Thursday, 31 January 2008

Snow flurries

Snow had been forecasted for later on today so I had intended to get out with my camera and photograph some plants showing signs of new growth. However, by 8am the snow had begun to flurry around the garden. It was just starting to lie on the ground and then it stopped. The winds of last night were still with us so it didn’t stay on the plants long. Then it gave another flurry and so it went all day long.

A number of comments I received on the results post of my Birdwatch count mentioned garden birds perhaps not coming to the feeders as it was too cold. I have to say that is when my feeders are at their very busiest! On cold, windy and wet days like today the birds swoop down to the feeders in their twenties. The areas below the feeders are probably five times as busy as on a fair dry day.

Below my little Acer tree there were many chaffinches in pairs too mixing with the house sparrows, dunnocks and blackbirds. A count today gosh – I could only guess! I also spotted a male Sparrowhawk pass by today too. I would guess my bamboo beside the feeders, which was blowing about a bit, would have made it difficult for him to attempt a catch from this area today.

Numbers of goldfinches on days like today never cease to amaze me. Where do they all come from? I can see seven or nine some days and only five others but when it snows up to twenty can come. They also tend to stay longer than the other birds when they get spooked and fly off to safety. It really is fascinating to watch the behaviour of the different birds that visit. Although, I still cannot get used to seeing the goldfinches with snow – they look like they should be in sunshine.

Strong winds have knocked my feeder pole above a little squint as you can see but this is where the shrubs and hedge really play their part. They act as a great wind break and a resting place for the birds and wildlife too. Today saw the birds sitting in little gaps of my hedge just waiting for the feeders to be free. There is no point at all in fighting for food today as they will need all their energy to be out in the cold actually at the feeders! So, there was relative harmony today – just groups of birds hurriedly feeding together. The shrub, griselinia, on the right in the photo above is another great place for the birds to hide in days like today which is nice - as this is my favourite shrub in the garden.

By darkness the garden looked like the snow had never been! We still have strong winds and tomorrow we are looking at widespread snow across Scotland. I expect I'll need to top up the feeders again at lunchtime as it will be another busy day in the garden!

All photos above were taken in my garden on January 31st, 2008.

Tuesday, 29 January 2008

Health, horticulture and garden birds

Writing this diary has given me a much greater appreciation of my own garden with its plants, birds and visiting wildlife.

Talking about plants and the garden I never tire of. Yes, well maybe I do ramble on a bit sometimes – sorry! However, I am really trying to keep this post very brief today and not because I feel it is less important – quite the opposite.

Working in, or simply being in, the garden can be therapeutic on a wide range of levels from escaping the stresses of our daily lives to rebuilding our lives after ill health or disability. It can also be a very sociable activity to be enjoyed with family and friends.

Thrive, and Trellis are just two of the many, many organisations who are helping others feel better through horticulture. If you are interested in this for yourself, or someone you know, you will find contact addresses and much more by browsing these sites and the links within them. Some also produce Newsletters too and I was particularly delighted to be asked to add some chat from my garden to a column in one that is in my area of Scotland. It should be fun – although keeping to the word count I expect will be quite tricky for me!

Garden birds are how my diary started and when Bob at Dean Birders mailed me, last February, asking me to exchange links with him I knew I would return to post on his project one day. In their site they say:

‘This project was the result of two keen birdwatchers getting together and wanting to share their hobby with those that have difficulty getting out and about. We want to set up feeder stations and nesting boxes in the gardens of those people that are either elderly or have a disability and are limited to the house’.

If you want to help out with this project, in the Forest of Dean, or get ideas for one yourself I’m sure Bob would be happy to hear from you. Equally, if you want to help out with the other projects mentioned above I’m sure they too would be very interested to hear from you. There, I’ve almost managed a brief post :-)

Saturday, 26 January 2008

The RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch 2008: Results for shirls gardenwatch

This morning between 10-11am I took part in the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch 2008. It was a very windy morning as I topped up my feeders just before 9am. I have found that newly filled feeders sometimes take up to an hour for the birds to descend on them in their usual numbers.

