Monday, 31 March 2008

Spot the birdie

Over the weekend I’ve had a bit of a challenge trying to ID a visiting bird to my garden. Wow… the pale yellow colouring of this bird was really noticed in the flock of birds descending on the feeders on Saturday afternoon. It was raining quite hard at the time and raindrops were all over my back window but I still took some photos. I had never seen a bird like this one.

Quickly browsing through my book I checked for birds that I hadn’t seen like a yellowhammer (I am still new to bird ID’s) where of course I was well off the mark. I browsed and browsed. Nope, no ID. I was very curious now.

Perhaps this wasn’t a new garden bird – maybe it was an escaped caged bird. A canary… could it be a canary? I checked images on Google. I then felt quite silly that I had been browsing my RSPB Complete Book of Birds. So for a little while I considered it could be someone’s pet and made a (brief) request to my family that they might want to ask neighbours if they had an escaped bird, as I kept an eye on it. Nope… this suggestion wasn’t taken on - fortunately for me!

I watched the behaviour of this bird. It really didn’t look like it was new to this group of siskins it came to the feeders with. It ate at the small tray of sunflower hearts with them and a greenfinch and even the larger house sparrow. Mm… I started looking at my less than clear photos again.

I could see a very light brown cap as you will see on the photo below. I was starting to convince myself that I could see the markings of a siskin male. Could this be some sort of ‘almost’ albino male siskin? I was convincing myself now that it was. Nope… I was now thinking it cannot be a canary. Phew… that was lucky we didn’t ask neighbours!!

I then considered who might know from one of the contacts I have made through my blog. I sent off an email. However, it was late Saturday afternoon and this person may even be away for the weekend. Later on that evening I then considered a bird forum. I am a member of one already but I decided to join a worldwide one, the Birdforum, as I spotted an image from their gallery of a larger pale yellow bird. I couldn’t browse further until I became a member. It was getting late.

Next morning this pale yellow bird was back at the feeders again. So now it was time to find my way around this new forum, post a message and upload a few photos. Briefly browsing, the word ‘leucisitic’ came up with another pale yellow bird. If you are familiar with forums you may know that responses back vary based on other more popular topics there at the time. However it just needs a couple of answers to confirm an ID.

Sunday mornings are maybe a good time for forums as within minutes of posting my question asking for an ID I had an answer. I was well chuffed that I had finally worked out what this pale yellow bird was. However I didn’t know what leucistic was. I asked this member the question. I then had two replies – fantastic! I also had a reply to my email now too.

I now knew exactly what was visiting my garden. This bird is a leucistic siskin. It has no dark pigments at all so that is why I can see markings unlike albino where there are no pigments at all. My sincere thanks go to the members of the BirdForum and to Border who confirmed my final suspicions.

Finally, I do have a very great concern for the survival of this bird. We do have Sparrowhawks visiting the garden and this bird and as you would imagine is very easy to spot!

Oh yes, I should perhaps say that yesterday I also spotted some other ‘bird’ activity from my window seat…

The top three photos above were taken in my garden on March 29th 2008. The last photo shown above was taken in my garden on March 30th 2008.

Friday, 28 March 2008

Where do you find garden blogs?

A Google search came up with a staggering 21,300,000 results on a web search and 2,020,000 on a UK search. Yep… so I’ll ask the question again. Where do you find garden blogs? We all know a general search like this will take considerable time browsing to even get you close to what you are looking for. I was about six months into my blog before I started seriously looking for other garden blogs. I now know where I should have looked…

Interestingly there is a twist for me here. I began this blog as a way to send video footage of the European robin to my friend in Australia who was missing Scotland. I would never claim to be a ‘proper’ birder. I am very new to this and just chat about my observations, photos and videos of my visiting garden birds. However, I am a gardener and coming round full circle here is Australia, thanks to Stuart at blotanical, giving something back to me with garden blogs!

What is Blotanical? Well, it is like a database of garden blogs. Mm.. nothing new there then? Ah… but there is one huge difference. The blogs there have not been randomly selected by a search engine - each blog as been personally submitted by its owner. Blotanical is a community of garden blogs regardless of your skill in gardening or indeed blogging. I have now been a member since the end of Jan 08 and have discovered many new and interesting blogs and met friendly bloggers on the way, many who also enjoying visiting birds and wildlife in the garden too.

You can browse Blotanical without being a member too. On the opening page you will find a set of header tabs. ‘Blog Directory’ will be selected and you will see sub heads below. More blogs join every week but today you will find listed:

370 blogs from the United States
62 from the UK
54 from Canada
31 from Oceania
10 from Asia
4 from Africa
4 from South America

To view a blog in a particular area within the countries you just click on the red flowers until you find the area you are interested in – a text bubble with a link will pop up. Some areas will have only one blog and others will have a few that you can scroll through.

