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Tuesday, 24 November 2015

NATURE IN NOVEMBER: Attracting Birds to Your Garden Part 2: A guide to nest boxes



WHY PUT UP A NEST-BOX?

Nest-boxes are a fantastic way of supporting our garden birds. They make brilliant substitutes for natural holes in old trees, which can be scarce in urban and rural-urban areas. Whilst some species of bird are thriving, other populations such as starlings have plummeted; nest boxes can be an ideal way to target the specific birds in need of our help.

WHY AUTUMN?

Autumn is the ideal time to put up nest-boxes. Very often, birds will enter nest-boxes during autumn and winter to look for a suitable place to roost or sometimes, to feed. What is good about putting nest-boxes up in Autumn is that birds will often use the nest-boxes they have discovered and roosted in in autumn for nesting the following spring! Furthermore, although some species such as tits will not seriously consider a nest-box until February or March, they will be less suspicious of a nest-box that has been a fixture since autumn than a newly erected one in spring. So quick! Up with the nest-boxes!

CHOOSING A NEST-BOX








There are a wide variety of nest-boxes available from garden centres and on-line. The first thing to consider when choosing a box is what types of birds you are looking to attract to your garden. Perhaps you would be happy with any species, but it’s good to know beforehand the requirements of different birds. Especially as this will later help you  decide how and where to site your nest box!
The main difference between nest-boxes will be the size of the entrance hole. Different sized and shaped entrances will be suitable for different birds:
  •          25 mm for blue, coal and marsh tits
  •          28 mm for great tits, tree sparrows and pied   flycatchers
  •          32 mm for house sparrows and nuthatches
  •          45 mm for starlings.
  •          Open fronted style for robins and wrens


As you can see in the photo above, this year the first nest box I have chosen to put up is an open fronted style suitable for robins and wrens! (I'm hoping our garden robin will take up residence and shortly after putting this box up I noticed him flitting about the tree and having a little look, so fingers crossed)

Once you have decided what style of nest-box you would like to buy, the next thing to look out for is quality. It is vital that you choose a good quality box as quality can not only determine whether a box will get used but whether it is safe for the birds to do so:

  •    Look for sustainable and durable FSC timber.
  •    Keep it simple: avoid nest-boxes with fancy decorations or additions such as perches that predators could cling to.
  •    Ensure that any preservatives the box is treated with are non-toxic.
I would recommend buying your bird box directly from the RSPB; all their boxes are designed to have the correct dimensions and ventilation that birds need and are made only from FSC timber. Alternatively, you could build your own box, following their guide here.


SITING YOUR NEST-BOX









Siting a nest-box will depend mainly upon which species the box is designed for however you should always try and make sure that:


  • There is a clear flight path to the nest without any clutter directly in front of the entrance hole.
  • The box is facing between North and East, to avoid strong sunlight and winds (unless there are trees or buildings to shade the box during the day).
  • The box is attached to a tree using a wire or chain around the trunk or a strong branch, to avoid damaging the tree. A nylon bolt rather than a nail can also be used.
  • Do not place two nest boxes close together, even if for the same species (unless they are colonial nesters such as house/tree sparrows and house martins)
How high up a tree to affix your nest-box depends, as mentioned, upon what bird your box is designed for:


  • Species such as house sparrows and starlings will take to nest-boxes placed high under the eaves of your house. Two or three can be spaced apart on one side of the house.
  • House Martins will also nest high under the eaves, however it is best to place boxes for martins well away from boxes for sparrows and starlings.
  • Open-fronted boxes for robins and wrens, such as the one shown in my photos, should be placed below 2m and well hidden in vegetation.
  • Homes for spotted flycatchers, tits and sparrows should be sited 2 to 4 metres up a tree, sheltered by vegetation but with a clear outlook.
  • Nest-boxes for woodpeckers should be situated high - 3 to 5 metres - up a tree.







Remember:putting up a nest-box at this time of year will provide a sheltered and cosy place for many birds to roost on cold winter nights, so don't wait until spring, keep an eye out well before that to see if your nest-box is being visited!



Monday, 16 November 2015

NATURE IN NOVEMBER: Attracting Birds to Your Garden Part 1...



