North Somerset Nature


Living On The Edge






A - F,   G - L,   M - S,   T - Z



A - F,   G - L,   M - S,   T - Z



Featured in the Magazine are Subjects of interest to me.

 You are invited to contact me and and forward any information relevant to the subject for inclusion in the magazine.



ducks in the garden

the great duck egg mystery

attracting birds to your garden

the wrecks on langford grounds

           growing mistletoe  UPDATEd

its driving me batty

roman villa, wemberham lane, yatton








I have for many years now had nest boxes positioned at different locations within the garden but as yet none have been used to successfully raise a brood. Currently there are four small hole nest boxes and one open fronted nest box sited in the garden.


Early in 2017 an inspection of the open fronted nest box revealed what I believe was an old Robins nest used in 2016. On closer inspection it was found to contain a dead chick which was removed before the box was made ready for use again.


Previously the closest the boxes have come to being used is when in March 2006 a wren built a nest within one of the small hole boxes using moss and dry beech leaves collected from around the garden. Although it was completed and a pair were often seen entering and leaving the box it was eventually abandoned. I understand it's a trait of wrens for the male to build more than one nest and for the female to choose the nest which is to her liking.


In April 2017 Blue Tits were seen collecting moss and building a nest in one of the small hole nest boxes but again it was abandoned before any eggs were laid and a brood raised.




During the snow of March 2018 Blue Tits were also seen entering and leaving the same small hole nest box pictured above but again the box was eventually abandoned.


So, in late 2017 I made three more small hole nest boxes to add to and replace some of my previous boxes and am hoping for their use in successfully raisings a brood in 2018. I gave one box to my daughter and one to my son to locate in their gardens and located the remaining box on my garage wall opposite the kitchen window where I could easily keep an eye on the possible comings and goings.




In April 2019 Blue Tits were seen entering and leaving the box on my garage wall and at the time of writing they are still in residence and appear to be feeding young in the box.


June 2019 and the nest box activity ceased and eventually on opening the box I dead chick was found in the nest, I assume the other chicks successfully fledged.


On contacting my daughter with my news she replied that her box sited on the side of her summer house had also been used by Blue Tits and that their young had already left the nest. My son reported that his box which he had sited on the side of his garden shed had been inspected by birds but as yet had not been used.


Whilst on the subject of Blue Tits and nest boxes how about this unusual Blue Tit nest site. Given that the Blind Yeo Sluice has been closed for most of 2019 while a £1.5 million refurbishment has taken place with contractors and their equipment constantly within a metre or so of the nest site it is surprising that a brood and fledglings were raised.







January 2020 and a Blue Tit was spotted inspecting the small hole nest box in which a brood was successfully raised during 2019.

March 02 2020 Blue Tit again seen entering the same small hole nest box.

April 03 2020 Blue Tit again seen inspecting the same nest box.

April 30 2020 no residents this year as yet.

 Fingers crossed the nest box will be used again this year.


Any tips for the best sighting of nest boxes to encourage their use?

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Living next to the Land Yeo it's not unusual to find Mallards in your garden but to have them build a nests in it is not so common. In May 2007 a pair of Mallards started to frequent the garden and garden pond. The duck took an interest in the patch of day lilies between the pond and the garden wall which is only 3 - 4 metres from my living room patio doors. She started to lay an eventual 7 eggs in the day lilies. Unfortunately, just before they were due to hatch I came down to breakfast one morning and looked out of the patio doors to see that the day lily leaves were differently arranged. After breakfast and with no sign of the duck I investigated and found that all but one of the eggs in the nest were broken. The remaining egg was scavenged by an unknown predator.








After few days what appeared to be the same pair were back in the garden, the duck this time taking an interest in the clematis growing over some screen walling. Within a week she had laid another 7 eggs in a nest on top of the clematis. In due course 2 of the eggs hatched and the ducklings made a 4 metre dive into the Land Yeo below the clematis on the screen walling to join their mother. The remaining 5 eggs were scavenged by the local Carrion Crows and Magpies.





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Can anyone explain why Mallard eggs are found buried in the garden? They obviously originate from Mallards, but do the Mallards bury them?