Update March 26th 2008: If you are looking for the results from the RSPB they just came out this morning. I have also just posted on them too with comparisons to last year.

The RSPB bird count is for the UK only. However, I thought I would be interesting to see what visits gardens in other parts of the world too. So I enlisted some help from some friends in the blogging community to take part with us this weekend. You will find details of their counts at the bottom of this post which I will update as they come in. I will also add a link here at the end of March for the results of the RSPB count.

Just before I began counting a jackdaw came down for a few peanuts I put on top of the sunflower hearts in the small seed tray next to my hanging feeders. This jackdaw always spots them there! However just like a grey heron that flew over my garden it didn’t appear in my results – birds flying over the garden don’t count. Two crows also flew over.

A photo montage of the different garden birds that visited during my bird count this morning I thought would be much more interesting to see - especially for any visitors reading this from outside the UK. These really are pretty little garden birds. You can still see a list of the statistics below. Looking at the photos, one photo represents one of that species visiting although many females did visit too.

Half-way through my bird count and I was happy that although some numbers were down on a usual day it still was a fairly good account of my visiting birds. The numbers of chaffinches and siskins in particular were increasing at the feeders although the birds are always nervous on a windy day. I was beginning to wonder how many chaffinches I could manage to count accurately as each visit brought more. Then, as I almost got a number, the wind would get up and the birds would scatter away into my hedge and surrounding trees. Of course the photo below shows what happened next!!

As suspected, although I still couldn’t believe her timing at 10.30am, a young female Sparrowhawk flew down and perched herself on the roof of my shed. She stayed there for a minute or so which was just enough time for me to move my tripod and get a few photos. Unfortunately I had problems with my focus settings trying to catch her quickly. Her feathers were getting blown about as she sat and the wind caught her too and I noticed her claws held tightly to my shed. She could clearly hear the birds hiding in my shed as she was turning round and looking towards it a few times as well as watching the ground too. She eventually flew off with nothing this time.

My count was as good as over then! It was 20 minutes before any birds returned to the feeders with the first being the chaffinches who were, not surprisingly, top of my list today. The chaffinch was top of the list for the whole of Scotland last year but my garden had the starlings with just one more. Funnily enough since the invasion of starlings into my garden with their young last summer they only visit occasionally now. There is just one bird that somtimes comes (most unusual for the starlings) and feeds with the blackbirds on the ground.

I blame the fatcakes for unsociable numbers of starlings! I guess you will agree with me on this, Robin! I now have one fatcake but it is in a feeder with a cage around it called a fatcake guardian- maybe you have something like this in the USA Robin? The blackcap, robin, blue and great tits are enjoying being able to get peace (at the moment) eating in it. However, I have to say that any claims of completely stopping the larger birds getting in this cage are false. It only took one slim starling working out it how to get in last year - with others watching! They are smart birds, starlings! However, they are on the endangered list here in the UK and this is where the statistics give a good picture of numbers. In my garden you could say after being top in my bird count last year they have gone from hero to zero! I wonder where all the juveniles went? So, now to my statistics for 2008 below.

13 CHAFFINCHES Fringilla coelebs (12 last year)
7 SISKINS Carduelis spinus (none last year)
5 HOUSE SPARROWS Passer domesticus (6 last year)
3 BLACKBIRDS Turdus merula (same last year)
3 BLUE TITS Parus caeruleus (same last year)
3 GOLDFINCHES Carduelis carduelis (2 last year)
2 GREENFINCHES Carduelis chloris (3 last year)
2 WOODPIGEONS Columba palumbus (5 last year)
1 ROBIN Erithacus rubecula (2 last year)
1 DUNNOCK Prunella modularis (same last year)
1 BLACKCAP Sylvia atricapilla (none last year)
1 SPARROWHAWK Accipter nisus (none last year)

Today, I have to blame the woodpigeon for perching itself on my neighbours pruned cherry tree overlooking my garden for spoiling what was looking like a good count from my garden! It made an excellent ‘Café Open’ sign for any Sparrowhawks looking out from mature trees in the distance! If it hadn't visited today I wonder if the Sparrowhawk would have. I should also say here that we haven’t seen as many woodpigeons visiting the garden recently - last year at this time we could easily have seen five. I am guessing the Sparrowhawk is perhaps responsible as I have noticed a patch of grey feathers in the same place on my neighbours lawn on more than a few occasions.