Up first: attracting birds to your garden PART 1, SETTING UP YOUR FEEDING STATIONS...

Autumn is the ideal season to start inviting birds into your garden; once you have your feeding stations and feeding routine set up you’ll soon establish a regular community of birdy visitors! Birds will remember and return to good feeding areas. If you start attracting birds in autumn it means that when winter comes the birds in your area will likely depend upon your garden as a supply of food. So, it is important that once you start feeding, you don’t stop! Supporting the birds in your garden is a truly rewarding activity and one that makes for a really fun past-time too.

Today I’m just going to focus on the main, simple steps you can take to attract and support your garden birds. But watch out for more Nature in November bird posts including a guide to feeding in winter, purchasing and siting nest-boxes, making your own suet cakes and more!

SETTING UP YOUR FEEDING STATIONS ....

If you want to attract a wide variety of birds to your garden, it’s important to offer a variety of feeding stations. When setting up your stations, the most important thing to remember is that not all birds will feed on a bird-table; some are ground feeders whilst others prefer hanging feeders. Setting up feeding stations at different heights and levels of cover is key. Here’s a quick guide to setting up four basic stations, we can get a bit creative later:

STATION 1 – A raised bird-table




Raised bird tables are one of the most popular forms of feeding station. The height of a table like my one pictured above means that it can easily be viewed from a chair or through a window so it is perfect for a morning of bird spotting. For birds, the height is an advantage as it means they are out of the reach of predators such as cats and can easily flit to and from from a nearby branch or tree.

Choosing a bird table:

When choosing your bird table, consider these points to make sure your table is bird-friendly and practical as well as attractive:
  • In wooden bird tables look for a removable bottom or sliding plastic tray that can be easily cleaned. Hygiene is important and bird tables should be cleared of old uneaten food, bird droppings and dirt regularly to help prevent diseases. The RSPB sell good non-toxic cleaners here.
  • Choose one with a sloping roof. Roofless bird tables are great for bigger birds and for clear viewing but choosing one with a roof is the best way to keep the food fresh and dry for longer and with the unpredictable autumn and winter weather, roofed tables are your best option!
  • Choose a bird table with a large surface area for feeding to prevent fights between birds. The RSPB recommends 3-4 square feet as ideal.
  • In terms of design, simple is best. Drainage channels are important to help rainwater slide off. However designs with nest boxes or bird baths incorporated are not a good idea. It is important to invest in a strong, sturdy design that can withstand a variety of weather conditions and lots of use.

Siting your bird table:
Choosing a good site for your bird table is crucial. Plonking one in the middle of your garden might be the best view for you, but if there is a large distance between the table and the nearest form of cover, it will deter shyer birds from visiting. Choose a position that is:

  • About two metres from cover: A bush, tree or shrub gives birds a place to perch and survey the bird table to check it is safe to feed before visiting it (and also a place to dart to if startled).
  • In the open:  Although nearby cover is important, the spot should otherwise be in the open with a good all round view so that birds can check to see they are safe from predators whilst they feed.
  • Quiet: If you can, place your table in a quiet spot. For example, away from children’s play areas, fences that back on to roads. Place it away from your house – but not so far that you can’t view it from a window of course!


STATION 2 – Ground Feeding




Providing food on the ground will encourage more ground-feeding birds to visit your garden; including chaffinches, starlings and blackbirds. Here’s some good general advice to think about when putting out food:

  • Not too much; once you have gauged how many birds are visiting your garden try and keep the amount of food on the ground relative to that. Leftover food that remains overnight will attract rats which carry diseases.
  • Space the food out in different areas, this will reduce the number of birds competing for one patch. Place some food in the open and other food under cover in order to attract the shyer birds. 
  • Consider using some ground feeding trays such as this one from the RSPB, alternatively they should be available in most garden centres. Mesh ground feeders like these mean that food is kept dryer and fresher for longer. It also makes it easier to remove uneaten food at the end of the day.
  • If you have a lot of cats in your area, consider buying a ground feeding protector cage. These cages allow birds to flit in and out whilst keeping cats at bay meaning the birds will feel a lot safer when feeding.



