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.

Goodbye 2015, hello 2016!

As 2015 comes to a close, I thought I’d write a little reflection post about the kind of year I’ve had and finish with a few goals for 2016.

It has been a busy year to say the least, but also the best year of my life. For me this year was all about adventures and growing as a person – improving myself and my life and really just doing the things I want to do. After a tough few years, this was really important to me. I can’t say the entire year has been perfect. There have most definitely been some very personal and ongoing struggles; but for the most part, this year has been good to me.

I started out 2015 as I start any new year – with lots and lots of lists. The first was a list of new years resolutions. These were:

  • Sort out my health problems
  • Advance in my career
  • Write more/publish more
  • Read more
  • Finish dissertation and graduate
  • Learn to drive
  • Try to eat healthier
  • Try to eat less/smaller portions

Of these goals I made steps to sorting out my health problems and although there’s still some way to go, I am hopeful I will get there. I advanced in my career, I wrote less (giving up my freelancing position) but then I started this blog so will be writing more. I finished my dissertation and graduated (yay!), I have started to eat healthier and less and so far I’ve lost 9 pounds through that. Overall I’d call that a success. The goals that weren’t fulfilled this year are naturally being carried over in to 2016. As far as the reading is concerned, I’ve already bought a book ready to get stuck in to and learning to drive is a big priority of mine.

My bucket list was also updated and I managed to tick off a large chunk of it (but this list is far too long to publish here)

However, from that bucket list, this year I managed to set up a blog (obviously), take pottery classes, take knitting classes and learn to knit, knit my own scarf, go strawberry picking in a field, get my thighs tattooed and a cactus tattoo, write my dissertation and graduate, take up a hobby, start a collection, visit Paris, have my first proper holiday abroad, go to a London show and take the Jack the Ripper walk in London.

If it sounds like a busy year, that’s because it was. Perhaps the busiest year I’ve ever had. I managed to squeeze a lot in to it. My personal highlights were collecting all of my lovely finches which have changed my life indescribably for the better, moving house twice with my boyfriend, exploring the Catacombes of Paris and seeing the Eiffel tower, exploring different caves in Spain, swimming in our private pool under the stars and watching a concert on a lake at the Caves of Drach, holding and flying owls and a harris hawk on a bird experience day at Eagle Heights, holidays at the caravan in Dorset and all of the many wonderful adventures we had there (including the less wonderful getting stuck in sinking mud in the New Forest) and so much more.

I also created a list of things I definitely wanted to do and experience this year (my adventure list.) Of that list I did the following:

  • Visit the British Wildlife Centre
  • Visit Dennis Sever’s House
  • Highgate Cemetery
  • Birdworld
  • Chistlehurst caves in Kent
  • Theatre (we saw Bend it Like Beckham and it was wonderful)
  • London Zoo
  • Car bootsale
  • Picnic in a London park
  • BBQ
  • Strawberry field picking

Of that list there are a few things I missed out on and will be pursuing in 2016 – Kew gardens being a big one for me as I have wanted to go for years. I think there will be a couple of revisits to the above also as some of the days out were really amazing and I’d like to record them properly here.

It feels like it has been a very special year and I personally feel very blessed and lucky – especially to have spent it all with my partner in crime.

So what does 2016 have in store for me? If it is even a fraction as good as 2015 I will be a very happy woman.  I have already got a list packed full of things I hope to do and achieve. My new years resolution list is somewhat shorter and perhaps simpler this year though:

  • Read more
  • Be kinder
  • Keep doing more of what I love
  • Learn to drive
  • Get down to X stone. (my goal weight.)

I think I will get there and I’m certainly excited for the journey! Writing out goals is a big thing for me because it forces to recognise all of my achievements and reflect back on happy times.

How has your year been, and what are your goals for 2016?

Christmas craft project

The festive season is almost over and Christmas is feeling a little like a distant and hazy cheese-filled memory, but I’d like to take the time to share a Christmas craft project I completed.

This year I knew I wanted to give my friends and family something thoughtful and handmade. I decided scarves were the way to go and I took up knitting lessons, learned how to knit and started a load of different projects – there was my mum’s moss stitch scarf and my dads’ cable knit one… then, as it often has a funny way of doing, life got in the way and I found myself with a pile of half-finished knits and no motivation.

As it turns out, scarves were definitely not the way to go. So my Christmas craft project had to be something that was relatively cheap, simple enough to achieve and not all that time consuming. I decided I would make a Christmas card.

Firstly I dug out my watercolours and painted a robin as they are my favourite festive birds. I was quite happy with the finished result which I think portrays my style.

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Then I scanned it in to my computer and made some tweaks / adjustments in Photoshop.

My next port of call was the craft shops. I hit these to find some cards to print on. I found some from Polaroid which looked promising and only cost a quid (bargain!)