Finally, I would like to say a huge thanks to everyone outside the UK, listed below, who joined me with a bird count.

NOVA SCOTIA Canada, Sarah see comments
GEORGIA USA, Jayne see comments and post
SWITZERLAND, Barbara see comments
VIRGINIA USA, Entangled see post ‘Counting Crows’
SW INDIANA USA, Lisa see post
NOVA SCOTIA Canada, Jodi see post
N ILLINOIS USA, Mr McGregor’s Daughter see comments
CENTRAL INDIANA, Robin see comments
SE TENNESSEE USA, Frances see post
NETHERLANDS, Yolanda see comments
FLORIDA KEYS USA, Jane see comments

Thanks also go to Carol in Indiana USA and Ewa in Poland for taking part see comments.

Friday, 25 January 2008

What birds will you see?

January 26-27


Okay, sorry you won’t see a robin with a blue breast hiding in purple and pink foliage! However, the RSPB is very interested in the birds that do visit your garden this weekend over a period of one hour. If you would like to join this annual survey you can see more details on their website.

I just thought I would add one more reminder. I am taking part and look forward to seeing how my results will compare with last year’s. Although I have a feeling that the Sparrowhawk that has been visiting my garden over the last few days is likely to mess up my count! Ah well..

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

Dish of the day

This morning we were greeted with a frosted garden once more although it didn’t feel too cold. I do love to see a winter garden. It looks almost asleep on mornings like today but as soon as the birds descended towards the feeders it didn’t stay sleepy for long! That’s not at all unusual on cold days as the birds need the energy of the food to keep them warm. What was interesting about today was how popular a new seed mix was.

Gourmet robin blend it read on the small 1.5kg bag which I picked up at a large well known supermarket over the weekend. I failed to get a large bag of sunflower hearts at the pet shop as they were out of stock so I took the smaller bag. When I saw the robin mix I thought it would supplement the sunflower hearts which are by far the most popular food with my visiting garden birds. I had no expectations with this mix. I have been disappointed with a number of good quality seed mixes in the past including one by a well known presenter of bird and nature programmes.

I scattered the seed mix on the ground under and around my small domed Acer tree yesterday. If no other birds were interested in it I was fairly confident the blackbirds would be more than happy with it. Oh yes and they were!

Patience is often required when new feeders are put up or new food added to existing ones. It sometimes takes a few weeks for the birds to show interest and even then it may be only a few at the start. In time word does get around and the feeders will get many visiting birds. What a difference a day made in this case!

The robins often visit the small feeder tray that rests in my Acer tree so I decided to put some mix in it. The bag stated that this mix was ‘Formulated for Robins and other ground feeding birds’.

It also listed a selection of birds that would eat this mix. Yes, today I did see dunnocks, chaffinches and house sparrows join the robins and blackbirds in large numbers running around the ground eating the seed. However there was one bird that wasn’t listed that kept coming, back, back and back again to eat at the feeder.

The female blackcap, which is now a regular to to my garden, was seen really enjoying this seed mix for robins. It even dined with the robin at one point until the blackbirds came jumping through the branches and squeezed under to eat from this feeder too. The blackcap never went far away. She would sit on the branches above waiting for the blackbird to go. I couldn’t believe how popular this dish of the day was!

Luckily, as the chaffinches were all feeding on the ground this left the hanging feeders with sunflower hearts free for all the other finches. Many Siskins and goldfinches came and a few greenfinches too. I also noticed four blue tits and a great tit. Thankfully I saw no sign of the Sparrowhawk which was very surprising considering the activity in my garden.

Finally, today’s bird watch through my window did also concern me when I saw more than one blackbird with a broken/deformed foot. I knew I had one female but today I saw two males as well. I will post on this soon once I get clearer photos and a bit more information on this. All my photos above were taken through my window. I also photographed the dunnock but it was moving too quickly and it was not too clear but it was much clearer than the photos of the wren which were completely blurred!