11/04/2011 Another egg has appeared today in a garden planter less than a metre from the front door of the house.


It appears that a Fox may be responsible as it also was for the evidence of the demise of a Mallard duck which was left in the garden 14/04/2011.


Five more eggs were found 25/09/2017 but on this occasion they were obvious as they were not buried.


May 2018 and Blackbirds were getting the blame for pulling my newly planted tomato plants from their grow bags located just a couple of metres from my back door. On replanting them I discovered a Mallard egg buried in a grow bag at one of the plant locations and concluded that a Fox must be visiting the garden again. 


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Attracting Birds To Your Garden.
It's hard to find a gardener with a bad word to say about wild visitors such as ladybirds, hedgehogs and bees, but birds? They can be a mixed blessing. Every vegetable grower has a moan about Woodpigeons tearing brassicas to shreds and every pond owner mourns fish lost for ever to the sharp beak of a Grey Heron. But, birds can play a vital role in the garden's ecosystem, as pest controllers of everything from snails to aphids, and as consumers of wind­fall fruits, they also bring joy to even the dullest plot. I defy anyone to watch a gang of Blue Tits raiding a peanut feeder or hear a Blackbird singing without their spirits lifting.

Making your garden a haven for birds isn't just about hanging up a bag of peanuts when the weather turns nasty. Success in attracting birds to a garden is based on meeting their needs, which can be summed up as follows:
Protection From Predators
Shelter From Inclement Weather
Roosting Places
Nesting Places

The wisdom once was that birds should be fed only in winter, but now the experts advise putting out food all year round. It won't reduce the amount of insects they dispatch, but it will encourage more wildlife to your garden. The range of seed mixes, fat balls and peanuts can be bewildering, so keep it simple and buy a mix that includes sunflower seeds, canary seed, hemp and husk-free oats. If you'd rather not attract the Woodpigeons, avoid food with lots of wheat, which they love. A good tube-style feeder will cost you a few pounds from the
RSPB. Remember to clean bird tables and feeders regularly, or you may end up doing more harm than good as a build-up of bacteria from old food can kill birds.

You may have remembered to put out food, but access to a supply of clean, unfrozen water is just as important, both for drinking and bathing. The
RSPB advises using a sloping bath with water 2.5cm-10cm deep, which will allow different species to bathe in comfort. It helps to add a flat stone or two to give birds an easy way in and out. Try to position the bath where it's prominent and it won't be a chore to clean, and refill regularly. Stone bird baths are the traditional if expensive choice, but birds won't object to a dustbin lid sunk into the soil and filled with water.

Protection From Predators
Protect your birds from prowling cats by planting something prickly and ground-hugging around the bird table or feeder, Berberis darwinii for instance, birds will eat its fruits in autumn, too. Alternatively, weave feeding "cages" out of willow stems to surround bird feeders and create a safe haven.

Shelter from Inclement Weather
It's no use filling your lawn or patio with feeders and baths if there is no place for birds to check out the lie of the land (or wait their turn in the food queue) in safety. Swaths of sterile decking, manicured, empty lawns and bare fences are unattractive to the likes of Blue Tits, Thrushes and Wrens. Cover in the form of shrubs, trees and climbers is vital. Think mixed hedges of hawthorn, holly, dog rose, goat willow and honey­suckle, ivy-covered arches and pergolas, and house and fence walls draped in shrubs that offer shelter and a fruity treat for the birds. Try Pyracantha 'Soleil d'Or', Cotoneaster frigidus 'Cornubia' and rambling roses that will produce lots of rosehips, such as the white, single-flowered Rosa 'Pleine de Grâce'. Plant lawns with specimen trees such as the bird cherry (Prunus padus) or, for small gardens, a crab apple such as Malus 'John Downie'. Leycesteria formosa (pheasant berry) and the ornamental quince, Chaenomeles speciosa 'Moerloosei', or teasel (Dipsacus fullonum) – a bold, architectural plant that will increase the bird count in your garden, attracting crowds of goldfinches who feed on its spiky seed heads in autumn and winter.

