invite friends to come and take pics of them while they remained so obliging.
flowing water provided Dan with a perfect bathroom - he was a very smart boy  © Mike Read

the chick close to fledging into nearby branches   © Jane Adams

Fancy Dan's daily bath time was followed by hours of careful preening  © Mike Read


amicably sharing bird food - we called him Prince Willhelm the Second as our previous one went awol

So in reality our garden is a little nature reserve that in turn provides us with an escape from the realities and horrors of the world that all of us are suffering right now. There’s a lot of madness out there but within our sanctuary we can enjoy mental and physical renewal and while we’re at it, do our bit for the climate crisis.

acers, birches, camellias and rhodos thrive on our moist hillsides

Over the forty years that we’ve been lucky to live here, we’ve planted dozens of trees and even more valuable to combat climate change, we’ve wetted the land by digging seven ponds large and small, along with a wooded marsh, then cut a stream to link all the springs from the groundwater together so that freshwater flows from end to end through the garden.
our marsh provides a home for dozens of amorous frogs in the spring

stock doves and many others enjoy a wash and brush up in our crystal clear streams

our minnows are spawning outside the office as I write, early April being their crucial time

Many birds enjoy bathing in this clean water, stock doves, sparrow hawks and buzzards to name a few, and our minnows spawn in them, providing food for visiting kingfishers.
our colourful kingfisher called Kevin, a regular so he had to have a name

our main pond requires lots of weeding and dredging but is a magnet for passing ducks

Wetlands capture more carbon than forests, so even a small pond is a little contribution to saving our planet. What’s more, by storing water we reduce the risk of drought or flooding and provide a trickle for our beleaguered rivers.

little egrets are frequent visitors now, though always a pleasant surprise as they were once so rare

otters are a mixed blessing as they trash our aquatic ecosystems, though I'm always delighted when they come as having otters in your garden has got to be one of the great privileges of life.

Even better, by providing water, we’ve created attractive habitat for herons and kingfishers, even egrets and otters, and along with nesting mallard and our colourful native fish, we delight in zipping dragons and damselflies and uncountable invertebrates.
an emperor dragon egg laying, a daily delight in the summer


 beautiful demoiselle, a frequent summer visitor, along with the banded variety

four-spottted chasers are occasional visitors in the early summer

magnificent golden-ringed dragonflies are rare here and this one was snatched by a passing hobby!

So if you have a garden, however small, dig a pond!










To counter the increasing threat of drought, we’ve created a dry garden with gravel and planted lots of invertebrate friendly plants and these have attracted squadrons of buzzers, though that will be a story for another time and once the rain stops, maybe spring will return and we can glory in some lovely warm sunshine.

our patch created for bees and butterflies and called the B&B - of course!

visiting silver-washed fritillaries are always a treat.

a carder bee enjoying the nectar from a glorious blue salvia

roses round the door - this is albertine, an old but delightful variety - the bees love 'em too  

To help the bees and butterflies, we have also let our 'lawn' by the cottage grow wild and within a few years it's become a wildflower meadow with a surprising variety of plants, including three species of orchid along with snakeshead fritillaries and all of them without our help at all. Ain't nature wonderful if you give it a chance.
spring is sprung in our little meadow in sunny Dorset

southern marsh orchids are the most common with a few spotteds and pyramids as a bonus

the buzzers love all these blooms


up to 160 blooms and spreading fast, one of the joys of leaving a garden to grow wild and free

As of yesterday, we can bring more good news, because following on from my previous blog about successful reintroductions of once rare birds, our star osprey CJ7 returned to Poole Harbour yesterday from her winter sojourn in West Africa and if her mate ‘Catch 22’ returns to join her soon, we may well have the first successful breeding pair of ospreys in Southern England for nearly two hundred years … and when the nest site is only six miles from our door, news doesn’t get any better.

CJ7 building her nest on Easter Day in 2020  © Birds of Poole Harbour

The exciting reintroduction of ospreys to Dorset has been made possible by the hard graft of the Birds of Poole Harbour team and the long term vision of Roy Dennis. It was in the mid '70's that Roy and I made a film on ospreys for the RSPB, even travelling to Africa to film them in the Gambia, so below is a pic from one of our Scottish nests, a picture that we hope will be replicated by success in Poole Harbour this summer.

