Friday, September 27, 2013

Nuthatches and Brick Porthole Habitats

image: Paweł Kuźniar
Nuthatch or Nöltväcka (Euraisan Nuthatch) is a tiny little tree creeper of a bird we have here in Sweden. I mostly notice them in the early Spring when they like so many other birds are into the Springtime nesting mode. That's when I notice them and other tree creepers doing their thing and darting in and out of some of the most tiniest of holes that you'd ever expect any kind of bird to move in and out of. They're an odd shaped bird and yet cute at the same time. When you walk in the woods here, it's a pleasant surprise to find one working and moving inside and outside of it's tiny hole. I say pleasant because they are so entertaining to watch for a few minutes. Amazingly, their odd little frame just seems to defy gravity which never seems to be an issue when they move all around a tree's trunk and undersides of branches. But it's that diving into a tree and disappearing into a tiny porthole of a nesting cavity that draws your attention at first.
Photo: Mine
I've taken numerous pictures of their nesting holes, but without catching one actually at the porthole. They are just that quick. But I can show one such porthole I took in the Oak woodlands we walked through when I wrote about Gunnebo House & Gardens where we spent the pleasant afternoon with friends. It's still incredible that anything other than a hummingbird would fit in such a tiny little porthole of an entrance. But they do. Interestingly, if they find a hole and like it for a nest, but find the entrance too big, they will building up a mud platform from the bottom up until the proper diameter meets their specifications for safety & security. But they don't always choose tree holes for nesting. They will also seek out tiny crevices within rock walls here or cliffs and even small holes in buildings or bridge foundation structures. At Gunnebo they had a large pond which was rock wall bordered all around. As I was sitting there on a bench mesmerized by the movement of the water, suddenly this little tiny figure flitted into a tiny crevice. I suspected it was a Nuthatch and after waiting for a bit, sure enough a Nötväcka popped out. I have a couple of example videos to show here with the first being a video of a Nuthatch Nesting cavity with parents caring for their babies and also notice the mud platform build up at the bottom of the entrance.
Nuthatch Nesting Video
This next video is also very illustrative of the same behavior of the Eurasian Nuthatch's nervous foraging habit of investigating by flitting in and out of cracks a crevices of stone walls or rock piles. But this little bird is different, yet similar in some habits. It's called Gärdsmyg or common Wren. This particular video caught my attention because the Önskevädersgatan Trolley Stop where I wait to ride to city center, I wait at the rail along side a rock line drainage ditch and invariably there are these little Wrens popping in and out of the rocks near the water's edge. The Nuthatch will often to the very same thing.
What actually got me interested in writing a piece about this little bird was something I saw a Magazine article about creating a nesting cavity in a brick wall. As natural habitat components for cavity nesting birds become fast disappearing with more and more human development, many of these birds fall into decline. The designer is Aaron Dunkerton, a student at Kingston University in England, who claimed to have found solution and solve the problem with the Bird Brick, a fire-clamped cavity brick that could be built into walls and buildings to provide a sustainable nesting site for the birds. It was a perfect fit for these little cavity nesting birds and could be easily duplicated by anyone who is intuitive enough imagination to replicate such designs. But here is a quick view of what I'm talking about as far as nesting holes incorporated into a brick wall. The Bird Brick is a fire-clamped cavity brick that can be built into walls and buildings to provide a sustainable nesting site for sparrows.

Image: Aaron Dunkerton

The Bird Brick is made from five different bricks that assemble to create an opening for the birds. To clean the cavities, you simply twist the stopper and pull it out. Designer Aaron Dunkerton suggests doing this every two to five years, though sparrows typically take care of it themselves. I remember this was one of my concerns when I first was intrigued with this idea. How in the world could it be maintained and kept hygienic ? I was also curious as to how it could attract other birds like the one on my topic which are much tinier. While there are Sparrows here in Sweden, mostly they are in the cities and not overly numerous in numbers like they are in warmer climates. The other birds like Wrens and Nuthatches are everywhere around my house since we are at the edge of the woods. I really don't know if I've ever seen a sparrow in our yard period. Below is the illustration of the clean out. 

