Getting the right mix

The one about my home composting secrets…

#30DaysWild Day24

I simply had to write one blog post for 30 Days Wild about composting. I’m a bit of a compost zealot, both in the care I lavish over getting the right mix of waste material in my compost and in what I leave out. (Strictly no cooked food waste or cereal-based stuff- it can attract rats.)

Now as many a home-composting gardener will tell you it is key to get the right mix of browns and greens. ‘Browns’ are the drier, woodier more fibrous materials. ‘Greens’ describes soft, sappy plant matter. All too often a surfeit of greens is responsible for soggy, slimy, poorly rotted compost. Grass clippings, weeds, kitchen veg and fruit peelings are all considered greens. Strictly it is the Carbon to Nitrogen ratio: greens are high in nitrogen, brown, woody or cellulose-rich  materials are higher in carbon than nitrogen. I think the accepted wisdom is twice the browns to greens i.e. 2:1, though I think I rarely do better than 1:1, I just try never to have too thick a layer of grass clippings.

My secret to boost the carbon quotient is cardboard. Lots of it. In fact most of our recycling bin cardboard (and all of the shredded paper) gets diverted to the compost, hand-torn and scrunched to make for air pockets as composting is an aerobic process. Most of our food packaging goes this way. Cereal boxes, egg boxes and tissue boxes are all excellent. Some forms of board are less easy to compost. Toothpaste boxes for example are often glossy, with a foil or plasticised finish making them harder to tear up and the outer lamina of foil or plastic does not disintegrate in the compost. Likewise some cardboard packages have a waxed surface to help them stay intact with frozen goods. These are harder to rip and often I’ll flatten these for the recycling bin instead.

I operate a two-bin system. Once filled, the first gets dug over and ‘turned’ into the second to mature a bit longer. Then the first bin is empty to start again. Materials are layered up , e.g. grass or green stuff, cardboard, kitchen scraps more cardboard or shredded paper then grass again, always in thin layers. Soft hedge clippings (privet is wonderful) interleaved with grass work well when grass clippings are profuse relative to cardboard. In the winter month it’s mainly kitchen compostables layered between cardboard, so I’m tearing up cartons all year round. (Those that my son doesn’t get to first for his construction projects – He is six and views the recycling collection as his own private feedstock.)

It may sound like a lot of effort. Well, yes it probably is, to be honest but it’s just pure habit now. Does it work? Well I just turned my compost bin this week and began layering for the next batch. The finished product is pretty decent, after one year.

How does your compost go? Do you struggle to achieve the brown and green proportions? Do you add cardboard or chipped branches? The most awesome and friable compost I ever produced was in my Dad’s metre cubed wooden bin, when using grass clippings layered with mulch from his garden ‘chozzler’. I think the official name is a garden chipper. How about you?

Hunting for Corn Bunting

The one about how I came to love the summer sound of the Corn Bunting…

Until I moved to live and work in rural North and East Yorkshire a Corn Bunting was almost mythical. I’d never seen or heard one until I was working as the Wetland Project Officer on Cayton and Flixton Carrs, 10 years ago (and I’m now the wrong side of forty). One day early in my stint as project officer, at a stewardship site called Star Carr an esteemed local RSPB manager was taking a look at the site with me. Keith pointed out he could hear a singing Corn Bunting, and explained the distinctive rising crescendo of tinkling notes that is characteristic of the species.  He described it as sounding rather like a jangling bunch of keys, a description very apt when you hear the bird and which has stayed with me ever since.

Corn Buntings are now a bird I know how to find, in landscapes where they are present. In their favoured arable landscapes they tend to go for fields near or crossed by wires, typically telegraph wires but around here in Stamford Bridge even electricity pylons seem to do it for them. So about this time of year I like to go out hunting, well listening at least, for that distinctive jangling keys song of the male and report my records of territories to the local bird recorders. This is a species which nationally has undergone serious declines and is on the UK Red List of Birds of Conservation Concern, along with the likes of Linnet, Reed Bunting, Lapwing and Grey Partridge.