You will now have a snapshot of the blog with a screenshot, a description and a list of recent post headings (if the owner has allowed the feed). I have chosen to allow my feed as it gives visitors a better idea of the current content of my blog before they visit. There are direct links to the last five posts or you can select the purple button ‘VISIT BLOG’.

Why join blotanical when you can browse without doing so? Well, it really depends entirely on what you are happy with, looking for or indeed have the time for. I should warn all track of time can be lost browsing blotanical!

You can select other header tabs to view the most popular blogs or view the picks (posts recommended by other blogs) however, without joining blotanical you cannot vote a 'pick’ or leave messages on the ‘plot’ of other blogs. However, you can be a member without having a blog yourself. It really depends what you are looking for.

To submit your blog to blotanical there really isn’t much too it. The screenshot above shows the form and there are only a couple more questions and you are there. Once your submission is made you have to wait up to 72 hours for it to be accepted and then the fun really begins.

A welcome message will come to ‘your plot’ from Stuart and before long other Bloggers will discover you and send messages of welcome to you too. From there you are up and running and you can take it at whatever pace you want.

Hopefully my gardening readers will feel that this introduction to lots of fantastic garden blogs has made up for the lack of gardening chat in my last few posts. Please do come back and visit me though! I won’t go into any more details of actually using blotanical as a member. There really is a lot more to discover and I feel it is only fair that you discover this for yourself. However, I should say that you might find a little difficulty navigating the pages in the beginning. Don’t worry about that at all. Just pop a question to the help desk or ask another member – everyone is so friendly and helpful.

Ultimately blotanical is a fantastic place to find garden blogs and to meet the owners. Stuart and the blotanical team are doing a great job. Mm… I want to say more but I should stop now. Enjoy blotanical and have a great weekend!

Finally, a few stats for my bird and wildlife visitors – I did the same search for them. There were many more results for the question ‘Where do you find bird blogs?’ with 65,000,000 on the web. A UK search gave 383,000 which was less than UK results for the question ‘Where do you find wildlife blogs’ which was 474,000. Interestingly the web search for wildlife was surprisingly small at 1,890,000. These stats were only accurate at the time I sampled them this morning however, I wonder what they say for the wildlife of the world?

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Top 10 UK Garden Birds 2008

For anyone who took part with the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch in January 2008 the results are now out. Below I have listed the top ten with comparison figures for 2007. You can see my top ten visiting garden birds here.

Top 10 Garden Birds 2008

1. HOUSE SPARROW with an average of 3.6 per garden
(2007 – 1. with 4.4 per garden)

2. STARLING with an average of 3.44 per garden
(2007 – 2. with 3.67 per garden)

3. BLACKBIRD with an average of 2.45 per garden
(2007 – 4. with 2.26 per garden)

with an average of 2.29 per garden
(2007 – 3. with 2.82 per garden)

with an average of 2.15 per garden
(2007 – 5. with 1.9 per garden)

6. WOODPIGEON with an average of 1.53 per garden
(2007 – 7. with 1.53 per garden)

7. COLLARED DOVE with an average of 1.43 per garden
(2007 – 6. with 1.56 per garden)

8. ROBIN with an average of 1.26 per garden
(2007 – 9. with 1.26 per garden)

with an average of 1.25 per garden
(2007 – 8. with 1.37 per garden)

with an average of 1.16 per garden
(2007 – Goldfinch not in top ten,
Greenfinch was 10th place with 1.2 per garden)

Finches bring such wonderful colour to the garden. Chaffinches are always in my garden but now I have an increasing number of siskins - I even had siskin juveniles in last year. I also have greenfinches and goldfinches visiting too – again bringing their young. Therefore, I am not surprised at all that the RSPB has highlighted the finches in their results page:

"Numbers of colourful finches visiting UK gardens over winter are at their highest levels for five years. For the first time in the survey's 29-year history, the striking siskin made it into the top 20, and the scarcer brambling moved from 57 to 36 in the rankings. This increase in bramblings and siskins (up by two thirds in the last five years), suggest that tree seed supplies have been poor this year and they've been forced into gardens to find food. Along with siskin and brambling increases, redpoll numbers skyrocketed, being seen in twice as many gardens this year as last. Again this is probably due to poor supply of food.”

Finally, to see a more detailed list of the birdcount in your area check out this list on the Results Pages.

Monday, 24 March 2008

Camera Nestbox update

Today I have posted on two nestboxes in my garden, but by the far the most interesting in my garden is another one that has a camera in it. So what is happening there?

I don't want this mess, video 0:12 with background music, try 480p quality.

