Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Rutting roe deer

Late July and early August is the main rutting period for roe deer and lately there's been lots of activity here at Gibside. A 'courting' pair usually indulge in a prolonged chasing game of follow the leader, the doe leading followed closely by the buck, often nose to tail.  During this chase they will often, on reaching some prominant object such as a tree, bush or stump circle it many times creating a well-worn track known as a 'roe deer-ring'.  Occasionally this may involve more than one object and a figure of eight may be formed.


Ring around a tree stump

Figure of eight and rings around tree-shelters

Thursday, 17 July 2014

My Work Experience at Gibside

My Name is Rosie Plunkett, I am a year 10 pupil at Lord Lawson of Beamish Academy. I came to Gibside for my work experience (a week away from school in a working environment to have a taste of the world of work.) While I was working I decided that I wanted to do a small blog about my time here and add in pictures that I had taken. As a took GCSE Photography at my school it seemed like a great opportunity to document my time here. I hope you enjoy reading about it as much as I enjoyed creating it.

On my first day, I was working with Phil (a ranger) and Andy (a volunteer ranger) I was made to feel very welcome and was told roughly about my schedule for the week, so I was well prepared! One of the first things we did was go on a walk through Gibside that took us along the avenue and down to the river, this was to check up on things, like flower growth and to make sure nothing was out of place. It provided an excellent opportunity to get some photos and as it was such a nice day the lighting was really lovely to capture. After lunch I was taken for a tour around Gibside in the landrover, whilst out we saw a buzzard and a roe deer. All in all it was an amazing first day.

For day two I was working with a ranger called Vicky. We spent the morning going round to all of the first aid kits in Gibside to check that they were up to date and had all the appropriate equipment. This didn't provide much of a photo opportunity but it did give me an experience of working in the more public side of Gibside. Just as we were going to have a small break Vicky got a call from the Stables saying that a swallow had accidently flown into the cafe and couldn't find its way back out. So we went up in the landrover to see if we could give it a hand. It took some time but eventually the swallow was captured and after it was given some time to recover was released back into the woods. It was such a good opportunity to get close to such a pretty bird and I loved seeing it up close. In the afternoon Vicky and I did a butterfly survay to document the amount of them in Gibside. This will help to document the population in Britain and what types turn up were and when, this was also a brilliant opportunity to photograph the butterflies.

On Wedensday (day 3) I was working with Phil again to trim up bracken up near the top of the avenue so the heather wouldn't be swamped and killed. It was tiring work and sore, but it was satisfying to see the progress we had made by lunch time. In the afternoon I worked in the office on my blog for a while, until Vicky took me to help with the catering van that needed to be brought to the Chapel for the evening event of an outdoor Shakespear play that was taking place that night. There wasn't much opportunity to do any photography that day, but it was still a fun day full of learning and activty! That night me and my Dad were lucky enough to be invited to go badger watching with Phil and Andy, We saw 4 badgers and one came as close as 3 meters away! It was such an amazing thing to see real badgers and I got so many amazing photos! 

On day four I worked with Lisa and the garden team in the walled garden and Orangery. At first we were in the green house watering the plants, but then moved on to the Orangery to work on weeding and touching up the plants, and the before and after result was amazing! I got some lovely shots of the Orangery and as it is one of my favorite places in Gibside, I love photographing it!

On my last day I worked with Vicky again, we cleared bracken from the nature playscape and cut dock and hogweed from an area near the walled garden in preperation for the grass cutting that will be taking place in the next week or so.

I have had such a fun time working at Gibside over the last week. I have learnt lots about Gibside and the world of work. I really enjoyed the relaxed and peaceful atmosphere and it was such a nice place to be!

 I took so many photos this week that they couldn't all fit on the blog, so here are some of my favorites from the week...