Image: Aaron Dunkerton

Dunkerton’s design consists of five hand-made bricks that assemble to create a small, round opening that’s plugged with a brick stopper. At the bottom of this post I've posted his website link for further details. The hole is 1.25 inches diagonally, which makes it large enough for a sparrow (or other smaller bird varieties) to nest comfortably, but small enough to keep out unwanted visitors. The idea is that builders would install a cluster of three or four Bird Bricks during the construction of new buildings. Ideally, the bricks would sit anywhere from 6 to 15 feet from the ground. Dunkerton says this about sparrow communal habits:  
“House sparrows are extremely sociable birds and like to nest in small little colonies.” 
But have you ever noticed that many of the cavity nesting Birds build nests in the oddest of places. I saw this very thing this past Spring when visiting a friend in Anza California. A family of Mountain Blue Birds had set up house in an old telephone utility box on a light pole that my friend Patrick never got around to using. Amazing, I should have photographed it, but we stood there a gazed at the for along while coming and going, both parents. This artificial nesting site set up was also mentioned by Dunkerton.
“You often find them nesting under loose tiles or in old broken vents in the side of buildings” 
But as buildings are patched up to improve insulation and green space disappears due to urbanization, sparrows are losing a sizable chunk of their nesting options. Apparently, over the last three decades, in the U.K. the house sparrow population has decreased around 70 percent as he shows on his website below, and the bird has found itself on the growing list of endangered species. Seriously, who ever thought Sparrows would become endangered ? 

Anyway, the idea he came up with intrigued me and triggered all manner of other ideas for creating artificial nest habitats. Not just for Sparrows, but all sorts of other birds. This set up would be perfect for garden walls and not just buildings. And of course the size of the hole could be made smaller to accommodate the tinier native Song Bird's like Sweden's Nuthatches. This larger size of course would be shortened up by the Nuthatches with mud, but still, Sparrows and Martins could get there first if the hole was just their right size. Nuthatches collect various nuts and wedge them into tree bark or in holes in walls and will even cover secret larders with bark or moss. Who knows, maybe some of these brick bird holes could become winter storage catches for them. They are just such funny looking birds besides their cuteness. 
Other people have come up with some more elaborate brick bird habitat Uptopias, but the one above by Aaron Dunkerton seemed the easiest to replicate and incorporate without being overly flashy by drawing attention to the area. Below is one beautiful but more complicated one and a link to this company. If a parson has the money and the creative time and patience, there is no limit as to what they can accomplish. Then below this image example, there are some other interesting reading references webpage links if further interested in more creative ideas.

designer Chooi-leng Tan.
Nature-Loving Bricks Bring Wildlife Straight to Your Walls

Nuthatches are endangered in many areas. Especially in the United States where people are obsessed with cutting down any snag for firewood. They are cavity nesting birds and only really need about an inch hole for entrance. Here below is another video of 10,000 Nuthatch Nest Boxes being built for the north Carolina Brown Nuthatch recovery programs there.

Pay close attention to this next video and notice as in the preceding video above, how a metal plate is covering the entrance so that larger birds do not invade and make the hole bigger to make it their own home.
Some Interesting Reading References: to Help the Birds Biotopes
Brick Biotopes: Micaela Nardella & Oana Tudose

Monday, September 23, 2013

Degefors Cykeldressin (Day Excursions & Rail Cycling)

photo: Mine
For the past year or so, my wife and I have been coming up to the small town of Björneborg which is over an hour's drive north of Gothenburg, to care for her father who is now almost 90 years old and with cancer. He is now doing much better as he has moved out of his home and living in a care facility. But along the way to his town and back, we always past by this sign which said Högberg. I always joked let's stop, because we have friends with the same last name. This place of course is not really a proper town or city, but merely a tiny country rural community with store, some residents, etc. But back in July, we finally made the turn and drove down the narrow gravel road which went through tall trees and finally opened up into meadows and pasture lands. I made my wife get out and take the photo with her Mobile Phone. We didn't expect taking pick & Camera was at home.
image: Mine
One of the other (selfish) reasons I always wanted to stop here is that there is an abandoned narrow gauge railing line which runs through here whose tracks we always crossed to the north of here and saw along the highway further south. I'm an old railway nutcase. I love anything trains after plants. So this gave me an opportunity to see if there was any older train station along the tracks running through this village. There wasn't any, but there was a typical Swedish Rail Crossing warning sign which we did see ahead like the one pictured to the left. These signs are everywhere and collectible to German Tourists who like to steel them on their way driving back home. Actually the German favourite sign to take is the Moose Crossing warning signs. But I have previously been to other locations where abandoned former railway sections have been turned back into running Stream Engines again. It was fun.
This one intrigued us however because we could see as we crossed the railroad crossing that the rails were somewhat shiny as if the were used on a regular basis. On the way back towards the rail crossing again, we saw a family of three riding and almost bicycle pedaling this three rail wheel contraption with ease on down the rail line. Wow, that looks kool. I wanna do that. But where do you pick up these cars for cycling ? There was nothing around here and it looked as if you had to drive back up north towards Björneborg or further north to find out. So we drove up to a farm and turned around and went inside and old General Store turned into Crafts and Nick-knack shop to ask what where and how can we do this too.
We went back to the Store to inquire about the Rail Cycling we just saw and the woman explained there was a rail station stop in the town north of there called Degefors. The converted General Store to gift shop had many antiques and crafts. Out back of the store in the meadow were several Alpacas for which they made rugs and other things from the wool to sell in the store. We only purchased an ice cream each and sat on the benches outside watching the animals and then headed for Degefors. At least I finally had the satisfaction of seeing what Högberg was all about after so many trips up this way and being told we don't have time for side trips. It was fun though.

