Wednesday, 31 December 2008

What will you see?

As 2008 comes to a close I wonder what you will see in and around your gardens in 2009. This past year I have found myself enjoying more aspects of birds and wildlife than I expected. Highlights? Mm… tricky. Favourite visit of the year has to be Pensthorpe for the birds, butterflies & damselflies – not forgetting the Piet Oudolf Garden! Mm… on second thoughts that has to share top spot with sitting in the dark at a Nature Reserve Centre with 20 others waiting to get a glimpse of the Pine Marten which I was thrilled to see!

Long-tailed tits (seen again this past week) take the top spot for bird visitor to the garden for me and the hedgehog continued to delight both me and my blog visitors – especially those from outside the UK. I wonder if we will get a female nesting in ‘Hedgehog Manor’ in 2009. I also wonder if we will finally see a successful brood of blue tits fledge our camera nestbox. Mm… but this year is not quite finished yet!

Bulbs, especially crocus have been the plant group that I have found myself warming to this year. Snowdrops I will go a-looking for again during the Snowdrop Festival here in Scotland during February and March. I have also planted more crocus bulbs in my lawn - although there are still some to plant yet! Tulip bulbs still in my shed will now be potted up into pots and placed in my greenhouse for planting in the spring – its fun to do them that way too.

Ah… but the most fun I have with my blog is taking, editing and sharing videos of the plants, birds and wildlife. I have been unwell since Christmas so I’ve had to sit on some new and final footage from 2008 which I’d now like to share. The first piece below was a most unexpected capture – a pair of Jackdaws in a tree.

Isn’t that sweet? But let’s take a look at some photos…

A bit further perhaps, this pair are on the right…

They were not alone…

The count looks like eight pairs with two singles and there were even more! I have to say this was a most unusual sighting from my garden. I have never seen such a large flock of Jackdaws flying over it. Actually I have never seen more than a couple! I firstly assumed they were rooks as they can be seen passing over and using this tree - but not in this number either. The grey colouring told me they were Jackdaws. Flocks can be seen in huge numbers in the evenings to roost but not in this tree and definitely not at 1pm.

But look… remember the tree above in a very hard frost. My cheap and cheerful video camera managed to zoom in on these birds from inside my lounge window when I spotted them land on the tree. Ah… I do like a bit of technology! This tree has to be about 200 yds away too.

No technology is really needed for counting the birds that visit our gardens. A piece of paper and a pen will do. Perhaps you might like to count the species you see when outside the garden too. Some bloggers have been busy counting for the Quicksilver Christmas Challenge and will be posting this weekend. My contribution will be minimal as I haven’t been out and about except for one brief visit to my favourite Scottish Wildlife Reserve.

Our visit was later on in the afternoon and the light was going down. We were the only visitors and the outside lighting was on just as it had been to see the pine martens. We were told that at this time of night the Treecreeper could be seen at one of the feeders which are attached to the trees. One tree had come down in strong winds but fortunately missed the centre! We didn’t need to wait long and up and along the Treecreeper went. Gosh it was as fast and tricky to follow in the half dark. Once you spotted its white underside though it was much easier to spot. I slowed the end clip right down.

Back to spotting what visits our gardens and the RSPB BIG GARDEN BIRDWATCH 09 on 24th-25 January. I wonder how many tree creepers will be spotted. I know one garden that enjoys visits from them. The Treecreeper isn’t on the suggested list but you can still add it to your tally if you see it.

You can start practising for your count now too if you want by printing off the counting sheet. You may well find during different parts of the day you will see more or less birds. If you browse the website you will get tips on how to do this and how to take part. I do know that by offering varied foods in the feeders you will get a bigger variety of birds coming into the garden. Oh yes… and Congrats to the RSPB as 2009 sees the 30th count!

Okay, so why the photo above? You’ll not see a robin like this in your garden. Well, this was just a gimmick photo to promote the Birdwatch last year. I wonder though, if you have ever seen a purple squirrel. Yes, not ordinary grey not the rarer red but a peculiar purple squirrel. I just had to share this link passed on from ShySongbird. I initially thought it was a tampered photo but it really appears to be in school uniform – at least until it moults! Paint is suspected and is probably quite likely.

This year we had white footprints around our garden and I had originally suspected a cat had walked in white paint and never posted on it. Then one night I saw a new trail of footprints and considered that based on the route, like the trail disappearing under my shed, it had to be from a hedgehog! I wonder how many more wildlife sightings via paint incidents have been seen around gardens.

Sorry, this is a particularly chatty post. I’ve had a throat virus thing going on and have had difficulty chatting in the ‘real world’ and I am making up for that tonight now that I am feeling a little better. You really wouldn’t want a narrated video from me at the moment!

