A Winter Snowdrop Tour - Part 1 (Hidcote)


Photo 1: Snowdrops at Upton House (26/2/23)

We recently visited The Weir Garden, a 10-minute drive from home, to see the spring bulbs and especially the snowdrops. Last weekend we stayed with our son & fiancee near Bicester and took the opportunity to track down even more snowdrops on 'un Petit Tour des Jardins des Cotswolds'.

On the way, we broke the journey at the National Trust's Hidcote, an Arts and Crafts-inspired garden with intricately designed outdoor spaces in the rolling Cotswolds hills.

Photo 2: Entrance to Hidcote (24/2/23)

There were violets near the cafe ...

Photo 3: Violets at Hidcote (24/2/23)

And crocuses in the kitchen garden ...

Photo 4: Crocuses near the entrance to the kitchen garden (24/2/23)

And finally, snowdrops near the Rock Bank ...

Photo 5: Snowdrops near the Rock Bank (24/2/23)

Temperature-wise it was a fairly typical late-February day but the north-easter made it feel bitterly cold. Much of the garden was roped off so we did not linger too long. Just long enough to take a few more photos. A chilly day for a dip ...

Photo 6: The Bathing Pool (24/2/23)

Another door to add to Mary's collection (it's an obsession really) ...

Photo 7: Entrance to the Second-hand Bookshop

A potential future art/painting project for Mary ...

Photo 8: Entwined Wisteria Branches (24/2/23)

And, finally, a reminder of why we were there ...

Photo 9: Snowdrops at Hidcote (24/2/23)

PS: An exhibition of textile works by Kaffe Fassett was on display in the Manor House which pleased Mary no end!

Photo 10: Colour with Kaffe at Hidcote Exhibition (24/2/23)

Cardboard - Compost or Recycle?!

 Another Amazon delivery and another example of excess packaging. This box (Photo 1) arrived this morning ...

Photo 1: Amazon delivery

... and this (Photo 2) is what it contained ...

Photo 2: Oversized Packaging?

I suppose I should be grateful they hadn't filled the empty space with that brown paper on a roll. Amazon has, apparently, reduced the weight of cardboard boxes in its average shipment by a third since 2015. Good news: reducing it by another third should be easy. Bad news: they haven't put much effort in so far.

The rise in online shopping has seen a shift in the destination of cardboard boxes from businesses to homes. When most of the cardboard boxes ended up at supermarkets, department stores and non-retail businesses, bulk collection for recycling was quick, simple and cost-effective. Nowadays, the majority of boxes are widely dispersed into multiple homes making the logistics for their collection more complicated. Generally speaking, more complicated means less recycling and this is, indeed, the case.

I could put this cardboard box in the recycling bin along with the glass bottles, plastic containers, tins, cans, and paper waste; Herefordshire Council collects all these items in one bin, other Councils may do it differently. While this is convenient for the end user (i.e. me), it is not the best way to recycle. Separation of the different recyclable streams by the end user (i.e. me) is more efficient and less carbon-intensive because it minimises the use of specialist sorting equipment at the recycling centre that, typically, runs on fossil fuels or fossil-fuel-derived electricity [based on current levels of grid renewable energy].

I, however, have an alternative disposal route and that is to compost it along with my kitchen and garden waste. I do not know whether composting cardboard is better or worse than recycling it. On the one hand, home composting will be the lower carbon option as it avoids all the carbon emissions from transportation, sorting & paper mill operations, production of recycling chemicals, etc. Against this, recycling reduces the number of trees that have to be cut down and provides employment (hopefully not at the expense of foresters). Overall, I suspect composting has a smaller carbon footprint though it is almost certainly more complicated than you (or I) think. As an added bonus, composting the cardboard gives me extra rich dark humus for the kitchen and flower gardens. By way of compromise, I am happy to recycle any cardboard that looks plasticky or is too thick to shred for composting.

Photo 3: Paper/Cardboard Shredder

First Garden Butterfly of 2023

 And it was...

Photo 1: Red Admiral in the Garden (19/2/23)

First spotted on the 14th of February when 'it' paid a fleeting visit. Recorded on Nature's Calendar. The next appearance was on 19th February when it lingered long enough for a photo.

