About Me

Hello and welcome to my nature writing blog. My name is Jill Stanton-Huxton and I am a freelance writer with a passion for the natural world. I am a volunteer and member of the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds), World Wildlife Fund, British Hedgehog Preservation Society, UK Butterfly Conservation, Tiggywinkles Wildlife Hosptial and BBONT (UK Wildlife Trusts). Please feel free to comment on my posts and if you’ve enjoyed your visit please come again! You can also find me on my facebook page: Nature Notes of a Country Girl. Best wishes, Jill

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Finca Son Jorbo, Mallorca – (A birders’ delight)

This summer we returned to the beautiful island of Mallorca for our annual holiday. We stayed at a traditional 17th century farmhouse in a rural location on the central plains. The converted farmhouse, which is run as an excellent bed & breakfast by the British owners, has lovely views over the local countryside and their 300 olive trees which are harvested annually by the two of them.

On the very first morning of our stay we woke up to the haunting sound of Red Kites singing in the surrounding countryside. During the long hot days and warm evenings that followed we continued to hear them but never managed to catch sight of any.

Eventually, we worked out that they were nesting in a small wood located just outside the grounds of the farmhouse. Each evening we took a stroll towards the wood hoping to see them - but the only ‘wildlife’ we encountered were the local rabbits scurrying about amongst the olive trees and dashing for cover when they saw us.

By the last day of the holiday we’d completely given up hope of seeing any – and then of course it happened!  At the time we were lounging around by the swimming pool when I glanced up at the clear blue sky - and there they were – two of them circling over our heads with their forked tails tilting as they steered themselves gracefully through the air.

Sitting on the terrace in the evenings we were often joined by a pair of Spotted Flycatchers perched sharp eyed and alert on the branch of a nearby tree. They are not the most exciting birds to look at with their grey-brown plumage, spotted crown and cream spots on their backs - but what they lack in the looks department they make up for in their aerial hunting displays.  With a burst of their rapid wing beats they would fly off their perch – gracefully twisting and turning in mid air to catch the plentiful supply of insects. This would continue until dusk when they would fly off across the olive fields and disappear into the night sky.

But by far the biggest surprise of the holiday was seeing the exotic and beautiful Hoopoe. I’ve never seen a Hoopoe before, but remember watching an episode of the BBC’s Springwatch this year where they showed one that had landed in the UK by mistake during migration.

At first I couldn’t identify them – all I could see were birds the size of a Mistle Thrush with a pinkish-brown body hopping around the olive trees. However, over the next few days as I caught sight of some under the dabbled shade of the trees I noticed the flamboyant fan-shaped crest on the top of their head’s and ‘bingo’, realised they were Hoopoes.  

These gorgeous looking birds are found in open cultivated and uncultivated areas in eastern and southern Europe. They feed on the ground: probing and picking with their slim, slightly curved bill for insects and grubs. They often nest in trees or walls and have one brood each year in April-July, laying 5-8 eggs.

Oh, and apparently they only raise their fan-shaped crest when they are agitated or excited - so maybe, at the time, they were busy raising their young and sensed someone snooping around in the undergrowth!

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Nature Tales

I’ve just finished reading a lovely book: ‘Nature Tales: Encounters with Britain’s Wildlife’. It’s a collection of essays written by nature writers from the 1700s to the present day. It’s published in partnership with The Wildlife Trust which was formed in the 1960s in response to widespread devastation of our natural habitats. Today there are 47 trusts in the UK which manage 2,300 nature reserves.

The book is neatly categorised into chapters covering wildlife in a variety of locations: hedgerows, on the wing, in the river and sea, in the garden, under trees, in the wild and from the window.

