Sunday, 23 January 2011

Small Pleasures

A beautiful sunrise on a frosty morning this week.037

Long tailed tits in the garden. I’ve seen them in the woods behind the house but this is the first time they have visited the garden. They’re tiny birds but full of character. They travel in family groups and constantly chirp and tweet to each other. A pleasure and privilege to see and hear in the garden.

lttits .

The RSPB site describes long tailed tits as little balls on sticks, but I have never seen a bird look more like a feathered ball than this goldcrest. He was scurrying up and down some conifers behind the house. Goldcrests compete with firecrests for the title of Britain’s smallest bird, neither of them weighs more than the equivalent of five paper clips.



This little fellow had fluffed his feathers out until he looked like a puffer fish but he wasn’t sick, just cold. It’s difficult to keep warm when you’re so small. It had been a freezing night and there were still patches of ice in the woods were the sun couldn’t penetrate. I know he wasn’t sick because he was so active, he bounced about the tree like a hyperactive ping-pong ball. I took 23 shots and he was only vaguely in focus in three of them, in the others he was either a blur or a handful of tail feathers disappearing into the greenery.



I have lots of photos of birds bottoms, they are the most uncooperative subjects. Another tiny bird I regularly see, who refuses to stay still is the wren. He is constantly on the move, searching for insects, and ignores all my pleas to pose for the camera. wren

But bird bottoms are better than no bottoms. What a pleasure to know these three tiny species, who are so vulnerable to prolonged cold weather, all survived the harsh December. Temperatures are still regularly sinking below zero at night, but there’s a lift in the air during the day heralding Spring. The birds have started to sing their hearts out, competing for territory, the evenings are lighter and the catkins are out. Spring is coming.075

And I have used the last of 2010’s vegetables. This pumpkin has been sitting in the dining room since October while I wondered what to do with it, never having grown pumpkins before. I ran out of veg this week and decided to try pumpkin soup. YUM. So simple, so low in calories and so good. I softened some onions in fry lite (I’m on a diet so olive oil is not allowed but would be better) bunged in some chicken stock (from a bottle), hot water and the pumpkin in large chunks, a hefty pinch of nutmeg and masses of fresh ground pepper. Cooked until the pumpkin was soft (~30 mins) and then whizzed the whole thing with a hand zapper. It had a luxurious, smooth, creamy texture without the calories of added cream. A perfectly pleasurable Winter soup. If I had another pumpkin I think it would use a mix of cumin and chilli powder rather than nutmeg. I will definitely be growing more pumpkins this year to experiment with the other spices.


Sunday, 9 January 2011


A Happy New Year to all, including my poor birds who had to put up with another fall of snow yesterday. Then their breakfast was late and I practically had Mrs Blackbird tapping on the kitchen window in her impatience.


The thrush wasn’t far behind her, he’s cold and hungry and has lost his habitual shyness.


In fact there are now regularly two thrushes in the garden but I can’t tell them apart.


Hundreds of chaffinches.


I tried to count them but couldn’t so did a block count and scaled up across the garden.

The bramblings are still about. Mrs is shy and hangs back in the shrubs,


but Mr gets stuck right in.


I went for a walk up the hill this afternoon, the footprints showed many people had the same idea,


but they tailed off as I went further up, until eventually there was just me and what looked like the prints of a pogo-ing sheep.


It was beautiful still day. A lot of the pine trees have been felled recently, leaving stands of tall larch lone against the skyline.


High in these I could hear excited bird calls. Long tailed tits! At the absolute limit of my camera zoom but recognisable.


Then amongst the cheeping tits a flash of bright red and yellow… bigger, bulkier, acrobatic birds… parrots in snowy Scotland? No, cross bills! The first I have ever seen, feeding on the larch cones.

pine 1

pine 3


green 1



The boys are red and the girls are yellow/green. Both a welcome splash of colour in our monochrome landscape.