The Red Admiral is a somewhat enigmatic butterfly. Originally a migrant from continental Europe and North Africa, it can now over-winter in the UK. This resident population is swelled by migrants from Europe and Africa who arrive from Spring onwards. Whether red admirals hibernate (strictly speaking enter a dormant stage) or not is a moot point. In any case, these butterflies can be seen throughout the year including warm days in winter.

The first garden butterfly spotted in 2022 was a Peacock which appeared on 19th March, a whole month later than this year's first sighting. This is, perhaps, not surprising considering how warm this February has been so far. According to the Central England Temperature, maintained by the UK Met Office Hadley Centre, February (up to the 20th of the month) was running 3.0 ℃ warmer than the 1961 - 1990 average (3.8 ℃).

In our urban garden, the mean daily temperature for February (up to 20/2/23) has been a warm 7 ℃; we have been promised more typical temperatures for the rest of the month. Figure 1 plots the maximum daytime temperatures recorded by our Davis weather station during February. Daytime maximum temperatures have ranged from 9 ℃ to 17 ℃ with an average of 12 ℃; it has often felt warmer in the February sunshine.

Figure 1: Maximum Daytime Temperatures for February 2023 (up to the 20th)

"Just living isn't enough", said the butterfly, "one must have sunshine, freedom and a little flower" Hans Christian Anderson (The Complete Fairy Tales)

Photo 2: Red Admiral in the Garden (19/2/23)

The Weir Garden - Second Visit


Photo 1: River Wye from The Weir Garden

We last visited the National Trust's Weir Garden towards the end of January (28th) when the first snowdrops were beginning to appear. It was time for a return visit yesterday (19th February) to see the snowdrops in full bloom. There was an encouraging sign just outside the entrance to the garden (Photo 2):

Photo 2: Snowdrop clumps at the entrance to The Weir Garden (19/2/23)

Along the top path, near the 'facilities', the display of snowdrops stretched out into the distance (Photo 3):

Photo 3: Snowdrops into the distance ...

And looking in the opposite direction, along the River Wye, what had been a sparse display of snowdrops three weeks earlier (Figure 1) was now a mass of delicate white flowers (Photo 4):

Photo 4: Snowdrops and the River Wye

 Snowdrops and early daffodils co-mingled on the garden slopes (Photo 5):

Photo 5: Snowdrops and Daffodils in the Winter Sun

How long, I wonder, until the golden hordes of daffodils blowing their trumpets arrive:

Photo 6: Daffodils preparing to blow their trumpets of colour

Low-lying delicate croci (crocuses) were dotted about amongst the snowdrops and daffodils; occasionally,  larger swathes were discernible (Photo 7):

Photo 7: Croci at the Weir garden (19/2/23)

If anyone asks "what did the Romans ever do for us?", you might mention crocuses as well as...

Video 1: The Romans sketch from Monty Python

Lesser Celandine, Periwinkle, Winter Aconite, Primrose, Cyclamen and Scilla (Photo 8)were all on display here and there:

Photo 8: Scilla at the Weir Garden (19/2/23)

Finally, a trip out wouldn't be the same without one of Mary's 'artistic' photos:

Photo 9: Branching Out (The Weir Garden, 19/2/23)

After our visit, we nipped down the road to Timothy & Birch for cake and a hot beverage. A perfect end to a sunny winter's afternoon.

Storm Otto

The 2022-2023 storm season (September to August) had its first named storm today. Otto, named by the Danish Meteorological Office, hit the northern part of the UK today. The last storm to hit the UK was Franklin just under a year ago.  The previous 2021-2022 storm season had already had four storms by this time and was about to get its fifth (Eunice).

Looking out the window (9.15am on the 17th of February 2023), it is sunny with more blue sky than clouds (Video 1) and the tree tops are gently swaying (Video 2).

Video 1: Blue Skies and Clouds (17/2/23)

Video 2: Gently swaying treetops (17/2/23)

My Davis weather station is recording a westerly wind (i.e. coming from the west) with a 10-minute average wind speed of 11 km/h and gusts of 24 km/h [note: Otto will be generating wind speeds over 100 km/h in Scotland]. The outside temperature is 13 ℃, warm for this time of year, and the humidity is 71% and falling.  The rooftop PV system is producing 1.4 kW.

