If you've just watched the last episode of Autumnwatch this evening then you'll have seen mention of Tree O'Clock, an effort to plant a record number of trees in a single hour across the country. The hour in question is 11-12 on 5th December (a Saturday) and apparently over 260,000 are pledged to be planted.

The best bit is that free trees are being given away by what seems to be just about every garden centre in the country (including DIY stores like Homebase) judging by the list.

You may have to wait several lifetimes for your tree to achieve the sort of girth pictured on the right, but you have to start somewhere!


Clearing out the loft of our new house and installing new insulation I noticed a couple of small was nests hidden down in some small gaps that aren't usually visible. The one in the picture is about the size of a tennis ball, so a relatively small example (they can be many feet across in extreme cases). Apparently nests are built, used for one year and then abandoned so I presume that mine are dormant (apart from overwintering queens potentially) but that new ones might appear each year.

The nest is made from pulped wood mixed with wasp saliva – essentially papier mâché – and is very light and quite delicate. If you see a wasp in the on a fence post (or your nice teak outdoor table) scratching away at the surface, that's it collecting wood to build its nest. This page has a fascinating explanation of wasps and their nests, complete with some great photos. I thoroughly recommend giving it a look.


Here is a house sparrow sitting on a lobster pot on the Northumberland coast. You can tell that it is a house sparrow rather than a tree sparrow because of the grey crown (top of the head). A tree sparrow has a rich brown head without the grey crown.

In the UK numbers have declined dramatically over the last few decades, along with the tree sparrow (97% of which have disappeared since the 1960s). However according to Wikipedia the house sparrow is considered an unwanted pest in many parts of the world, having been deliberately or accidentally introduced and they are hunted down and exterminated. Maybe they should send theirs over here?


This picture taken in Budle Bay, Northumberland has got me very confused. Is it a curlew or a whimbrel? The two are very similar apparently, though curlew are more common so that seems most likely, and my interpretation of the picture is that it looks most like a curlew. However the picture isn't quite good enough to be sure about the stripyness of the head – if it had clear dark stripes across the top (front to back) then that would indicate whimbrel. Also the bill is of a length and curviness that could be either, given all the videos and pictures I've looked at which show quite a lot of variability between both species and sexes. 

A major clue would be the size – whimbrel are much smaller – but I'm lacking context in the picture and it was a really long way away so it was hard to judge at the time. And to be fair I hadn't a clue what it was or how to tell them apart at the time so wasn't looking out for the tell-tale indicators. Overall I'm going for curlew, but am ready to stand corrected.


A recent trip to Northumberland provided perfect red squirrel spotting opportunities, especially since there was a very busy peanut feeder on a tree behind the cottage where I stayed. From the North of Northumberland and into Scotland they're the predominant species, but much further South than that there are just a few small pockets where you might expect to see them (for example: in Wales; near Liverpool; on the Isle of Wight; in East Anglia). The Forestry Commission has a good map of the UK distribution (albeit from 10 years ago).

The squirrel in this particular picture is demonstrating how its colourful coat is a positive boon for hiding amidst autumn leaf fall.


The Forestry Commission has given the official go-ahead for planting to begin at the new Heartwood Forest site in Hertfordshire. 650,000 new trees will be planted at the 850 acre site North of St Albans, which already contains some ancient woodland but is mostly arable farmland. The whole site was purchased recently by the Woodland Trust, with a plan to turn into a mix of forest, meadows and an orchard.

I must say I thought that they'd already begun the planting as their publicity from a year ago suggested so, but presumably they'd actually been waiting for this rubber stamp. Having walked around the site I didn't see any evidence of new planting, so it will be interesting to see that kick into action. The picture above shows some of the existing woodland.


It's been a balmy autumn for most, but some places have been seeing frost on the ground in the mornings. The icy leaves above are in a Northumbrian wood.


The black headed gull is the commonest gull found in the UK. In the winter if you see a gull with a white head (rather perversely) with just a blurry black spot behind the eye, this is most likely a black headed gull. These birds only have a black head in their summer plumage and in fact even then it's technically dark brown. They are to be found pretty much everywhere, being successful opportunists. More details and pictures of summer plumage at Wikipedia.

The example above was photographed on a beach in Northumberland just last week, so even though it's still Autumn – and a relatively balmy one at that – they are in their winter colours. This is an adult (at least two years) as there is no brown left in its feathers and its beak and legs are a deep red.


A fairly standard busy UK lake scene: mallards and swans, but the coldness of the morning is evidenced by the little cloud of hot breath escaping from the incoming female mallard.


I've always struggled to tell the difference between Rook, Crow and Raven, though I've had Jackdaws sorted for years (notably smaller – black cap above more silvery head and neck). To remedy this situation I've really been trying to get to grips with the differences and positively identify large black birds.

This picture is fairly classicly an adult rook by virtue of the grey area around the base of the bill, which itself is long and pointy compared to that of a carrion crow. That said, the head shape seems more typically crow-like to me (less of a crown) and in this example there's no evidence of the 'baggy trousers' that usually distinguishes a rook. As a result I'm left still fairly puzzled, but I'm going with my call that this is a rook. Furthermore, there were lots of them around all together and this too is a sign of rookedness.