Birds in the Big Freeze

The large lake at the medieval priory of Rouge Cloitre has completely frozen over, as temperatures here have plummeted to -10 degrees C, and so I take an early morning walk, imagining what it’s like to live in Siberia. As I take the photo, my hands already start to tingle with the cold; too long framing the shot and they start hurting. But what about the birds who live by the lake, like the blue heron who you might be able to spot in these photos? How are they coping with the cold?

Here, the heron finds a sunny vantage point, though there’s not much fishing to be had.

Well, I think life is tough right now for our feathered friends. Take a look at these little black balls with a dusting of frost. These are poor little coots, all huddled together in a small patch of water, heads tucked deeply in, together with a couple of Egyptian geese. Brrrr…

I have never seen so many ducks gathered by one small puddle of water.

As I was wandering around, I passed a man walking his dog, who greeted me and remarked how the place had become féerique, which means fairy-like, or magical, in French. It was indeed quite special, something I could appreciate when I wasn’t slipping all over the icy path (they don’t treat the paths in this reserve).

Slipping off this path would mean sliding down the steep bank and onto the solid surface of the lake. Ice skating, anyone?

The birds out of the water looked somewhat more comfortable, like this cormorant looking out onto the lake from a treetop.

The robin had puffed out his feathers, and was staying in the sun.

At the priory, the central heating was on, and at the stables a dung heap was steaming away. Warmth! Nobody was sitting out on the benches though. Cold! I was starting to feel it, and at a brisk pace, made my way back, wondering how cold the birds must feel.

Belgian Garden Birdwatch: 06-07 Feb 2021

While we wait with great anticipation for spring, the birds seem to be a step ahead, and are singing away as if they can already feel the soft rays of sunshine and the surge of new growth. These photos were taken before today’s snow. I did try to take some snowy pics but they turned out grainy – too much noise due to a high ISO to make up for poor light. Still got a lot to learn.

This weekend is Belgium’s annual garden birdwatch, which we have participated in for a few years now. Organised by the wildlife charity Natagora, anyone in Belgium can take part: there’s more info on their website. Here are a few of our regular avian visitors:

1 Blue tits: little colonies scamper energetically around the feeders, flitting in and out at great speed. Catching them on camera can be tricky!

Blue tit
Blue tit

2 Robin: as lovely for the red breast (or orange breast really?) as for his piercing and melodic song. These fellows have a reputation for aggressively guarding their territory.

Robin

3 Starling: hanging around in boistrous, noisy groups of four to six, these remind me of a pack of adolescent youths, sauntering around like they own the place, yet awkward and definitely spotty too. We have a pair that usually nest in the eves.

Starling

4 Blackbird: the female here looks a bit like a song thrush, but has more indistinct spots on the breast. There are a couple of males around too, possibly vying for her attention, though in this photo she doesn’t look too happy about it. It’s good to see them around, given that their numbers were in serious decline due to the Usutu virus.

Female blackbird

5 Wood pigeon: their cooing in the trees around here is a frequent and soothing background sound. I think they have a lovely plummage.

Wood pigeon

6 Rose-ringed parakeet: they are back and up to their usual tricks! Looks like this one dropped his sunflower seed in the water. The legend goes that a zoo-keeper in Brussels set them free to make this sometimes grey city more colourful. They have bred very successfully, and there are several garrulous flocks of them around the place. I have a sneaking suspicion that they are responsible for eating the buds on my apple tree.

Parakeet

7 Greater spotted Woodpecker. A tap-tap-tapping usually alerts me to his presence up in the mature trees that overhang the garden. It’s always a real treat to see him.

Apart from the above, we had flocks of chaffinches, greenfinches and a dunnock today. All in all, a good year for birds, with higher numbers than the previous two.

Six on Saturday: 31 October 2020

I’m back for another six! Thoroughly enjoyed my first foray last week into the gardening blogging sensation that is Six on Saturday, hosted by the Propagator. Thinking about what to feature here and running out to take photos when the light is good between English classes is either i) a sign of an obsession gone too far or ii) a very welcome distraction from Covid gloom, impending lockdown and the cancellation of most of my extracurricular activities. Gardening, what would we do without you?

1 Cotinus coggygria. This week the star turn has to go to my Cotinus coggygria ‘Royal Purple’, which is bringing zing to the garden with her terracotta tones. If I was a genious garden designer, I would have deliberately chosen this super plant to reflect the old brick with its blotches of purple and warm earthy colours on my house wall, but really this is a happy coincidence.

2 Strawberry. The runner up for autumn colour is this astonishing strawberry, which seems to think it is a Japanese Acer or something. It’s the only one of my strawberries that is having an autumnal fling, the others are all a pedestrian but sensible dark green.

A strawberry with personality

3 Hollyhock. Onto something with more subtlety. This paper-thin, almost translucent flower had flopped onto my gravel front path after a wet night. A gift from the skies, this plant first turned up last year in my veg patch, and I moved it to the front path, which has a cottage garden vibe. Of course the expensive dark flowered hollyhocks that I bought from a garden fair a year and a half ago were a dismal failure, and just produced lots of growth but no flowers (I assume because my clay soil is too fertile for them), so I am grateful for the effortless flowers on this one.

Hollyhock

4 Shield bugs. I was removing some black-spot ridden leaves from a climbing rose and disturbed a group of shield bugs huddling together for warmth and shelter. When I first saw these heraldic beasties after moving to this house and garden about three and a half years ago, I didn’t know if they were friend or foe. Turns out they are totally harmless, and feed off the debris we get from the overhanging lime trees. I find their war-markings absolutely amazing, surely somebody painted them on?

5 Champagne feeder. Upcycling time! I got my hubby to create a roof made from the lid of a champagne box for this planter-turned-bird feeder. I hope that this works for the little birds that can fit through the metal squares. The aim is to keep the parakeets off (we have a colony that visits from time to time, they totally hog the feeders).

The new bird feeder

6 Planning a new border. When we moved in here, the garden was all laid to lawn with some occasional shrubs and just one east-facing border adjoining the side of the house. I haven’t stopped lifting turf since then, albeit in small bite-size sections. The latest move is to dig up this west-facing section, that gets a good amount of afternoon sun. I want to get Tulip ‘Barcelona’ (fuschia/purple blooms) and Allium ‘Purple Sensation’ planted in here soon, and build it up from there. I aim to focus on purple, magenta, silver and pops of warm orange – purple Salvias, warm-toned Day Lilies, silvery Helichrysum, magenta Nicotiana…some ideas. Let’s see if I have the self-discipline to stick to a colour theme!

Border in the making

So there are my six, I hope we get some good weather for getting out into the garden, this morning already looks promising with a clear pale blue sky here in Brussels. A walk in the woods is next. Check out The Propagator’s SOS page for more inspiration. Enjoy your day everyone and see you for another Six on Saturday next week.