Monday, 20 December 2010

Winter wonderland

For the second time since we put up our Christmas tree we have snow. On the first day it was about an inch thick, but much of it melted when the sun came out mid-morning.

The next night we had a dusting, which again melted quite quick. Assuming that that was it for the year we made a snowman yesterday. Ian had to take a bucket through to the front to find enough snow. We named him Snowbert:

Last night we had several inches more snow - the most I've seen in the UK since I was a child.

I've never seen a snowman covered in snow before!

The birds are really hungry today - enough so that they are stripping the bushes of berries that they ignored even the last time it snowed.

After feeding the birds I spent quite some time clearing the snow off the ponds - the snow blocks the light which stops the plants producing oxygen and can kill amphibians.

We attempted to drive into town (I wanted some photos of the cathedral in the snow), but didn't make it more than a couple of feet before we had to get out the shovel and thought better of making a second attempt. Next door's van got several metres further a few minutes later, but ended up having to reverse down the road and park where it had started.

The thatched cottage at the end of our road:

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

The Chestnut Centre part 2: otters

The main reason we chose to visit the Chestnut Centre last Sunday was that we had found out that our friends Manoki and Panambi (the giant otters) had had two cubs in the summer and that they were now old enough to have visits from the public.

The giant otters were nowhere to be seen when we arrived, but we had lots of fun with a pair of North American river otters while we waited for them to come out. Their favourite game was swimming under the ice for as long as they could hold their breath and then popping out into the water and rolling around, but they also enjoyed sliding down the snowy slopes on their bellies.

At one point they seemed to think we might have some food and came right up to us to check

Eventually the giant otters came first to their indoor enclosure behind glass (as opposed to another indoor one where they're not bothered by the public)

and then wandered outside. They spent all their time in the river so we weren't able to get any photos up close, but it was wonderful watching the entire family playing together

Ian took lots of videos of them playing so I shall post one here when he's had a chance to edit them.

Monday, 6 December 2010

The Chestnut Centre part 1: deer

Last weekend we took a trip North to see Gary and Dewi. We first stopped at Ikea at Bristol, but they were having some kind of emergency and were evacuating the store. We decided not to wait and proceeded to the Ikea at Wednesbury instead. After we got our shopping we continued up to Preston. You can see photos from our visit at and

On Saturday we all went shopping and chose Dewi a bridesmaid's dress :-)

On Sunday we returned home via the Chestnut Centre. Derbyshire was covered in thick snow and although many of the animals were hiding from the cold the ones that were out were very friendly. Most of the deer were on or next to the main path running along the hillside:

We were approached by a beautiful stag who was presumably checking that we were behaving ourselves around the rest of the herd.

This pretty little fallow deer wanted to know if we had any food and even when it discovered we did not it stayed close for some photographs.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow

We have finally caught up with the rest of the country and early on Thursday morning it snowed in Exeter. Very exciting since we'd already decided to take the day off to buy a Christmas tree, decorate it and get ready for travelling up to Preston on Friday.

We were lucky to get a tree because B&Q had shut their outdoor area where they kept the trees because it was so slippery with snow and ice. Thankfully a very kind man let us go and choose a tree, otherwise we would have had to travel much further and pay more for the tree.

After we'd got the tree in place we decided to go for a walk in the snow. We went to Stoke Woods, just North of Exeter.

The view from nearby Duryard Valley Park:

One for GB - cows wishing they were in New Zealand?!:

William slept in until nearly 3pm, but we finally managed to get him out in the snow for a whole 3 minutes before he went back to bed.

The tree this evening:

Monday, 22 November 2010


It appears that nearly a month has passed since I last blogged here and yet it doesn't feel that long. I've been doing a fair bit of cooking and blogging on my Frog End Food blog, but there never seems to be any really interesting news to post here.

There have been floods in our part of the country this last week, but luckily we weren't affected. Otterton Mill (where we're having our wedding reception next summer) was nearly flooded, but although the carpark went underwater we're pleased that recent work by the bridge over the Otter paid off and the main buildings didn't flood.