Roosting and Nesting Places
So you've organised food, water and cover, but what about places to roost and nest? Dozens of species will make use of nest boxes. It's worth putting up new boxes as soon as you can because birds use the winter to identify spots to breed come spring. Now is also a good time to take down existing boxes, remove any old nests and rinse the boxes with boiling water. New ones come in every conceivable material and style and if your into D-I-Y it's not hard to make your own, see the National Nest Box Week site for instructions.

Give birds a helping hand with nest-making by putting out extra nesting material for them to grab. Wool scraps, pet hair, feathers and grasses loosely tied to a framework of twigs or even stuffed in the crooks of trees will be ideal.

When is the best time to put up nest boxes?
Traditionally people have put up nest boxes in the early Spring so they are ready for the breeding season. However, there really is no ‘best’ time to put up nest boxes. By putting up nest boxes in the Autumn you can provide much needed winter refuges for roosting birds and increase the chance of them staying and nesting. However, any box erected before the end of February stands a good chance of being occupied. Even after February there is still a chance of occupancy. Tits have been known to move in during April and House Martins as late as July. Whatever the time of year the box is erected, it is likely to be used for roosting so shouldn’t stay unoccupied for long. Therefore, put your nest box up as soon as it is available rather than leaving it in the shed!

Where should I put my nest box?
When it comes to nest boxes, the ‘where’ is much more important than the ‘when’. Nest boxes must provide a safe comfortable environment, free from predators and the worst of the weather. This may be difficult to achieve; a safe location out of reach of predators may also be exposed to the weather, so have a good think before you start hammering the nails in.

Nest boxes can be fixed to walls, trees or buildings. Fixing to artificial surfaces means the growth of the tree does not have to be considered (Schwegler nest boxes last at least 20-25 years; a significant amount of time in the life of a small tree). If you’re planning any building work, remember that some Schwegler bird and bat boxes can also be built directly into walls and roofs. Nest boxes placed on poles can be exposed to the weather. Locating boxes out of reach of predators is virtually impossible (Weasels can climb almost anything), but you can make it harder for the predator. Boxes in gardens must be located where cats cannot get to them, making walls a better option than trees. Prickly or thorny bushes can also help to deter unwanted visitors. Some nest boxes also have anti-predator designs (e.g. Schwegler's Tree Creeper nest box). Avoid nest boxes that have a combined bird feeder, and even avoid placing your nest box too close to a feeder. Visitors to the feeder will disturb the nesting birds and the feeder will attract unwanted attention from predators.

For many species the height of the box is not crucial. However, by placing it at least several metres off the ground you can help prevent predators and human interference. The direction of the entrance hole is not important; it is far better to ensure a clear flight path to the box. Crucially, the box should be sheltered from the prevailing wind, rain and strong sunlight, so in most UK gardens aim for an aspect of northerly, easterly or south-easterly. If possible, position the box with a slight downward angle to provide further protection from the rain. Wherever you position the box, try to ensure that you can still get access to it for maintenance. And finally, if possible, try to put it somewhere where you can see it so as to maximise your enjoyment of watching wild birds in your garden.

Is there anything else I can do to deter predators?
As already mentioned, location is the most important factor when trying to deter predators. Whilst some mammals can climb walls, a blank wall is as safe a place as any. Ensure that the box cannot be reached by a single jump from a nearby branch or the ground. Box design can also help deter predators. An entrance hole reinforced with a metal plate will prevent Grey Squirrels and some avian predators from enlarging the hole and gaining access to the nest. Schwegler's wood-concrete boxes are too hard for any predator to break through. However, you can also reinforce a nest box yourself with metal and plastic sheeting, or even prickly twigs. Not only can these prevent predators from getting to or finding purchase on the nest box, but they can also help insulate the box from the weather. Deep boxes may prevent predators reaching in and grabbing nest occupants, although some tits have been known to fill up deep boxes with copious quantities of nesting material. An overhanging roof will also help prevent predators reaching in. If using open-fronted nest boxes, a balloon of chicken wire over the entrance can prevent some predators gaining access, although Weasels will still be able to slip through. If you live in an urban area, cats are likely to be the most common predator. Gardeners have long since used various methods to exclude these unwanted visitors, such as pellets, electronic devices and even lion dung (available from your nearest obliging zoo), all with varying degrees of success, so you may want to do some experimenting.