It’s a great book to dip in and out of during the day or relax with on a cold winter evening - and although I enjoyed reading all of them (to whet your appetite) I’ve made some notes below of a few of my favourites:

‘From the Natural History of Selbourne’ by Gilbert White (1720-1793)

Gilbert White was a naturalist and curate who over a number of years studied and observed (amongst other things) a pair of white owls that bred under the eaves of a local church. There’s a fascinating diary entry, dated 8th July 1773 in which he discusses the owls ‘voice’ in relation to ghosts and spectres:

‘The white owl does indeed snore and hiss in a tremendous manner; and these menaces well answer the intention of intimidating; for I have known a whole village up in arms on such an occasion, imagining the churchyard to be full of goblins and spectres.’

'The Living Mountain' by Nan Shepherd (1893-1981)

Nan Shepherd was a novelist, lecturer, gardener and hill walker who travelled widely during her lifetime but remained devoted to the house she grew up in, three miles from Aberdeen.

She describes the flora and fauna of the mountain in great detail and with a wonderfully poetic prose. In particular the opening passage is so beautifully written it entices you to read on:

‘I have written of inanimate things, rock and water, frost and sun; and it might seem as though this were not a living world. But I have wanted to come to the living things through the forces that create them, for the mountain is one and indivisible, and rock, soil, water and air are no more integral to it than what grows from the soil and breathes the air. All aspects of one entity, the living mountain.’

'The Old Trout' by Henry Williamson (1895-1977)

Henry Williamson was a writer and journalist who’s most famous literary work was probably ‘Tarka the Otter’.

This is a delightfully written tale of ‘an old trout’ which he sees under the bridge of a local river and writes about over a period of time. He begins by telling us that ‘the best time to see him is in the morning about ten o clocks, any day during a spell of fine weather between April and September’.

Initially the old trout is shy and hides under vegetation but then gradually they build up ‘a relationship’ when he starts feeding all the fish on the river. He writes about the trout becoming ill from a wound at the top of his head which it eventually recovers from - then one day he waits for him, as usual, at the bridge but sadly he never sees him again.  

'The Gannet' by John Woolner

John Woolner was the winner of the wildlife trusts new writing competition in 2010 for unpublished writers.  This beautifully written and humorous story starts with him being a thirteen year old boy and his mother finding some frilly black knickers in his pocket – now if that doesn’t make you want to read it then nothing will!



Redwings Return


A few days ago a flock of about twenty Redwings came into the garden and within a few hours devoured all the berries on our cotoneaster bushes. This isn’t the first time they’ve visited - according to my ‘nature diary’ my very first sighting of them was on a frosty morning in January 2009.

I remember thinking at the time that they looked like thrushes, but then I noticed they had red markings on their wings so I looked them up in my Bird Guide: it describes them as a small sociable thrush with a bold head pattern and distinctive rusty-red under wings and flanks. Apparently, they are winter visitors from the Taiga forests of the far north. This stretches from western Alaska to eastern Siberia and has a winter temperature of -50. They forage in flocks for berries (often with fieldfares) and visit large gardens for food.

That first year there wasn’t a flock of them, just two or three, and after eating lots of berries they disappeared as quickly as they’d arrived; Returning, very briefly, a few weeks later in February.

The following year, on the 7 January 2010, once again, a few arrived in the garden and began feasting on the berries. I remember enjoying watching them and expecting them to disappear in a few days like they had done the previous year - so, imagine my surprise when the next day I looked out of the dining room window and saw a flock of about fifty in the garden!

Although it was a bitterly cold day, with a heavy layer of snow on the ground (it was one of the coldest winters in the UK for 30 years) the sun was shining and as they settled down to rest on the bushes, their feathers puffed up to keep out the cold, they looked stunningly beautiful with their freckled chest’s and red wings.

Since then they’ve returned to our garden each year - but, sadly, I’ve never seen as many as that first sighting in 2010. I’m not sure if that’s significant in anyway - if it means the population is declining or simply that they are going elsewhere. But in the bleak midwinter days of January, when there seems little to look forward too, and spring seems so far away, I really look forward to their return.