Figure 1 shows a screenshot from National Grid: Live at 9.15am on the 17th of February 2023. The UK electricity generation mix has a 16.9 % contribution from fossil fuels and a large contribution (57.1 %) from wind turbines. Interstingly, the Grid is receiving lots of imported electricity (14.6 %) and the UK nuclear contribution is only about 50 % of its usual value.

Figure 1: UK Generation Mix, 17/2/23 at 9.15 am (

The WWF Green Energy Forecast for today (Figure 2) says it is a good day to be using those high-energy appliances such as ovens, washing machines, and dishwashers - at least until 4 pm, anyway.

Figure 2: WWF Green Energy Forecast for 17/2/23

Today, I have already put on a clean cycle for the dishwasher and the first load (bedding) in the washing machine. The sunny/windy weather will greatly assist the laundry drying stage. There will be an additional two clothes washing/drying cycles and, around 2 pm, I shall put the cauliflower bake in the oven for tea (or, as some people call it, dinner) and roast some vegetables (celeriac, courgettes, parsnips, carrots, onions) at the same time.

Photo 1: Cauliflower Bake (one I prepared earlier!)

Finally, although Herefordshire tends to miss out on the stormiest weather, I thought I would have a look at the top wind speeds (gusts) measured by my Davis weather station. I have selected the 6-month period from the beginning of September to the end of February; partly because these are often the most active months, stormwise, and, partly, because I only have data to the middle of this month to compare with previous years' storm activity.

The storm season of 2020-2021 (Figure 3) had 3 days when daily wind speeds were 50 km/h or above. The 2021-2022 season (Figure 4) had 9 such incidences whilst the current 2022-2023 season (Figure 5) has had only 1 day when wind speeds were 50 km/h or higher. [note: Figure 5 has a different y-axis scale to Figures 3 & 4). Click on figures for a larger image.

Figure 3: Daily Top Wind Speeds (km/h) - Sept 2020 to Mar 2021 (6 months)

Figure 4: Daily Top Wind Speeds (km/h) - Sept 2021 to Mar 2022 (6 months)

Figure 5: Daily Top Wind Speeds (km/h) - Sept 2022 to Mar 2023 (6 months)

Table 1 summarises the incidences of high winds (>50 km/h) in Hereford with the occurrence of named storms. While it is unusual for Hereford to experience the brunt of these named storms, there appears to be a casual relationship between stormy UK weather and high wind speeds (>50 km/h) recorded in Hereford. I think we can all agree that the current storm season has been quiet compared to last year's.

Table 1: Incidences of High Wind Speeds (Hereford) and Named UK Storms

Storm Season (Sept -Mar)

Number of Days with >50 km/h Wind Speeds 

Number of Storms Named by UK Met Office

Number of Storms Named by UK and European Met Offices

2020 - 2021




2021 - 2022




2022 - 2023




Garden Wildlife Cameras - Part 2

 In the last post, I described my initial attempts at recording garden birds using CCTV and trail cameras. I noted an issue with the stuttering video obtained when using slow frame rates (e.g. 15 fps). I have upped the frame rate on the CCTV to its maximum of 25 fps and the video quality is definitely better. For example, Video 1 is a recording of a wood pigeon flying from a wild cherry tree using a frame rate of 25 fps ...

Video 1: Wood Pigeon in Cherry Tree (Genbolt CCTV, 13/2/23)

The problem with most garden birds is that they flap their wings two to three times per second (typically).  Obviously, there are exceptions such as hummingbirds that achieve flap rates of up to 70 beats per second. Slower frame rates can produce choppy and blurry video of fast action shots (e.g. birds flying) but take up less storage memory. Faster frame rates can be useful for slow-motion filming or smoother fast action shots but need much more data storage. Compromise is the name of the game with frame rates of 24 - 30 fps providing a happy medium for most applications.

The third camera system I evaluated was the NatureSpy WiFi WildCam. At £99, plus the cost of a 32 GB microSD card, this can still be considered a budget option. This camera had two main advantages for me: (i) it connects to the home WiFi for simple, easy live viewing from anywhere, and (ii) rechargeable batteries for reduced operational costs (c.f. the trail camera).

The boxed camera arrived in a plastic postal envelope four days after being ordered online (Photo 1)  ...

