Month: January 2016

Attracting garden birds

When I was younger my mum and dad used to leave stale bread out in the garden for the birds. I would sit on the step of the back door and watch the sparrows and blackbirds with fascination – sharp beaks and shiny feathers rooting around in the grass for a feast. When my mum got cats we didn’t leave out anymore bread, and we didn’t see anymore birds.

A garden has always been an important specification for me when looking at potential homes to rent. When we moved to East London the flat we rented had the smallest of concrete patches with a tiny unusable shed and a huge towering tree that blocked out all of the sunlight – but it was a garden. A garden in London no less. So we rented that flat and I set out to entice the birds in.

I bought a feeder, and a bird box and I left out a tiny china plate with mealworms on – all to bring the birds in. They never came despite my attention and best efforts. Ironically I never saw a single bird in our garden – not until a week before we left when I saw a lone blue tit singing high up in that wretched tree.

Moving to Essex a garden was still a must. We got one, albeit a very small one. And once again, the birds were on my mind. This time I was determined to bring them in… and I was successful!

After a great deal of  research I learned some important things that I’d like to share with anyone who is looking to bring some feathered friends in to the garden.

  1. Different birds like different foods. Buying one type of seed and hanging it in a feeder will not attract different kinds of birds – it might not even attract one kind. It’s important to buy different feeders and supply different feeds. I now have seeds, sunflower hearts, fatballs and peanut granules. The blue tits and great tits love the peanut granules and a rather fat robin seems to have made his way through four fatballs with minimal help from the blackbirds. We got our feeder from B&M for a bargainous £8! B&M is also really great for bird food and does some great deals on feeder/seed combos. Wilkos is another shop I’d recommend if you want to cut down the cost of feeding wild birds.
  2. Water is key. Right now I have a little dish that I fill with water – it sits on the bird feeder and is there to provide fresh drinking water or a little bath to birds who may require it. Eventually I’m hoping to get a birdbath as I have read that they help the process along even more so.
  3. Shrubs / greenery is a must. My garden overlooks another which is a little awkward. But the garden it overlooks is filled with bushes and trees and things that can provide cover for birds who need to dart. During the summer I will be looking to plant some bushes of my own. I am hoping to attract goldfinches – I have read they are fans of teasel.

Baring these things in mind we have been able to attract a few different types of birds to the garden – even some I can’t identify! Below are some photographs I have taken of just some of the sweet birds that frequent our garden. Please note, these photographs were taken through a glass door and as such are not in pin sharp focus!

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We purchased this feeder station from B&M. The coconut fat ball and feeders/seed came separately but were reasonably priced.

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Etsy review – Charming Creatures

Disclaimer: I have not been paid or gifted anything in return for this post. I’m a big supporter of handmade and I’m writing this to share with the world one of my favourite Etsy shops.

You can visit the shop here

I have been shopping with Etsy for a few years now. I am a firm believer that handmade is best – the quality of a handmade item is just far superior than that of a mass manufactured one and I really like the idea of owning something unique and tailored to suit my tastes.

I first came across the Charming Creatures shop when looking for a zebra finch necklace. Unsurprisingly I wasn’t overwhelmed by the scarce options available to me. But my search did pull up one thing – a link to a little handmade clay pet bird necklace.

I contacted Emily (the mastermind behind the clay creations) about getting my little zebra finch Cheeks immortalised in clay. I sent her a couple of photographs of Cheeks and paid the (small) fee. At every step of the process I was kept updated – I was sent photographs of the clay shape, and then of the painting. This part of the service is just one of the many things that sets Charming Creatures apart from other Etsy shops I have visited (and I believe it deserves a mention.)

When clay Cheeks arrived in the post the packaging was absolutely wonderful and very secure. The actual necklace itself was beautiful-well made, well painted – and Emily managed to capture the likeness of my sweet little bird perfectly. The necklace exceeded all of my expectations.

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Clay necklace of Cheeks
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Actual Cheeks (and little Biscuit)

Some time after this I saw Charming Creatures was having a competition over on Instagram. Of course, after receiving such a beautiful piece I definitely wanted to own more. The competition was to post a photograph of your pet and write a few sentences about him/her – the prize was to be a little clay sculpture of said pet. I posted a picture of Muffin, explained why he was special and waited.

I couldn’t believe it when I won! I have never won anything in my life and was so excited to win such a fantastic competition.

Clay Muffin arrived in the post today (yay for a happy post day!) and I was blown away by how special he is.

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Clay sculpture of Muffin by Charming Creatures

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Muffin

Once again the packaging was fantastic – a small little box with ribbon and wrapped felt to enable clay Muffin to arrive minus any damages. The sculpture itself is stunning – and once again the likeness has truly been captured (most especially around his eyes.)

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Size difference between a custom pet sculpture and a necklace

The great thing about Charming Creatures work is the attention to detail. I have painted clay before and it’s not the easiest of things to do – yet these beautiful sculptures have so much precise detailing and really do look lifelike. I can only imagine a whole lot of love goes in to them. They are also really sturdy and although I am very careful I imagine them to be quite hardy.

