Saturday, 20 August 2011

Faking It

When we were in Exeter, for Helen and Ian's wedding, we spent the Friday morning before the wedding at Bicton Park Botanical Gardens. We had a really great morning. The weather was wonderful and once we had escaped the hordes of small children it was very relaxed and pleasant. We walked around quite a lot of the gardens, but for those who want to experience the gardens without such physical exertion there is the Bicton Woodland Railway. The railway is apparently the only 18-inch narrow gauge railway left in Britain and was built during the early 1960's as an additional attraction when the gardens were first being opened to the public.

The pictures of the engine in the entrance to the gardens clearly show a steam train pulling carriages through a wooded glade, all nice and picturesque. Unfortunately, as soon as I heard the engine from a distance something sounded wrong. In fact the engine is a diesel locomotive built as a replica of a previous steam engine. Apparently the steam engine had become too expensive and difficult to maintain. Now I don't mind the use of a diesel engine but why dress it up as something it isn't As far as I'm concerned, faking the noise of a steam whistle, just seems a step too far.

From personal experience I now know that steam engines can be difficult to control. They are also expensive to maintain and operate. Neither of those facts are, however, enough to warrant faking a steam engine. I'm sure that everyday at least a few children (maybe even the odd adult) leave the gardens thinking they've been on a ride behind a steam engine. Am I being too picky or do others agree that faking a steam engine in this way this is just wrong?

Monday, 15 August 2011

The Very Hungry Caterpillar

I always thought that the very hungry caterpillar was green with a red head. In out garden, however, they are definitely orange and black stripped!

Back in June I blogged about the fact that I'd seen three new species of moth and butterfly in the garden and that I thought allowing an area of the garden to go "wild" was partly responsible. Well one of those species was a Cinnabar moth and I knew that their caterpillars love ragwort of which there is a lot now growing wild in the garden. So every time I've gone into the garden I've been checking the ragwort for caterpillars.

On the 28th of July I saw the first Cinnabar caterpillars we have had in the garden. They were tiny. Most were less than a 1cm in length and although I used the macro lens adapter they were just too small for decent photos. By the 1st of August (when the photo in this post was taken) though they were huge! Most were now about an inch long and fat. I can't imagine how much ragwort they must have eaten in just 4 days to grow so much. Very hungry caterpillars indeed!

Not only did they grow fast but there was a lot of them. Hopefully next year rather than seeing one rather scratty Cinnabar moth we will have lots flitting around the garden.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Infinite Butterflies

If an infinite number of monkeys bashing randomly on a typewriter will eventually produce the collected works of Shakespeare and one butterfly flapping it's wings can generate a thunderstorm, I wonder if an infinite number of butterflies randomly flapping their wings would eventually produce the art hung on the wall in my hotel room a few weeks ago?

There were three African looking pictures on the wall of my room; a pair of parrots, a woman carrying a bowl on her head, and a pair of woman (shown to the left). It was at least 24 hours after I'd checked in before I noticed that there was something odd about the pictures. A close inspection seemed to suggest that each picture was actually made up of lots of butterfly wings!

Given that the pictures were framed and behind glass it was hard to be certain but the wings did look natural and had stained the mounting paper as I would have expected them to. After a bit of googling I'm fairly certain that they are made from real butterfly wings and are the work of Paul Caparatta who runs Butterfly Utopia. As well as pictures made from the butterfly wings, he also sells mounted butterflies and jewelery made from butterfly wings.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

My Hotel Room Had A ...

A couple of weeks ago I spent three nights at a hotel in Richmond while I helped to give a training course at The National Archives. Like all good British hotel rooms it had coffee making facilities (I so miss these when I travel abroad) but, unlike every other hotel room I've ever stayed in, it also had it's own conservatory!

Unfortunately I wasn't in my hotel room for most any of the day during which the sun would stream into the conservatory, although it was pleasant to sit in even when the sun had set. It just seems so odd to add a conservatory to a hotel room. Surely most people, most of the time, are going to be out of their room during the day?


We've just been overflown by this...
I've no idea why a Lancaster bomber should be flying over Penistone but as with the Linnet the photographic proof isn't fantastic -- I had the telephoto adapter on in readiness for the Linnet which was good, but it was moving so fast and the angle at which I had to point the camera out the window meant I was finding it difficult to find the plane when zoomed right in (a featureless cloudy sky didn't help) and so had to settle for less zoom which resulted in vignetting around the edges of the image. There was also some rather bad purple fringing (a known problem with my camera) and given that there was so little colour in the image anyway I've converted it to black and white to hide the purple fringes. Amazingly after all this processing you can still tell what I saw from the photo!

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Status: RED

We get a lot of birds in the garden, but they are usually common species; robin, sparrow, blackbird, goldfinch, starling etc. Since we moved in I've also seen less common birds including a single Great Spotted Woodpecker and a flock of Fieldfares. Last Sunday though we increased the number of birds we have seen in the garden, which also appear on the RSPB's red list, to three.

Unfortunately a host of factors conspired against me getting a good photo. It was late in the evening and the light was poor, I took the photo through a window that needs cleaning, and the white balance setting on the camera was accidentally set for florescent lighting. Anyway after playing with the photo a bit I'm happy enough with it as proof that we did indeed have a Linnet sitting in the apple tree for a few minutes.

I've had the camera setup on a tripod ready all week in case it comes back but so far nothing. Maybe it was just passing through, but hopefully it will be back and I'll be ready for it this time.

Everything But The Pig

As well as growing strawberries we've been experimenting this year with growing a whole raft of different vegetables. Whilst not all have been a success and some aren't yet ready to eat we've produced enough that last weekend I cooked a meal in which everything but the pig came straight out of the garden!

The meal consisted of a maple and mustard glazed ham served with roast potatoes and steamed carrots and peas. The carrots (Amsterdam Forcing Sprint) were grown in a half barrel, the potatoes (Vales Emerald) were grown in purpose designed sack, and the peas were grown by accident!

We actually grew mangetout with the intention of eating the whole pods. We did in fact eat quite a few mangetout in salads and in a Chinese stir fry. However, we had planted more seeds than we needed and so got lots and lots of mangetout. As we didn't eat them fast enough they continued to grow until they were essential peas in a pod. So we picked and shelled the peas and they worked perfectly.

There are still two more sacks of potatoes, three courgette plants and some runner beans growing in the garden so I doubt that it will be the only meal this year where most of the ingredients come fresh from the garden.