Photo 1: NatureSpy WiFi WildCam and 32GB microSD

In the box were the WiFi camera, 2 x rechargeable batteries, a USB charging lead, a magnetic wall mount (with the rawlplugs and screws) plus the quick start and user guides (Photo 2)...

Photo 2: Box Contents of NatureSpy WildCam

The microSD card was a bit fiddly to install under the rechargeable batteries but there are helpful videos available and tech support via e-mail was very quick (answers within an hour). Set up, live monitoring, photo (screenshot) and video recording, file management, etc are all done through the Tuya app (Android & iPhone).

The camera comes with a magnetic wall holder for fixing to a fence, wall, or another solid object. I wanted to attach my camera to the tree where the bird feeders hang. Since the camera comes with a standard tripod mount, I bought this flexible tripod to do the job (Photo 3).

Photo 3: Flexible tripod and NatureSpy WiFi WildCam (Pixel 4a photo)

Example videos from the NatureSpy WiFi WildCam are shown in Videos 2-5.

Video 2: Blue Tit on Feeder

Video 3: Blue Tit on Feeder 2

Video 4: Blue Tit on Peanut Feeder

Photo 4 was a cropped screenshot of a single video frame ...

Photo 4: Blue tit, exit stage right (screenshot from video, NatureSpy WiFi WildCam)

Video 5: House Sparrow on Feeder (NatureSpy WiFi WildCam)

The full specification is set out below:

And here is an example of night photography (Photo 5) ...

Photo 5: NatureSpy WiFi WildCam - Night Vision

Conclusion: A neat HD wildlife camera suitable for the garden. I am still evaluating battery life which will depend on how frequently photos and videos are recorded. After a day's use taking half a dozen photos and a couple of minutes video, the battery was still registering 100%. Videos and photos are easily uploaded to Google Photos - other options are available.

Garden Wildlife Cameras - Part 1

Figure 1: Peanut bird feeder

Attracting wildlife into the garden has many benefits including pest control and mental health well-being. Gardening is also great exercise; I can easily do 15,000 steps just pottering about all day in our not-very-big town garden. Enticing wildlife into the garden also provides the opportunity to photograph it (stills and videos) under more favourable conditions.

We do not get much in the way of mammals though I have seen a singular hedgehog and a lonely grey squirrel; on one occasion, I spotted a young rat that was dead a couple of hours later - presumably a victim of the local cat population. Oh! there was also the muntjac deer on the road outside though I did not see it personally.

Amphibian-wise, we do have our resident frog(s) producing frogspawn on a regular basis.

In the main, we are limited to photographing birds and butterflies and any other bugs and beasties that visit the garden.

To attract the birds, we have a Finches Friend bird feeder (Figure 2) and a more conventional peanut holder (Figure 1) hanging in our Winter Cherry tree where it can be viewed from the house and the summerhouse.

Figure 2: Finches Friend bird feeder

To attract butterflies, moths, and bees we plant lots of nectar-rich flowers ...

Figure 3: Nectar-rich flowers

Figure 4: Ivy is an important late-season nectar source for bees

Outdoor Cameras for Garden Wildlife

The first camera we put up was a Genbolt 5MP WiFi Outdoor Security Camera, circled red in Figure 5, at the beginning of 2022. It is an excellent CCTV unit for the price (about £70) with colour vision (day and night), floodlight, siren, motion detection, two-way audio and digital zoom. Not all those features are necessary for photographing or videoing wildlife. It was very easy to set up and Genbolt's customer service was excellent.
Figure 5: CCTV and Trail Cameras

The picture quality is very good ...

Figure 6: Photograph from Genbolt CCTV

... and the 4x digital zoom is useful for live viewing but recorded stills and videos revert to the un-zoomed view. You can, of course, post-process the photos to crop and enlarge the interesting bits in even the simplest photo-editing software. Here are a couple of short videos taken with the Genbolt CCTV system: the first has blackbirds feasting on rowanberries in October 2022. The second video shows blackbirds, house sparrows, and blue tits (?) on the mountain ash (rowanberry) and feeders - can you count how many birds?