This morning when I began looking at this post I went searching for links on the RSPB BIRDWATCH and discovered some fun features on their site like the interactive bird identifier. It uses Javascript. The site says: “If you have disabled Javascript in your browser settings, you will need to re-enable it for the bird identifier to work. If you have not changed your browser settings, it should work fine. Try it and see.” I tried as you can see in the image above and a fine image I got two!

The image above is not a montage this time it is a screen grab from my new widescreen monitor and what a new experience in blogging terms, photo work and searches this will be! I’ll be able to have two blogs up at the same time for adding and answering comments – ever so handy when you’re on the chatty side like me! Thanks go to my OH for his love of technology on this one – his Christmas parcel to me this year. He keeps asking me… Yes, I love it!

Okay, I am almost chatted out now and I do wonder how many have read to the end on this one! There lies a few questions too. I have added a poll on the top of my right column if you would like to take a look. This is a particularly long post but I do wonder what works best for you when browsing blogs. Perhaps if the subject is interesting to you it doesn’t matter how long the posting is. I would be interested to hear what you think. You can make more than one selection if you'd like. I see now that some votes have come in I have a problem with the background colour. I'll look into that.

Well it hadn’t to happen didn’t it? Many of my postings do go past midnight and I have been known to alter the time slightly but tonight it is probably fitting that I just post real time – after all I am now into the last day of 2008!

“HAPPY HOGMANAY” and all my very best wishes for 2009!

The photos and video shown above were taken on December 27th 2007.

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Christmas wishes

Be it a wonderful bouquet of flowers from a dear friend or a family meal I would like to wish you all special moments this holiday season. I gave some bouquets of flowers as gifts this year so it was especially nice to receive one myself this evening. I’d like to share it with all friends and visitors to my blog.

My kitchen is filled with the wonderful smell of soup cooking at the moment. Sorry... no smelly vision here! So many kitchens and houses throughout the world will have their own aromas. Enjoy yours and have a wonderful Christmas.

Flowers above in vase at my front door to keep them cool.

Friday, 19 December 2008

Thanks, without you…

On the morning of my 2nd Blogaversary (Nov 19th) I received a surprise email. I was thrilled that BBC Countryfile Magazine had chosen shirls gardenwatch as their ‘Blog of the Month’ for their January issue. They asked if I could supply 3-4 photos from my garden specifically Blackbirds and Robins. I was delighted to be asked for the Robin as it was through this bird that my Blog began.

Equally the Blackbirds are so much a part of my garden watching that a photo of them would be appropriate too. I had no idea which photo would be used or what they would write. I knew it would be a small piece after seeing the piece on my Blogging friend Jane at Urban Extension in their December issue. I also knew the issue would be out this week! I kept going into newsagents to see if it was out… yesterday I picked up a copy!

Thank-you BBC Countryfile for choosing my Blog – the timing of your email was brilliant and this has been a fantastic start for year three. I was particularly thrilled that you mentioned how my Blog began. If you click on the image above you can what they said.

My very warm thanks across the sea must go to my friend in Australia for without her I would never have considered Blogging at all. I knew nothing about it. In fact it was my husband (a regular reader of Blogs) that introduced me to them as a means of sending videos to her. So… a huge hug goes to him too – especially for all the background tech support he timelessly gives me!

However the BIGGEST thanks must go to all those who read my Blog, take time to send emails and leave comments. Without a shadow of a doubt it is YOU that keeps me posting and wanting to learn more about plants, the birds and wildlife both in my garden and outside of it too. I love to hear and share garden stories with you all. Your feedback really does help the direction my Blog has taken so in a way you are all sharing in it with me.

Finally for those, like me I must be honest, that are unfamiliar with BBC Countryfile Magazine it is well worth taking a look at. You can also browse their current issue online or pick up a magazine at a Newsagents. It is issued monthly around the 19th of the month. This magazine has a wonderful mix of info, links and articles - I’m not just saying this now! There are maps and details of walks too and this month mentions the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch for 2009 - it is on during Saturday 24th and Sunday 25th of January. Mm… I’ll not say anymore and spoil this issue for you.

My thanks go to you all! Not forgetting the Robins and all other birds and wildlife that visits my garden of course!

The first image above was scanned from the January issue of BBC Countryfile Magazine. The smaller image is the front cover of this issue taken as a screen grab from their website.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

A Pheasant for Christmas…

…well not at my dinner table. No, I’d much rather see a Pheasant as a guest feeding at the dinner table I have in my garden for the ground feeding birds like Blackbirds and Dunnocks. I am sure they wouldn’t mind an extra party guest seeing it is the season of good will. Although I’m not quite sure what they would make of it. They were confused enough with the squirrel eating at this table!