Charming Creatures doesn’t just create birds, so if you’re looking to get your pet immortalised in clay, whether it be a feathered friend or a four-legged friend this shop is for you. I can imagine also that these would make fantastic and incredibly thoughtful gifts for those that you love -I would be delighted to receive one! Here are some examples of the charming clay creations (photos taken from the Charming Creatures website.)

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Wonderful Goldfinch trinket bowls – I have my eye on these!
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Pet sculptures. Charming Creatures doesn’t just create feathered friends.
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Custom cake toppers – custom is key.

Do you have a favourite Etsy shop? Please share in the comments below so I can check it out!

Birds of Thorndon

Some photographs I snapped of birds in Thorndon Country Park.

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A very blurry pic – of a chaffinch we saw. This was the only snap I managed to get!

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Thorndon Country Park

It was a grey weekday- and as we rolled through the car park, gravel crunching satisfyingly beneath the wheels of our car, I noticed that Thorndon country park was just as busy as it had been the weekend before. I wondered to myself if it was always as busy, or if everyone was there out of guilt from overindulging over the festive period.

We parked the car and stepped out in to the chilly air. This time we came prepared. Instead of flimsy trainers and battered chelsea boots, we were clad in (definitely not cringe-inducing) matching black wellies. I delighted in striding purposely through the murky puddles and to my favourite bird-snapping spot just outside the cosy little shop that sells hot chocolates and pin badges.

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As I did last time, I stood frozen to the spot just by the bird feeders. At first I watched the blue tits and great tits squabble over the best places to peck at the peanut granules, but then unable to resit I grabbed my camera and took some photographs. I stood there for a long time, my fingers growing numb and tingly with cold, my nose positively glowing. This time I managed to capture some of the beautiful blue tits I love so much – darting around in that frantic manner they adopt when you stand just a little too close, fighting off bigger birds to defend their territory. I took a lot of photos of the birds – not wanting to spam this post (too much) I have created another just for the birds (so go check it out.)

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Determined not to miss out on the rest of Thorndon like the last time however, I eventually managed to tear myself away from the feeders and take the muddied path in to the woods. The first thing that struck me about Thorndon was the beauty of it. The paths although slippery and littered with an obstacle course of branches and puddles were wide and open – allowing the woods to feel safe and well-traversed. That said the trees and shrubs were magnificent in size and gave the feel of wilderness. I’m not sure how a place can feel so open and familiar yet leave you with the impression that you could get lost for days, but somehow that’s the feeling it imparted on me.

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For those that haven’t visited before, the woods have a very popular Gruffalo trail for younger children. I often saw wooden sculptures with small children clinging to them, grinning gleefully at the cameras their parents clutched. Thorndon is a great place to take children if you have them. Even if you don’t, (like me) it’s still a wonderful place to take a walk.

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We walked for a long time, following signposts for squirrel and bird trails, stopping every now and then to listen to the bird calls, or to take a photograph of something beautiful and wild. The woods were thriving with squirrels that bounded playfully from treetop to treetop – and I must have counted at least six robins singing their distinctive song. I was surprised to see so many. Along our way we also saw a chaffinch, a bullfinch, nuthatch, multiple tits and a tiny green bird that we couldn’t identify from our position down on the ground.

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Throughout the woods there are clearings. Some spaces created with benches to eat at and gates to keep dogs from bounding in. One clearing we came across did not have these gates or benches but the ground was soft and mossy and damp with raindrops. Small ponds had formed in places and reeds had gathered around them. The thing that struck us most about this clearing was the beautiful smell in the air – like incense curling in the sky and snaking its way up our nostrils. Of course it wasn’t incense at all. It was the smell of wood smoke combined with the dewy grasses and trees. I wish I could have bottled up the scent and taken it home with me – it was very enchanting.

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As we rambled further in to the woods we eventually found ourselves off the beaten path. We began to realise that we hadn’t seen or said a cheery good morning to a stranger in at least 20 minutes and no bright-eyed dogs were in sight. The bushes and brambles became thicker, wild and tangeled…much less manicured than they had been when they framed the paths we had taken earlier. We came to realise that we were completely lost. How funny that we could even find ourselves lost and unable to find our way back in such a relatively small space (500 acres.) Using my partners GPS we managed to find our way back through the woods and to the cabin where we drank lemonade and poured over the photographs I had taken.

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I haven’t visited Thorndon in the summer but I imagine it is just as (if not more) beautiful during that season. I am looking forward to exploring even more of the green spaces that surround me but for now, Thorndon is my favourite.

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Top tips for taking care of yourself this month

As I enter the new year heavier around the stomach and lighter in the pocket I can’t help but experience those post-Christmas January blues. Christmas has been and gone, the festivities are over and the time for washing every meal down with a creamy snowball and a fistful of Quality Street has passed. Getting in to the swing of working and not laying in bed until noon is difficult and walking to work with my cheese, biscuit and sugar-clogged arteries is nothing short of an exhausting chore.