Video 1: Blackbirds feasting on Rowanberries (Genbolt CCTV, October 2022)

Video 2: Avian Frenzy!? (Genbolt CCTV, November 2022)

Some of the cons of the Genbolt camera for observing wildlife are: (i) the Pan & Tilt motion is a bit noisy and can frighten the birds away (see Video 3, increase sound level 'til you can hear the birds), (ii) the motion detection was great for humans but did not work for small animals/birds even on the most sensitive setting (see Video 3), (iii) some distortion at the edges - a compromise with wide-angle view, (iv) video footage was a bit stuttery - this may have been my fault as I had set the recording at 15 frames per second (fps) or, maybe, that was a default I hadn't changed. I upped the fps to 25 (maximum) to see if this would improve matters: Video 4 was recorded at 25 fps and highest quality - you need to look carefully in the centre of the video to see the bird - the recorded video does seem to be more free-flowing.

Video 3: Genbolt GB213 illustrating human detection and noisy pan & tilt motor

Video 4: Genbolt GB213 video at highest fps and quality

I should stress this is an excellent product when used for its intended purpose (CCTV); close-up action of birds is not its primary function.

Clearly, the Genbolt GB213 camera was not going to provide close-up photos and videos of our feathered friends. So I bought a more specialised trail camera: the Wechamp 30 MP Wildlife Camera (circled purple in Figure 5).

This is not a WiFi camera so could not be connected to our home network. I used a phone app to set everything up via bluetooth - in truth, I found it all a bit fiddly and the local WiFi hotspot (no internet connection) kept dropping out. Motion detection for birds was non-existent, though it was pretty good for foliage moving in the gentlest of breezes! Consequently, any useful recordings were triggered manually. I have no doubt the camera is great for tracking larger mammals - just not optimised for our flighty avians. Videos 5 and 6 were recorded during the Big Garden Birdwatch ...

Video 5: Tits on birdfeeder recorded by Wechamp Trail Camera

Video 6: Tits on birdfeeder recorded by Wechamp Trail Camera
I was very happy with the video quality but found it all very finicky to set up and operate. I am prepared to accept that I'm not as au fait with this modern technology as I could be! Another important consideration is that this trail camera eats AA batteries for breakfast; you could see the charge depleting in real-time during the day. There may be parameters you can change to make the batteries last longer than the single day I was getting out of them. This was not an issue with the Genbolt camera because it was plugged in to the mains electricity supply. In any case, I needed to look at more sustainable options: either plug-in or rechargeable batteries.

See Part 2 for how I got on.

Beast from the East II??

 The best thing about a British Winter is the cold weather, real fires, frosty mornings. I love living somewhere that has proper seasons.   Jane Fallon

Figure 1: The Wild/Secret Garden (8/2/23, 10.00 hours)

There is talk of, potentially, another 'Beast from the East' event last seen in 2018. It is all down to sudden stratospheric warmings and polar vortices. However, things are often a bit more complicated and the development of these arctic weather systems does not automatically mean we will have another Beast from the East.

We are, currently, in our third cold spell of the winter (three or more days with sub-zero overnight temperatures) as shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2: Minimum Daily Temperatures for the Last 3 Months (15/11/22 to 8/2/23)

The latest cold snap has been contemporaneous with plenty of sunshine (Figure 3, solar radiation used as proxy for sunshine hours) which has made it more bearable though not necessarily good for the garden plants due to rapid thawing.

Figure 3: Min Daily Temps & Sunshine Hours for the Last 3 Months

The upside of frosty mornings is the opportunity to take some atmospheric photographs. The first two were taken in Oxfordshire by our son, Owen (Figures 4 and 5); not only a talented musician/producer but artistic in other media also. These photos were taken during the January cold spell (Figures 2 & 3).

Figure 4: Frosty Morning, Oxfordshire

Figure 5: Meandering on a Frosty Morn

The remaining photos are down to me and were taken on the 8th February ...

Figure 6: View of the Rear Garden

Figure 7: Frosted Primula

Figure 8: Frosted Spiderweb

Figure 9: Frosted Holly

Figure 10: Hedgehog (Gutter Brush) meets Spider (Web)

Figure 11: Ice crystals on Primula flowers

Figure 12: Early Morning Frost

Figure 13: Frost on Leaves and Flowers

Figure 14: Iced Gems

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