How do I manage the nest box?
A well-designed nest box will only need one annual clean in the Autumn. Do not clean out nest boxes before 1st August as it is against the law and boxes may still be occupied. Wait until Autumn and then remove the contents of the box, checking first that the box is definitely unoccupied. Scatter the contents of the box on the ground some way from the box to help prevent parasites re-infesting the nest box. Use a small brush or scraper to remove debris from the corners. Do not wait until the winter to clean out nest boxes as birds may already be roosting in them.

How many nest boxes do I need?
The exact amount of boxes required will depend on the species and the surrounding habitat. As a very general rule of thumb, start with ten assorted small boxes per hectare (ensure uniform spacing between boxes). Keep adding several more boxes each season until some remain unused and hopefully you’ll hit on the correct density of boxes. However, even if you only have space for one box, remember that one box is better than no box (providing it’s suitably located). Many UK bird populations have plummeted to worryingly low levels and they need all the additional nesting habitat they can get.



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Would like to know their exact history. Can anybody help?


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My research so far reveals the names of 2 steamships, the S.S. Staghound and S.S. Fernwood. Both appear to of been used as target ships at their location on The Langford Grounds after the dispersal trials of concrete-filled enemy blockships in May - October 1944.






Built in 1894,468 tons and acquired by Monroe Brothers Ltd in 1931. Requisitioned by The Admiralty and used as a distilling ship. Attacked on at least two occasions by German aircraft during World War 2 whilst serving as a block ship for Torquay harbour. Sunk at Torquay on March 27 1942 and  subsequently salvaged. After the threat of invasion passed she was taken to Cardiff and filled with concrete to serve as a test bed for " beehive" explosive charges in order to explore the means of clearing block ships from ports in liberated Europe. Acknowledgements: N Cowling.




Collier built in 1923, 1,892 tons then owned by Messrs. Wm. France Fenwick & Co. Ltd. Bombed by German aircraft and sunk at Dartmouth September 18 1942 whilst being use as a coal storage hulk. Subsequently salvaged and used as part of the same explosives trial as S.S. Staghound. There is a 'top secret' file at the national archive relating to the trials. Acknowledgements: N Cowling.





One morning in September 1942, we were tied alongside a minesweeping trawler in the middle of the river, waiting to take maintenance staff ashore for lunch. The engine was still running and I was pumping out the bilges, unaware of an air raid warning and that enemy planes were overhead until I noticed machine gun bullets spraying on the water. Looking up to Pat and some of the maintenance gang who were already on the boat, I saw it was empty — they had gone on board the trawler and were shouting at me to join them, while pointing at the sky. There I saw German planes, (Focke-Wulfes) dropping bombs on the college before turning to come down river. I scrambled on board the trawler and felt its stern heave up, taking the Alethia with her. When the dust settled, I saw the Floating Crane and the collier S.S. Fernwood were damaged and sinking. Men were clinging on and some were in the water. At once we took Alethia to the scene in order to pick up survivors. We had so many on board that the water came up to the gunnels and we would have filled with water but for the sweeper, that was being coaled from the collier. She put a scramble net over the side, so that those able to climb went on board. Meanwhile other craft came up to take some of the injured ashore. By that time Alethia's engine had stopped and could not be started. Pat went ashore with the first boat but I stayed behind trying to restart the engine, without any success. I was advised to leave it as it was thought the S.S. Fernwood's boilers might explode, luckily that did not happen. I then went ashore in either a MTB or MGB, I am not sure which, and helped to administer first aid to some of the survivors some of whom had nasty head cuts, full of coal dust. I did not realise that a civilian gentleman, who was helping was the Captain of the S.S. Fernwood. He ordered me to stay at Kingswear till he returned from seeing some survivors to hospital. But it was lunchtime and the MTB was going to Dartmouth so I decided I had better report to the Maintenance Officer in charge, of what had happened to the Alethia. I got a blasting for leaving her but he had no idea that we had been involved in the rescue. After a bath, because I too was smothered in coal dust (the Captain of S.S. Fleetwood did not recognise me the next day when he came to Sand Quay - he thought I was a brunette), and lunch, I reported back to the base, just in time to see Alethia being towed in - she too was covered in coal dust. Pat, apparently in shock, had to go to the sick bay. In March 1943, the Managing Directors of S.S. Fernwood, Messrs Wm France Fenwick & Co., Ltd., showed their appreciation by presenting Pat Chadwick and myself with suitably engraved silver compacts at a luncheon party at the Savoy Hotel, London, where the guest of honour was Chief Wren, Dame Laughton Matthews. Many years later, I learnt that one of the Focke Wulfe was shot down by a MGB or ML whilst returning to Dartmouth.