The Pheasant is not a regular visitor to my garden but this morning as I caught up on replies to my previous posting one landed on my lawn outside my window. This is the second time I have ever seen a visit like this in the last 17 years we have had this garden. I should perhaps stress that I am a quite a few streets away from any open countryside or woodland. I watched it follow the edges of my lawn.

Unfortunately, for it, it didn’t find its way to the wilder areas where I scatter food. Instead it walked the length of my lawn and around the back of my arbour. I suspect it would have gone under my hedge and out of my garden as when I went quietly out with my camera it was nowhere to be seen. Ah well… maybe next time. How spookily seasonal was the timing of this visit?

The photo above was not taken in my garden. It was taken at Nature Reserve Loch of the Lowes in March 2008.

Monday, 15 December 2008

Garden Bloom Day December 2008

A few surprise candidates have stepped forward for this month’s Bloom Day posting. A tidy-up in the garden today revealed there were actually some flowers that I could share! However, it is the foliage that really gives colour and texture in my garden at this time of year and I just love it.

Above from top: Sedum; Heuchera ‘Georgia Peach’; Heuchera ‘Georgia Peach’, Acer Pal. 'Sago Kaku, Saxifrage, Heuchera ‘Marmalade’ with flower.

As this is a very busy time for everyone I thought I’d keep my chat this month brief. However, I would like to add that I still enjoy my garden at this time of year even when it has few flowers around. My shed still has bags of bulbs to plant - but I am not in a hurry for Spring.

Above from top: Penstemon ‘Etna’, Jap. Anemone, Skimmia, Magnolia bud, Euphorbia with Budleja in background.

I don’t mind the darker, damp days as my ‘green garden’ thrives in such conditions especially the wonderful moss growing on the stones around my small pond. I love to see the branches on the trees at this time of year too with raindrops or frost. I think both can look magical. Misty mornings, to me, are wonderful too. Ah… but blue skies at this time of year are especially welcome adding much need light into our gardens and lifting our spirits!

Above from top: Heuchera ‘Licorice’, Ivy ‘Sulphur Heart’, Golden Thyme, Acuba.

Above from top: Peris, Hellebore, Heuchera ‘Stormy Seas’, Arabis, Viola Babyface ‘Ruby and Gold’, Alpine Alchemila, Evergreen Fern, Polygala, Ornamental Grass & Bamboo.

Above from top: Buddleja, Staychs, Pittisporum, Ophiopogon.

If you would like to see what is in flower in other gardens around the world pop over to Carol’s posting at May Dreams Gardens, the host of Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day, and follow the links to all who have posted. You might want to join in the fun too – you can post photos of indoor flowers too at this time of year when garden ones are scarce.

Above from top: Cotoneaster berries being eaten by birds, Apples (to feed birds), Sedum ‘Carl’, Uncinia ‘Rubra’.

As this year closes I do hope you have enjoyed your garden this year. Perhaps you’ve had ideas for your own gardens through visiting garden, bird and wildlife blogs. I'd love to hear about them. There are definitively lots of enthusiastic people around with so much inspiration to share. How wonderful we can connect with people with the same interests as ourselves through writing an online diary. I would definitely recommend it!

All photos above were taken in my garden on December 15th 2008.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Weekend bird counts

The feeders are full but the food isn’t going down. Just where have all the birds gone? Well, many in my garden have been hiding in my hedge over the weekend. You can see the brave species that have appeared out in the open in my bird count table below. Mm... it is eerily quiet out there at the moment.

The species listed above have all been seen in my garden. Click on table to enlarge. Key: A= Partial Albino, M= Male, F= Female, X=1

Six minutes into my birds counts on both days saw a Sparrowhawk fly through quite low in and out closely past the feeders using the same route. On Saturday it came back just seven minutes later and as a result it was a further 40 minutes before I saw any bird even peeping through my hedge! So if you have an absence of birds in your garden at the moment I would consider what predators are likely to be scaring them off.

Today after the first visit I decided to put out my video camera out on a tripod to see if I could catch the Sparrowhawk fly by. Win, win I thought. With the camera out the Sparrowhawk probably wouldn’t come and the birds would be safe. If it did return there was a high chance I’d catch it on film. This was interesting. No, I didn’t get it on film but it did eventually make a return visit.

Sparrowhawk heard birds chattering nervously in hedge during January this year. I wonder if visits are more frequent in winter months.

