Sunday, 12 February 2017

Fantastic Feathers

I've been collecting feathers for quite a number of years now and having just sorted my collection out, I'm quite surprised by how many I have. Some may think this is a rather odd hobby and I have had some strange looks when I go to pull something out of my pocket and out comes a bundle of feathers. But for me there is something enticing about a feather. Any feather found comes with an abundance of curiosity...What bird is it off? How did it get there? Was there a predator involved? Is it a flight feather, contour feather or is it downy? Have I got one of that species already?

So I pick up the feather and it gets added to the collection and here are just some of my treasures:


I have two buzzard wing feathers, one off each wing and each measuring approximately 30cm. When you lie them out and imagine the wing span - its pretty impressive. Its also hard to imagine that the feathers above are also off a buzzard as they are tiny in comparison but are much softer and downy and most likely from the breast area. Where I found one of my buzzard wing feathers, some time later I found the remains of rabbit fur and a buzzard pellet in the same area. I have never seen the buzzard but there is something that is almost more satisfying about these little finds than seeing the bird itself.
In a different woodland area I have also found pellets of a tawny owl and then finally I one day I also found some feathers. 

Tawny Owl
Tawny Owl
I have been lucky enough to spot a snowy owl in the Cairngorms, Soctland in the winter of 2013 and if I ever find a snowy owl feather I will be pretty made up! However, for now I will settle for my Barn Owl feathers of which I have a few. I often spot Barn Owls in winter but I have yet to find some pellets!

Barn Owl
Other favourites in my collection are my woodpecker and Jay feather, simply for the complexity of the colouration and design. The spots on a woodpecker feather are similar delightful and the blue stripes on one of my Jay feathers are tiny.

Greater Spotted Woodpecker

I also have magpie feathers and what at first looks like a plain black and white feather actually has a lovely irridescent sheen of blue when held to the light

A favourite find of mine is my heron feather, simply because of the "fluffy but spiky" feel to it. It is also a favourite because I am not 100% sure it is a heron but it was found by the river where I often see one and it is the correct colour and design...if that is the right word!

Mallard duck

Mallard Duck Tail Feather
Another lovely feather has to be my tail feather off a mallard duck. I found this one near to where ducks often sat and I love it. It's a beautiful shiny feather and the curl on the tip is jsut brilliant.

I also have a large number of pheasant feathers, in fact they are the ones that always seem to be in my coat pockets and I had to get rid of some as they are just everywhere and I just can't seem to help picking them up. The variety of the design and colour is just fascinating.


I have also been lucky enough to find a number of feathers in the uplands and most of these look like they have been left behind after a predator attack. Although one that has me stumped is the little cluster of golden breast feathers that I found on upland heath and I am not totally sure what they are from and if they are predator or prey. Whatever they are from the golden colour is beautiful. I have also found the odd small feather and a cluster of tiny black and white feathers which were definitely from a predated bird.

Feather cluster from an unknown upland bird
Group of feathers left behind by a predator
My walks on the beach and cliff tops have also resulted in a number of gull feathers, the black headed gull feather could easily be mistaken for magpie. I have also found a cluster of wing feathers from a juvenile gull, the brown cluster below.

Typical Gull feathers
Black Headed Gull
Juvenile Gull
And to finish I also have some rather colorful red and green feathers from my friends Blue Fronted Amazon, not commonly found in the UK!

Blue Fronted Amazon
And so to finish all I can say is feather collecting is great fun and once you start looking you will see them everywhere. It is great fun but be warned it is very addictive and don't forget every feather has a story to tell...

Saturday, 21 January 2017

The Natural History Museum and Kew Gardens

What a great way to spend a the Natural History Museum and Kew Gardens. We left the snow capped mountains of Cumbria on a sunny day and it seemed a bit odd to be heading to the city, as we are country folk who love being outside. However, no need to worry I had a fantastic weekend spending my time looking at natural history Birthday treat from my partner Steve.