Okay, as you can see this box is a tad messy as it has had a rooster using it. Now, if you were a bird looking for a home to bring chicks into the world would you use this one or a brand new one? Yep… but we aren’t nesting birds! The bird in the video above is the female blue tit now interested in my new Arch Nestbox. Oh… I do hope she reconsiders her choice.

So what about the rooster? Well the feathers on the floor in the video above probably tell a story but unfortunately I didn’t see what happened! All I can say that is on one occasion this month our roosting blue tit (every night since beginning of November ’07) did get an unwelcome visitor which required a chase off through the garden unnerving it for a while that night.

So where is the rooster now? Well I have absolutely no idea but it has not been roosting in my Camera Nestbox for a week now. I am guessing by the number of feathers on the floor of my Nestbox a second more heated altercation occurred – which I missed! The rooster has distinctive markings so I would spot it at the feeders in my garden. However, there are only two blue tits visiting my garden at the moment – at least that I have noticed.

Disappointment is indeed an understatement of how I feel about the blue tit pair choosing the ‘other’ Nestbox. Or have they? On the same day that I opened up the Arch Nestbox I heard a familiar tap tap coming through the speakers of my camera Nestbox. I do believe one of the birds is reconsidering which box to use! I watched as it flew back to the Arch Nestbox. Mm… perhaps it is not over yet!

This morning, once again, I heard the tap tap through the speakers. I also saw both birds visit the ‘other’ Nestbox. Okay, if I were to take a guess at this moment I would say they both like the new box. However, one of them is coming back to the camera Nestbox which was cleaned out one of the nights the rooster wasn’t using it. This box now has a smooth clean floor. Now this could be interesting – I should try to work out if it is the male or the female. If it is the female we are in with a chance that the Camera Nestbox could still be used.

Interestingly, the Camera Nestbox has one thing over the Arch Nestbox - especially as it is so cold at the moment with snow fluttering about the garden. It gets more sunlight so it is likely to be warmer. Now, does this matter for a successful brood? The Camera Nestbox only gets early morning sun but from last year’s diary the eggs are hatched early morning. Mm… I am considering if the story of our Camera Nestbox for 2008 is really over!

Oh yes… one other thought. The Nestbox entrance hole I have chosen for the Camera Nestbox was one of three supplied by the manufacturer. I selected the one that would suit a Great tit which is larger than the blue tit. Now, I originally was hoping a great tit would use this Nestbox. I wonder…

Finally, last year on the 24th of March we witnessed a very interesting manoeuvre by the blue tit female in our camera Nestbox. At the time, I wondered if the floor on the new box was just slippery. However, this action looked deliberate. What is she doing in the video above? Well the answer is that is she is performing something that is called a nesting shuffle. This is a sign that she is considering building a nest in the Nestbox. I will say no more about this shuffle for the moment – except that I would dearly love to see it in my Camera Nestbox sometime soon!

The first video above was taken in my Camera Nestbox on March 18th 2008.

Arch Nestbox 2008

Introducing... Blue tit Nestbox number two which is becoming popular if not a little controversial in my garden. Should it stay or should it go?

Blue tit pair viewing, video 1:42 with bird calls, try 480p quality.

The Nestbox above is situated above the arch at my silver border. It has replaced the terrace Nestbox that was previously sited here. Why did I take the terrace down?

If you are new to the Nestboxes in my garden here is a little update. The very first Nestbox I put up in my garden was a terrace - one long Nestbox with three separate compartments, all with an entrance hole. It was used by a blue tit two years ago who built more than one nest. We replaced it with another the same as the first had water damage.

No, I don't want wood shavings, video 1:46 with background bird chatter, try 480p quality.

Recently this new terrace saw much activity with a new blue tit visiting the garden. It was seen removing the wood shavings at great speed from not one but two of the compartments! We decided to help it by removing the rest and had intended putting it back up until we saw why it left one compartment alone - you can see below. As the house sparrows have shown no interest in this box and blue tits are not likely to nest together I decided to spare one poor blue tit the trouble of building two nests – which it would.

Unfortunately with one thing and another it was two weekends before we put up a replacement single box. In this time span the new visiting blue tit moved on. I did wonder if we were too late putting it up ten days ago. However, within just two days it did get a pair visiting showing a great deal of interest! Great news – or is it?

The sting here is that this is 'the daytime pair' that had been visiting my Nestbox that has a camera in it! Oh… what to do now. I watched them go occasionally to the camera Nestbox but more visits were going to this new one above the arch. I thought about this long and hard. I would still be able to at least see them go in and out of the box without a camera. We had a rooster in the camera Nestbox perhaps it would build a nest too?