After I was outside putting my camera out it appeared that the birds felt safer and more came to the feeders albeit still a very small number. Yesterday they would come out one at a time to the feeders and take the smallest amount of food before returning quickly to the safety of the hedge once more. As numbers slowly increased this morning I thought my presence out in the garden must have deterred the plan of the Sparrowhawk. Perhaps it did but 40 minutes after its first visit today the birds went quickly for cover yet again.

I didn’t see where it was but watched curiously as a blue tit stayed so still on a tree branch near a feeder. Very slowly it moved its head to look around and then quick as a flash it flew into the hedge too. No birds returned for the rest of my count which told me that although I hadn’t seen it there had been a Sparrowhawk somewhere close by. I then considered that I had filled up the feeders on Friday morning so it is likely that there were visits then too.

So, no more sightings of the Long-tailed tit at the moment! I wonder if they are still around my area. Siskins too had returned to my garden and goldfinch numbers were increasing too. I wonder where they have all gone - another garden close by? Hopefully, as the numbers have birds have dramatically decreased in my garden then the chance of catching any will be reduced too and the Sparrowhawks will go looking elsewhere! I do hope so as I was hoping we would see the return of Blackcaps at the end of the month.

The photo of the female chaffinch hiding in the hedge was taken in August 2007.

Monday, 8 December 2008

Moonlight, wisteria and watercolours

Out by the light of the moon went I this evening armed with a pair of secateures. My mission was to prune my wisteria back to four buds per stem. However, neither the outside lighting nor the moon shining above my plant offered enough light to do the job properly. As I looked up at the moon I thought I’d attempt a photo. I was thrilled to be able to see details of craters on the surface! I was also thrilled to finally be able to upload photos on to my PC again.

Looking at a few stems of my wisteria in the photo below you can see some young growth (green stems) from this year. I intend cutting them completely out. These have been the long ‘whippy’ growth that should be cut back during mid/late summer. Flowers won’t grow from the buds trying to form on them. This pruning is already overdue so this really must be a job for tomorrow.

Walking around the garden in the dark is a whole different experience. How quiet it was. Walking past the hanging peanut feeder that the Long-tailed tits discovered a week ago I remembered the noisy starlings of this morning! Yes, they were at the peanuts too but it was the half log that I had nailed to my pergola post that they were making all the noise at. What could possible interest them there? Peanut butter was spread into the hole I had cut into it and boy was it popular!

Peanut butter was what I had hoped to lure the Long-tailed tits back to my garden with. I haven’t seen them go near it so far and now there is none left anyway except in the dish of another caged hanging feeder for live foods. This dish the starlings cannot get at! I had seen peanut butter used at the Nature Reserve I had seen the Pine Martens at. They put some in the knot of a tree and woodpeckers and other birds enjoyed it there too. I was told that it was better to buy peanut butter from health food shops as the salt content would be lower. I bought a tub sold at the Reserve.

Fat balls are definitely popular with the Long-tailed tits and they have been using the square caged feeder that only the smaller birds can get in. Tehy are also enjoying the peanuts. Yes, I am delighted to say that we have spotted more visits! Yesterday I saw a flock of six visit. They are so quick though, in and out of the garden in less than five minutes. I tend to position feeders with a spot for the birds to jump down from. You can see branches in the montage above that are used by the birds. You can also see one of the holes in my hedge where the birds pop out and in from.

No new photos of the Long-tailed tits that are visiting at the moment. I would love to catch them with my camera yet. The photo on the left above was taken back in March. The fuzzier image on the right is a screen grab taken from video footage taken last Friday at midday. Yes… I am thrilled to say I managed to catch them on film. I have slowed the speed down a little so you can see them a little clearer. Once again, I am so grateful to be able to view and upload them on my PC again.

My OH has been an absolute star with all the hours he has put in to get our PC working again. I will not go into all the tech stuff but in the end he had to rebuild it completely from scratch again – we didn’t even have an operating system. It is tricky now remembering settings I used for specific programs so things are taking longer to do for the moment.

Going from the seriously technical stuff to the pre photos era I found myself picking up a pencil and trying to draw the character of our newest visitors. For ID’s of birds I do feel photos are much better than illustrations but unless you are a gifted photographer they capture only an image of that moment.

It has been quite a long time since I have done any drawing. I was keeping my OH Company and thought I would just potter away. I so wish I had never lost ‘my hand’. I had chosen to work with graphics and at that time there became less time for simple sketches and drawings. I didn’t do colour much either – I liked to work in black and white with toned washes. I used a watercolour pad for my drawing so I could add any washes if I got that far.