Our main contract with the company for the winter came to an end prematurely, but luckily we've had interest from several other potential clients so hopefully we'll have a new project to work on soon. In the meantime I'm having fun making a demonstration website containing an interactive map of my favourite nature reserve: Askham Bog near York. I'll post a link from here when the site's online.

Now that the family visits are over for the year we've brought some boxes down from the loft for sorting. I'm getting rid of all my old video tapes - the ones recorded from the television, but we're having fun watching some of them before I throw them away. Ian has brought down many of his parents papers and artwork (his Dad designed hovercraft) and I shall begin scanning them as soon as I've finished scanning my old photographs.

Ian and I have begun an online memory course. It's quite a long and difficult course and could take several months to complete, but the testimonials from other people who've taken it are incredible. It even includes a section on learning foreign languages - the focus in the course being on Russian so I'm very excited that I will learn some more Russian during the course. Like most other memory courses the techniques require you to visualise things. I've never been a particularly visual person so I'm finding it more difficult than Ian who naturally thinks that way, but it's gradually becoming easier.

We've been quite worried about our cat William over the last week or so as he's been hiding under unusual items of furniture and not eating at all. Obviously his nose is bothering him a lot more, but at least today we've managed to get him to eat something. He was finding it increasingly difficult to get food from his bowl without touching and hurting his nose in the process so today we put his food on a piece of newspaper and he's eaten a good meal. I suspect we'll take him to the vets in the New Year to see if they can put him on some kind of painkillers, but for now we're just happy that he's eating again.

Monday, 25 October 2010

Spoke too soon!

Just after I blogged that we had two more papers in submission at journals another one got accepted - this time to Ecology Letters. It's a very good journal to get an article in and Ian did most of the work so well done Ian :-)

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Bits and pieces of news

Autumn is well and truly on its way and suddenly there seem to be a million things to do. The greenhouse has had to switch from summer mode to winter mode which has meant removing the old tomato plants as they quickly become covered in mould and replacing them with more seasonal vegetables. All the pots that had to be removed from the greenhouse because it was too hot for them in the summer have now been put back and some of the heat-loving plants (including Ian's orange tree) will have to be tucked up for the winter.

Lots of toadstools have popped up in the greenhouse over the last couple of weeks. Being the first year we've had the greenhouse I've no idea if that's normal, but even if it's not I like them.

Yesterday we had a journal article accepted in Global Change Biology. It's the paper I first came to Exeter to write - the one I was hired for and yet it has taken several years to finish and publish the work. I now only have two more papers from my Exeter job left to publish, one of which is currently under review and neither of which I'm first author on (meaning that I'll have less work to do when they come back with reviewers comments).

Ian and I are currently working on a website for the Sharpham Estate on the river Dart. To obtain some aerial photographs of the estate Ian volunteered to go up in a microlight. After several weeks of waiting the weather was finally suitable last weekend and on Sunday Ian took a trip up in the sky. He enjoyed it immensely and not only got lots of fantastic photographs but also got to see a buzzard flying below him (the only bit I'm jealous about).

While Ian was up in the air I varnished the deck. Here's a photo after Ian had done the second coat:

We'll leave the deck as it is until next Spring when we'll extend it along the house and add some steps down.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

The Old Sludge Beds

On Saturday we went out for a walk around our local Devon Wildlife Trust nature reserve: the Old Sludge Beds. The sludge beds are sandwiched between the River Exe, Exeter canal, a sewage works and a large reedbed that stretches under the M5. The sludge beds don't have many visitors - probably because you have to walk past the sewage works to get to them, but they're well worth putting up with the smell in our opinion.

At the driest time of year the sludge beds consist mostly of reedbed and trees with a few ponds, but in the Winter most of the reserve is underwater. There are paths with some stretches of boardwalk, but it is definitely a place that requires wellies. The sludge beds are home to lots of species of birds and insects and we even saw an eel there once.

Yesterday we were fortunate enough to see hundreds of dragonflies - mostly migrant hawkers, but also some southern hawkers and common darters. The weather was variable which was great because it meant that the dragonflies settled quite often and I was able to take lots of photographs.