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Here is an interesting  Link To The Mistletoe Pages Where you will find a comprehensive guide to growing mistletoe. 



J RADFORD IMAGES                                                                                                                J RADFORD IMAGES

I have in my garden an Apple tree and have for many years (without success) been trying to grow mistletoe. The best I have been able to achieve so far is germination as shown in the images below.



The image above shows the non parasitic germination progress and growth of the hypocotyl as it was on 11 May 2008.




This image appears to show that the holdfast has attached itself to the host and the seedling is beginning to penetrate it and that parasitic growth has commenced.

The light yellow/green growth at the unattached end of the hypocotyl appeared in March 2011.

This is the only surviving germinated berry that was applied to the same Apple tree at the same time as the berry in IMAGE 1.

This gives an indication of the rate of seedling growth.

Another attempt was started on 19/02/2011 when I seeded the Apple tree with Mistletoe berries again.

As of 23/03/2011 most of the berries have survived but as yet none have germinated to the point of producing a hypocotyl.

10/04/2011 seeds from the berries are starting to produce hypocotyls.




This image captured in July 2011 shows in the centre the seedlings parasitic growth progress since March 2011 (see IMAGE 2).

To the left and right of the image are examples of the non parasitic germination and hypocotyl growth of the seeds which were applied to the Apple tree in February 2011.




This image captured in October 2011 shows in the centre the seedlings parasitic growth  progress since July 2011 (see IMAGE 3).

The seedlings which were to the left and right resulting from the berries which were applied to the Apple tree in February 2011 have now died. Some seedlings resulting from the berries applied to other parts of the tree in February 2011 still survive. 


Bad news, the seedling pictured in Image 4 has totally disappeared.

This happened sometime after the tree was pruned in February 2013 and March 2013. It was possibly removed by one of the many birds that frequent the tree looking for grubs and insects to eat.


Good news, several berries applied to the tree in February 2012 have germinated and still survive.

One seedling in particular is showing promising signs of growth (see IMAGE 5).





  This image captured in September 2013 shows the promising growth of  a seedling  from a berry applied to the tree in February 2012.

I was  totally unaware of the growth of a second seedling from a berry applied at the same time growing to its right until I examined this image.


   As can be seen there is a huge difference in the rates of growth of the two seedlings.  



March 2017 and there is Mistletoe growing in at least 10 locations on the tree.

The seedling in Image 4 has reappeared and made significant growth and so to has the seedling in Image 5 which is now producing male flowers as shown in Image 6 below.

I only hope that there are some female seedlings which will eventually produce some berries.





August 2019 and I think I have been successful in producing a Mistletoe berry. Image 7 shows the only berry that I can find on any seedling at any of the locations on the Apple tree.

The Mistletoe seedling producing the berry was as a result of a berry applied to the tree in 2012.




It has only taken 11 years !!!


I have marked the location and shall be watching the tree intently next year for more berries.


June 2020 and there are more berries at the same location and berries at two other locations on the tree and I have now learnt to recognise female and male plants and flowers.



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For many years it has been puzzling me as to where the several species of Bat that frequent my garden roost and hibernate.

Any ideas? Click Here to Contact Me


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Found in 1884 during the process of laying land drains the site has been subject to several excavations. Although the Romans had occupied Britain since AD43 it is thought that the villa was in use by the Romans around AD290 - AD300. At that time Britain was in a state of unrest and it would of been unusual for a development of this scale to of been built under those circumstances. Some historians believe that the occupiers were Romans displaced from France. The villa at Wemberham was of extensive construction and one of the wealthiest in the area, which being sited in a fertile area had agriculturally based properties at frequent intervals within the area.