If this is all sounding familiar then rest-assured, you are not alone. It is universally acknowledged that January is a horrid month; the fact it exists is downright offensive to all. Joking aside, January can be a real struggle to get through. Here are my top tips for taking care of yourself this month.

Take a mental health day

Maybe you spent the festive season slumped on the couch in a mince-pie induced coma despondently watching Eastenders, or maybe you spent it ferrying between friends and family and fitting in as much as you could. Whatever you did, it probably wasn’t as relaxing as you had anticipated. Whilst it’s nice spending time with loved ones it can be exhausting. All those parties and special events to attend are fun but can leave you feeling wiped. Not to mention a month of eating horrific processed food and drowning in booze – it can all take its toll. For me Christmas is always a fun time. I love seeing my family and hitting the boxing day sales gives me a buzz – but it’s not relaxing. Even so, getting back in to the swing of work can be really difficult after taking some time away. If you find it’s all a bit too much, take some time back to recover. January is a good time to take some leftover holiday or pull a sickie for the sake of your mental health. Use your day to take a refreshing walk in the woods or to catch up on some much needed sleep. Just as long as you’re not skiving left right and centre you should be fine.

Treat yourself

This might sound a little odd after you’ve probably been spoilt rotten by friends and family at Christmas. But I think it’s always nice to give yourself a tiny treat to perk yourself up when you’re feeling sad. So maybe you’re on a strict diet or detox to get rid of that festive flab – but it won’t hurt to have a cup of tea and a chocolate biscuit once in a blue moon. Or maybe you fancy a new book to get stuck in to. You don’t need to overdo it especially if you’ve overspent this month – one small gesture of kindness to yourself can really lift your mood. Be selfish, you just spent your hard-earned wages on friends and family, now it’s time to treat yourself.

Get organised

A new year – a new you…or maybe not. January is a month of change though and people often use it as a platform for motivation. Whether you want a new job, lifestyle or partner or want to stay in your cosy little rut, getting organised can help keep you on track. My aunt recently suggested I buy a planner as she swears by hers and I’ve been on the hunt ever since. As a serial list-maker I find it’s really conducive to put thoughts/dates/aspirations down on paper so I can free my mind up to think of other things. Everything is a bit wobbly in January, a diary or planner can really help you to keep track of those all-important goals you might otherwise conveniently forget.

Take time for yourself.

When you feel sad it’s important to make sure you’re talking to and spending time with friends and family. These people are best-placed to cheer you up however it’s also good to have some alone-time. Sometimes we can become overwhelmed with all the plans we’ve made and all the people we have to fit in to our already tight schedules. If you’re feeling like you need some space to just relax, cancel your plans and have a night in in front of the telly. As long as you don’t isolate yourself or become a social hermit, it’s perfectly fine to have and want time to yourself. Friends and family are sure to understand, don’t forget – they are probably longing for a rest as well.

Be kind

Don’t forget to do everything with kindness. Other people are sure to be suffering this month too. A little bit of consideration can go a long way.

How do you improve your mood when you’re in a funk?

 

Thorndon and the robin

As I poured myself a cold glass of water to drown my vague new years hangover with, I noticed a tiny Robin Redbreast out of the kitchen window. For a while he sat perched on our fence, his head cocked and looking inquisitive. Before long he’d moved to the fat ball feeder to peck away happily at the food we’d left out for him.

I decided then that today would be the day I used my new zoom lens to capture some birds with. I bought the Sigma 70-300mm lens for my Nikon last week for the express purpose of bird photography.

I must have sat by our living room patio windows for over an hour as my hands began to grow cold and numb. Eventually I got some shots of the birds that visited our garden – including the little robin. These shots are through a glass door, so they are not pin-sharp perfect.

 

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A while later my very understanding boyfriend realised my need to go out, get some fresh air and snap some birds in the wild. Full of eager excitement (all mine) we set off for Thorndon Country Park. I had never been there before and was quite excited to explore. Whilst we did look around I probably spent at least an hour at the bird feeders snapping away at the great tits, blue tits and robins – I was truly in my element. My boyfriend was incredibly patient despite the fact I would continuously apologise for “being annoying”, pull a face and then continue snapping away at the birds! Eventually we took a walk through the woods but the rain came and we hobbled back to the car with frozen fingers and muddy shoes. For this reason I won’t yet describe this beautiful country park – however, I will re-visit so a post is sure to follow.

The following photographs were taken at Thorndon Country Park with my Sigma lens. Again, these aren’t all in pin-sharp focus. I am still an amateur getting used to my camera (despite the two year photography course) and getting sharp images of birds is hard. Firstly because they are so small, and secondly because they move around a lot!

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I saw about two or three robins at Thorndon which surprised me as I know they are territorial creatures. This one was very beautiful and even posed for a photo!

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The above is the only shot I got of a blue tit. Blue tits are my favourite birds and smaller than the great tits shot above. It was hard to capture but very beautiful to watch.

All in all I had a wonderful day and I’m quite happy with the shots and new lens! Watch out for more bird photography.