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I thought the printing would be a relatively easy process but it definitely was not. It turns out I’m not very good at creating cards on my laptop. My boyfriend helped me and we finally achieved something which I felt was presentable (although not quite as polished as I’d have liked.)

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One of the downfalls to the Polaroid card paper is that is was very thin. It did stand independently without too much wobble but the the card itself looked inexpensive (most probably because it was.) You can’t grumble when you’ve paid a pound but I’ll still try.

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My Christmas card stack included Sophie Jackson who was a very brave little girl. She received 10,000 Christmas cards – I hope these showed her that she was special and in everyones thoughts.

Overall I was fairly happy with the finished product and friends and family commented how nice the cards were which was pleasant. However – I managed to sneak a peek at some after their delivery and noticed they had developed smudges that made them look less than professional. Actually this was quite upsetting to see because I think it took away from the overall aesthetic. The smudging could be because the cards got wet in the post. It could be because they cost a pound. All I can really do is speculate –  I’m not sure what happened there but either way the Polaroid card stock is not something I would use for future projects or recommend to others. (Although I’m sure they do have some better products than this.)

I’d like to try this project again next year with better card that is thicker, glossier and doesn’t smudge.

For now I hope the cards achieved (in some small way) what they set out to; show those I love that I am thinking of them.

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Did you get crafty this Christmas?

 

 

In the bird room

As I’m sure I’ve mentioned in every post ever, we moved recently. Our new flat has two bedrooms which was a major pull for us. Being in a steady loving relationship we felt that two rooms would be appropriate. One for us and one for the babies. And when I say babies, what I actually mean is the birds. All of the birds.

So at this point we have about 20 finches (a whole charm!) They recently moved in to the bird room and although they still remain caged, it’s a lot more spacious and they can be let out to fly around without the fear of them smacking in to anything or falling behind cabinets. They are rather small birds and this can be a problem. The bird room is great though, and currently houses a very large aviary- type flight cage and three other large cages. I often get asked if the birds all have their own names. Of course they do. With the exception of the six chicks we recently hatched (and can’t bear to part with) every bird is named.

And here they are – a kinda whose who of the bird room.

This is Pepper. She is a hen zebra finch and one of the first finches I ever owned. She is the friendliest of the bunch and very inquisitive.

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This is Biscuit who is also a hen. We got Biscuit and Pepper together at the same time and believe they are probably sisters. Both Biscuit and Pepper recently had chicks (three each.)

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This is Freckles a cock zebra finch. He is paired with Pepper and they had three chicks together (all hens.) Freckles was an amazing dad doing almost all of the feeding.

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This is Cheeks, a cock zebra finch. Here he is seen with the bird he is paired with – Biscuit. Together they had three chicks two of which were hens and one cock.

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These are our penguin zebra finches. At the front is Pumpkin (a cock) next to him is Mabel (a hen) – Biscuit is pictured once again. Pumpkin is very sweet and likes cuddling up to the other birds. Mabel is a bit tougher and likes to sing loudly and defiantly.

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And now on to the chicks. I don’t think I’ve captured them all but we have five hens and one cock. At the moment they are going through that cute stage where they are growing feathers in. Below is our little boy – note his adorable patchy little cheeks.

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All of the above live in the largest aviary although should be separated soon when we find another large cage to house the chicks who will soon be troublesome adults.

In this photo you can see Sweetpea a hen zebra finch. Behind (the brown and white) is Bramble who is a bengalese finch and Button who is a cock bengalese finch. These guys are always singing.

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This is Raisin who is a black-cheeked cock zebra finch. He lives with Button, Bramble and Sweetpea. He used to live in the larger aviary but he was a terrible bully. He’s pretty cute though.

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The third cage houses our owl finches and orange cheeked waxbills. These are tiny birds and passive so they live happily together without squabble. The zebra finches can be prone to fighting and being mean to each other but these have never had any problems.

Below is Clementine and Wotsit – our orange cheeks, and our cock owl finch Pipkin.

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Pickle, Pipkin, Clementine and Wotsit. I will come clean here and tell you that I can’t identify which orange cheek is which as they are virtually the same to look at. Nevermind- they are both very skittish and sweet!

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And finally our fourth cage houses our redpolls. Unlike the other finches these are not foreign. These are actually the only British finches we own (although I’d love to own more so watch this space!)

Below is our cock Muffin – he loves destroying seed bells and has a lot of character.

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And this is our hen Chestnut. She has very beautiful markings. I particularly like the yellow accents around her face, when she is annoyed with something or wants the zebra finches to stop squawking she makes a very angry sound that is not too dissimilar to a telephone ringing.

Redpolls are wild birds and in the UK you can only sell them if they have been ringed. Ours both bear ring bands and were purchased at a bird fair in Brightlingsea.

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And thus concludes the tour of the bird room (for now!) I next want to purchase some quails but we’ll see. Bird seed and upkeep is quite costly when you have 20 beaks to feed!

I think birds are wonderful to watch and very rewarding to keep. Do you own any special birds?