The photos above were taken in my garden on January 22nd 2008.

Friday, 18 January 2008

Rain brings garden birds

Today, rain brought much activity to my bird feeders. I have noticed that there are many more birds in my garden on a wet day than a dry one. Back and forth they flew from feeder to feeder looking for a space to land. They would also drop very quickly to the ground and on to shrubs then in a split second they would all swoop out of my garden to the safety of my neighbour’s larger trees. Some also disappear straight into my hedge which is funny to watch although not as funny as seeing them all gingerly peek their heads out again to see if it is safe to go back to the feeders!

Wren around garden pond, video 0:15 with background music, try 480p quality.

The tiny bird that scurries around the edges of my pond was who I set my video camera to capture today. I love to see it visit and would really like to get some photos of it from outside but recently with the rain and winds I haven’t been able to do so. So, for the meantime I will have to settle for the video camera inside at the window. My film above is very short – just like this visit.

Another short visit I spotted today was of a Sparrowhawk briefly landing on the hook of one of my feeders. I believe they check out gardens in advance to plan their attack route. I expect my shrubs, bamboo, small trees, pergola and arch make this route a tricky one. I have also noticed it pass through my garden on windy days too so no wonder the birds are a bit more nervous at the feeders then.

Next weekend I hope I see my usual selection of garden birds visit my garden as it is the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch for 2008. This is a yearly survey counting the birds that visit our gardens across the UK. To take part you just spend an hour sometime over the weekend – it can be great fun especially for families. You don’t count every bird that you see visit as one bird could make many visits throughout the hour. You don’t count birds that fly over either. You count the most birds you can see at any one time in your garden over a period of one hour.

The RSPB website will give more details and a counting sheet too. I would suggest that you browse their site this weekend for ideas on possible visitors and perhaps pay some attention to what is likely to be the busiest times in your garden - that’s if you want to get a good count! In previous years many people, myself included, have been disappointed that in the hour they chose to do their count it didn’t fully reflect the numbers that usually visit the garden. The RSPB say as there are so many people taking part (over 400,000 last year) these numbers average out and do give an accurate account of the birds visiting our gardens. They publish their results (in March last year) listing the top ten garden birds in the UK and also separate figures for Scotland, England, Ireland and Wales.

Just a thought – if any of my visitors outside the UK would like to do their own bird count on the weekend of 26-27 January you could pop a comment on this post with your results and I will add them to my results posting. Alternatively if you would like to do your own post just leave a comment here telling me and I will add a direct link to your posting on my results posting and people from the UK will see what birds you have in your gardens. This could be very interesting indeed to see what birds visit gardens in an hour across other parts of Europe, Canada and America. Please do consider joining me - it could be fun. Mmm thinking about this some more I might just send out some invitations!!

The video shown above was taken in my garden on January 18th 2008.

Tuesday, 15 January 2008

Garden Bloom Day January 2008

January’s Bloom Day posting for Carol at May Dreams Gardens completes the first year of Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day. Congratulations Carol – you have organised this well! I am delighted that you intend carrying on with this for another year.

Okay, if you are a new visitor you may be wondering what this is all about. Well, on the 15th of every month Carol has invited others to join her in posting on what is in flower in the garden with photos or lists.

The plan is then to go to Carol’s post and leave a comment to say that you have taken part. From there you can browse the other posts and others will visit your posting. It is a great way of discovering new garden diary/blogs. I began taking part in May last year and am very interested now to compare last years flowers with this years.

The photos above show penstemon, skimmia with euphorbia (I like the red berries and the red stems here) and finally polygala which has still so many buds. One very interesting thing I have noticed about the polygala. I have a good sized planting covering part of my rock garden which began with the purple variety which you can see in the smaller photo below. I only had a little of the yellow but it now the yellow seems to have dominated this whole area! The brave little single purple flower was on its own at the back of my rockery – hiding from the yellow perhaps?

