Monday, 18 January 2010

The North Devon Snow Party's over!

The North Devon’s snow party is finally over. In December 2009 there was a cold snap and snow flurries ensuring the UK enjoyed that elusive White Christmas. At the beginning of January a winter flock of lapwings on the field heralded the start of what was to be the coldest and longest snow spell for years bringing treacherous conditions on the minor roads in North Devon coast and country areas. (The last time we experienced such extreme arctic conditions was when we were snowbound in Croyde in the early eighties, our first ever winter in North Devon.) School children were thrilled to be home building snowmen but it was a testing time for local services and those not able to go out for the duration. Congratulations are due to our rural postman who braved blizzard conditions to keep the Royal Mail coming. This was also a time to keep watch on the local bird population as feeding stations were even more vital. Taking advantage of the nuts and seeds on our garden bird feeder were, in various numbers, robin, chaffinch, greenfinch, pied wagtail, house sparrow, dunnock, blue tit, blackbird, willow tit, great tit, mistle thrush, collared dove, field fare, squabbling starlings and for the first time a stunning bull finch. Rising temperatures and gale force winds on the 15th January marked the end of the winter wonderland. By the 16th January the last traces of the children’s snowmen, built on the 5th January were washed away by torrential rains. On the 17th January the field became a vital feeding ground for a flock of approximately 30 fieldfare. Ominously by Monday 18th January, the field is visited once again by an ever larger flock of between 141 and 150 lapwings. It will be interesting to see which birds hang around for the Big Garden Bird Watch, the RSPB's biggest event of the year which will be held over the weekend 30 and 31 January and encourages people all over the country to count the birds in their garden for just an hour over this one weekend. It's very simple to take part and provides the RSPB with information and patterns in bird numbers that help them prioritise their conservation work. They are also celebrating Big Garden Birdwatch with a special promotional incentive to join the RSPB - new members joining between 19 January and 31 March can choose a FREE RSPB classic apex nest box (normally £11.99) as their free joining gift. Join the RSPB today
Big Garden Birdwatch Results for 2009. According to the RSPB for the first time in the survey's 30-year history, the long-tailed tit has flown into the Big Garden Birdwatch top ten. This highly sociable species increased by an astonishing 88% from last years count. They believe this pleasant increase is because this insect-eating bird has adapted to feeding on seeds and peanuts at birdtables and from hanging feeders. This result highlights perfectly the positive impact that our feeding and bird care can have on some birds. Record-breaking celebration. Well over half a million people celebrated the 30th year of the Birdwatch, making this the biggest bird survey in the world. A huge increase from humble beginnings in 1979 when just 30,000 children took part. Big Garden Birdwatch 2009 was held on 24 and 25th January 2009.
BIRDS ON TOP: The 2009 garden top ten:
Position Species Average per garden
1 House Sparrow 3.70
2 Starling 3.21
3 Blackbird 2.84
4 Blue tit 2.45
5 Chaffinch 2.01
6 Wood Pigeon 1.85
7 Collared Dove 1.44
8 Great tit 1.40
9 Robin 1.36
10 Long-tailed tit 1.34

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Bideford Bay Beachcombing

Wind Chill Factor Westward Ho! -3rd January 2010. All photos,articles copyright P. M. Adams North Devon Focus all rights reserved. It’s freezing cold but dry and sunny so perfect for a New Year stroll on the beach at Westward Ho! At the slipway we move aside for three horse riders taking advantage of the two mile stretch of firm sand and a rare opportunity to enjoy an uninterrupted gallop. The tide is a long way out thus exposing the hulk of one, of two, rarely visible Westward Ho! wrecks. Took some photos from different angles but my hands were so numb with the cold that I couldn’t actually feel the shutter button. As I was testing a new lens, I decided to take close up shots and made my way up the beach, head down searching for interesting sand formations, sea creatures, seaweed, shells and pebbles on the lower and middle shoreline moving towards the strandline and the Pebble Ridge. Even after recent storms this is a wonderful clean beach worthy of its’ Blue Flag status. We spent about an hour beachcombing and saw plenty of razor shells, periwinkles, whelks, mussels, tiny crabs and other crustaceans, kelp, wrack, sea urchins and lots of sea potatoes. Sea pototoes or heart-urchins are, weirdly, heart-shaped and covered in fur! They are normally hidden beneath the sand and only appear on the surface when washed up after stormy weather. Suddenly the noise of the wind and crashing surf was completely drowned out by the loud thundering hooves of the horses as they galloped back down the beach from Sandymere. Only three horses, but the sound carried some distance so one can only imagine the sound of the 500 horses in the Charge of the Light Brigade. The beach is still practically deserted, a few dog walkers, one lone hardy surfer and one kite buggy circling far off beside the sand dunes. Northam Burrows Country Park is beyond the Pebble Ridge at Westward Ho! on the Atlantic Heritage Coast. The Northam Burrows Country Park, at the mouth of the Taw Torridge Estuary, is a designated site of scientific interest and forms part of the United Nations Biosphere Reserve. If you can identify any of the shorelife in these pictures please let us know.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Peppercombe Chronicles

Peppercombe Valley - 1st January 2010 
Photographs and articles copyright Pat Adams (all rights reserved)
A stroll down to the old stables and back to see what’s new in Peppercombe Valley. It’s dark, cold and lifeless, or is it? (Note to myself not to wear fingerless gloves.) There is quite a bit of ground frost but hidden underneath are definite signs of plant growth including the huge pale green leaves of a Foxglove, fresh green moss, lichens, algae and fungus. The frost covered ivy makes an interesting winter picture. The only sounds are the cackle of a pheasant and the fast running stream. The birds are particularly active and it’s good to see a robin, blackbird and willow tit flitting back and forth across the track. I am passed by several groups of walkers and families offering friendly New Year Greetings. Easy to see which direction one party had come from as they were covered from toe to knee in the thick red Portledge mud. Water cascades down and under the bridge by the Pink Cottage and by the old beech trees. Spring Beauty leaves are frost bitten but visible on the grass verge opposite the old stables. Down by the meadows the first yellow buds of a lone common gorse bush make an early outing and two buzzards swirl and swoop on the wind aloft. It’s quite muddy on the track beside the meadows by the South West Coast Path steps. Looking back up from here the tree tops are bathed in golden sunlight in stark contrast to the gloomy valley below. My attention is drawn to the colourful ivy clad branch covered in grey and rusty lichens. As I make my way back a tiny Robin is tree hopping ahead of me, always keeping tantalisingly out of focus. Took picture anyway but its amazing how small a robin looks in a woodland setting as opposed to the garden. Back at the top blue skies as the sun emerges at last bathing the knarled branches of the old leafless trees in umber hues. Finally caught sight of another Robin and three blue tits in the hedgerows as I reach the final stretch of the trail.