The swallow we rescued, recovering from its ordeal


Looking up into the branches of a pine tree in the forest

Common Spotted Orchid overlooking the ruined Hall

Hogween next to the Avenue

Photoshoped picture from working in the Orangery

Outside the Orangery

Small Tortoiseshell butterfly from the survey

Common Blue Damselfly

A badger 3 meters away from us on our Badger watch

Another Badger from the watch, finding the nuts we layed out

People enjoying the sun on the Avenue outside the Chapel

A Broad-bodied Chaser Dragonfly

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Not Many Snakes

2nd July 2014

Walking beside The Avenue, we sought out a patch of helleborine in the hope that their flowers would have opened; they hadn’t. These fairly inconspicuous members of the orchid family have spread from the other side of the track. Numbers are not great, but they are on the rise. Other orchids – mainly common spotted – littered our way. Continuing through the Hollow Walk, numerous butterflies – ringlet, meadow brown and the occasional small skipper – distracted us. But we were going somewhere else.
Common Spotted Orchid

Ringlet Butterfly

Meadow Brwon Butterfly
In the three weeks since we last visited this particular patch, the bracken and nettles had grown dense and high – up to two metres in places – requiring us to scythe a path through. What should have been a simple task at times had the makings of a jungle expedition. The nettles really hurt. But we managed.

Dotted around Gibside, largely out of sight of visitors, are a number of sites managed to encourage grass snakes to bask and breed. These sites consist of a number of artificial cover objects (ACOs) – that is, bits of corrugated iron, and nest heaps. Ideally the site should not be too far from water and also be near somewhere suitable for hibernation, such as a log pile. The ACOs offer grass snakes somewhere to warm up and get going for the day; the piles of warm, rotting vegetation that make up the nest heaps are intended to provide a suitable temperature and environment for the snakes to lay and hatch their eggs.

Our purpose in cutting our way through the jungle was to inspect the sites to see if we could spot any snakes, and to peer under the ACOs for signs of activity. Clearly, by the time we had hacked our way through, any creature capable of escape would have done so. And they had. As always, there were exceptions. Ants and spiders, of course, pay little heed to human activity, and toads presumably think it safer to stay put and not attract attention. The presence of toads under a number of corrugated covers was a sure indication that grass snakes hadn’t visited recently; grass snakes like to eat toads.
Common Toad

The other creatures, apparently oblivious to our being there, were vast numbers of Peacock Butterfly caterpillars dripping from their stinging nettle hosts. Black and numerous, they are one of nature’s less attractive sights, and give no hint of the beautiful adults they will become.
Peacock Butterfly Caterpillar

Peacock Butterfly Caterpillars on Nettle Leaves
 We’re not entirely sure that grass snakes appreciate our efforts to make them welcome in the neighbourhood. Up to now we haven’t seen a single grass snake although, a few years back, decaying eggs were uncovered in one of the nest piles. So they are around somewhere, perhaps.

Phil Coyne & Steve Wootten




Sparrowhawk feeding post & a tree-hugging badger

Sparrowhawks are busy feeding their young chicks at present and prey is usually brought by the male to a site close to the nest, often a fallen tree or stump, where it is collected by the female.  I recently sited a camera close to such a site and caught lots of great shots of this behavior.


Badgers are a favourite of mine and I often spend time unwinding after work sitting close to one of their setts watching them.  A couple of handfuls of peanuts & raisins hidden under logs and stones reveals how resourcful and determined they can be when foraging, moving and turning over heavy obstacles to get at food.  Below is a badger climbing a tree to reach food wedged in bark crevices.


Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Gibside's raptors

Gibside is home to four resident species of diurnal raptors (bird of prey).  Red kites are the largest of these, followed by the buzzard, sparrowhawk and kestrel.  These birds usually use the same nesting territory from year to year, with some even using the same nest.  Last year was a poor year for many nesting birds, with early spells of cold, wet weather and failures among raptors were high with some not even attempting to nest.  Two pairs of kites nested here last year but unfortunately both failed to raise any young and when this occurs it often prompts the pair to move to a new location the following year.  As a result we only had one pair nesting this year in a new location, the other having moved to a new area off-site.  Gibside's pair successfully fledged two chicks and these were recently rung and wing-tagged by FORK (Friends Of Red Kites) members for future identification.

Tree surgeon climbing tree to kite's nest

Red kite chick being rung

Red kite's feet with ring on leg

Young kite after ringing and tagging

Adult kite with wing tag

Buzzards have been very successful in spreading throughout the Derwent Valley in recent years and Gibside has three nesting pairs.  This year two nests have produced three chicks with the third as yet unknown.

Young buzzard recently fledged from nest

Sparrowhawks are a particular favourite of mine, and being later nesters most will only be hatching eggs now or will have very recently.  Last year two pairs bred but only one was successful, raising three chicks. 