First stop was the Natural History Museum and whilst everybody else seems to head for the dinosaurs, the first thing I did was go and stand next to my hero Charles Darwin!

We basically spent the day getting lost around the museum and admiring as many as possible of the 80,000 species that are housed here. Even if they were all on display, you could spend a week here and probably not see them all. There are amazing examples of taxidermy and very well preserved mammals and birds.

The other fascinating thing is not only the amount of fossils but also the size of some of them as displayed below...

Upstairs there is a fantastic display that takes you through geological time, looking at how life has evolved and diversified. 

We spent an hour or so in the cocoon which is highly recommended, lots to see here and plenty of information on current research being carried out by the Natural History Museum scientists. I could have stayed there all day looking at the exhibits. It was also quite quiet and calming compared to the dinosaur area!

I had booked for us to go on a Behind the Scenes tour, basically looking at pickled specimens! Our tour guide was a lovely Australian lady who told us a bit about the history of the museum itself, which was built for its purpose which is reflected in the intricate stone carvings of animals and plants all over the interior and exterior walls. We then had a look at a few specimens before heading down into the area where the general public are not generally allowed

There is row upon row of specimens and we spent most of our time looking at fish and marine species. The largest specimen being the giant squid. It was also a privilege to see close up some of the specimens that were brought back by Charles Darwin himself on the Beagle.

Another highlight of the day was to stand next to a Coelacanth, thought to be extinct but recently rediscovered. Okay maybe not a highlight for everyone but it was for me, having studied the ceolacanth as part of my degree.

So that is just a brief snippet of a whole day at the Natural Histroy Museum, after which we were exhausted and ready for a rest before heading off to Kew Gardens...

The first thing that struck me at Kew was depsite being winter, the amount of colour on display. Kew is great to visit any time of year as it has many glasshouses kept in appropriate conditions to house the species that live there.

For me the water lillies and carnivorous plants were a favourite. There were some large species on display. And some relatives of the sundew that I recognised.
However the cacti and succulents were also hard to beat! I loved the little pebble shaped ones and the big barrel ones!

Finally we had a wander around outside before heading off. For me what a great way to spend a weekend just absorbing yourself in the vast diversity of species that we have on this planet!

If you are thinking of visiting have a look at:

Natural History Museum 

Kew Gardens

Thursday, 8 September 2016

Thatching Workshop with Solway Wetlands Landscape Partnership Scheme

A couple of months ago I attended a workshop organised by the Solway Wetlands Partnership Scheme. I spent a day with some great people and the master thatcher William from Scarborough learning how to thatch a roof with heather. 

At Campfield Marsh RSPB reserve Chris Spencer, an expert earth builder called Alex, some willing volunteers and some small children have been very busy building a clay dabbin vernacular style building that were once found on the Solway plains. Eventually the plan is to thatch the building with heather.

Clay bricks

Chris very proudly showing us his clay dabbin building
Chris had built an A frame that we were thatching, this made life much simpler and meant that we could learn to thatch without having to work at great height!

The materials used are pretty basic and not expensive, the first layer is turf which is laid on the frame grass side down.

The main material of course is heather which was harvested off the North York Moors and it only cost £15 a bale - bargain! We also used some hazel sways to hold the thatch in place.

William showed us how to tease the heather out of the bale and to arrange it into a bundle so that you ended up with the leaves at one end and the stalks at the other - or so that was the theory! The bundles were tied with twine and then we start on the bottom left corner to place them on the turf. A sway was stapled on using a screw and some wire - the unorganic material. We then hammered in stapples or spars with William's fantastic home made mallet to hold the heather in place.

And soon we had the first row finished and then it was just a case of adding more and more rows...

As the thatch got higher so did we, having to use a ladder to put our heather bundles in place. We then made a big roll or heather sausage to lay across the top a bit like a ridge pole!

The building has been continuing at Campfield Marsh and since my day thatching there has been Clay fest and the dabbin build is coming along nicely and is now almost finished. If you want to have a look for your self head down to RSPB Campfield Marsh and take a look at the amazing structure built by many willing workers!