Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Wildlife Wednesday: Baby field vole


The other day I discovered this tiny baby field vole under a piece of wood in the grassy area of the wood. There are loads of these little cuties in the wood and they can often be seen under the bird feeders eating seed that has dropped. I scooped her up into a tub then and popped her in a glass tank filled with foliage to simulate her natural environment so I could take a few snaps on the camera. She's about half the size of an adult vole, measuring around 4cm in length; tiny!

Voles are herbivores and predominantly eat grasses but they will nibble on vegetables, seeds and nuts. I put some bird seed, grass and off cuts of veg into the tank to persuade the little vole to hold still for the camera. She got munching on the seed right away, creating a cute fluffy ball-like shape while she ate. After what must have been 10 minutes of serious seed munching she started to explore the tank; climbing over the bit of wood, tunneling into the pile of leaves and taking a bite of pretty much everything she walked past.

Here as some of the pictures I managed to snap of her while she was still (ish).



Baby vole in the bucket I scooped her up with


The tank set up to mimic her natural habitat




Look at those tiny paws!


Her perfectly round bottom while eating







The field vole is widespread across mainland UK and is thought be the most common British mammal. They can be easily distinguished from mice by their short tale, rounded nose and less prominent ears and eyes. Notice in the photos how the ears are not easily distinguishable from the rest of her body. Sadly they only live for around a year on average but mother voles make up for this by having up to 6 litters a year, each with 4 or 5 young. That’s around 30 babies a year!

After a few hours she had made a nest of grass under the loose bit of bark, frequently popping out for bits of food or foliage to drag into her nest. She looked so cosy I didn't want to make her go back outside in the wet weather so kept her in the tank for a couple of days while the end of the hurricane and rain passed. Last night I popped her back where I found her. Fingers crossed she grows up safely in the garden!


Saturday, 18 October 2014

Review: Mountain Warehouse softshell jacket



I was super excited to be approached Mountain Warehouse to review an item from their website, especially since I haven’t been able to buy myself little luxuries due to the strict saving plan we were on for the first half of this year and the strict paying-off-loan-plan we have now.

A soft shell jacket has been on my walking gear wish list for quite some time as I wanted a layer that was lightweight to pack into a rucksack yet warm and wind resistant- properties a jumper just doesn’t have. The Turku Showerproof Womens Softshell* Jacket meets these requirements and has the added bonuses of a hood and being showerproof.



The jacket has been on offer for £49.99 for quite some time but the label price is £99.99. Being a Yorkshire lass, I’m naturally very tight (and on a budget) so wouldn’t splash out £100 for a jacket, but the half price tag is very inviting.

On long hikes I always take a full waterproof jacket which I layer over a jumper and under layers to keep warm and dry. On dry, windy days a jumper just doesn’t cut it so the softshell jacket is ideal. I have worn the jacket on several walks over the summer but only last week it proved its full potential during a miserably drizzly and blowy walk up on the Yorkshire Wolds.


The fabric doesn’t get caught on every spike, thistle and twig which makes it ideal for hikes in dense vegetation and even for extreme blackberry picking. I really like the black, grey and purple colour scheme. It looks clean, tidy and I feel stylish too. I always choose functionality over form when it comes to walking gear so I am pleased to look good and feel good in this jacket.


I love having lots of useful pockets for storing items I may need quick access to along a walk. The side pockets are perfect to store my gloves and phone and the sleeve pocket is great for holding a note and a few coins ready for the pub (we always have to have a pub at the end of a walk. That’s the deal I have with Dave).



The Velcro adjusters on the cuffs are easy to alter with my Seal Skin gloves still on and the cuffs close comfortably and securely over the wrist of my gloves keeping me cozy and dry. The hood and jacket hem have adjustable elastics- perfect to pulling the jacket tightly in to keep the wind out.


I am highly impressed with how well the jacket kept me dry while on the drizzly walk. Underneath the hood I wore my Mountain Equipment peak hat and the combination worked well to protect my hair and eyes from the water.

This jacket is a firm favourite and will be taken on every long hike and worn on every short walk and it will also be packed for festivals next year. A sleek looking practical jacket at a price suitable for stingy, penny pinchers like me.


Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Wildlife Wednesday: Feeding the birds


Last weekend I put up the bird feeders in front of the house as I got some new seed and fat balls for a good price on the internet. Even though Dave and I are on a budget we feel that buying bird food for the wild birds is justifiable and more so, rewarding.  I love birds and thoroughly enjoying watching them gorge themselves and observing their behaviour. I find it very therapeutic and could spend hours sitting on the sofa looking out the window.

At this time of year the number of species abundant in the wood drops as many birds, such as the spotted flycatchers, chiffchaffs and willow warblers, migrate south for the winter. Many species remain all year including blue tits, great tits, marsh tits, coal tits, robins, dunnocks, blackbirds and wrens. The feeders are suspended from an oak and the acorns attract the aloof yet very vocal jays at this time of year. In the summer months we hardly see them.

In the summer nonmigratory species move into the wood temporarily to nest, such as gold finches, song thrushes, gold crests and bullfinches. However, as soon as the nesting season is over they move on.

My favourite visitors are the great-spotted woodpeckers which have gained confidence to come to the feeders over the years. Any sudden movements spook them away but if we stay still they cautious peck away at the fat balls and peanuts. I borrowed a zoom lens from work to have a go at capturing some birds on camera as they feed.  I even managed to stay still long enough for the woodpecker to come onto the fat balls!


Two great tits



Robin 



Marsh tit





  
 Marsh tit and great-spotted woodpecker

If you are thinking of getting some feeders for the birds in your garden or yard I recommend a few different types to accommodate different species. Robins, blackbirds wrens and dunnocks mostly feed on the ground and therefore are happy to pick up any seed that has fallen from the feeders above. Robins and blackbirds will use feeders that have a perch to stand on while they feed as they can’t cling to wire mesh as well as tits can. Robins and blackbirds will bully tits away from feeders so it makes sense to have a feeder that the tits an cling to but the bigger birds can’t. I love fat balls because they are easy and fairly mess-free to get in to feeders and they attract a range of species.

The RSPB advise against fat balls that are individually netted as they can get tangled around tiny bird feet. Netless balls work out cheaper when purchased in large tubs of 25 or 50. The RSPB sell tubs of 50 for £11.50 with 100% of profits going back into the conservation work they do. If you need a cheaper option, Feedem have an offer on for 50 balls at just £6.75 at the moment.







PS. Do you feed the birds? If so, which species visit your feeders?

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Visit to the Holy Island of Lindisfarne


I couple of weekends ago I visited the Northumberalnd coast with my good friends and we spent the early afternoon of Sunday on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne. The island is somewhere I have wanted to visit for many years and despite passing it for most years of my life on the way to the family time share in Scotland and also despite the in-laws living so close by, the opportunity had never arisen. 

The island is separated from the mainland twice a day by the tide making it accessible for only a few hours each day. We had witnessed the tide coming in from the mainland the previous evening and the speed at which the road to the island is engulfed by the water is incredible. We even spotted a car that had become stranded on the high land between the island and the mainland. The people would be safe there from the rising tide but they were in for a 4.5 hour wait away from any civilization, until the sea retreated. Despite warning signs and readily available tide times, apparently many cars get stranded each year after attempting to cross the causeway as the tide is coming in.

Holy Island is a place of pilgrimage for Christians and also for many tourists. The island is a delight for anyone who has an interest in heritage and nature. Lindisfarne has a recorded history since the 6th Century with the ruined 7th Century monastery managed by English Heritage and the 16th Century castle managed by The National Trust. Even more exciting, for me, is the fact that Lindisfarne is surrounded by a National Nature Reserve which covers 8,750 acres and is one of only two barrier beach systems in the UK.  The area is home to a large number of bird species including the light-bellied Brent geese which spend the winter on the reserve. I was super excited to have seen the geese the previous evening along shore of the mainland. They must have just arrived after migrating all the way down from the Arctic. Even though they were swimming so close to the shore my lens wasn’t good enough to catch them on camera.


The two tall beacons that can be just made out in the centre and the other to the right of the photo are known as the ‘old law beacons’ and are individually known as Guile Point Heugh Hill. They are said to have been built between 1820 and 1840 and were designed for navigational purposes for vessels entering the harbour. In 1993 one of the beacons was given a light so as to act as a lighthouse.


After walking around the quaint little village we headed to the shore, curiously drawn by the humorous moaning of the grey seals that were laid out on an exposed sandy stretch between the island and the mainland. Again, they were too far away for me to catch on camera.