STATION 3 – Hanging Feeders




Hanging feeders will make one of the biggest differences to the types of birds visiting your garden. I would suggest starting out with the two main designs of feeder and then experimenting with specialist designs later on as you figure out what works best in your garden. Generally speaking, there are two varieties of hanging feeder: seed feeders and nut feeders. Seed feeders will attract birds such as finches, siskins, sparrows and members of the tit family to your garden. Nut and nibble feeders are mesh designs that will attract species that cling including tits, nuthatches and even woodpeckers! Hanging feeders are my favourite type of feeder, I love watching the birds practically queue up to use them. Here’s some tips for buying and siting feeders:

  • If your garden is visited by squirrels and magpies as well as the smaller birds, invest in a seed feeder with metal fittings and perches. These are more expensive but speaking from experience with plastic feeders, if you have a squirrel nearby they can chew through plastic and break your feeder in under 24 hours!
  • If squirrels are a big problem – cute as they may be – then invest in a “feeder guardian” a metal cage fitted to the seed feeder to prevent squirrel ‘s accessing the feeder. I also like to feed the squirrels in autumn time, so consider buying a specialist squirrel feeder to keep everyone happy!
  • Steel mesh feeders are the only safe way to feed peanuts to wild birds, whole or large chunks of peanuts are a choking hazard; mesh feeders ensure the nut is only pecked at. Mesh feeders can also be filled with suet nibbles, which are especially popular in the winter-time.
  • Hang your feeders on strong and sturdy branches. If you can, find a forked branch from which to hang the feeder behind and prevent it falling off. Spreading your feeders out across your garden in areas of both low and high cover will enable you to cater for a variety of feeders.
  • If natural trees aren’t available in your garden, then invest in a feeding station such as these ones, it provides lots of arms from which to hang feeders and is popular with many species.
  • The more feeders you have the wider the variety of seeds and foods you can offer, in turn attracting more birds to your garden. However, bird feeders should be emptied of old food and cleaned regularly to ensure good hygiene. Therefore, only put up as many feeders as you have time to maintain.

Left: A steel mesh peanut feeder / Right: A suet ball cage feeder


STATION 4 - Water: drinking and bath-time!



Bird's need water to drink and bathe in and providing a bird bath is a quick way to make your garden more appealing to the birds in your area! A bird bath can be as simple as placing a dish of fresh water in the garden, pretty designs are there for us not the birds! Still, there are some key points to note that will help your provide the most suitable bird bath in your garden:


  • It should have sloping sides with a shallow approach to the water to allow birds of all sizes to visit.
  • Like feeders, providing two or more water stations around your garden at different levels is the ideal way to cater for lots of birds. A dish at ground level, a hanging ceramic bird bath on a sturdy branch and a standing bird bath on the lawn are all good examples.
  • If you put out a dish of water it is a good idea to place a rock or stone in the water to provide a perch.
  • Site your bird bath somewhere with good visibility and with nearby trees and bushes to fly to for cover, as birds tend to be at their most vulnerable when they bathe.
  • A tip from the RSPB: make your own bird bath using an old dustbin lid sunk into the ground with a thin layer of gravel on the bottom, to provide grip for the birds.




Friday, 6 November 2015

NATURE IN NOVEMBER: Give a hedgehog a home...


Amidst all the excitement of fireworks, toffee apples, bonfires and sparklers - Bonfire Night is a celebration that can sometimes have adverse effects on our pets and garden wildlife. As the 5th fell on a Thursday this year and with the weekend still ahead of us I'm sure there will be many more Guy Fawkes festivities happening over Saturday and Sunday, so if you're planning on hosting or attending a bonfire party over the next few days, here's a helpful link to the RSPCA site on how to keep your four-legged friends calm and safe over the weekend: Advice for Pet-owners during fireworks season.

However, as well as cats and dogs, it's important not to forget hedgehogs at this time of year. REMEMBER: if you've stacked up your bonfire heap ready to be burnt over this weekend, check thoroughly for any hedgehogs that might have taken up residence before lighting it! But for any hedgehogs that are still snuffling around our gardens looking for somewhere to cosy up for the winter, here's how you can help...