Time passed and my OH still struggled on. I looked out a box of watercolours that I had never used. I pottered some more. I really did not expect anything finished out of my pottering. I had images from my books in front of me but was thinking about the character that I liked about this bird. Time passed, I added more colour. I began to overwork it – always a tricky balance. It was late, we were both tired. I left the pad out on a table to dry.

My drawing had turned into a coloured image which was quite unexpected for me. I have never painted a bird before either. I then considered that I could share it on my blog to show that we can still capture images of moments in the garden without the use of technology. My image is far from perfect but that really doesn’t matter as it is my image of this bird as I have been seeing it in my garden. I do believe that everyone can produce ‘something’ on paper and I hope that by showing my effort I might encourage others to give it a try. I might try it again too.

All photos with the exception of the Long-tailed tit were taken in my garden on December 8th 2008. The video shown above was taken in my garden on December 5th 2008.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Show and tell

Oh dear… I can’t show any images from my garden or tell any stories from today of the visitors I believe I saw at my bird feeders last night! I watched first thing as light came up and set my videos camera on a feeder with fatcakes as darkness fell but these delightful visitors were nowhere to be seen. Ah well, maybe tomorrow…

Oh… sorry what did I think I had seen? Thanks to all who made guesses. Yes, well done Tricia and Joe, I do believe we had a fleeting glimpse of a small flock of Long-tailed tits (Aegithalos caudatus). Yes, I am disappointed not to see them today but then again I was so very lucky to see them pass through my garden last night!

Interestingly enough, today wasn’t as cold. The heavy snowfall predicted for today didn’t appear and the snow we did have has started to thaw. Mm… I wonder if the colder temps have a bearing on whether I will see these birds again or perhaps they are miles away by now. I was very lucky to see them at all in the half light of last night! It is fascinating to think that so many birds can pass through our gardens like this and more than often we miss them completely especially at this time of year when the daylight hours are shorter.

Oh… I should say if you missed my two posts in March this year on the first, and only other, visits of these birds here you can see a photo and video.

The photo above was taken from Wikiepdia. This is a file from the Wikimedia Commons. Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License,

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Was I seeing things?

Just after 4pm this evening I looked out to see some very speedy action between the bird feeders! I had only just walked over to the window to look out on to the garden briefly. A couple of minutes later and I may well have missed these visitors completely. I am so glad I didn’t!

Blackbirds are often seen at the feeders just before dark and often the Robin and Blue tits too. I had originally thought it was a couple of Blue tits I was seeing buzzing around the garden. But, wait a minute, there was more than two. So perhaps it wasn’t blue tits. The light was going.

The light wasn’t on in the room I was standing in either. I moved ever so slowly nearer the desk for my very basic, cheap and cheerful, binoculars originally bought for my daughter’s High School Biology project on birds. They have done the job nicely for ID’s many times!

Looking closer at the outline shape of these birds I wondered if I was seeing things. Could it be? This bird was seen in my garden for the first time back in March only to be chased away by the Blue tits that planned to use the Nestboxes. I believe it could have been a pair visiting back then. I started counting.

It was almost dark but I managed a confident count to seven. Perhaps there were more? I can’t wait to see them properly tomorrow – assuming they will roost nearby and return for breakfast. I had just taken a delivery of feeders for Christmas presents. One I ordered for myself but hadn’t planned to use it until next Spring. Mm… I wonder if I could serve up something in it to tempt our unexpected guests to stay a while. I’ll keep you guessing on what I put in it!

We have a covering of snow still on the ground. Just a covering though and that is why I had walked across to the window. One last glimpse of the garden tonight before it is completely covered with the heavy snowfall expected overnight. The light was going and the temperature was falling. Perhaps it is this cold weather that is caused these birds to go looking in gardens for food. I am thrilled they found mine – you can tell!

So what did I think I saw? Sorry, no photos or videos this time. I couldn’t do anything with video at the moment anyway (PC probs, we won’t talk about them). A quick search for an image was required. Oh... what a lovely little bird this is! Excellent, Wikipedia was offering an image I could use. Ah... but wait a minute. We could have fun with this!

What do you think might have visited my garden tonight? This was a huge surprise to me especially at this time of year when all my expected visitors are present and correct. But hey… it’s wonderful to have surprise guests. Okay, I know this ID could be tricky for my Blog visitors outside the UK so I will give some clues. I spotted these birds at a fat cake feeder and a peanut feeder. There wasn’t enough light to see if they were interested in the berries on offer or (what was left of) the apples on my obelisks.

