Thursday, 30 June 2011

Peace in the Park

These ducks were just gently drifting in the morning sunshine - they rather reminded me of all the locals swimming in Astros last year - just gently floating in the water and gossiping away.

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Back Yard Burglar

No-Tail's tail has grown again, but it's still quite easy to tell him apart from Scarface. He's still trying to muscle in on the territory - when he's around I hear a good bit of territorial chirping. But he's not one to come close to the house, whereas Scarface and partner are both happy to come up to the door, and even a bit further. I'm pretty sure they have another brood - I saw one of them deposit a faecal sac on a branch the other day, and they're flying off with food again, which wasn't the case for a while after the last little ones were fledged.

Casing the joint


Nah, this looks better!

This IS better!!

Back to the nest with the booty

Not sure what happened to the post I thought I made yesterday, I'll just try posting it again tomorrow...

The robin formerly known as No-Tail, in the early morning sun. I'm not sure if he's fatter just because he's only feeding himself, or if he's puffed up for territorial display - or both.

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Coots in the Park

As promised, coot videos. Not one, even, but two.
It was fascinating watching the coot reorganising the nest. At first I wondered if it was for another clutch of eggs, because the chicks currently on the lake must be at least a month old now, more like 6 weeks. But when you see the chicks walking around the nest in the second video, there certainly couldn't have been any eggs in there. I don't know if the chicks go on living there for a while as a safe place - I haven't been able to find much information. And looking at the lengths of the stems, she must dive quite far down towards the base of the lily to nip them off.
Anyway - after the first video ended the coot swam over to the little island in the centre of the lake, and after rooting around a bit she came out with an old leaf in her mouth, and started swimming to where the young ones were. I didn't quite see if she passed the leaf to another adult as in a baton relay, I almost think that is what I saw, but maybe the two just crossed paths. Whatever, the leaf got given to one of the young ones who seemed to sort of nibble at it and then drop it. And then, as in the second clip, he swims back to the nest collecting his own contributory twig along the way.
Lovely as the bird sounds are, there was almost nothing but wind noise on the first video, so I've replaced it with music - learning all the time!

Friday, 24 June 2011

Lakes - and birds

Yesterday was a day that threatened rain, so I put off going out, but then decided to risk it.
First picture is the lake in Farmleigh. I used to always walk counter-clockwise around it, but then one day I needed the sun behind me for a photo (to be taken ten minutes walk from the car, or maybe it was five), so I went clockwise, and I've gone clockwise almost ever since. But yesterday I bucked the habit, so my first views were from a different angle to the one I usually photograph.

Young coots, and a mallard drake. Well -I think they're both young coots. I find it confusing that they look quite like moorhen chicks, but since the second one, which looks more like a moorhen, was being fed by a coot I'm fairly sure of my ID.

Then I went to Quarry Lake in the park, hoping to find the Little Grebe again. I spent so much time watching some coots that the rain clouds had moved right in - but I still did get to see the Little Grebe and also some mallard chicks. Just two - I've hardly seen any this year, just the one bunch down on the canal and these two, none at all in Farmleigh. Little is the operative word for that grebe - and I was about 5 minutes away from the house when I realised that although I'd remembered spare batteries for both cameras this time, I'd forgotten not only the spotting scope but my mobile as well. I didn't make it back to the car before the rain.

Videos of the coot to follow tomorrow...

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Summer in the Kitchen

It's certainly not summer outside this week. I had a pot of basil that I bought a couple of weeks ago for tomato soup, and it needed using up so I decided to make a big pot of ratatouille for dinner tonight. I thought C didn't like it and that I would be eating the rest of it myself, but it appears his taste has changed since the last time I gave it to him - a good discovery.

The more traditional version is cooked with more olive oil, but I like this version from Anna Thomas's  From Anna's Kitchen. She uses less oil and a fresh tomato sauce for extra cooking liquid - even more summery goodness.

I used two small aubergines / eggplants, two courgettes / zucchini, 2 onions, 1 each red and green bell peppers, 4 large tomatoes for the sauce and two at the end, plus some basil, parsley, garlic and a spoonful of balsamic vinegar.
The aubergines, courgettes, onions and peppers were all cut into 1/2" dice. The tomatoes were cut a bit larger

The tomato sauce was simply 4 tomatoes skinned and coarsely chopped, and simmered for about half an hour in a little oil with a crushed clove of garlic and some chopped basil till it was reduced.