Image mine 2013

We've often only traveled through the city of Degefors to visit my Father-In-Law when he was sent to hospital just north of there at various times. But this was the first time we actually slowed down and turned left instead of blowing straight through to the north. We made it to a Degefors Public Park and beyond that out in the country again was a little red quaint Rail Station House next to the old narrow gauge train tracks. I parked the car on a grassy car park and walked up to the railroad crossing and photographed north up the track a ways where they had all the Cykla Dressin vehicles park and ready for release. I really wished we had had more time to engage in this activity, but there was no time, we had to get back home to Gothenburg. But we vowed one day soon.

Image mine from 2013

Surprisingly there were several families who had taken off from here on their way south to Ottersbäcksbanan. You can stop along the way and the cycle cars are light and easy enough to take off the tracks to allow others to pass from either direction. Many stop along any point on the right of way to have their pack lunches. Looking at the people using these cycle cars and the modest way they were dressed just brought back some memories of the kind of things families did back in the 1950s. That kind of outdoor adventure entertainment often seems to get a hands down with most modern younger generations who normally have to be forced to leave city life and get out in the country into an activity they often view as boring. Below here are some close up photos of the light rail cycle cars and close ups of the maps and prices with rules.

image: Mine

image: Mine

image Mine
Map of rail right of way route along the lake

image: Mine
 Booking Rules. Rent by the hour or whole day.
Below I've given a couple of links to this type of fun entertainment for families. The bottom link is most extensive in that it reveals around this entire region there are other abandoned rail right of ways which are now used for this purpose. Lots of photographs and explanations, although they are in Swedish, but it doesn't matter. The pictures are worth a thousand words. Here also is a nice Youtube video, in Swedish of course with music.
Youtube-Video: "Dressincaching i Gullspång"
Some reading references for Tourists:
Youth Hostel and Train Station for Cykla Dressin at the southern end in Gullsspång 
Here is a site referencing all the Cykla Dressin places to visit in Sweden

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Traditional Swedish Fences

(The Old versus the New in fences)
NM Gärdesgård (Fence)

I'm not a fan of many things in this part of the Earth. I hate the cold [not even a fan of cold in California when it visits], hate the dense overgrown weedy green everywhere[I'm a Desert Rat @ Heart], the Mosquitos are hideous when you go for walks in the woods[never going blueberry picking again] and I've never seen so much wet in my life.[Desert thingy again] and last but not least, Northern European food[I lean towards Mexican]. But once in a while I warm up so to speak to something that does capture my attention and that is the traditional Swedish fences or Gärdesgård. I like things older and traditional. Though the modern culture here has lost most of it's traditional values when it comes to the traditional artistic styling and architectural design to the modern Socialist influenced generic Soviet Styling of everything having to be equal. But some things never change, like the traditional country fences which can often be seen just outside of the cities in suburbs. Click on the link above under the photo which takes you to the site of N.M. Gärdesgård which is also the Swedish word for fence. They got many beautiful examples of traditional fence photos they have built around the country. Most all the construction materials come from local sources. The actual fence poles are made of local pine (which is actually Pinus sylvestris or Scots Pine) and interestingly, the oldest recorded Scots Pine (700 years old) seems to have been in Sweden. The larger sections are lashed together by what a guy who just installed new windows this morning upstairs on the second story of my house, said is called Gran grenar (Fir branches) soaked to be flexible so that it can be tied as illustrated. I've also seen the fences tied together with long slender Spruce branches which are slightly burned over a fire and water to make them pliable for tying the fence poles together. The resulting natural tie ropes are referenced in Swedish as vidjorna.


Sand Dune coastline beaches at Haverdal
While I like the traditional look and the natural materials used, I've also seen some clever style incorporating the traditional with the modern improvements for stronger longer lasting benefits. This past summer, we went down to a small town north of Halmstad called Haverdal which is very touristy in a Swedish way for the beaches here. I don't think many 'auslanders' know about this area. Mostly it's a native Swede getaway place. Many charming small beach cottages everywhere here. The coastline looks more like something from New England wit rolling sands dunes with bunch grasses everywhere. The only other area I've seen like this is over in Dänemark at the very northern tip of that country called Skagan. Anyway, I took some photos of many examples of modern fence designs around the neighbourhoods there in Haverdal. Here are a few below.