Tomorrow I hope I can confirm the latest sighting in my garden. I would love to share some photos too if I can get them. Oh yes… and it would be brilliant if my 'Breakfast Special' in the new (straight out the box especially for them) feeder!! Mm… yes I think I’ll have my breakfast at the window tomorrow. I have noticed that the early birds are also the last birds to visit the feeders.

So who visited the feeders in a garden like mine?

Monday, 1 December 2008

Frozen out

Frosted images are gathering momentum around garden blogs at the moment. Yep… I would like to add some from my garden too. Over the weekend we saw pretty cold temperatures for this time of year. At -5.5 deg C (22.1 deg F) throughout the day it was too cold for snow but for two days our garden was frozen out. I can’t remember seeing it as hard hit as this for a few years now.

There are some quite mature trees that we can see from our garden over the top of our hedge. They were looking particularly stunning and drew me out into the cold with my camera. Then, I went walkabout. Then, the birds gave up waiting for me to go back in and came to the feeders!

You could also say I have also been frozen out from my PC too! I’ll not go into the details but let’s just say a Norton update has gone wrong and the brain of my computer (fortunately) is on an external drive! I cannot get access to anything including my emails. Fingers crossed all will be well again in a couple of days. Fortunately, once again, my OH is on the case.

For the first time I am posting from a Laptop as I wanted to share my images from the weekend. Before the update was corrupted my OH had suggested I looked at Picasa for storing etc my photos. How fortunate was that as I would have lost these photos had they been uploaded to the PC and not his laptop. I have to say I have not really taken to Picasa and I managed to crash his laptop two times out of two editing my photos. I returned to PhotoShop and my third attempt worked fine although colours etc look quite different on the laptop. I hope they look okay here.

Today, the temperature warmed up considerably getting to 4 deg C and the serious frost of the weekend is much lighter tonight. The trees looked ‘normal’ again. Tomorrow morning we are expecting to wake up to snow again which is predicted to start at around 3am so all change yet again.

My bulbs sitting in the shed are going to have to wait a few more days yet before I will be able to plant them. I gave my shed a quick tidy later this afternoon and was delighted to see I had collected so many. I love the colours too. In a few days if the ground doesn’t warm up (which is quite likely) I will have to pot the bulbs up and put them in my greenhouse as I did last year. They were great fun to plant that way too.

So, if your garden isn’t frozen out yet I’d get any last minute gardening jobs done as things can change quite dramatically overnight. This really is a magical time for the garden and I hope you are enjoying yours. I also hope you are enjoying seeing lots of new birds visit your garden too.

The photos above were all taken from my garden on November 30th 2008.

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Pensthorpe birds

Do you look out for new plants at garden centres, new bird sightings in the garden or on the beach or how about trying to spot camouflaged wildlife out in the wild? When I began this blog I guess I could honestly only answer ‘Yes’ to the plants. I knew some birds visited my garden but I guess I just took these visits for granted.

My bookshelf now has Bird and Wildlife books joining the Gardening and Plants ones. My interests have increased and I do hope I have passed on some of my enthusiasm for learning more about what visits our gardens too. When on holiday I am always drawn to visit new gardens but now I also look up wildlife reserves too.

The trip of the year for me (ticking all boxes) has to be Pensthorpe Nature Reserve in July where I found a fantastic garden by Piet Oudolf as a bonus! I didn’t go there for the plants though. This was a trip to see birds. However, my bird recognition was really minimal so with my camera I snapped what caught my eye not knowing if these birds were special or not.

Firstly, it was the shear numbers of birds that really took me by surprise. They were everywhere from the water to the paths we walked on.

Next it was the variety of shapes, colour and plumage that we could see (I’m getting the lingo now). We were also being followed… thanks to my daughter having a bag of seed (bought when we arrived) in her pocket. We took refuge in one of the enclosures and discovered that some birds are not quite as pretty as others and I was feeling a little uncomfortable taking my photos.

Ducks, ducks, were every where on the water as my daughter dropped seed from the wooden walkways to feed them. Some birds spun around and round on the same spot like dodgem cars at the Fairground.

It was funny to watch. They made quite a noise too but one bird really caught my eye there – quite a thug it was too. The coot (seen in first montage with white beak) was being quite aggressive towards the other birds really making its presence known in the crowd!

We followed paths to other areas which went from woodland out to a waters edge once again. It was a warm day and many birds were now preening and sunbathing too.

I found it amusing to see oyster catchers on floating gravel decks. Oyster catchers quite commonly nest on roofs of schools in Scotland and feeding their young coincides with exam time giving the pupils a little extra stress with the noise they make then!

So have I any favourite bird sightings from Pensthorpe? Well, funnily enough I do have a couple and not ones I would have expected. I am guessing they are both waders and I do believe both juveniles too.