After much deliberation I decided to block the entrance to the new box to encourage the pair back to the camera box. They were somewhat confused to say the least - trying to see past my tube of cardboard. I felt a pang of guilt with this but as I could share this nesting experience in my Nestbox that had a camera I chose this route.

What happened next? Well this pair of blue tits snubbed my garden completely! They still took food from the feeders but took it away to eat it – they usually stayed and ate near the feeders on branches of trees etc. I cannot tell you how disappointed I was now. I did nothing for four days. Then I took the tube out of the new Nestbox with the thought that they may come back to it - if they would not come near the one with the camera.

Unbelievable less than 15 minutes after the Arch Nestbox was opened up again this same pair were back in it again. I have to say I was so glad to see them again. Okay I would much rather they used my box with a camera but this way at least we could see nesting albeit from the outside of Nestbox. They are back visiting the garden feeders together again and sitting on branches eating the food from them. All is back almost as it was. But what has been going on in my camera Nestbox...

All photos and videos above were taken in my garden during March 2008.

Blackbird Nestbox 2008

Is it too late to add a Nestbox to your garden? Well, perhaps in other parts of the UK it may be but here in my garden I don’t think so.

I have been looking for signs of the blackbirds collecting nesting material. They are easy to spot as they collect a lot in their beaks and do visit the edges of my pond for wet material to bind their nests. They are definitely showing signs of being territorial but there are quite a few that visit so they will just have to share my garden. I love to watch them early in the morning.

Last year we had blackbirds building a nest in the ivy of my pergola as you can see above. Unfortunately as it is in an area that we pass through and sit under it was eventually abandoned. However, it is probably the best place for me to site a Nestbox for them. Yesterday we removed the old nest and replaced it with the rather fine Nestbox shown in the first photo - an early Birthday present from my parents.

Last week I decided to trim back a lot of long stems of the ivy here so it would bush out and offer protection to any nesting birds here. So for the moment the area with the new Nestbox looks a little bare but I am confident it will provide good cover in future months. I am looking forward to the nesting season starting – it is fascinating to watch the change in activity of the visiting birds.

Finally, if you are following my diary you maybe wondering what is going on in my Nestbox that has a camera. I do have a story to tell here but I first need to introduce another new Nestbox.

The photos above were taken in my garden on March 23rd 2008.

Saturday, 22 March 2008

Latest news on Cherrybank Gardens closure

Update September 2008. Great News - the gardens have been saved!! BBC News reported on 19th September 2008 that:

"The future of Cherrybank Gardens in Perth is set to be secured, six months after they were closed down.

The gardens house what is thought to be Europe's largest heather collection but they were shut because of low visitor numbers and lack of funding.

More than 3,000 people signed a petition calling for them to be saved.

Operators Scotland's Garden Trust (SGT) plans to transfer the running of the site to Perth and Kinross Leisure who will reopen the gardens to the public.

SGT had wanted to turn the site into a £40m national garden for Scotland.

Those plans had to be shelved after the lottery rejected its application for a £25m grant.

SGT felt that Cherrybank was not viable on its own, as only about 6,000 people visited last year, and decided to close the site in March.

However, garden maintenance has been going on since then in the hope they could one day open again.

Perth and Kinross Leisure has not yet set a date for the reopening but hope it will be "as soon as possible."

However, the former visitor centre at the gardens will be sold off and there are plans to turn that into offices.

Bill Moyes from Perth and Kinross Leisure said: "Everyone is aware of the significance of the heather collections, it's a collection of national and international significance.

"So the collection in itself was important, but I think equally important is just the general environs that the gardens have, it's a very important location, it's a fantastic and beautiful site, a site that I think was enjoyed by a lot of people, not only locally at that side of Perth, but I think visitors to the town and people from across the country."

Original posting on this date shown below:

Public Meeting Monday 24th March, 11am.

Garden Car Park

A petition with over 3000 signatures in support of the gardens not closing was handed in to the local Council (Perth & Kinross).

Understandably there has been quite a public outcry over the planned closure of Bell’s Cherrybank Gardens which holds the National Collection of Heather. There has been a fair bit of press coverage too as you would expect coming from a variety of sources.

Let’s hope the light flurries of snow we have had will stay away and the temperature is a bit warmer on Monday. It would be great to see as many people as possible being able to attend this meeting which has been arranged by councillors from Perth and Kinross Council.

Once more my thoughts are with the team of people working from here as well as the loss of this garden and green space for Perth.

Sunday, 16 March 2008

Garden Bloom Day March 2008

What flowers can be seen in my garden in the middle of March? Well, as recent posts have shown it is bulbs that have been making the biggest impression with crocus and narcissi. However there is a lot more going on in the garden at the moment.