To look at Corn Bunting is a rather dumpy little brown job. Not unlike a skylark with its streaky breast and brownish upper parts, but the bill is quite a bit chunkier and the legs appear shorter and more hidden in the belly when perched. In flight, the Corn Bunting often has characteristic dangling legs. More often than not my first indication though is the song. I’ve even been known to catch the tinkling notes while in a car, with the windows down in a likely territory. They seem to prefer to perch up on a wire, or maybe a tree to sing.

This evening though, taking my bike on a whim to go in search of them in a familiar patch of fields near home in Stamford Bridge, I was surprised to locate two in a wheat field not crossed by telephone lines and it took me a few minutes to be sure I was onto Corn Buntings not Skylarks. There were numerous Skylarks about too, and pleasingly a young looking Yellow Wagtail in the same crop. The evening was overcast and not especially good for photos, plus they were too far away for anything decent on my phone. However, I hope you will look up the Corn Bunting and its song and maybe you too will become familiar with hunting for Corn Buntings  and develop a special fondness for the bird as I do.

 

[As an aside, Star Carr is both a farmland location in the Vale of Pickering and specifically famous scheduled archaeological site there, dating from the Mesolithic. That’s the Middle Stone Age incidentally. If this interests you in the slightest and you have never heard of Star Carr then please do check out the website I created for the Carrs Wetland Project. There is heaps of fascinating stuff on there about the wildlife, landscape and archaeology. Even though the funding came to an end for a dedicated project officer (that was me, in case you wondered where my twitter handle, @CarrsWetland came from) the website became such a repository of accumulated knowledge that I couldn’t bear to drop it.]

A Swift Update…

The one about finding Swift nests in Falsgrave…

Today, the short walk from Falsgrave Road to the office proved immensely satisfying.  It takes all of eight to ten minutes to make this journey but for weeks I have been enjoying the screaming antics of Swifts wheeling about the skies over St John’s Road and Wykeham Street. Usually there are between six and fourteen birds. This may sound rather approximate, but when they are scything the big blue above at breakneck speed, sometimes disappearing from sight behind rooftops, crossing over and changing position very quickly it is remarkably difficult to get an accurate count of even modest numbers.

So today imagine how chuffed I was finally to see, as I slowly walked the street tracking the circling swifts, a bird make for a roofline and fleetingly stop at the edge of the roof, then fall back and fly away again. I think this was a parent Swift delivering a mouthful of midges (or some such aerial fodder) to the nest, perhaps to young poking their heads out. You don’t get long. Visits to the nest are brief and not all that frequent. To then find two more further along the street was wonderful.

Swift nests are tricky to find. In fact before this season, I think I have in my birding life only on two occasions witnessed a swift enter a nest hole on a building. They were purely chance events, when I happened to be looking in the right place at the exact moment. If a swift enters a nest site it squeezes inside and out of sight. The gaps they enter are almost imperceptible from ground level. Not like a house martin nest which is clearly visible under the eaves. When it emerges again its getaway lives up to the bird’s name. You only have fleeting moments to see one go into a nest or deliver food and fly on. As birds that spend virtually their whole lives on the wing, even sleeping in snatched moments during flight, to witness them land on a building and squirm into an unsuspected void feels a real privilege.

Solstice strawberries

30 Days Wild day 21

Was a rare treat to have morning coffee together outside in the garden today, as both my wife and I were working from home this morning. We enjoyed it in our favourite his and hers bird mugs, purchased on our tenth wedding anniversary last year.

The wild strawberries which I let spread freely as a ground cover in one of the borders are just beginning to ripen, so took our first taste. Birds were singing, tiny black beetles, flower beetles I think, were flocking to a brightly coloured tablecloth on the washing line (and when I looked, remembering previous summers, they were also present in flower heads of the Astrantias at the side of the house.)

I even padded barefoot across the lawn while enjoying my coffee and got down low to appreciate the tiny Eyebright flowers popping up in the lawn. Doing so I came across a recently deceased Bumblebee, on the grass and inspected its delicate black shiny body.

Of course coffee breaks don’t last for ever and sooner or later one has to carry on with one’s day, but it was a blissful few minutes spent enjoying the garden.

Bus stop birding

The one about Malton bus station’s little pocket of wild…

#30DaysWild Day 20

On Tuesdays at the moment I get a lift to Malton and catch my Coastliner bus there  to Scarborough where I work. The bus offers a great service as I can patch in to their free wifi and do some work (or lately write my 30 days wild blog).