   MAKE A HEDGEHOG HOUSE THIS AUTUMN

Hedgehog's hibernate from around October time through 'til spring, meaning that the ideal time to carry out this activity is probably the month of September. However, as we've had such a mild autumn so far this year there may still be some late hedgehog hibernators who will benefit from a bit of help with their hedgehog home. You can either buy a hedgehog home, such as these ones from the RSPB or - like myself - you can have a go at making one from bits and bobs around the house! If you'd like to give it a go, follow the steps below! 
 YOU WILL NEED:
  • A cardboard, plastic or wooden box at least 30cm wide and 30cm tall. (Wood is ideal, but as you can see, I could only find plastic but any of the above will work well!) 
  • A medium sized plastic flower pot or a section of drainpipe 10-13cm in diameter (to make a tunnel entrance)
  • A waterproof covering such as a plastic bin liner, roofing felt or tarpaulin.
  • Dry leaves, newspaper, straw or moss

STEP ONE - CUT A HOLE IN BOX FOR THE ENTRANCE TUNNEL


  • Draw around the smaller end of your plant pot to get a guide size for the hole you need to cut. You will need to cut just outside of this line to allow the plant pot to fit snugly:


  •  Cut around your guideline marks. If you are cutting plastic then it is a good idea to wear protective goggles - especially if doing the activity with children - as hard plastic can shatter unpredictably.
  • Check that the plant pot fits through the hole as in the photo below. If it doesn't, adjust the size of the hole until it does:



STEP 2 - Cut out the entrance tunnel!

  • Once you have seen that it fits, cut out the bottom of the plant pot so that you have a hedgehog sized entrance tunnel!



  • Once you have done this, pop the entrance tunnel into place.


STEP 3 - LINE THE BOX WITH WARM, DRY MATERIALS

  • Next, you will want to line the box with newspaper and dry leaves to make it into a warm, cosy and appealing home for hedgehogs:





STEP 4 - WATERPROOF YOUR HEDGEHOG HOME
  • Now to make sure any hedgehog that takes up residence in your home stays dry, you will need to waterproof the box.
  • I used bin liner and secured it all around the box, creating a waterproof cover and giving extra protection to the sides. To make sure it doesn't blow away, you could weigh the liner down with stones either side or consider using an elastic band.
  •  Don't forget to cut a couple of small air vents in the plastic to make sure your hedgehog has enough air circulating inside the house:


A Hedgehog's eye view!

  • It might look a bit messy from the outside, but don't worry soon this hedgehog house will look like a conveniently perfect woodland hollow to even the most discerning hedgehogs out there.

STEP 5 - POSITION AND CAMOUFLAGE YOUR HEDGEHOG ABODE

  • The next step is to position your hedgehog home. Choose a quiet spot, facing away from prevailing winds and strong sunlight. Somewhere with lots of cover such as under a shrub or tree is ideal. I positioned mine under a low tree and nearby to a fence where I know there is a handy hole for hedgehogs to find their way to my garden. I also placed a concrete slab on top of my hedgehog shelter to provide extra protection against determined foxes:

Sorry for the poor quality photo - it was low light when I took this!

  • Next is the fun part! Camouflage your hedgehog home with leaves, moss, twigs, branches and grass, leaving only the entrance tunnel on show. Your hedgehog home should now blend in to the surroundings:

Ta-Da!


TA-DA! YOU'RE HELPING TO SUPPORT THE WILDLIFE IN YOUR GARDEN!

 And there you have it! A warm and cosy hedgehog home, made with your very own hands from bits and bobs you can easily find around your house. Why not give it a go and support the wildlife in your area! If you're lucky, come spring/summer, a hedgehog might choose your hedgehog home as the perfect place in which to raise their young!

TIP: To draw hedgehog noses to the door of your hedgehog home, why not put a handful of hedge-hog friendly treats outside the door. Meal-worms, suet pellets and sunflower hearts will all go down well! To find out if a hedgehog is using your home, why not put a thin stick in the entrance tunnel and check next morning to see if it has been moved out the way. Or, to be extra sure, pat some damp mud or sand around the floor of the entrance and you can check back for footprints!

A handful of suet nibbles should attract hedgehogs to their new home!

If you would like to purchase instead of make your own hedgehog home, then the RSPB sell some brilliant ones hereOr, if you're looking for a bigger challenge, why not follow the RSPB's guide to making your very own wooden hedgehog house from scratch!




Thank you as always for reading this post! If you enjoyed the post, have any thoughts or want to share any of your own wildlife tips then please don't hesitate to comment in the box below!!! I love to hear back and I'd love to see photos of any one else's hedgehog homes!

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

On the blog this Autumn: My Nature in November posts...






It’s November: the days are shorter, the nights are longer, cold weather is setting in and Autumn Watch is on our tellies. As well as being the month in which it’s socially acceptable to start looking forward to Christmas, November is the prime time to get your gardens wildlife friendly and ready for winter...

Over a couple of weeks in November with a little help from the RSPB I will be doing a series of posts all about how you can help support the wildlife in your gardens this autumn/winter. From hedgehog houses to suet cakes, bird feeders to bug houses; have a cup of tea, wrap up warm, then venture outside and take part in my Nature in November activities to ensure your garden is a winter wildlife haven. If you're interested, then keep an eye out for upcoming posts with the 'Nature in November' heading - it's bound to be full of wildlife tips and tricks!
Please share with anyone you think might be interested! Also please do keep me up to date with any wildlife you've spotted in your autumn gardens in the comments section below each post or alternatively, tweet me at @FACEcrueltyfree using the hash-tag #NatureInNovember !

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Costa Rica Big Cats, Primates & Turtle Conservation


Hey! So I will be updating this soon to include a more detailed post about my summer trip to Costa Rica. But for now I just wanted to share a few of my favourite photographs that I took whilst I was out there, and a short video put together from my rubbish footage (I was usually too in awe of my surroundings to press the record button so there's lots I would have loved to capture but I'm afraid those images will have to be kept in my head!) Anyway, enjoy for now! :) scroll down for the video...




Friday, 2 October 2015

Sleek MakeUP Haul - Contoured to perfection and still Cruelty Free

 I've been using Sleek MakeUp contour kits for nearly a year now and I'm only just writing this post. I think it's a combination of hopeless blogging and the fact a tiny part of me wants to keep these to myself. However, the time has come to share because everyone has gone contour crazy and if you're going to chisel those cheekbones into perfection, why not feel extra good about yourself and choose cruelty free whilst you're at it?
I've picked two brilliant kits from Sleek MakeUP to share with you, their Face Form Contouring & Blush Palette and their Corrector & Concealer Palette. First up, contour brushes at the ready...


Sleek MakeUP Face Form Palette in 'Light' - £9.99



Okay so this is the wonderful 'Face Form' palette from Sleek in shade 'Light'. It is available in four shades: fair, light, medium and dark. The palette is made up of a contouring powder, a highlighter and, depending upon the shade you choose,either a blush or a bronzer in the last third of the palette. As you can see, the shade I use 'Light' comes with a gorgeous peachy pink blush. It's priced at a reasonable £10.00 but you can get it from Superdrug for £9.99 and they usually have some kind of offer on too!
Contour Powder
The pigmentation in the contour powder is second to none. As you can see from the photo the colour might appear very dark (if in doubt choose a shade lighter than usual) but this means that you only need to use a tiny amount to see a big difference and you can build definition as desired. The colour of the contour powder is super matte which helps create a much more natural shadow on the face as opposed to a shimmery bronzer.  
 On to highlighting....
Once again, the pigmentation in the highlight is really lovely and one sweep will give a pearly iridescent glow to the tops of your cheeks and brow bones. It sits really nicely on top of all foundations I have used and blends easily to achieve a natural look. I really love this highlighter although I will mention that the colour is definitely more of a cool glow than a warm for those with darker skin tones, however adding a touch of the peachy blush from the palette warms it up on days when you want to look a bit more bronzed.
Finally...
I also wanted to mention how brilliantly long-lasting this product is. A massive bonus of the high pigmentation is that the contour powder in my original palette lasted for a year before I had to replace it (the highlighter ran out slightly earlier than this as I tend to get a bit highlighter happy). The value for money sends this product right to the top of my good books!