Crocus and daffodil bulbs are now pushing through my lawn. Although some did get a bit flattened after the last fall of snow with my daughters running up and down the lawn with a sledge. My new tulips bulbs that I have planted in pots in my border are also pushing through – I think they are perhaps too early so I may add some more soil on top of them to bury them a little deeper. My Sulphur heart ivy still has a number of flowers but they are beginning to go past now. I still have a few new euphorbia flowers and the purple-black berries of the ophiopogon still shine beautifully in the winter sun.

Tiny delicate arabis flowers are still hanging on – I had no idea that it could flower for so long either. It should be getting full sun but in the partial shade of my back garden it is still going strong! I have also noticed the buds are forming on my magnolia but I didn’t expect new growth on my clematis 'Miss Bateman'. I have just looked this up. 'Miss Bateman' is listed as a Group 2 clematis which flowers on the current season’s growth. The book suggest that I should prune before new growth starts – oops too late there then. Mmm I wonder what I should do now.

As you will have noticed I have posted a few rather lengthy posts recently. I am now going to take time over the next couple of nights to visit some blogs myself. I have a lot of catching up to do with my favourites and I am also looking forward to seeing all the Bloom Day posts too!

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

Monday, 14 January 2008

Arbours and Pergolas - Part 2

In Part 1 of my posting on Arbours and Pergolas, for Gardening Gone Wild’s January Design Workshop, I wanted to show some of the inspiration I used for structures in my own garden. Now, I should probably say that Part 2 is most likely to only be of interest to gardening readers. However, I would perhaps suggest that others interested in birds and wildlife briefly scroll down the photos to see that my garden isn’t wild yet I still manage to attract many birds and hedgehogs too.

Where to start? Gosh, this has been very hard and it has taken me a week searching through photos, selecting which ones and scanning old pre digital ones. I have selected photos then rejected photos. I also have better quality photos too. I have uploaded photos and deleted photos. Ultimately my thoughts were to show how and why I chose my structures.

I am not a garden designer so I am not about to say this is the way to go. Design is personal taste anyway isn’t it? However as a former graphic designer I cannot leave things alone! You will have perhaps noticed that I am always tweaking things on my blog. In my garden I look at all areas from every angle and having a small garden I want it to flow – but hey that’s just the way I like to do it. So, now I would suggest you get your coffee pot flowing as this is a lengthy post!

Opening the garden gate into my back garden when we moved here and your eye was completely drawn to the far corner and you saw the whole part of this area in one go. Nothing stopped your eye going straight to the boundaries. There was a strip of lawn and a large area of gravel and paving as you will see in the first photo below. A few years on and we had toddling daughters and a Wooden Wendy house which, located in front of the hedge, stopped the eye going all the way to the corner.

The wide straight paths now fooled the eye into thinking this area was larger and gave my daughters room to run around! I focused a lot on all the paths that would go this way and that - secretly imagining running around as a child myself! Yes, well, we are all a child at heart aren’t we? On the right you can just see my pergola but I’ll come back to that later.

The large photo above shows my garden as it is now in winter – photo taken last week. Notice you can no longer see the corner at all now. The Wendy house has been gone a number of years now and was replaced initially by a garden seat then this year finally with an arbour. You can just see the arbour through the trellis.

A secret jungle garden was my daughter’s request for the area behind my fence. I originally had forest bark paths but they proved too messy and slippery in wet days so I replaced them with gravel. I like to see this gravel on both sides of the trellis in winter and spring as it joins the two areas together. This area also slopes slightly upwards towards the hedge and I chose to further exaggerate this by digging a hole in the middle so my daughters would walk down into the jungle and back up and out of it again.

This is where my Gunnera is planted as all water runs towards it. This was the plant that my daughter felt would really make it a jungle – that and bamboo! So how did we make it secret? We added trellis to that side of our pergola walkway to enclose it and then I planted ivy and jasmine up this trellis. I later added golden hop to grow up and through the bamboo too. Of course being in dappled shade this area was also perfect for ferns too.

Turning and changing direction as you walk through this pergola is what I really love about it – oh yes and the beautiful scent of jasmine in the summer. My plan was to connect the secret jungle with my original rock garden to my rock scree. It connected three small areas making the whole area feel much larger - we called this structure ‘The Walkway’.