photo: Mine
This house was the home and garden of my wife's ex-inlaws and we came here to pick up both her kids who stayed at grandma & grandpa's place. I actually loved their house and thought about asking to take photos of the beautiful older style of architecture and interior decor, but decided it might be pushy, besides we don't know each other that well. But what impressed me is that their place unlike most Swedish residents is so Un-IKE[oh yeah, not an IKEA fan either]. But at least I got a couple shots of their own 'DIY' Hornbach [equivalent to Home Depot or Lowes] home improvement project. What you will notice with many outdoor building projects here are the hardware components will be steel as are some of the infrastructural skeleton for the fencing, even if a more rough natural material is added as the finishing exterior decor to the fence. One of the greatest challenges here is to counteract the degrading effects of mold and rot made worse by the continual wet climate. So the steel footings and post caps help. But often times the wood also has to be treated with a Copper-Sulfate which gives it that slight green tint-

photo: Mine

photo: Mine
These next two photos, the one above and to the right, are actually around the block from the kid's grandparent's house. While they show the same traditional Swedish style which is popular here, they incorporate a more modern milled lumber look which was purchased from the local Home Improvement Store as opposed to the tradition of going out into the Forest and gathering all manner of Sapling poles which seem at times to number into the millions everywhere you look or venture out into for a walk. But never the less, it still works for me.

photo: Mine
Back home in Gothenburg we took a day to visit this year's look at the Göteborg Botaniska Trädgård and stumble upon something newer they have done to the older ornamental iron fence of the Botanical gardens. As you can see, they appear to have used long slender willow sapling branches in their fence weave pattern. I've seen quite a bit of this natural wood used and I suspect it is willow much like the pliable willow wood furnishings some create in the U.S. I've also seen what appears to be commercially raised willow orchards when we drive up from Gothenborg to Stockholm for various reason on a visit or holiday. Nevertheless, the wood seems very tough and durable in withstanding this climate.

photo: Mine

Closer back view of the iron structure of the fence and
the weaving pattern of the willow decor used for screen

photo: Mine

This is simply a close up shot of the natural material used
which for me still looks to be Willow. What do you think ?

photos: Mine

This is a close up of the weave pattern they did around the
interior metal poles and the wooden split veneer to hide the
steel post and keep the wooden look even.

photo: Mine
This next series of final photos is going back to Hissingen where we live and the fencing which was built earlier this year to border around what is called in Swedish a Dagis (Child's Daycare Center). This is just east of the major Eketregatan Bus & Trolley Transfer Station. This fencing also had a strong steel infrastructure with the woven overlay of the willow (Vide) branch stems. I've taken several shots to reveal not only the design, but also the interior hardware used if someone out there may be looking for design ideas. As you can see in the photo to the left, the steel or aluminum post framing won't rot inside and the structure will be far more sound as a result. All manner of molds and fungus do a number on things here. Even mosses and lichens will eventually be found on all exterior surfaces no matter how much precaution is taken. I really wish I had stopped when the workers were constructing this and gotten a better perspective on the methods used. I have to assume that the weave around the horizontal poles was done from the top down with the ridge cap being installed last.

photo: Mine

This is the daycare playground fence around where the
children play. I had no idea when I watched them build
this fence that they would train up vines to grow up on it.

photo: Mine

This of course is a close up view of the slender wood pole
strips. The difference here from the view of the botanical
Garden fence is that they have utilized a wood ridge cap.

photo: Mine
This is a close up shot of the corner view of this combination modern metal and natural wooden pole fence structure. Notice the design and hardware they are using which is not over done to detract from the natural aspect of the design they were looking for. I suppose the challenge for folks in the southwestern United States would be to find where you could harvest the willow poles without incurring the displeasure of authorities of eco-activist types. Also, I'm not sure willow would even be the correct material for a drier location, although I see willow garden furniture everywhere. Mostly, like here in Sweden, you'll want some type of steel frame infrastructure to lift your project far above the soil line. Termites are the bigger issue there and it may surprise many to know they don't really have Termites here for the forest recycling program, but rather Wood Ants which build giant wooden pyramid structures with millions of small sticks and twigs the carry back to the Ant mound. Of course the fungus and lichens and other Biological Soil Crusts on steroids here do the rest, but mainly these wood ants are aggressive organic material recyclers.

photo: Mine

Another close up view of the post and the hardware being
 used here for tying the structure all together. These two
poles are actually separate and come together at the same
point, but other poles went straight through.

photo: Mine

Again, just some close up shots of how the aluminum pole was
introduced into the wooden post through a hole bored all the
way through the post to the next post. This had to be precision
accomplished as these poles used appear to be rather long.

Other Visual Artistic or Creative Designs for Fence Weaveing
Images from Pinterest

Reading References for Design and construction:
Swedish Traditional Gärdesgård from an Italian perspective
Video: Building a Gardesgård (Swedish with english subtitles)
This next video is interesting and fun in a sort of comical way. Seriously, tell me this old guy doesn't remind you of the old Lars Norquist character from the John Wayne and Stewart Granger movie "North to Alaska"