Perhaps you might like to browse through some other gardens by visiting
Carol's Bloom Day List where many other garden blogs have posted on what is on flower in their gardens on the 15th of the month. This is all organised by Carol at May Dreams Gardens and what a great idea it is. I do like this new list format Carol!

Bulbs grown under grass have worked well for me as when moving plants around I tend to disturb the bulbs and loose them. We are now in the second stage of flower in this grass area shown above. Crocuses have been joined by the first flowering of the three species of narcissi growing here. There are also fritillaries in this planting too.

The tiny area that is my silver themed border is just bursting with signs of spring. You can see that I now have some snowdrops in the garden and I chose to plant them here as the leaf colour would blend in well with other silver foliage plants. I would aslo seen them from a window.

Just look at the growth in the tulips – I cannot wait to see them in flower especially as I don’t usually grow them. Although I see this as a silver border I do want to have some seasonal punches of colour with it. Next month’s photos will be quite different! The close-up photos below show the clematis ‘Miss Bateman’ and a rose ‘Silver Anniversary’ both growing in this border.

Above my silver border is a hanging basket that I gave a make-over last autumn. Over the winter months I have been able to enjoy seeing the deep red of the grass and the soft fluffy silver of the stachys. The sedum ‘Rose Carpet’ died back but on my walkabout on the 15th I was delighted to discover it is growing back once again. I will now get the previous years flowering branches trimmed out.

Alliums can now be seen growing through gravel where they have self seeded very freely!

Alliums can also be seen in square pots – these were my bargain bulbs from last year and as I wasn’t sure where I would put them I planted them in pots. I have buried some in their pots already but of course they should really be planted directly in the ground. I will see how they grow and look first. This is an experiment so we shall see how it works.

Alliums are also growing in ornament pots where other pants have self seeded with them – including dandelion. Mm… but I’ve plans for the dandelions this year!

Primulas are also sarting to show great promise. The drumstick ones are continuing to grow as you can see above where the ball almost forming and one just starting form. You can also see more alliums in the background – drumstick ones!

Candelabra primulas are now starting to form a flower head and the beautiful native lemon primrose is also showing some flower buds. Ah… but what is the last primula in the selection above. Just testing – that is not a primula but I am thrilled to show the first leaves of the stunning blue meconopsis!

Rich reds are being seen in my garden at the moment from the hellebore, heuchera, euphorbia and new growth of a green leaved ligularia. For the moment I still have the red stems too from my coral bark Acer tree but by next month that too will be changing.

Some plants have toughed out the cold of the winter months and some have even continued to flower like the delicate white flowers of the arabis. The polygala carpet on my rockery has had lemon flowers for a large part of the winter. They look like they are resting for the moment but now the pink ones are now about to open. The last photo on the top row above shows the tiny alpine strawberry which stayed green throughout the winter. The chives behind it died down but as you can see they are growing back too.

What do you do with self sown plants growing in cracks and other places? Well, I did consider lifting this buddleia that is growing in the pot with the christophii aliums, potting it up and putting it in the safety of my greenhouse before winter. However, sometimes when I have done that the plant has died. I decided a higher risk strategy would be to leave outside where it was. This has paid off this time - look how well it looks in the first photo of the second row above. Ah… but it is the buds on the trees and shrubs that make me really think of spring!

Finally, let’s jump all the way to summer and to the bees and butterflies on the delicate flowers of verbena bonariensis. Is this plant a perennial or not? Questions have been asked in other blogs. Well, many seem to treat it as an annual. It is very likely to be lost over the winter months so taking cuttings or lifting one and over wintering it in a greenhouse may be a good insurance against loss.

However, here in my Scottish garden the photo above shows my verbena bonariensis as I cut it down last autumn – looking pretty much as I left it! I decided the risk strategy here only as this area is slightly sheltered with the arbour and hedge. The plants were three good sized clumps too. I should also add that we have not had the coldest of winters this year. This plant really isn’t hardy in all areas but I cannot believe it hasn’t died back at all. Mm… I still may take some cutting this year. Ah... the garden year beckons!!

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

Heads down…

The long-tailed tits that have been visiting my garden over the last few days have distracted my attention somewhat. I have replaced the fatcake in the guardian in the hope that they will continue to come for a few more visits. Afterwards I couldn’t resist staying in the garden with my camera to see if I could get any better photos of this new visitor.

This afternoon I managed one that really shows the shape of this delightful little bird. Head down and he darts into the cage of the guardian. Now it is time for me to get my head down! I took my photos for my Bloom Day post yesterday and plan to post them, much later, tonight but I’ve a few more domestic jobs to do first!

The photo above was taken in my garden on March 16th 2008.

New arrivals at fat feeder

Long-tailed tits have never visited my garden until a few days ago and I was absolutely thrilled to see them! I thought I saw a glimpse on Thursday but put it down to wishful thinking on my part. It was the long thin tail on a bird flying out of my fatcake guardian that caught my eye. After seeing this bird in other garden blogs I hoped I would see it but in reality never thought I would.