The shore is made up of a large mussel bed which was truly impressive. The ground is literally covered with live a dead mussels bound to the sand and mud with their sticky ‘beard’ (that stringy bit you remove before cooking them).   My friend Sara who I was with is a marine ecologist and said it was the biggest bed she had seen and that many mussel beds are lost due to dredging and other fishing gear.


The views across the shore were shaed of grays and blues yon closer inspection the beach was covered in beautiful patterns and stunning natural colours such as this vibrant seaweed.



This must be the remains of a wooden post that has been eroded away by the tide. I love the visible rings of the wood and the reminder of how powerful the tide is.

Sara and Tom’s pub Bertie enjoyed sniffing the mussels. The shore was pungent to us so must be an exciting playground of smells for a dog!  Liz is in the background looking at the grey seals moping about on the sandy stretches.




The harbour is lined with upturned boats used as storage sheds for fishermen - such a cool upcycle idea. I can’t get over how rustic yet adorable they look. Maybe I could by an old broken boat and bring a bit of the coast to the wood?




The castle ruin looks like a tower of stone rising up for an old volcano- very impressive. We didn’t go inside as there was a submission cost and we had to dash back to the cars before our parking was up. There’s so much I didn’t get to see and as Dave didn’t get to come along we both plan to visit again very soon.







PS. Have you visited Holy Island?

Friday, 3 October 2014

Save money with part worn tyres



I’m not interested in fancy cars; they just don’t do anything for me. I like old cars with dented paintwork so I don’t get hung up when I knock it. I like practical cars that fit in camping gear, dogs and ferrets. I don’t like spending money on cars as they depreciate in value. I also buy part worn tyres instead of new.

Part worn tyres are typically tyres that have come from other vehicles and have previously been used. There is a lot of hypocrisy around the safely and economical value of part worn tyres but I am a firm supporter of their viability, when sourced from a trustworthy source. Part worn tyres must meet several requirements before they can be sold which, so as long as the retailer does the lawful check, make them perfectly adequate. You can read the regulations here.

New tyres for my Renault Kangoo cost around £45 where as part worn ones cost just £20 each. I looked at the tread of each tyre and did a general check over before accepting them. I measured the treads which were just short of 8mm each. New tyres come with 8mm as standard which indicates that my tyres are almost new.

My part worn tyre replacement 

My worn tyre
Typically, part worn tyres are imported from counties like Germany where drivers are required to fit winter tyres for certain months of the year. Many people can’t be bothered to swap them back over on the summer, so sell them.This means they are hardly used. Companies, like the one we use, import the tyres in large quantities, do the required checks and fit them for each customer.

There are lots of negative articles on the net slating part worn tyres but not all retailers are rogue. We, as a family, have used the same company for years and we always check the tread before agreeing to a purchase. By law, tyres must have at least 1.6mm of tread to be road safe. It can be false economy to buy tyres with a small amount of tread because it may work out cheaper to buy a brand new tyre. So, do a few simple calculations based on the amount of tread your chosen tyre has and the cost of a new tyre with 8mm thread.


Thursday, 25 September 2014

Cheap eBay chic


I’m not a fashionista by any means but my new office look was such a bargain I just had to blog about it. After 8 months of hardcore saving followed by the first 2 months of paying off our loan I have been pretty much on a personal spending ban. I have bought a few things here and there but hardly bought any new clothes in that time. It’s quite demoralising wearing the same things to work on a rotation so I have treated myself to some well-deserved clothes. Where from? eBay of course!

The beautiful deer bib necklace is my star buy. I actually found it on Etsy for £10 but after looking on eBay I found that a seller in China stocks them for just £1.79! Even though I was buzzing at the find I was a little disheartened to discover that not all Etsy sellers are selling ‘handmade, vintage or unique factory-manufactured’ and are in fact selling cheap things from China. So watch out! Always do a bit more research on an item from Etsy.



The skater skirt dress cost just under £8 from a cheap eBay shop after doing a search for ‘skater dress’. It comes in many different colours from which I chose teal to compliment my new ginger hair colour. By the end of the day I noticed a few bobbles on areas that had rubbed against my handbag and cardigan so maybe it won’t look new for very long. This could make the purchase false economy, but I shall see how it goes.



