Little Outdoor Kylie

Bird of the Week 45: Mute Swan

April 21, 2014

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Five things you need to know about the Mute Swan:

Swans are highly intelligent and apparently remember who has been kind to them and who hasn’t. This could well explain why the two Richmond swans I’ve befriended, Sylvester and Stella, always know to come back to my boat for a bit of fuss and attention.

The Queen has a prerogative over all swans in England and Wales. The Warden of the Swans and Marker of the Swans (yes they are real jobs!) are responsible for the welfare of the state swans and the annual Swan Upping - an activity in which mute swans on the River Thames are rounded up, caught, marked, and then released.

Despite their misleading name, the mute swan is surprisingly vocal! They have a remarkable assortment of sounds to convey a broad range of emotions, including the strange snorty sneezing noise Sylvester makes when I won’t come to the window and see him.

A male swan is called a “cob”, a female swan a “pen” and a baby swan a “cygnet”.

Swans usually mate for life and remain together throughout the year, but divorces have been known to happen. If one of a pair dies, the survivor usually remarries.

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5 Reasons to Fall in Love with Spring

April 18, 2014

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Photography credit: Chris Paul

I scheduled this post in my editorial calendar for way back in March, but I decided to wait until we’d really broken the back of the colder temperatures and rainy days. Now that the worst of those is over, we’ve finally turned the corner into easily my favourite season of the year: spring.

What makes spring so inspirational and special? It’s the time of rebirth, something I spoke about in my Month in Focus post for April. Little lambs are bouncing around in the fields, there are ducklings on the pond and we can walk through carpets of spring flowers. It’s the season of promise and new opportunity, and there’s plenty to be thankful for.

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Photography credit: Don DeBold

Waking up in the morning to birdsong.

For most of our garden birds, spring hails the opportunity for finding a mate and building a nest, and suddenly our feathered friends have to wind it up a gear to make sure they’re not forgotten. The males do their best to win over a ladyfriend with a beautiful song, and often this singing contest starts when the birds at their most active: early in the morning.

I often find people complain about this wonderful sound, which is something I honestly can’t understand. What could be nicer than the sweet fluty notes of a blackbird in the morning? It sure beats the sound of your phone alarm breaking the silence at 6:00am. Leave your window open and be gently stirred by this uplifting sound of nature.

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Photography credit: Ashley Campbell

Nature wipes her slate clean, and you can too.

There’s something miraculous about the way Mother Nature manages to come back from winter. When we’re in the depths of December it’s hard to imagine that she’ll be able to transform the lifeless trees and cold, biting winds into anything remotely resembling spring. But somehow, year upon year, she manages it, and we should feel inspired by that.

Spring is the time of year to look positively at yourself and your life, identify things you want to change and take purposeful steps to making a difference. It’s remarkable how things seem so much easier and more achievable at this time of the year.

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Photography credit: Mervi Eskelinen

It’s time to liberate your summer wardrobe! Embrace the colour!

Lock away your winter boats, charity shop those baggy Christmas jumpers! It’s time to go into the attic and pull out your box of summer clothes. You’ll probably take one look at some of last year’s choices and wince, but you can always donate them too and replace them with newer styles… and never underestimate the power of customisation!

The thing I like best about summer clothes are the colours. In winter, just like nature, we are often drab and uninspired in greys, blacks and browns. When the sun comes out, we throw our conservative colour choices to the wind. Yellow! Green! Pink! Orange! Red!

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Photography credit: Cara Explains It All

Drip, drip, drop little April Shower… not half as bad in spring.

When it rains during the winter, it feels like it will never end. We succumb to the fact that we have to get our coats out of the wardrobe again and tirelessly fight the weather on the way to work. In spring, we don’t let a little rain shower get us down! After all, in a few short hours the rain will pass and we’ll be embracing the sun once more.

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Photography credit: Born 1945

Clear blue, cloudless skies that hint at a perfect summer.

If I had to list one thing that really describes that feeling of knowing spring is here, it would be the way the sky looks. A bright, flat blue that stretches as far as the eye can see, usually cloudless but if we have to allow a few little puffs of white, it doesn’t matter too much. Everything around us is lit so much more beautifully, and don’t even get me started on how much easier it is to get up in the morning when the sun is shining…!