Sleek MakeUP Corrector & Concealer Palette in 02 - £7.99



This is the awesome Sleek corrector and concealer palette which works perfectly before the contour kit to cover up any dark shadows below the eyes or alongside the highlighter to define the cheekbones, nose and brow bone.
The palette is made up of a corrector colour, a concealing colour and a setting powder. The palest shade in the palette is the corrector colour which is applied first to brighten and neutralise any shadow or discolouration and the second colour in the palette is the concealer which helps to blend the corrector colour in with your foundation or skin; so when choosing your shade you want the second colour in the palette to be as close a match as possible with your foundation or natural skin tone.
The corrector colour and concealer are both a really creamy consistency which makes blending a dream although it can mean that coverage is slightly compromised so when using under the eyes I've found it best to use either your fingers or a sponge to dab into the skin as opposed to a brush. The setting powder is a nice touch that helps any concealed areas to stay in place and contains SPF 15 to protect your skin, which is a bonus.
This palette is £7.99 which for me is perhaps a little pricey for a concealer, but the combination of three elements perhaps makes it worth it. 
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So there we are, that's my Sleek MakeUP  dream team for contouring and concealing. If you have any thoughts, tips or questions please don't hesitate to comment below :)

Thursday, 3 September 2015

Dark Chocolate and Raspberry Vegan Brownies

Over the (pretty rainy) bank holiday weekend my sisters came down to visit and with lots of chocolate loving vegetarians and vegans in the house what else is there to do but bake mounds of gooey chocolate and raspberry loveliness? Nothing. 'Twas the only option. 
If you are also in the mood for chocolate (who isn't?), then follow the recipe below... 



GATHER YOUR INGREDIENTS



INGREDIENTS...

  • Sunflower oil/Soya spread for greasing
  • 5 Tablespoons of sunflower oil
  • 200g of dark chocolate (dairy-free / 70% + cocoa)
  • 1/2 - 1 heaped tablespoons of cocoa powder (the more cocoa powder you add the richer your brownies will be)
  • 170g self-raising flour
  • 180g golden caster sugar
  • 230ml unsweetened soya milk
  • 2 vanilla pods
  • 1 1/2 packets of fresh raspberries
  • Chopped pecans to garnish (optional)
  • Freeze-dried raspberries to garnish (optional)




NOW, LET'S BAKE...



1. Pre-heat your oven to 180 degrees Celsius and grease a square/rectangular baking tin with a little sunflower oil or soya spread. Then line with greaseproof paper.


2. Break 150g of the chocolate into a heatproof bowl and place over a pan of boiling water. Simmer and allow the chocolate to melt.






3. Meanwhile, sieve the self-raising flour and cocoa powder into a large mixing bowl. Add the sugar and a pinch of sea salt and stir together. Halve the vanilla pods lengthways, scrape out the seeds and add to the mixing bowl.







4. Next, stir in the oil, soya milk and finally the melted chocolate until the mixture is combined.




5. Add the rest of the chopped chocolate and as many chopped raspberries as you like and mix together until evenly dispersed.




6. Pour the mixture into your greased and lined baking tray and spread out evenly. 




7. OPTIONAL: Chop some pecans or freeze-dried raspberries and sprinkle over the mixture for some extra crunch. As you can see below, I only sprinkled the pecans over half of my brownie mix as some people in my family don't like nuts.




8. Sprinkle over with some sea salt and then place the tray into the hot oven for 20-25 minutes or until the brownies are cooked on the outside but still gooey in the middle. Leave to cool for as long as you like and then enjoy!







Sunday, 30 August 2015

The National Trust: Visiting Cliveden

The house and gardens at Cliveden is a place that holds lots of memories for me...
Since I was very little it has been a place where my family would take us for long walks, outdoor performances and picnics. Rolling down hills, racing through mazes, secret fountains and the excitement of finding the forest floor and tree roots shaped into stairways are all moments that I associate with Cliveden. So when we visited it this bank holiday I decided to capture and share with you some glimpses of this brilliant National Trust land.

Here's my five favourite things to do when visiting:

  • Feed the Koi fish in the Water Gardens
  • Race up the steps from the river to the house
  • Stop for tea and cake in the Orangery
  • Look out for wildlife along the trails and river
  • Browse the National Trust shop* 

(*stay tuned to see what I picked up this weekend; post coming soon!)