Sparrowhawk nest with three chicks 2013

Most years two to three pairs of kestrels nest here and occasionally they have used nest-boxes designed for tawny owls.  None have been used this year however, with owls and an odd pair of stock doves in most of them. 

Young kestrels from an owl box

Monday, 19 May 2014

Springing into action ...

Dandelions have had a bumper year this year, and the orangery field was first filled with their yellow suns and is now a riot of their fluffy pompoms of seed.

The grounds around Gibside are full of activity and you're sure to see members of our gardening team in their bright red shirts helping to keep on top of the burgeoning plant life.

There's always going to be grass to be mown and our volunteers are hard at work making sure that it's looking at its best. Outside the walled garden, along the shrubbery slip, is an area of close mown grass and meadow. John Watson helps to keep this area looking fantastic giving definition to the beds and borders and allowing the meadow to thrive with wild flowers.

We've been saving up our grass cuttings for the ranger team to use for making grass snake habitats. Otherwise, the cuttings gets taken to our large compost heaps to help heat them up and add nitrogen.

There's a lot more grass in the walled garden now and keeping on top of it is a full-time job. Time for Peter to break out the John Deere ride-on mower to get those large areas cut down to size and keep the grass the perfect length for visiting picnickers.

Meanwhile, in the vegetable plots, sowing and transplanting carries on apace. Helen, one of our plot holders and volunteers, is busy transplanting sunflowers which will look fantastic along the edge of the plot in late summer.
Bruce is also busy planting parsnips.

We also have some plots for flowers, and Maureen is sowing cornflowers, clary sage and poppies that will produce a lovely cottage garden feel to this bed over the summer.

Judith and Chris have been helping to stake up the perennials in our herbaceous border too. We use branches and sticks gathered by our ranger team, and weave them into supports that will help to keep our border looking fantastic as the plants get taller. Beech is one of the best trees for this, as its branches are whippy and easily bend and hold together ... the supports look striking, but are also natural, and in no time at all they'll be covered by more foliage.

But it's not all work, work, work in the garden: Barbara and Maureen take time out to relax from their productive day with tea and chocolates ... yum!

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Rhubarb, broccoli, beans and a special daffodil ...

rhubarb flourishing in the walled garden
It's rhubarb season again, and ours is flourishing in the walled garden. Look out for it in the seasonal treats on offer in the Potting Shed Cafe: rhubarb scones baked freshly every day, and the lovely Rhubarb and Almond Cake too. Rhubarb is best known for its role in the ultimate comfort food, the crumble, but it can also be used in chutneys and jams.

It's ridiculously easy to grow in your own garden, clumps can be divided and split in the autumn to maintain vigour, or you can leave them to do their own thing for years and years. They will be grateful for a little mulch of compost or well-rotted manure around their crowns in late winter.

purple sprouting broccoli is at its best now
Purple sprouting broccoli is also at its best now, and tastes wonderful in a stir fry, or as a vegetable just steamed for a few minutes and tossed in some butter with a little salt and black pepper.

You can sow purple sprouting broccoli outdoors from the end of April and it will offer up a bountiful harvest in the following spring. Some varieties, such as Kabuki, may even give you an autumn picking. Wood pigeons and caterpillars might prove problematic, and many people will net their crops to protect them. Our plants were left to fend for themselves, and were certainly munched, but seem to have come through with a nice crop all the same.
baby broad bean plants emerging
Broad beans can be sown directly into the ground at this time of year, or if you were sneaky and started them off in a greenhouse earlier, they can be hardened off and planted out. Harvesting the pods when they're young and tender means you get lovely sweet beans that taste delicious pan fried; or you could be a little more adventurous and use them in a broad bean hummus. If you have a glut of broad beans, simply blanche them and pop them in the freezer.
Narcissus poeticus looking to the skies
And whilst you might not be able to eat this daffodil, Narcissus poeticus is one of my favourite things in the garden at the moment. Poetic indeed, its pristine white petals and small red-edged cups make it stand out from the crowd, but what's really special is the sweet scent each flower exudes. It has an RHS AGM (Award of Garden Merit) and if you're thinking of adding one more daffodil to your garden then let it be this.