I have seen photos of waders in many other blogs but I have to admit they have never really caught my attention before this visit. However, the Ruff in the photo below I found completely enchanting seeing it walk around the shallow water.

The Black-necked Stilt also caught my eye and what a noisy little thing it was too! You will hear it in my short video. This clip is a bit wobbly as I was trying to take it out of the way of other visitors.

I have also dropped the sound at one point as there were people talking around me too. It gives you an idea of how it moves about and me a great memory of this day too.

One of the first birds I noticed when we walked out on to the reserve were the young Moorhens running around looking for parents to follow. Funnily enough they were also the last as I left through another gate.

The video clip below was taken in the butterfly garden and there were no other birds around. I didn’t spot any butterflies either! However, the ‘parent’ Moorhen found something to feed the young from the Astilbes!

There is background music in this video.

Once again, I had to cut the sound out as I was not the only one who spotted the young Moorhen in the shallow water. My clip was being narrated by other visitors also delighted to see it. I moved to the other side of the water to get a closer (not clearer) view of this lovely moment. I nice surprise end to my visit.

Seeing birds at a Reserve really is a great way to see birds most of us would never see otherwise. However, I suppose it is a little like going to a Zoo for birds. Then again, just like Zoo’s, conservation is also a big issue for birds and reserves play a huge part with that too.

The birds we saw definitely looked at home there that is for sure. Reserves are also a place for food and shelter for any passing or migratory birds and I would imagine they, just like me in my garden, will be delighted to see new birds arrive.

There are many, many blogs that post on ‘birding’ days out where people like Tricia or Lisa head to an area that they have perhaps seen birds before or have heard will be there. My hat goes off to them and anyone else for their patience in watching for, trying to photograph and then posting on the birds they see – quite, quite different from my visit to Pensthorpe.

However, I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to Pensthorpe seeing the plants, birds and wildlife there. I have one ‘small’ extra posting in mind yet. I should perhaps say I have posted larger individual photos of the birds in my montages to support this posting if anyone is interested in ID's.

Finally, I would like to say a huge thank-you to the members of the Birdforum who helped me out with my ID’s. I would never have known where to start with some of them.

All photos and video shown above were taken at Pensthorpe Nature Reserve in Norfolk, England in July 2008.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Wordless Wednesday Nov '08

Views at Bridge of Orchy, Angus & Bute, Scotland.

Photos above taken by Shirl on October 5th 2008 – just under a two hour drive from my garden.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Updates galore

Let’s start with the plants. Well, as you can see below they have a small covering of snow. It had been forecasted to fall overnight but it was still a surprise to open blinds this morning and see it covering the garden. I love to see the look of this sort of amount – not too little and not too much!

A bird count had been planned for this morning but after watching them a little while I was more drawn to get outside and take some photos. I stood for a while watching the one feeder for the coal tits – they just have to be the birds of the garden for November. They are often seen hiding snflower hearts too in moss, borders and in the lawn. How funny they are too watch - I wonder if the similar looking American Chickadee does this too. We have three regularly visiting chasing each other and other birds away from the feeders.

Ah… I nearly forgot about this – the possible new bird sighting! I saw it only the once - the day my daughter went into hospital. Then for a number of days I was nowhere near the windows I watch the garden from. It may have come back but it was the cheeky Coal Tits that chased it away that day. I am not certain, I have no photos but by the way it moved around my small pine tree, the buff colouring of its underside and its size and shape – I do believe for a fleeting moment I saw a Goldcrest visiting my garden!

What was visiting this weekend then? Well, as they say, the usual suspects. I did do a bird count on Saturday from 10-11am but I knew this time was likely to show fewer numbers but a fuller variety of species. I must highlight two woodpigeons here, before I list numbers, which simply watched each other and moved around as if they were playing a game of chess! They never took food from any feeder in the whole hour.

Blackbirds, including one partial albino, took the top slot for my count with eight. The Chaffinches were next with six, and then there were three Coal tits and three House sparrows. Two Blue tits, Great tits, Dunnocks and Greenfinches were followed by one Robin, Goldfinch and one solitary Starling. Now, I do wonder if this Starling was a scout for a group. It did not return after a failed attempt and getting food from a caged feeder with fat balls inside. It wasn’t the only one that failed with that feeder either…

Next, to the wildlife in the garden… what has been going on in ‘Hedgehog Manor’ and are hedgehogs still visiting the garden at the moment? The video below shows visits to the ‘Evening Buffet’ available at Hedgehog Manor last week. The first clip shows it was a wet night and really what respectable hedgehog would dine Al Fresco when there is an alternative?