After spotting this bird again on Friday I set up my video camera to try and catch it on film. It also helps to ID the bird too. Now, here I really got a surprise as there were two Long-tailed tits visiting!

I edited my film but it was a windy day and the predominant colour for the movement in my film was green so I was not at all hopeful that my film would go through the upload process successfully. It didn’t - as you can see below. I have added music as there is a fair bit of wind and other background noises too. However if you listen carefully you will hear the distinctive call it makes especially before it arrives at the feeder and that is why I decided to show this film. I wonder if it is the birds calling to each other – perhaps they could be a pair!

Long-tailed tits feeding, video 1:00 with background music, try 480p quality.

The photo above is taken as a ‘frame grab’ from the video. These birds are visiting for just a few minutes and then leaving again. So far I have spotted no pattern to their visits. I stood for ages outside waiting patiently waiting for them to return. No sooner was I indoors and they came! Well, that was on the cards wasn’t it? So I set my camera on a tripod at the window hoping to catch them from inside…

Nope, as you can see above no such joy! However I did have a couple of opportunities with the female blackbird having a bath and a song thrush trying to find some sultanas - which the blackbirds ate earlier. I will continue to watch the Long-tailed tit from my window, assuming it will continue to visit. Today I will pick up a new fatcake as the one in the guardian isn’t very fresh. The guardian doesn’t completely stop the starlings getting in but on the whole where it is sited now it has worked fairly successfully.

Activity out of my window caught my eye as I was about to post this. I see trouble ahead! The tiny blue tits that are intending to use one of my nestboxes are not always as sweet as they look. I have just spotted them continuing to harass the long-tailed tits at the fat feeder – even the robin who was feeding innocently in there got chased too! The blue tits are especially feisty in the garden prior to nesting. Mm… I hope the long-tailed tits came back! They appeared to try and hold their ground against the blue tit with one going in as the blue tit chased the other back and forth. Mm..

Finally, I have to mention that the nest the long-tailed tit builds it really is quite amazing. When I looked up my book I was absolutely fascinated to see this ‘ball’ of a nest on a branch. I went searching to find a photo a discovered one by Emilio Dicerbo which I found on the website of Moffat and District Wildlife Club which is south of me here in Scotland.

I would like to thank Emilio for his permission to use is photo and the Wildlife Club for their help with my request. What I particularly found fascinating about this nest was that it wasn’t high up in a tree but instead in a very prickly shrub! Now the blue tits clearly don’t have any competition with the nestboxes so they are more importantly thinking of the food resources for any future chicks and keeping as much to themselves as they can. Isn’t nature amazing?

The video above was taken in my garden on March 14th 2008. The photos of the blackbird and song thrush were through a window on March 15th 2008.

Thursday, 13 March 2008

Last visits to Bell's Cherrybank Gardens, Perth

This time of year is full of such promise in the garden. We are seeing bulbs pushing their way through the soil and buds coming into flower with the warm winter sunshine. Unfortunately, not all gardens will enjoy this promise into Spring.

Funding is a huge factor for gardens that open their gates to the public. Unfortunately one way or another this can run out and the garden has no choice but to close its gates. Yesterday I visited one such garden - Bell’s Cherrybank Gardens in Perth, Scotland. This garden holds the National Heather Collection and sadly its gates will close on March 31st. The days are running out fast for any last or first visits to this garden.

I feel quite reminiscent when I heard about its closure and felt the need to visit one last time. It has been a number of years since my last visit when my daughters were young. You know what it’s like when something is on your own doorstep - you take it for granted.

My visit was with a friend. The coffee shop had a buzz of visitors and I’m sure many a business lunch has been had here over the years. There was a mix of people just as I expect there has been a mix of people across the world that have enjoyed these gardens. We drank our coffee at a window table overlooking the gardens then took one last walk around them. I was surprised to hear that the admission charge had been dropped as the garden is closing. That made me sad.

Update Sunday 23rd March. I would like to add that an email from a member of staff at the garden has since explained that the lack of admission charge was only for a few days due to a mix-up in communication. My visit was in that time and I had no idea that this was the case until now. I sincerely apologise to any visitors that went to the garden under the understanding that they would not be charged admission due to reading this post or the piece that I supplied to the ‘Craigie’ column of the Courier. There is an admission charge to visit the garden except during the last week of opening.

Despite its imminent closure this garden was as well kept as I remembered it. We walked down the paths from the coffee shop towards a narrow stream. We reminisced as we walked. From memory, I do believe I’ve seen ducks down here and in the ponds during the spring and summer months - but there were none today. I expect lots of wildlife have made their homes and nests in this garden – especially the birds as there are many trees and shrub areas as well as the heather beds.

