Tag Archives: Wild birds

Puffin Neil and his bread

This is a review of the book: Summer at Little Street Bakery by Jenny Colgan

I very much loved the previous book in this series: Little Street Bakery but then I’m seriously hooked on ‘Bake Off’ TV and books about baking even if they are about bread and not cupcakes – perhaps the cupcake fad has gone?

This book is set in the most beautiful county of Cornwall which the author does know about and of course, there are puffins! Now we all love puffins don’t we? They are so cute… and the writer has found them to be a great source of fun as there is now a twitter account for Neil the Puffin (@neilthepuffin) – in fact Jenny Colgan has now written a children’s book with a  puffin in it… says it all. Do go and see what Jenny is about on Facebook/thatwriterjennycolgan.

Of course she is not the only writer to write about puffins – they are just so cute. Here is a picture of Neil from his twitter page and also 2 other pictures of puffins.

puffin 2puffins neil

See what I mean?

I have seen puffins myself close up on the Farne Islands and Holy Island off the coast of Northumberland and they are great – but you don’t see the babies until they are quite big as puffins tend to lay their eggs in burrows – often nicking a rabbit’s burrow if they can get in quick. When they come to count them – which they do annually, the wardens need to stick their hands down the burrow. If it gets pecked, then there is a baby in there! Baby puffins are called pufflings.

I would strongly recommend that you read the first book of these 2 before you read the Summer book. This is because it tells you so much about the wonderful coast and scenery of Cornwall and also tells you a lot about puffins too.

The island (Mount Polbearne) used in the stories is based loosely on St Michael’s Mount.


As you can see from this photo, in the real St Michael’s Mount there is a castle and monastic ruins at the top of the hill and a small village (largely 18th century) clustering around the beach and ports and even a causeway which will be covered at high tide.

Legend says that a mythical giant named Cormoran once lived on the Mount, and he used to wade ashore and steal cows and sheep from the villagers to feed his gargantuan appetite.

One night, a local boy called Jack rowed out to the island and dug a deep pit while the giant was asleep. As the sun rose, Jack blew a horn to wake the angry giant who staggered down from the summit and – blinded by the sunlight – fell into the pit and died.

Pilgrims who have looked out over the rocky ledge on the western side of the island would have seen an ancient stone chair standing at the entrance to the castle where according to legend, a vision of the Archangel St Michael appeared to some fishermen in the year 495 (http://www.stmichaelsmount.co.uk/myths-legends/).

Prior to this the harbour was a thriving port – 2000 years ago! The Cornish were exporting tin to Europe and it is said, as far afield as to the Phoenicians.

After the Norman Conquest, the abbey was given by the Normans to the Benedictine monks of Mont St Michel in France. The church on the island’s summit was built by the French Abbot, Bernard le Bec, and through the Middle Ages the Mount became a major pilgrimage destination. Four miracles, were said to have happened here between 1262 and 1263 (http://www.stmichaelsmount.co.uk/our-island-story/history-mount/)

As for the book – yes I liked it very much and enjoyed reading the continuation of the story from the first book. I thought the emotions and actions were very well portrayed – and as for the wreck – well see my post on the Isle of Wight not that long ago – lighthouses are awful to live in but very very important to sailors!



Chicktastic! First of the year?

Walking in Regent’s Park this morning – yes March 2nd – we saw the first ducklings of the year – 6 beautiful little coloured chicks from the Egyptian Geese.

Egyptian Geese and Chicks 2nd March 2014 20140302_125914

The mother was very anxious, quacking constantly, and Daddy stayed close too, not surprising really when the twitchers were saying that 5 juvenile peregrine falcons were flying low over the lake this very morning! Though usually peregrins prefer pigeons they may have been interested in a small snacket…

The geese also shouted at the moorhens and coots and anyone who got too close to their precious little ones. But curious pigeons were shooed off by one little chick! An aggressive little male no doubt..

This is really very early indeed to see chicks out and about..!

The goose is related to the shelduck and is very small and compact for a goose. Although originally brought in as ornamental birds they are now feral breeding quite successfully around and about – with several pairs on the Thames too. The RSPB estimate some 1100 pairs breed in the UK every year.

Each pair lays between 5 and 12 eggs which hatch after 28-30 days, so this pair must have started late January which is at the extreme beginning of the breeding season for them – they often breed right into May.  The female incubates while the male guards. The chicks take 2 years to become sexually mature.

They eat  a variety of plant matter including grasses, seeds, shoots, leaves, grain and crops. They also takes food items from shallow water, including algae and aquatic plants, and sometimes animal matter such as worms. So ideally suited for living in a park. They didn’t mind humans as after all they feed them  interesting bread stuff.

The herons had started sitting on their nests too and one inhabited nest  looked as though it would soon fall out of the tree it was so large and at such an angle – but no doubt the twigs were firmly woven in.

Lovely to see all this wildlife in the middle of the city surrounded by wonderful flowers too – amazing how many species are in bloom all at the same time. Even anemone de caen which should flower in April/May were out in full bloom amongst the snowdrops, daffodils, crocii and  other spring bulbs plus primroses, dwarf iris and various bushes including verbena bodnantense and one or two flowers on a ceanothus  bush too. Not to mention all the London not so wild life called tourists!