So now that spring is here (in the northern hemisphere at least!) what are you planning? Many of us have been blessed with a long Easter weekend, and the next four days just feel like an endless list of opportunities. I’m hoping to be in Brighton tomorrow, and then I’ll be enjoying Richmond over the Sunday and Monday. As always you can follow my adventures via TwitterInstagram or Facebook, but remember to get outside and enjoy this beautiful season for yourself!

Posted in Seasonal under

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Stop press! The Piip-Show bird café is open!

April 14, 2014

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I’m taking a break from my regular bird of the week post to bring you something totally awesome! This morning I was scoping out interesting bits and bobs to put on the company Twitter page, and I don’t know how I managed it but I somehow stumbled across this.

Piip-Show is a concept dreamed up by Norwegian TV channel NRK. Some smart lad or lass has created a bird café, complete with a miniature coffee bar, stools and even a menu board! You can tune into the livestream 24/7 on the channel’s website and watch all the regulars pop by for their morning latte and muffin beakful of seed.

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I’ve honestly been tuned into this all morning. I’ve got it set up on my laptop whilst I work, and every so often a feathery little chap catches my eye. It’s such an amazing thing, stopping my usual Monday chores to watch a pair of sparrows feeding off the coffee bar, or a bullfinch perching neatly on a stool. It’s miraculous I’ve managed to get anything done!

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My list of livestream spots so contains a pair of male house sparrows, munching their way through sunflower seeds, Mr and Mrs Bullfinch who were particularly brave, sitting at the café for a good half an hour or so, a larger than life magpie, fleeting glimpses of great tits and blue tits and finally (I think) the furry ear of a red squirrel!

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If you’re watching the Piip-Show, you can tweet about what you’re spotting using the hashtag #nrkpiip and follow the cafe @NRKpiip. The livestream will be broadcast for three months, so make sure you catch this awesome experience before it’s over! Let me know what you spot!

Posted in Bird of the Week

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Foraging with Napiers: who’d have known that dandelions tasted this good?!

April 11, 2014

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I’ve been blogging here at Little Outdoor Kylie for about twelve months, and I like to think I’ve learnt quite a bit in that time. In saying that, however, up until quite recent there was still something evading my understanding, and that was the concept of sponsored events.

Is there ever going to be anything for me? I thought to myself. This would be so much easier if I was a fashion blogger or a foodie blogger. There would be hundreds of products to review. What kind of experience do you give an outdoor lifestyle blogger to talk about?

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Well, it turns out I needn’t have worried all that much, for the answer plopped right into my lap whilst breakfasting with fellow Blogcadette Sarah of The Prosecco Diaries. A member of the Vegetarian Charity, Sarah had been invited to take part in a foraging expedition with Napiers, UK-based herbal remedy gurus with over 150 years of experience. Sarah spotted that I too was a vegetarian, and asked if I’d like to go. My answer of course was yes!

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It was a beautiful sunny morning when I arrived at the foraging site, The Caravan Club at Abbey Wood, South London. It was funny to stumble across the site just off the main road, a real spot of serenity and (I should imagine) an arguably inexpensive way to spend a night in London with only a short walk to the station! Just bring your tent.

Leading our foraging walk was Monica Wilde from Napiers, a lady with such a wealth of knowledge I could have filled twenty notebooks before we’d even left the caravan site!

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All the things that you’d walk past on a day-to-day basis without giving a second thought to: nettles, sticky weed, dandelions, all of them were brimming with potential and we picked, sniffed and nibbled our way into the neighbouring woodland with surprised looks on our faces – how could what was essentially a bunch of weeds taste this good?!

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Monica fed us hedge garlic and cow parsley, all the while suggesting herbal remedies for all our ailments. I took a few notes as she spoke: must remember to eat my seaweed…

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Our small group foraged for a good couple of hours, walking through the enclosed woodland and open grassy stretches. It was pretty warm, so I was grateful that I’d decided to leave my coat in the boot of the car and stick with my new jumper.

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I call this look “shabby allotment chic”. Thank you to Sarah for the picture!

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As Monica stopped in a little clearing and started explaining about mushrooms, I noticed my belly rumble. All this talk of eating had made me really hungry!

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Luckily, Napiers and the Caravan Club hadn’t forgotten about us! Upon our return there was a truly delicious-looking spread laid out for us underneath a marquee, and we lined up and got stuck right in. All that foraging is hungry work!

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We munched our way through quiche, open sarnies, fresh bread and a bowl of moreish fruit salad that nobody could resist, plus of course a handful of the day’s pickings, of course.