During winter months all the beautiful colours of the cornus stems have been seen in great drifts of block planting - something I will always associate with this garden. I loved the garden being on a slope as it suited the displays of heathers well. I also enjoyed the sweeping paths and the other elements like sculptures and garden seats of varying styles placed in optimum positions to enjoy a particular view of the garden.

You don’t have to be a heather fan to appreciate the impact of the colourful tapestries displayed in this garden. Like conifers perhaps the heather is seen as dated and dull but that has no bearing on why this garden is closing – this is a national collection after all. I love ornamental grasses but many may see them as dull.

I am certain the many visitors to this garden have been wowed by the varieties of heather growing here. There is a wide range of trees, shrubs and seasonal plants in this garden too. As we made our way back up the path to the coffee shop and exit the sunshine was replaced by a shower of rain. Quite poignant I thought as the sky became dark with the rain clouds. One last look back...

All the labels of the varieties of heather in this National Collection caught my eye as my eyes scanned the garden one final time. I wonder what will happen to all these plants. I wonder if there is a chance that on the eleventh hour someone or some company will step in and save these gardens. I wonder how many gardens and wildlife areas like this across the world are lost each year.

Finally, I am not going into all the details behind this closure as I am not certain of them. However it is connected to plans for the Calyx – a National Garden for Scotland. My thoughts are also with all the people that have worked with and within this garden both past and present. I do hope that there is some way that it can be saved.

All photos above were taken by me at Bell's Cherrybank Gardens in Perth on March 12th 2008.

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

March Nestbox update and video

Progress in the garden is slowly gathering pace as the photos of plants in my last post show. Birds are also going around in pairs on the look out for nesting sites or in the case of Blue Tits in my garden – a Nestbox! Soon all this looking will be over and the serious business of next building will begin. So, do we still have interest in our Nestbox – oh yes!

The same roosting Blue Tit has used our Nestbox, every night, since the beginning of November last year. As you can see above it is tucked away cozy asleep as I write this. Every now and again I hear it through the speakers tapping the walls or floor with its beak as it moves around a little. It no longer has wood shavings in the box as we removed them two weekends ago at the same time we gave the inside a good sand to remove the damp marks after the roof leak we had. It was also suggested, in one of my comments, that I should remove the wood shavings now as it would help remove any parasites.

Before looking at the video compilation below from our Nestbox I should explain what you are about to see – three different blue tits and a tail of a fourth!

The tiny intro clip is our rooster chasing away an unexpected guest! The chase went around the garden and through a neighbour’s tree. The next clip shows a bit of colour in the box. The male of our day time visiting pair is next seen pecking at the entrance hole and the wet wood shavings. You can see why we cleaned out the box – yes parasites could live there.

The cleaned Nestbox is next seen with the rooster realising something had changed before finally settling into the usual corner for the night. Then back to colour, on a brighter morning, you can see the male of the daytime pair back also looking a bit confused. He then went back to pecking at the entrance hole once again. I wonder where the female is or if it was her that was chased off by the rooster.

Okay, next enter the latest blue tit that I have seen in our Nestbox. Now why do I think this was new visitor? Well, I am now able to spot a new bird species in my garden usually by the apprehensive way they sit a while and observe the feeders and activity in my garden before going anywhere near the food. Well this was what I thought of the bird in the last two clips of my compilation. It behaved quite differently.

Usually the birds walk around the whole box stretching their heads up and looking at the entrance hole. They will also go up and down to the entrance hole too. This bird came in and went straight to the wall under the entrance hole. It sat and it sat. It moved its head a little. I turned up the volume to hear if it called to another bird or it was being called to. No noise came from the speakers. No tapping on the wood. No jumping up and down from the entrance. It did eventually move from this wall but it didn’t explore the box as other birds do. Therefore, I am pretty certain that this is another bird – silently interested perhaps? Mm… hard to tell, see what you think.

Oh... one final thing before you hit the play button. There was no sound at all in the backgound with these clips so I have added some background music. Now, I know this may not be to everyone's taste so you may want to turn down the volume on your speakers. I enjoy adding music and I do it to make the clips more entertaining to watch.

Nestbox Blue tit compilation, video 1:58 with background music, try 480p quality.

This will be my second year with a camera in a Nestbox so I have an idea of what is to come – should we get a nest being built. However, I will try not to tell what will happen next so if this is the first time you have seen nesting ‘up close’ it won’t spoil the experience for you. Perhaps different pairs will behave differently too - I am new to this so we will have to wait and see. However, I will respond to comments on posts.