A lovely if briskly chill morning to be out and about.

Cygnets, shamans and boats: Life on a busy canal

Not so long ago we went  for a walk along the Regent’s Canal.  It was bright but still cold and we saw the first ducklings and cygnets of the year. The canal was quite murky and not as pristine as the other direction of the Regents which we have walked but clearly clean enough for wild fowl to live and thrive.

The stretch along from Haggerston in the East End to Mile End passing under the Roman Road was new to us and our friends so off we went in high expectations and these were more than justified…

This is a rather different stretch of the canal – much less neat and pretty and although still well populated by houseboats, these were rather down market in comparison to along the other direction.

This stretch is very much an exercise on how London is changing and what and who is populating it.

The canal is rather dirty here and there is quite a lot of rubbish floating along – perhaps thrown out by houseboats passing or by passerby or… but it is a very busy stretch of towpath with many cyclists whizzing along. Some of these will be the houseboat owners off to work or shop or… but here you don’t have a Sainsbury’s you can pull up your boat alongside and moor while you do your shopping, so you have to go off canal.

Despite the rather mucky water it is clearly quite healthy as we saw our first chicks of the year! Not only coots and moorhens, some of which were still sitting on nests – they build these platforms on top of small logs and stuff – and others with chicks of quite some size following chirpily along (they chirp continuously). But also, ducks and yes, our first cygnets of the year. Swans prefer to build nests out of water on large platforms. This pair had quite young cygnets still in the nest and just peeking over. They had built behind some breakwaters in a sheltered cove across the other side of the canal. Just as well as male swans can be very aggressive and they are large birds with big strong wings that can easily break bones… so you don’t want to have to walk too close to a nest!

We saw a variety of houseboats from a rather interesting one that had been tricked out in mock Elizabethan wood structures and sported a sign offering Shamanic fortunes to be told. I never knew that shamanic fortune telling was different but clearly someone thought it was. This boat also apparently had not got electric power (they would need to have their own generators as there is no mains to tie into) and was selling candles which it appeared to use inside.

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Haggerston according to our book on the Regents Canal marks the boundary between Hackney and Bethnal Green, and was itself once a small hamlet but now of course, is a busy part of East London having been swallowed up in the 10th century building following canal and railway development. The canal of course is a little older and was built with horse ramps at various bridges. These were because the horses pulling the canal boats and barges were often frightened by the steam engines of the railways and would rear and bolt into the canal. Someone then would have the job of coaxing them out and the ramps were necessary to provide a bank for them to climb.

As we walked the towpath we saw a variety of buildings on the opposite side of the canal from very modern and new developments to old factories that had been squatted and turned into rather ramshackle dwellings alongside small gardens and canal-side patios created out of whatever they could scavenge, and old cottages that had been there for a couple of centuries that were either well converted or rather tatty.

The houseboats were of a similar mixed collection of very modern, ones created by scavenging materials and others that were converted lifeboats or even military crafts.. whatever people could afford or wanted to live and all sizes and shapes with windows of all shapes too.

As we went towards Mile End we came across Victoria Park. This was a park we had never been to but it is very large  and built in the 1840s as a recreational space away from the bustle of the city. Laid out by John Nash cousin to the famous builder of the Nash crescents, it is the largest London municipal park. During the 2nd WW the park was used to store anti-aircraft guns and as such was is itself a target for the bombers and several artefacts were destroyed. It is a park that has been used frequently for demonstrations and held the Rock Against Racism concert in 1978 and still holds Summer concerts.

This part of the canal has several locks still operating and it is always good amusement to watch the boaters struggle to open and close the heavy gates and then the lock fills or empties slowly and you chat  to the boaters during this period finding out where they’ve come from and where they are going to, and then the gates open and off they go to their new mooring.

We ended up at Mile End, which is a scene from my childhood as I frequently visited relatives there but it has changed dramatically since then – becoming much more yuppie and the shops that I remember are no more – Costa Coffee has made it there!

In addition a new park has been created in the last 20 years built upon bomb sites left from the 2nd WW. It is next to one of the oldest Jewish cemeteries in the UK – the Sephardi Novo Beth Chaim  cemetery  which opened in 1725 and replaced an older cemetery (1657).

The Ecology Park which is part of this new development has a collection of lakes, a wind turbine, an earth sheltered building with major solar power glazing and a water bore hole to provide clean water. This park also has a Green Bridge (which is yellow underneath and thus is known as the Banana Bridge locally) which is covered in grass and also has trees and flowers and provides a pedestrian bridge over the road.

So old is this area of East London that the major road that runs through it, and after which a Market is named, is the Roman Road. Mile End is named after the first milestone from Aldgate in the City.

We ended our journey there taking the Docklands Light Railway back to meet the Tube network and home for tea and beetroot and pineapple cake! (see recipe in an earlier blog) Oh and yes, the New Globe Tavern is all that is left of an earlier park for the many pleasures and divertissements of the 1820s…