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I was also chuffed to see we’d each been presented with a beautiful goodie bag! Napiers had spoiled us: hand creams, and a catalogue to peruse to our hearts’ content.

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Foraging with an expert like Monica was not only an incredibly educational experience, it was an enjoyable one too. Any excise to amble through the countryside on a sunny Saturday morning is good with me! And whilst I wouldn’t call myself an expert by any stretch of the imagination, I’d like to think I know my poison hemlock from my cow parsley now. Perhaps.

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Thank you to both Napiers and The Caravan Club for remembering us, the outdoor lifestyle bloggers! Also, a big thanks to Barracuda Digital for organising the event and looking after us all. Jenny in particular was a real superstar!

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Wild Place Wednesdays: The Farne Islands

April 9, 2014

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Do you remember a couple of weeks ago I shared my pictures of Lindisfarne, the Holy Island of Northumbria? Well, I’m heading back up to the county of big skies this morning to share another story from my adventure: a trip to The Farne Islands.

The Farne Islands are a group of islands off the coast of Northumberland, England. Depending on the tide there are between 15 and 20 islands visible at any time, and many of the smaller islands are heavily protected, meaning only the wildlife has free access to roam. The larger islands of Inner Farne, Staple Island and Longstone can be visited by the general public.

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Holidaying with my family back in 2012, we picked a good day to visit the Farnes. Warm sun and bright blue skies, the perfect conditions for bird spotting and picture snapping. We drove the short distance from Berwick-upon-Tweed to a little town called Seahouses, where we booked a boat trip around the islands.

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There are several companies that offer trips out to the islands, but I would wholeheartedly recommend Billy Shiel and his little fleet of vessels. As far as I understand, Billy Shiel, his father and grandfather before him have been ferrying people to and from the islands since 1918, starting with the keenest ornithologists and now taking anyone looking for an adventure on the water. Have a look at their website for more information.

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Look at this bunch of characters: the three blind mice! Luckily for us, the sea was pretty calm on the day we decided to visit. A good thing really, as my mum isn’t a huge fan of boat trips, but she I think her fears were cast aside in an instant when she started spotting birds and wildlife out on the water.

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We weren’t far off the mainland when we caught our first glimpses of the grey seals. The four of us nearly fell out of the boat trying to get a better look! They really are beautiful creatures, shiny and sleek, lolling on the seaweed-covered rocks and looking at us with their big black eyes.

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It was only when this chap made his way up to our boat that I realised just how big seals are!

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Our boat captain was excellent: very skilful, knowledgable and respectful, something I was happy to note. Our trip encompassed views of almost all the islands, even the ones humans weren’t permitted to land on. He took us close, but never too close, and always dipped the motor of the boat so as not to startle the wildlife.

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As we approached the inner islands I marvelled at the sheer number of birds sitting atop the rocks. Hundreds of gulls, fulmars and kittiwakes all squawking their heads off, cormorants and shags with their wings on resplendent display and even a cheeky turnstone hiding in the rocks.

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Had we taken our boat trip a little earlier in the year, we might have been lucky enough to spot the puffin colony that calls the Farne Islands home during late spring and early summer, but by August they’d already moved further north, towards chillier waters. We were a little disappointed, but it just made me more determined to see them during my next visit.

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It’s really not hard to see where my birdgeeking tendencies come from, is it? Love these nerds.

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As we turned to come back to the mainland, our captain pointed out some of the man-made structures on the larger islands, such as the lighthouse on Longstone island where Grace Darling, daughter of the lighthouse-keeper, made her daring rescue of the crew of the Forfarshire, shipwrecked on the rocks below. She was just twenty-two years old.

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The other structure we spotted was the old Pele Tower on Inner Farne, home to the National Trust’s bird wardens for ten months of the year. I wondered what it was like, living there throughout the seasons, alone but for the birds. Perhaps I’m in the wrong job.

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Our trip out to the Farnes took a couple of hours, and even though Billy Shiel’s boat company offers a huge variety of different trips, I would recommend the option we chose for anyone who wants to see the islands but not necessarily touch down on any of them. Looking at the website, I think the trip we took must have been the Grey Seal Cruise.

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What I wouldn’t give for another trip out to the islands. My parents visit Berwick-upon-Tweed every year, and I’m hoping to tag along again this August for another trip out on one of Billy Shiel’s famous boats. Trust me, if you like birds, boats, seals, water, big skies, fresh air, friendly folks or any combination of the above, a visit to the Farne Islands is just too good to miss.

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