Finally, this post is in response to a comment from Jane, who is in the South of England, asking if the birds in my garden were nesting yet. Last year I noticed that our Nestbox birds were two weeks behind those in England, Jane. I will keep and eye out for the blackbirds collecting nesting material too – but I think it is a bit early yet here in Scotland.

The photo above was taken on March 11th 2008. The video above was taken in our Camera Nestbox during March 2008.

Sunday, 9 March 2008

Just in time

I have been trying to get photos from my own garden for some time but winds and rain have been a problem when I have had the opportunity. My garden plants are putting on new growth and it definitely feels like Spring here. I am delighted to finally introduce a new resident to my garden, a beautiful hellebore. I will look out the label tomorrow.

March can be a tricky month bringing all sorts of weather including gales. We have had hail stones over the weekend and had spells of strong winds these last few weeks. However, it is England that is sitting with a severe weather warning for gales tomorrow. I hope it isn’t as bad as the predictions.

Crocus growing through plants like London Pride and Ivy were looking good today as I walked around my garden late in the afternoon. I had forgotten I had planted these bulbs there, or perhaps I should say that I moved them there!

Snowdrops were gently nodding in the wind in my silver border. I planted them there as they have silver grey leaves. These are recent plantings and I will always think of Dalmeny when I look at them.

Drumstick Primulas are showing serious signs of growth and I had been hoping that I would get photos before the tiny pink flowers completely formed into perfect balls. I was just in time.

Candelabra Primulas, Rubeckia and Alliums were showing the most promise today on my garden walkabout. Now don’t these photos make you think of the gardening year to come? I am really, really looking forward to seeing my bargain Allium bulbs coming into flower! My Rubeckia (right top) I was particularly pleased to see show signs of growth as I moved and divided it last Autumn. I am looking forward to seeing how it will look in its new home.

Bulbs are thriving in their home of my lawn. However this area is now going through a transition period between the crocus and narcissi. The first photo above was taken late this afternoon and as you can see that wind, rain, sleet and hailstones have finally taken their toll on the crocus flowers as they now lay flattened on the ground. I haven’t forgotten how well they have looked as you can see in the following photos taken last weekend. I have to be honest and say I have really underestimated the crocus – this year I have really been taken by it. I wonder what other plants I will be taken with this year – I have one in mind…

The photos above were all taken in my garden on March 9th 2008.

Garden Birdwatch March 2008

Weekend mornings are ideal to do an early morning bird count. I love to sit and have breakfast at the window watching the early frantic dashes through the garden by the visiting birds. I especially like to do this as light comes up. Today I did a count for no other reason than I hadn't done one in a while. I took my count between 7.45 - 8.45am.

Top of the leader board today was, once again, the Chaffinch with 9. During my count I saw five males (left above) and three females (right above). Later on during the day I saw many more.

Second place was the Blackbird with 8. During my count I saw one partial albino male, four males (left above) and four females (right above). I love to see and hear the Blackbirds in the morning. They really do make the garden come alive.

Third place went to the siskin with 7. During my count today I saw two males (left above) but later in the day I saw five. I saw five females (centre above) and there were probably eight later on in the day. I saw four Goldfinches (right above) and I may have seen one more later.

Two male House Sparrows (left above) were seen and one female. Two Greenfinches and two Blue Tits were also seen. On other days I have noticed four Blue Tits in the garden and I know more have visited as I have seen different birds in our Camera Nestbox.

Finally with a count of one, from left to right above, is the Robin, Dunnock and Female Blackcap. Now this was interesting to see the female Blackcap still with us as I haven't noticed her recently. However, just before I began my count I filled up some of the feeders and put some apples on my obelisk. Guess where I spotted the Blackcap - yes, at the apples once again!

Bird counts are always interesting to do and look back on. I have never had a Blackcap in my garden for so long. I am always expecting that it will leave soon as no males have been seen and I have never seen them in my garden during Spring and Summer. They are new visitors appearing for the first time in January 2007 and then again for a brief visit in February 2007.

Collared doves, I have been told, usually visit in groups but I only ocassionally see one. However today, true to form after a bird count is over, along came one then another! A Song Thrush was also spotted on the branches of an over looking tree but as I didn't see it on my trees, feeders or on the ground it wasn't included in my count.

Birds do look out for the feeders being filled up and one such bird is the Jackdaw. Today, once the birds started buzzing around the garden from feeder to feeder it flew to the roof of my house. It then took a fly-by past a particular feeder that I will put a few odd peanuts on. No joy for him today as I had run out! So he wasn't included in the count either. I have noticed the Great Tits appear when the peanuts are put out too but as I don't want to attract the squirrels I don't put out many and not on a regular basis either. I enjoyed my count this morning and looked forward to garden walkabout to look at the plants later.