A Scottish pair of ospreys successfully raising two chicks - fingers X'd it will happen here soon

And when we're not admiring ospreys or the graceful red kites overhead ... and not got our heads down planting treasures in the garden, we’ll have to keep our eyes on the skies in the hope that the   white-tailed eagles glide from the Isle
of White over our heads and add to the joys of life in sunny Dorset. Aren't we lucky!
amazing - a white-tailed eagle gliding over nearby Poole Harbour  © Birds of Poole Harbour



Saturday, 25 December 2021




It’s Christmas day, so Sue and I wish you many enjoyable days ahead and hope that next year is kind to you all. 

We really enjoy Christmas because it’s a chance to be in touch with so many of our friends and even if there’s no chance of seeing them, there’s always cards. We’re told that some folk find sending cards a chore but I love ‘em because while writing a few words by way of a catch up, I’m actually with them in mind if not in body and that’s far better than not at all. Letters and emails then allow a longer immersion in their lives and if you enjoy writing, it’s so enjoyable to share life with our loved ones. 

It’s been a difficult year or two for so many but I’m going to avoid the ‘C’ word because ‘no news is good news’. It’s as if journalists consider it a dereliction of duty if they don’t hit us with all the worst stories they can find everywhere in the world and ensure that we are fed up or worse, depressed, even afraid. 

So this ditty will concentrate on all the good wildlife stuff that’s happening all around us, and if you’re into gardening and birds like us, there’s plenty to celebrate. But I'll try to be brief.

Kevin the Kingfisher for starters, for he has survived for a few years due to our warmer winters and along with a female, they give us the privilege of regular visits to our Dorset garden. 

We’ve created lots of wetland habitat and that attracts breeding mallard, little egrets and dozens of damsels and dragonflies.


Creating habitat is so much a part of the success for wildlife and along with providing nest sites and manipulating species around the country, has created success that should cheer us all. Here’s a brief summary of a few to celebrate, starting with one close to home. 

Wiped out by persecution in Scotland by the early 19th Century, ospreys returned to breed successfully for the first time in 1959 at the RSPB’s famous Loch Garten site and there are now some 160 pairs breeding in the UK. 

c Birds of Poole Harbour

What’s more, a translocation project into Poole Harbour means that there’s every chance that ospreys will breed for the first time in Dorset for nearly 200 years. The nest site is just six miles from our door. Wonderful.

© Mike Read
White-tailed eagles were driven to extinction in Britain more than two hundred years ago, so by reintroducing them from Norway in 1975, they bred on Mull for the first time in 1985. There are now a remarkable 150 breeding pairs in Scotland, allowing the translocation of white-tailed eagles to the Isle of Wight.
© CHOG - Needles b/g

© Mike Read
So walking out on our local patch, the chances of these birds with their massive, long and broad eight foot wingspan turning the sky dark as they fly overhead is a daily possibility. More good news! 


You’ll be wanting to return to the left over turkey, so next up are few more triumphs, as quickly as I can. In the mid sixty’s a handful of red kites were surviving in central Wales but by the mid 90’s, with reintroductions and increased protection, they had recovered to more than 100 pairs and by 2003 there were 350 to 400 pairs in Britain, a remarkable 1,023% increase! Wow. 

© Val Smith

Moving on to our wetland marshes, bitterns had disappeared in the 1870’s and though they recovered slightly, by 1997 they were on the brink of extinction with just 11 booming males. 


By 2019 and by providing more reed bed nesting habitat there were more than 100 booming males on RSPB reserves and almost 200 across the UK,
so yet another success story. 


The reed beds also benefited the graceful marsh harrier. Down to just three or four individuals at Minsmere in the 1960’s, then just three pairs in 1971, [more than half the UK population], there are now 8 to 12 pairs at Minsmere and a total of more than 600 nesting in the UK.
Amazing, and only a couple of weeks ago there were over ten marsh harriers roosting just down the road in Poole Harbour so yet another success story. 

I told you there was lots of good news out there and I haven’t even mentioned the golden eagle and red squirrel increases, the beaver introductions or the possibility of lynx returning to the UK any time soon. Then there's all the charity work done by anglers trying to save our rivers but I'll let you back to your celebrations and bang on about all this success another time.

osprey nest landowner on left, Roy Dennis on right

Re-wilding is a buzzword right now and thanks to so many enlightened people with the drive and inspiration to make things happen, like Roy Dennis for instance, [seen here collecting osprey chicks for ringing], so there are many species with a bright future and lots of good news to look forward to.

So let’s hear more about them and their work instead of the ‘C’ word and other dreadful news that we have shovelled at us in suffocating, mind numbing quantities every hour of the day. 

We do hope you can be happy, have a great year and don’t watch the news! … sent with our hugs ... 

X Hugh and Sue ... eggcellent presentšŸ˜‹