While I made the sauce I degorged (is that how you spell it in English?) the aubergines; in a plastic colander I sprinkled them lightly with salt and left them for half an hour. Originally this was to remove some of the bitterness and excess liquid. A bit like scalding milk being a hangover from when it was needful, I think that most modern varieties are a lot less bitter then their early predecessors, and personally I don't bother doing it with the courgettes. I do, however, think it helps make the aubergines a bit less absorbent, so I usually do it with them. After this rinse them and pat dry with kitchen towel.

Heat 1 tblsp olive oil in a large pan. Add the chopped onion and a clove or two of crushed garlic, and fry gently for about 7 minutes, till soft. Add the courgettes and aubergines and continue to fry gently, stirring well, for another 7 minutes or so. Add the peppers and the tomato sauce, along with some salt and pepper. Cover and simmer for about twenty minutes. Add the tomatoes, chopped basil and parsley and a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Cook for another 5 minutes and serve.
We had with pasta tonight - I like it with crusty bread, and I like it almost as much cold.
Funny, it's a real Provencal dish, but I don't believe I had it when I was staying in Provence on a teenage exchange visit.

Monday, 20 June 2011

Tweedledum and Tweedledee

Flying visit from me and the birds. I was worried because I hadn't seen the little robins for a few days, but my sister said she thought she saw one when she was here. She just wasn't sure if it was a dunnock, as there are plenty of them around. She probably saw both! I spotted these two briefly the next day, but they seem to have given up foraging on the patio and have become much more timid.

There was an enormous amount of territorial robin song at one stage yesterday when No-tail and Scarface were both around, along with the (presumably) female who happily kept on scavenging for food. I suppose the tail will grow and the wound will heal and I won't be able to tell them apart any more, but even if it's only for a short while it's nice to be able to tell them apart.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Phoenix Park 2

The Wellington Monument was somewhere we always enjoyed going for picnics when we were small. It obviously still hasn't lost its attraction for young children - just as I was leaving a mother arrived with her two young boys who raced each other up the steps.

Recently when we had friends coming for lunch over the weekend I thought I'd make Parker House Rolls. The name was so familiar that, when it came to getting out the Joy of Cooking and reading the recipe, it was a shock to discover I had no memory of what they looked like, and I had to do a bit of online searching to get an idea. It's a well-worn page in the book, with all the conversions from US to Imperial pencilled in by my mother, so I think she must have used it as a basic bread dough. Anyway, they were delicious that day, so I made them again on Friday since we were just using up some leftover tomato and rice soup for dinner.

Parker House Rolls:  this recipe says it makes 30 2" rolls. Well, mine must have been way too big; I used a 3" cutter and  got 14 and a little round roll. But any smaller than I made them and I don't see how they could possibly take the advised 20 minutes to cook - mine were done in less than 15 minutes.

1 cup / 8 fluid ounces milk
1 tblsp sugar
2 tbslp / 1 ounce butter
1/2 cake / 1 sachet yeast (I used 1/2 ounce fresh yeast)
1 egg
3/4 tsp salt
2 5/8 cup flour - I used a cup to measure, but this would be something over a pound but under a pound and a half
melted butter

Scald the milk, add the sugar and butter, and when it's cooled to blood heat add the yeast and leave till active.
Normally I don't bother with scalding - I think it's one of those hangovers from old days ,when it was necessary to kill any bacteria. But in this case I needed it hot enough to melt the butter, so I went with what the recipe said.

Sift most of  the flour and the salt into a large bowl. Add the egg and the yeast mixture and knead well to make a soft and very light dough. It's important not to use too much flour, but obviously you need to be able to work with the dough, so use enough flour for a soft but manageable dough.
Put in a clean bowl, brush with melted butter and leave to rise.
Roll out on a floured surface to about 1/2" thick and cut into rounds with a floured cutter - I used my largest one, which is about 3 inches.
With the handle of a knife dipped in flour press a crease along the centre of each roll.
Not in the Joy recipe, but one of the ones I found suggested brushing with melted butter at this stage, which I did. Fold the rolls over along the crease line and press together lightly.
Place in rows on a floured tray, cover and leave to rise till doubled.
Bake in a hot oven (425F, 220C)  for 15 - 20 minutes, serve warm.

I should have taken a photo, really, but there weren't very many left after dinner! Next time...