I’m good at making choices that are false economy because cheap prices make me feel a purchase is justifiable. I have bought several pairs of cheap army boots over the last few years spending no more than £25 at a time and, alas, each fell apart after a few months. This time I invested a bit more money and got these Rocket Dog thunder boots for a great price of £40, again from eBay, and I am in LOVE. They are sturdy, very comfortable for my wide feet and perfect for the wetter autumn season.

What do you think of my outfit post debut?


Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Cloud storage vs. external hard drive



When I was younger I used to be quite savvy with high street tech. I worked in mobile phone shops for several years and new all the available mobile phone models and the latest gadgety features they had at the time. But a few years later I met Dave who is an IT geek and a gadget lover. Gradually, all my gadgety and digital needs were taken over by Dave (mainly because it was so much easier to let him do it all) and now I am really out of touch.

One of the biggest changes I have noticed is the price of digital storage. When I was doing my A levels in 2005 it cost me £20 for a 512MB memory stick and now you can pick up a 1TB external hard drive for around £60. 1TB is 2000x bigger than a 512MB memory stick, to put that price change over 9 years in perspective. In 2005 the largest available hard disk drive was only 500gb (half of 1TB)!

But now the rise of virtual storage, referred to as the ‘the cloud’ (not to be confused with the Wi-Fi company by the same name) or cloud storage, digital data backup has been revolutionised.  Now anyone can use the internet to save data with companies that can be accessed anytime. However, as with most things, there is a debate over the old fashioned and the futuristic. Which method of back up is best?



Pros and Cons
I researched the subject to found the following pros and cons for each:

Cloud storage

Pros

  • Some storage is available for free with some providers.
  • Can never lose it
  • Can be accessed on any device
  • Files can be shared easily with friends and family
  • Always up to date with technology 

Cons

  • Relies on an internet connection to upload files and access files. 
  • Uses internet bandwidth which can cost if you haven’t got an unlimited upload plan.
  • It costs above the free storage threshold (5gb for Google)
  • If you decide to revert to hard drive storage you will need to transfer all your files
  • Regular payments are required and infinitely
  • Some providers force the customer to do a manual sync every time a change is made to a file. If you change a file stored on your PC, you have to re-upload the newest version to the cloud yourself.


Hard drive

  • Pros 
  • One time investment
  • Fast file transfer 
  • Safe from hackers
  • You can encrypt files to protect them from hacking
  • Internet isn’t required to access files

Cons

  • Susceptible to fire, loss, theft and damage
  • Will only work with devices that have a port to connect a cable
  • Hard drives need to be connected all the time
  • You need to trust the service provider. 
  • Expensive and sometimes even impossible to retrieve data from damaged hard drives
  • Hard drives may not be around forever. Think floppy discs and even CDRs!
  • Of you change a file on your PC you will need to change it on your external hard drive also


Price
The pros and cons list for each is quite balanced in my opinion. So cost could be a deciding factor. I have researched some pricing to get a better idea of the cost implications of each storage method.

This handy little comparison from Which magazine shows the process for different amounts of storage from several different providers.


http://www.which.co.uk/technology/software/guides/how-to-choose-the-best-cloud-storage-service/the-best-value-cheap-cloud-storage-services/


The first main price difference is that several cloud storage providers offer a certain amount of free storage such as Google drive (5gb). The second difference is that cloud storage is costs each year where as an external hard drive has just a one of cost.

To compare the costs directly I paid £66 for a 1TB portable hard drive from Viking Direct (there are cheaper retailers but I like their service and we use them at work) where as the cheapest provider of 1TB cloud storage is PC World KnowHow at £50 PER YEAR. Yes, pretty similar prices but cloud storage you have to pay every year.


Conclusion

In conclusion to my research I choose an external hard drive for backing up data. I was charge only once and I can access my files anytime I like, even when I don’t have the internet.

However, I do use Google Drive which offers some free storage but this is mainly for shared documents with Dave, such as shopping lists and budget spread sheets, rather than backing up data.

With the way technology goes, the cost of cloud storage will decrease continuously. But for now, for me, an external hard drive is the best data storage option because it is the cheapest and I can access my files any time with no internet required.


What do you think?

I would love to hear your thoughts on the debate and which is your preferred storage method and why.