The lift with Don, who does a similar role to mine but for Ryedale District gives me a chance to chat about common issues around our roles in Planning Ecology so it is quite a valuable 20 mins. This particular morning I had five minutes to wait at Malton bus station and sat by the little bird feeding station and wildflower area they have established there. I’ve seen this from the top deck of the bus as it waits for a few mins on the opposite stand, but don’t have the full auditory experience,  so today as I availed myself of the bench right next to the feeding station, the chirruping House Sparrows were noticeable right away. Presently I saw a female on the low wall feeding two recently fledged chicks. Their tails were still not fully grown. Another House Sparrow tugged at a stringy strand of bark and laboured flying across the concourse with it. Not sure where they nest but plenty of traditional pantied roves around this part of the town.

Two Swallows drew attention to themselves alarm calling in the open depot doorway, evidently nesting somewhere inside its cavernous space. A blackbird also came to feed on a fat ball on the bird table.  My bus pulled in and after a few quickly grabbed shots of the cornflowers in the tiny patch of ground I gathered my things to leave.

Counting down to the orchid count

The one about the imminent orchid survey opportunity…

Next Monday and Tuesday I will be helping out with a count of orchid flower spikes on a coastal slope above North Bay Scarborough. Yesterday I helped our officianado of orchids to mark out the eighty-nine transects which have been counted every year since the mid nineties. This involved marking with twine the top fence, to coincide with the numbered marks painted on the fence posts at the lower side of the slope.

You can read a previous #30dayswild post on this blog with more about the survey, when I did recce. Also, last year I wrote up about our count in a blog post for Connecting forNature, our local biodiversity partnership. You can find that here:

https://connectingfornature.wordpress.com/2016/07/08/orchid-surveying-on-scarboroughs-north-bay/

Also, you are not too late to join in, if you are free next Monday 26th or Tues 27th June, please see here for details:

https://connectingfornature.wordpress.com/2017/06/14/date-set-for-orchid-count/

 

Lower Derwent Valley

The one about a wonderful wild wetland landscape just 10 miles from York

#30DaysWild day 18

Yesterday after a family Father’sDay brunch in York, I was spared for a couple of hours for some ‘me time’. I jumped on a no.18 bus out to Wheldrake Ings, part of the Lower Derwent Valley nature reserve. This place, apart from being a beautiful landscape of wide open skies and expansive lowland floodplain meadows, is bristling with wildlife designations. It is known for its bird life and its botanical riches among many things.

The Lower Derwent Valley, or LDV to its friends, taking in both the River Derwent and its seasonal washlands includes the following conservation labels:

  • NNR – National Nature Reserve,
  • SAC – Special Area of Conservation,
  • SSSI – Site of Special Scientific Interest,
  • SPA – Special Protection Area for birds,
  • Ramsar site – wetland of international importance.

All in all it is a pretty important place for nature conservation. LDV is famed for its flower-rich hay meadows in spring and summer, managed traditionally for centuries without artificial fertilisers; for its winter floods (hence ‘Ings’ or ‘Washes’) when the Yorkshire Derwent naturally spills onto the floodplain, attracting winter flocks of geese, swans, ducks and waders in prodigious numbers; and for its spring time damp grassland habitats for breeding waders, such as Lapwing, Curlew and Snipe. It certainly is known well to the birders of nearby York and can offer wildlife incredible spectacles at several key times of year.

There are hides overlooking parts of the reserve and I visited one of these for respite fro my the hot sun as much as anything else. The slight cross-breeze achieved by opening all the slim windows of the hide was welcome, if inadequate… I was very warm and happy enough to stay put even though the reserve is huge and can be visited from several distinct access points. Try ‘Bank Island’ where I was. The Natural England LDV team are based here and there is a car park, picnic tables and some interpretation outside the sedum-roofed building. Managing and monitoring the reserve is a full time occupation for staff and a team of skilled volunteers. The team keep a fascinating blog themselves about their work, including bird ringing, habitat management, livestock grazing, botanical surveys, education work etc. It is well worth following.

http://ldvnnr.blogspot.com/