Friday, 17 June 2011

Phoenix Park

My sister stayed over Wednesday night, so on Thursday I got an early bus with her, and after seeing her off at the mainline station I went for a walk in the park as I still had plenty of time before work. Just as well it was yesterday and not today; we had heavy rain almost all day long.

Mister or Mrs Blackbird collecting a beakful of worms.


A mistle thrush

There were also a bunch of swallows and swifts swooping low over the grass - lovely to watch.

And more squirrels than I've ever seen in one place in the park before.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

To the victor the spoils

It's entertaining to see the young birds happily pecking away on the feeders themselves, but when a parent comes in sight  they start making cheeping noises and opening their beaks wide.
On the other hand, when you see the tiny portion they manage to get from a peanut compared to an adult, I guess they still do need some supplementary feeding!!

This coal tit spent a lot of time picking away at the dead end of a mahonia twig. I think it might have been looking for nesting material - it flew off with its spoils, and then came back and picked something else out of the gutter.

And just for a change from peanuts, this little great tit went scavenging in the shed gutter...

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Singing Chaffinch

It has always bugged me that I find it so hard to learn birdsong enough to identify. I even had a whole sound theme on my computer at one stage with different bird songs for opening and closing files, new email, starting up and so on.  That didn't work, and anyway I prefer a silent setting as I often have the radio on. It annoys me even more because I know I have a musical ear - play me a song a few times and I can pick out all the basic and most of the less basic chords. You'll lose me when it gets to things like minor sevenths with added ninths and so on, but it always surprises C how much I can pick up and if he finds the sheet music I am right. And picking up a melody by ear on the flute is easy - it's only if I want to harmonise that I like to see some music, or at least the chords.
 Anyway - this was the year I learned to identify a chaffinch from its song, so when we heard a bird singing loudly in the trees just as we crossed the railway line and turned down the canal I was able to say "that's a chaffinch". And I was right....

Monday, 13 June 2011

Lights, camera, action...

The other day I spotted a robin that looked a bit odd, but it took me a while to work out that it had no tail feathers. I thought I was imagining it, though a snatched shot certainly looked as if this was the case. C said he saw it yesterday or this morning and was sure it had no tail; this afternoon I was able to grab a couple of shots. I feel it's not one of our resident pair, because it's quite timid in comparison and flies off when I go out, rather than coming up to the back door for worms.

This one, I think, probably is one of the resident pair as I was able to get up much closer. He looks as if he'd been fighting too. Certainly I found a little robin feather in the back porch the other day!

 We had a young magpie visit us this evening. During the afternoon I heard a bit of rustling in the chimney and some bits of dirt coming down, but I checked the grate twice and there was nothing there. No cawing or vocal noises, either. I was on the phone to my dad after dinner and C came up looking for help because he'd just looked in the grate and seen a magpie. (There's an old portrait of my grandmother waiting for repairs to the frame, and an embroidered firescreen in front of the grate so it's pretty well screened off. He took one look and just put the picture back across.) I was able to grab him with a sheet and put him out the window, after which he flew off to a tree across the road. I'm just glad it was a lot easier and less messy than the last magpie we had a few years back before we moved; maybe the fact that this one was much younger helped. Strange coincidence, though, because we were only talking about birds in work today and I was telling about the last magpie.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Canal - Ancient and Modern

I suppose it's not so ancient, really - work on the Royal Canal started in 1760 and it was completed in 1817.
When the motorway was extended it involved a huge engineering project (1996) to get the canal, railway line and various sewage and water pipes. We have a friend who was studying civil engineering in college a couple of years before this interchange was completed, and he said it was a project that they studied in college. Anyway, when they were upgrading all the motorway interchanges over the last couple of years, that meant even more works. Right now I can't find the photos I took a couple of years ago. I know I took some - we walked down on a snowy day as far as we could go till we hit a dead end at the new interchange. Yesterday we decided to walk down and take another look - now you can once again continue walking along the length of the canal.
It's just strange to have such a green, verdant bank before the Twelfth Lock and the marina, and then have a short passage over the motorway and through a concrete jungle before once again finding yourself in a rural setting and the 11th lock.

I'll have another look for a couple of photos of the incomplete interchange, but right now I'm stiff from 180 miles on the back of C's motorbike on a rather wet and windy day, and a bath is beckoning. Still, it was a good experience - while some of our biking in Greece has been on main roads, most of it has been down side roads and tracks, and it was good to discover that motorway biking may actually be less boring than motorway driving. Except for the wind...