As this wasn’t on completely flat ground we had the bonus of being able create a very gentle slope allowing you to walk up/down through it. I am delighted with it. I now have tall grasses next to one of the poles so you feel that you are walking through the structure without have plants growing up this pole. I really think tall plants and shrubs around a structure help tremendously in creating a sense of place for them.

Above and below, I hope the before and after photos show just how much a vertical structure can give privacy, interest and a feeling of space to a small garden. I now could never conceive of having a garden without a few structures. I would even add obelisks into this category as I have certainly enjoyed mine through the winter too after putting apples on them for visiting birds.

Before adding our first pergola my garden really looked quite bare especially as I sat on the garden seat behind the fence looking out on to it as you can see in the photo below. Although I do have memories of enjoying sitting watching my daughters run around the paths and in and out of the Wendy House - something at that time was still missing.

It was so obvious that I never thought of it. I needed height! I needed something to walk through and my daughters to run through. I needed tunnels. I needed a pergola – and that first pergola shown below was to change my whole garden and indeed the way I gardened.

Informal edges and curves to my borders replaced the straight formal ones as I added more vertical height to my garden – one seemed to come with the other. My daughters were no longer small so my paths became winding and informal. I could now look along the length of my garden without seeing its end - which ever way I looked! I began choosing plants to deliberately spill their foliage over the now curved edges of my borders. Yes, I was now even playing with perspective.

Looking out from in front of my greenhouse, in the first photo below, is a view that I have really enjoyed over the different planting years I have had in this garden. I have a surprise here for 2008 too - no sorry can't say yet! However, once again by adding height with an arch and a very small 3ft high by 6ft long trellis beside it I have changed the whole feel of this area. All utiilty items of the garden are now set back out of the garden and from here I feel walk into my garden. I also changed the colour of these structures last year too which has added another green to my garden and at the same lifted this area in dull dark days.

Finally, sorry if your coffee cold, I come to the newest and most special structure of my garden – the arbour. We bought this as a kit, unlike our other structures which were planned mostly by me and wonderfully executed by my husband - with a bit of negotiation of course! We spotted this arbour in a local garden centre, ordered it and waited for it to arrive. It was April 2007 and it was a beautifully warm and sunny month. Gosh, it was taller and much heavier than we expected when it arrived– so we changed its location! You know how it is when you plan it in your head, it looks right in the shop, but … when you get it home Mmm!

It now sat in the spot that our daughter’s Wendy House sat – that was probably the right place for it all along. One of my daughter's enjoyed lounging on it reading a book some days last summer - but unfortunately it was our wettest summer for a few years. We didn’t sit often under our arbour and nor were we able to sit under our pergola to eat our evening meal together too often either. However, you can guess what I am going to say now, I am really looking forward to this summer and sitting out in my garden!

Just one more very important point... I would like to add how grateful I am that my husband made such strong structures as last week we had some very strong winds overnight and during the day! Our house lost some tiles. I was a little worried about our Arbour as it is completely free standing and I was very apprehensive as I opened the blinds that morning. Thankfully it was okay as were all our structures where we used metal spikes straight into the ground for our upright posts. I really didn’t want clumps of cement under my plants and so far this method has served us well – let’s hope it continues!

All photos above were taken in my garden sometime during the last 16 years.

Saturday, 12 January 2008

Hot spot

My Acer palmatum Sango Kaku looks stunning lit with early morning sun at this time of year. Its coral branches just look fantastic especially when covered in frost at the same time as they were this morning. However this tree is also quite a hot spot for the birds in my garden especially on sunny cold mornings.

This morning I couldn’t resist running out with my camera (coat, hat, scarf and gloves on) as this particular moment of lighting on my tree only lasts 30 mins at the most. I have done this a few mornings and the birds leave only to return when I returned inside! Today I was lucky as you can see below. I captured the Blue Tit, Siskin male, Siskin female, Goldfinch and finally my first okay shots of the female Blackcap that is still visiting my garden. We are still to see a male Blackcap this year. We are now going out to try and sort the leak in our camera Nestbox so I expect the feeders will be quiet for a little while.

All photos and shown above were taken in my garden on January 12th 2008.