The second clip was taken the evening we made the two hour drive to A&E. I don’t remember much about it now except that I was testing my newer night camera shortly before at around 6.30pm. It looks like the hedgehog (I am guessing the resident one at that time) was at the buffet when someone went outside. Legs go by, outside lights were on and go off again - notice the hedgehog just hides its head and doesn’t go into a ball. It must feel safe in there.

Ah… but is it? Mm... the hedgehog was not the only wildlife visitor to be seen visiting that day! Earlier on, this Thursday the 13th, at around 9am the garden saw the return of a not so popular visitor to gardens. I was joined for breakfast by a grey squirrel - the most curious one I have ever seen in my garden. I opened the window as it went from the food under the small Acer tree to the house wall. As I opened the window and peeked out at it, it moved right up to the window and looked closely back at me! I quickly shut the window again.

Well, at first it appeared to do a recognisance of the garden ending with a very cheeky thump with its claws on the window where I sat watching what it was going to do next. It clearly meant it for me. What thumps it gave the glass and what a fright it gave me!

Next, it really used my garden like it was an adventure playground. There was nothing that it didn’t jump off or run along! It paused a moment to take food from the feeder under the Acer tree once again and the Blackbirds and Dunnocks weren’t really sure what to make of it but some moved warily towards food nearby.

Ah… but they weren’t the only ones watching what it was up to. The Blue Tit roosting in our Arch Nestbox quickly claimed its home. The squirrel came quite close too as the blue tit watched it from the entrance hole. Was anyone safe? A jump down on to my hanging basket, a run along the trellis and of to the main feeders it went. This time it meant business. The roof of the bird table was wet so it slid off down into the shrub below. Next to the hanging feeders. Ah... but the caged feeders stood up to the test!

Back to the ground feeder it went as you can see in the video below. As you will also see it did try to get food from a wire peanut feeder but then it took another walk by me at the window. Where was it going next? Fortunately I still had a night camera sitting outside. I switched it on to see the first of a number of visits to the buffet at Hedgehog Manor! A window table Sir?

I have to say, I just had to watch as I was concerned if I tried to scare it away it might go into the back where a hedgehog was. I watched it move towards this area but fortunately I didn’t see it exploring there. It did however jump up on and off the bricks inside a number of times – it was a very, very curious squirrel. I wasn’t at home until later the next evening. My younger daughter saw it the next day. Then I saw it briefly the next. It hasn’t been seen since. I had this last year in December where we had visits by one squirrel for a few days and this has been the first sighting in my garden of a squirrel since then. Maybe others have seen this too?

So are hedgehogs still out and about at the moment? Well, that I am not sure of. A few nights ago I put food outside Hedgehog Manor (in addition to the buffet inside) for any passers by but it was only taken by birds the next morning. However the night before my blog was ‘Two’ I did put out my video camera (set on the 0lux setting) on a very low tripod and captured the video below. I am delighted with this capture but wonder if I will get any more sightings now.

So does Hedgehog Manor have a hedgehog in residence hibernating? Again, I haven’t been too sure – until tonight. The photo capture below shows there is condensation inside (the white marks). It is a cold night so this would suggest to me there is something inside generating heat. I went out to take a closer look and noticed some food had been taken. Perhaps another hedgehog came inside to the buffet but I am wondering now if our resident has woken up, eaten and then headed back to sleep. I hadn’t seen this condensation for quite a few nights now and did consider something had happened with the squirrel and it had left. I am now pleased to say it looks like all is well and yes we have a hedgehog in residence!

So what about the unexpected email? Well, I am absolutely chuffed to little bits that BBC Countryfile Magazine has chosen shirls gardenwatch for their ‘Blog of the month’ for their January issue. Urban Extension was chosen for their December issue too – congrats Jane. I had no idea that this magazine did this – what a great idea.

Almost done now, however I would like to add a wildlife sighting ‘first’ to this post. Not in my garden, but on the streets of Aberdeen between 2-3 am in the morning as we looked for somewhere to stay following our A&E dash to see our daughter. Driving up to a junction we took a second look as we spotted a fox just casually walking along the pavement like it owned it! It didn’t run away or hide. It clearly knew exactly where it was going and walked on by! I have never had such a clear view of a fox and what a fine looking animal this one was. What a beautiful colour too. This fox, in all honesty, looked like a well looked after dog. I wonder how many foxes live in cities - I bet they all don't look like this one.

Finally, I would thank everyone for their kind wishes towards my daughter’s recovery. She is making some progress now I am glad to say.

All photos and videos shown above were taken in my garden between November 12th-24th 2008.