The villa covered an area 20 metres x 45 metres, had two storeys and incorporated under-floor heating. During the excavations twelve rooms were uncovered which formed only part of the villa. Four of these rooms were floored with foliated patterned mosaics in red white and blue and two with plain mosaics. From the excavations the villa gave indications of comfort and elegance, baths were found sited in a room with a mosaic floor.


It is thought that corn was grown nearby and that the nearby Congresbury Yeo river was navigable beyond the villa possibly as far as Congresbury. This would of provided easy transport for heavy and bulky goods from the villa's own landing point evident from what is thought to be the boat house and boat channel which extends from the villa to the river. In the same field in 1828 was found a freestone coffin, shaped out of a solid stone block with a stone lid which contained parts of a lead coffin and most of a human skeleton. In the villa were found 21 coins covering the period from 250 - 305AD and later in 1884 2 miles from the villa were found a total in excess of 800 coins. These 800 coins all of which dated from the 3rd century contained examples of Gallienus, Postumnus, Tetrica (father and son), Claudius Gothicas, Victorinus the Elder and Salonia.


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Walking along the sea defences at Kingston Seymour, North Somerset and approaching the estuary of the Congresbury Yeo river during an evening walk with my partner I spotted a bottle lying high and dry on the sea wall. Something drew my attention to it and so I pick it up and gave it a closer examination. On looking through the clear plastic of the bottle which had been abraded by its passage over rocks and pebbles during its journey to its current location I could see that there was what appeared to be a message inside it. I carefully unscrewed the bottle top and indeed inside the bottle was a self sealing polythene bag containing a message. I carefully removed the bag and extracted the message.


The message explained the reason for the bottles existence and that it had been cast into the sea from Clevedon Pier, Clevedon, North Somerset a distance of approximately 5km from where it was found. In accordance with the message I have notified the person who originally launched the bottle of its finding and have re-launched it complete with original message for further adventures. At the same time I launched my own bottle with its own message and am now waiting hoping that one day I shall hear that it also has been found.


Want to launch your own 'Message In A Bottle'


Just e-mail your message to me I will print it, seal it in a glass bottle and launch it into the sea at Clevedon, North Somerset, England.



I will notify you by e-mail of your bottles launch and adventures or you can track its adventures here.



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Ever since moving to my current house I have always appreciated the violets which grow in the garden and are often the first to herald spring with their abundant large flowers and sweet scent. I was initially surprised to discover that the variety was called 'Clevedon Violets' and that in the late 1800's there was quite a trade in the then popular and fashionable flower. Here is an interesting link to Clevedon Violets where you can find more on the plant and its history.



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Living next to the Land Yeo I respect my riparian rights and spend time keeping my riverside hedge and bank from becoming overgrown and untidy. In the process of doing so I also try to maintain a home for nature. My neighbours must think I'm crazy when I'm stood knee deep in the river with either shears or rake in hand but it does have its rewards.


Often when working in the river I am observed by Mute Swans and Mallards who in springtime bring their cygnets and ducklings and stop to and watch although I think it is more likely that they are looking for a free meal. It is a little unnerving having heard tales of how aggressive Mute Swans can be but so far they have accepted my presence in the river and caused me no harm.


Earlier this year whilst clearing some vegetation from the bank I accidentally cut the tail from an unseen Slow Worm. I knew that they inhabited the garden compost heap but I was not expecting to find one some 20 metres or more from the heap. With its tail severed it slithered off into the undergrowth leaving its tail wriggling on the bank behind and me feeling devastated for causing it harm. Several months later whilst checking the the compost heap for the presence of Slow Worms I was pleasantly surprised and relieved to find the same tailless Slow Worm basking in the summer sunshine.


It is not uncommon to be startled by the loud splashing of a Pike breaching the water whilst hunting Roach and Rudd or the sight of an electric blue flash which only indicates the flight of a Kingfisher passing up or down river. They have been known to stop and fish in the river and on occasions fish in the garden pond.


In the process of my river bank maintenance 15/10/2020 I managed to get stung several times by a Wasp whilst being observed by this years Mute Swan family of 2 adults and 4 large cygnets. Later I was surprised by a Mallard with her 9 newly hatched ducklings.


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