Southern hawker:

Male migrant hawkers:

Migrant hawker pair in the wheel position (something I've never been lucky enough to see before):

Over the next few months we will be mapping the sludge beds as a demonstration project for our company website so I'll probably write several more blogs on the reserve.

Friday, 1 October 2010

Harvest time

It's been ages since I blogged and yet besides work, and other boring things like dentists appointments, not much has happened since Dad left Frog End.

We've had two papers back from review at academic journals, so that's required quite a bit of work - fingers crossed that they get accepted soon. Ian has taught a two day GIS course to volunteers on Project Lemur and is off to London this weekend to hand over his University work to his replacement.

I've been continuing to scan and sort old photographs - hopefully I'll be finished the end of this year. It's quite a lengthy process as I'm filing as many of the photos as I can by date and it takes a bit of research to work out when I did things. If only I'd kept a proper diary in my teens.

I've been continuing to cook lots of new meals as a result of having the new kitchen. You can see some of the recipes on my Frog End Food blog. This afternoon I'm going to make chutney for the first time. Our tomato plants have died as a result of a cold spell this week so I had to pick all the green tomatoes before they went mouldy. We have 2.4 kg of green tomatoes so green tomato chutney it shall be. A double thanks to Bryony and Mark who not only bought us a preserving pan last Christmas, but also sent us the tomato seeds.

It's been a very good year for tomatoes - probably because we grew them in our new greenhouse. Next year we hope to grow lots of aubergines and peppers too.

Monday, 16 August 2010

The deck

Ian has been assembling the new deck over the last few days. It's gone up remarkably rapidly, but is now at the most awkward stage - requiring gymnastics to get to the garden (I promise we'll lay some boards over the top before you arrive Dad!).

William, being a lot more agile than us is enjoying the construction phase immensely

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Things are all coming together

and for once I'm not talking about the house. Yesterday we popped out for a couple of hours and managed to arrange both a venue for our wedding ceremony and another for the reception. This morning we booked the registrar so family please keep Saturday 16th July 2011 free (and probably the days before and after because it's a long way down to Devon!)

We shall be getting married at Woodbury Park, a hotel and golf club in east Devon. Woodbury Park is owned by former formula one driver Nigel Mansell and is also home to the world of racing (please note you have to book in advance to go to the world of racing). We'll be getting married in the Oaks room in the clubhouse - an upstairs room with a beautiful view of the Devon countryside.
The clubhouse (photo courtesy of

After the photographs we'll head over to Otterton Mill - a working water mill on the river Otter. We'll have the place to ourselves including the mill building itself, the terrace and a little garden by the leat. It's only a 30 second walk to the riverside footpath for those wanting to go for a wander down the river at any time during the evening.

We'll obviously send out invitations with more information nearer the time, but please get in touch if you want to book any rooms at the hotel (they also do lodges for 4-8 people) because you can get a discounted rate as part of the wedding party.

Monday, 2 August 2010

Ruggadon Middlepark

We went for a wander around a Devon Wildlife Trust nature reserve today: Ruggadon Middlepark (not an easy name to remember - I keep calling it middlewood). We hadn't been there before and had read on the DWT website that it had "an outstanding number of butterflies". It didn't disappoint. Today we saw:

small whites (might have been green-veined)
large whites
meadow browns
speckled woods
common blues
large skipper
small copper
fritillaries (species unknown - see below for blurred photo taken in dark woodland!)

as well as a few different species of moth. Unfortunately we didn't spot any of the 4 species of hairstreak (I've only photographed the green in the past) or the other 3 species of skipper, but it was by no means a disappointing day.

Common blue:

6-spot burnet moth:

Small copper:

large skipper:

Unknown fritillary:

Every time you put your foot down several grasshoppers and crickets jumped up. This was our favourite - a long-winged conehead. I took about 30 photographs of her on the opposite side of a grass - she kept turning round and round as I tried to get a good view of her. Eventually she jumped and looked straight at me: