Saturday, 27 September 2008

New kids on the block

No… I’m not talking about the ‘award-winning American pop group that enjoyed success in the late 1980s and early 1990s as a boy band’. It has been a long time coming, but I’m back to talking once again about the birds that visit my garden.

The truth is that with the lush foliage plants in my garden these last few months I can’t actually see the birds quite so well - nor have I had the time when it hasn't been raining to get any photos or video. I do miss properly seeing the blackbirds as they run along the ground and around my plants at this time of year. Ah… but it is not the blackbirds I want to chat about either – although they are one of my favourites that visit my Scottish garden.

The new kids on the block that are catching my attention at the moment are the absolutely charming, ever so endearing, extra speedy and tiny (drum roll please) …. Coal tits (Parus ater). The video above, taken a couple of days ago, gives you a tiny idea of their speedy visits to one of my feeders - the processing can't keep up with them!. This bird is definitely my favourite at the moment zipping through the branches, trees, shrubs and even looking for food in my hanging basket. Shh... don't tell them but they are about to get a surprise soon as I am about to change this feeder – it should be in the mail as I type this. I have a strong feeling they will approve of this new one when it arrives.

The coal tit is very much, in appearance, like the American Chickadee which I have posted on previously. I saw three coal tits visit yesterday. Mm... perhaps it is time I did a Sunday morning bird count to see if there are any more. I also wonder what the species count in the garden is at the moment too as we are about to go into October. Oh yes.. I also wonder what visitors I may be missing glimpses of. I did spot a few starlings the other day so I expect the feeders are going to get quite busy shortly.

I do apologise for my lack of bird postings over the summer months but as winter beckons this will all change as my focus once again will be on watching and feeding the birds. Mm... I'm not the only one taking a keen interest in my visiting garden birds! A neighbour's cat (not Edmund of hedgehog fame) has been seen hiding below my hedge in wait, near the feeders, then darting out in the hope of catching a closer encounter with one. I do have a plan to put a stop to this stalking opportunity over the weekend. As activity at the bird feeders increases at this time of year so do cat visits - you can understand why I know.

Blog visits and postings, I have noticed, do start to increase at this time of year too. I guess many of us have been too busy enjoying our gardens or out and about throughout the summer months and really that is the way it should be! What do you love about visiting garden and wildlife blogs?

For me, it’s the current stories and photos of the plants, garden birds and wildlife. In many blogs these photos are really quite stunning. How generous people are in allowing us to see these images from across the world. Let’s have another drum roll please ….. without further adieu I would like to introduce another new kid on the block!

Joe, a teenager from Buckinghamshire in England, began a wildlife blog back in June this year writing about the birds and wildlife that visits his garden. His enthusiasm shines through in his postings and I have very much enjoyed our email exchanges. I would like to wish him well with both his blog and with his GCSE exams. Joe also likes to capture videos of his garden visitors and is now getting interested in plants, plans to build a pond and hopes to get a Nestbox with a camera in it soon. Welcome to the blogging community Joe!

Okay, so I’ve another reason for mentioning Joe today. I came across a wonderful book in town last night that I thought he might like to add to his Christmas wish list. Sorry Amazon, but this book was on a great offer in the shop! The RSPB Wildlife of Britainis an inspiring photographic reference book and I am certain enthusiasts like Joe would love it. Flicking through its photos I did find myself cringing at the beetles and invertebrates, however, another image caught my eye that made me smile.

The Giants Causeway in Northern Ireland was one place I always wanted to visit one day. Looking at the stunning evening shot in the book reminded my of the photos I took there on a very special visit last July. I have spread some through this posting. It was a cool and windy July day but the atmosphere of this magical place will forever stay with me.

If you are considering visiting The Giants Causeway I should point out that many images you see suggest that these fantastic six sided, stepping stone, columns of rocks (molten lava) are on a huge scale. Oh yes... the numbers of them certainly are but the top face that you step on (demonstrated by my daughter’s boots below) are much smaller than I imagined. However, this is a this is very special place indeed - so impressive as a geographical feature too that back in 1986 it was declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and added to the list.

Mm… sorry I seem to have stepped off topic somewhat! Back to the new kids and other garden visitors like the hedgehog. I haven’t seen the hedgehog about recently. Perhaps someone, on their evening route, is putting cat food out for them which I am guessing must be much more tempting than the peanuts and sultanas that I offer. Nope… can’t bring myself to put cat food out! I am sure the hedgehogs will return with the colder nights.

What ‘new kids’ are visiting or returning to your garden at the moment? I spotted a very bold wren the other day bobbing up and down as it does. It was on the roof of the bird table! Enjoy your garden at the moment with all that it brings – oh yes and have a great weekend!

The photos above were all taken on July 10th 2007. The video above was taken on September 25th 2008.

Monday, 22 September 2008

Thank-you so much….

I am absolutely chuffed to bits this evening after following a link to the 2008 Blotanical Awards to discover that I have been nominated in the Best UK Blog category! I had popped over to make my voting selections as the deadline is on Sunday 28th September. What a surprise this was. I would like to thank all the blotanists who have voted for shirls gardenwatch. I am touched.

I would also like to thank this little chap in the photo above as without his visits to my garden there would be no blog at all!

For those who don’t know - I started this blog back in November 2007 as a way to share photos and video footage of the European Robin with my friend in Australia who was missing Scotland. I had no idea when I started back then how much fun it would be, how much I was to learn and how many new friendships I would make. Would I recommend blogging? Oh yes... I would!

Would I recommend Blotanical as a way of discovering new garden blogs? Oh yes... definitely! In fact one more thanks is in order here… to Stuart and the Blotanical team for all the hard work they have put into the site - well done.

Only members of Blotanical can vote in these awards. You can make your votes by following the link at the top of my post or through the badge at the top of my sidebar. What a selection of categories there are for voting too – this looks a great success.

Congratulations on your 1st Blotanical Awards, Stuart!

Oh... and one final thing. Guess where Stuart is based? Australia, now what a coincidence is that!

The photo of the Robin shown above was taken in my garden in January this year.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Garden Bloom Day September 2008

At first glance this could appear like another ‘almost’ Wordless Wednesday posting for Bloom Day. I’ll say no more. Okay, you’ve twisted my arm…

To see more postings for Bloom Day or to add yours to the list just pop over to May Dreams Gardens and browse the comments on Carol’s post. I’ll be honest and say now I’m a bit nervous about the comments I may receive here! Oh well… as always, I like to have a bit of fun with Bloom Day.

The videos shown above were taken in my garden on September 15th 2008. If you have been unable to play them please let me know – I know these files are larger than usual.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Nestbox diaries and links

Wildlife cameras give as a wonderful insight into nature and I am certain that through television programmes such as BBC Two's Springwatch many people have been inspired to watch the drama of nesting birds in their own gardens too.

Nestboxes with cameras are readily available now in the UK through the internet, garden centres and wildlife shops. It was after reading Peggy’s Diaries a few years ago and then through starting my own garden diary that I considered putting one up myself. I wonder if you can guess what's going on in the two photos below? I was completely fooled by the second one.

What time of year should you consider putting up a Nestbox? I’m sure the birds won’t mind when you put it up as long as it is available for nest building. However, although nesting is in Spring pairs can start ‘viewing’ nestboxes as early as January. I’d say September/October would be a good time to put up a Nestbox.

Why so early? Well, during the winter months smaller birds can use them to roost in. We had a rooster last year (Blue tit) from the end of October all the way through to nesting. This bird may have been interested in nesting too but we had another pair that finally took ownership of our Nestbox with a camera. It was fascinating to watch and I’d definitely call it a drama!

To see videos from my Nestbox and read the full stories of the blue tits that have used it you can browse from the links below:
Camera Nestbox 2008
Camera Nestbox 2007

There are a number of websites and blogs that show excellent video footage with nesting diaries. Some of the links below already appear in my right column of links. It is great to have a list of links but I completely understand how long browsing can take. I hope the additional info here will make it easier for you to choose the nests that you might be interested in following. Although I might guess you’ll take a peek at them all - I know I would :-D Enjoy!

Bird in the Nest - Blue tits in Maidstone, SE England.
Birdcam - Blue tits, Great tits & Sparrows in Germany.
Camnest - Blue tits & Great tits in Cambridge, England.
The Peregrine Project at Derby Cathedral, England.
Elizabeth & Malcolm's blue tit pages - Blue tits & Great tits in Surrey, England.
Jamie Cooper Images - Blue tits in Northampton, England.
My bit of the Planet - Starlings, House martins, Robins, Blue & Great tits in Hampshire, England.
My Forest Home - Blue tits and Hedgehogs in Hampshire, England.
Nature Watch - Blue tits & Blackbirds in Essex, England.
The 2 Wrennies - Blue tits in Hertfordshire, England.

Finally, if you know of an interesting website/blog with diaries of nesting birds or other nesting wildlife outside the UK please add a comment with a link here. I am sure there are a number of people (including myself) that would be interested in seeing them. Thank-you :-D

The photos above were taken in my Camera nestbox during March 2007. The video above was taken just two days after our Nestbox was put up in March 2007. We couldn't believe that our first visitors were a pair of blue tits who actually went on to nest build. Eight eggs were laid but sadly no chicks survived.

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Bats flying tonight

Speeding along my trimmed hedge and circling in the main open space of my garden bats were seen tonight. What a treat to capture some video of them too!

It was dusk and the pipistrelle bats were seen in various sizes. I am guessing the really tiny ones were quite young – they were almost the size of large moths. On warm evenings in the summer we have seen them out a lot but as this summer hasn’t been the best for sitting out in the evening I have missed seeing them.

Tonight’s viewpoint was from my arbour looking down the garden past my ivy and wisteria covered pergola, Acer and small pine trees toward the potting shed and greenhouse. Gosh these bats can move quickly around them! It is quite difficult to show this on a video via the internet so I altered the speed of my film by one third to enable the bats to be seen. My final film was clearer than the internet compression but it still gives you an idea of the way they fly around a garden so you might know where to look for them in your own.

If you are interested in looking for bats visiting your garden I’d say the best time would be around dusk. They are quite tricky to spot at first but once you see one in a particular area you will know where to look and then may see more there too. In no time you will notice the ‘hot spots’ for bats in your garden just as I have. Happy Bat watching!!

The video above was taken in my garden on September 3rd 2008.

Monday, 1 September 2008

Big brother - come back please

The contestants are beginning to appear. The line-up stands at three and late arrivals are still welcome! The challenge - to see what wildlife visits a pond at this time of year. I knew we had a toad around our small pond and after spotting it last week I wanted to see what else did. I also hoped that over a period of three weeks I might capture some images. Well, the cameras have been rolling…

Contestant number one made a cliff-hanging entrance – a lemon slug. Looking through my favourite wildlife reference book I think this is what it is but I’d welcome confirmation on this. I did have difficulty looking at this slug to focus on it – I liked its reflection in the pond though!

Contestant number two had a double identity. Mm... the toad I spotted last week was actually a frog! Okay, hands up, I got it wrong but I am not disappointed at all. What a beauty it is! I was thrilled both to see it and get photos. We definitely do have a toad hiding somewhere but I had no idea we had a frog too. This is where capturing photos helps with ID’s – my book is a photographic reference one and that is why I find it so useful.

This common frog had clearly been swimming in my pond last Friday night as pieces of duck weed could be seen on its beautifully patterned back. Now what you can’t see so clearly (I didn’t notice at the time) is a balloon type bulge at the side further away. I wonder if this happens if it feels under threat. Maybe someone knows?

The sandstones rocks and ground cover plants around my pond had been great camouflage for this frog. I had been looking along the waters edge – really quite closely. I stepped back and with a final glace as I was about to walk away there it was sitting above the water.

I couldn’t believe I had nearly missed it! However, I do wonder if it has a much bigger brother! Two weekends ago, when I was busy in the garden, I got the fright of my life when I nearly stood on something on the grass path behind my pond. My challenge now is to get a photo of that – looking at the photos above I’d say it was a common frog too but much larger than this one.

My night cam, on tripod, has been out positioned at different parts of my pond in the evenings but I have never seen the frog or toad on it – only the slugs slowly sliding around! Ah… but the video capture below is just great. I knew the cat from next door, Edmund, has been conducting his own pondwatch!

What I didn’t expect to catch on film was Edmund pond watching and a hedgehog eating peanuts at the same time! So what happened next? Argh… my memory was full and the video capture ended! I continued to watch the screen to see Edmund walk along the wall behind the hedgehog shortly afterwards. Edmund didn’t pay any attention at all to the hedgehog and the hedgehog didn’t lift its head out of the bowl of peanuts. What a magic moment! Oh wait a minute... I've just found a couple of photos I didn't remember taking.

Mice have been seen around the caves of my pond in the evening. They run out for sunflower hearts on the ground and then dash away again into the caves. I know they are not there at the moment as I would definitely see them in the night cam images as their eyes catch the light. I also suspect that with the rainfall we have had this summer the hidden caves would be flooded. I guess this is what Edmund is looking for but now he is off on his hols.

Contestant number three is the garden snail. Okay, as gardener I don’t like the damage they do to my plants. However, I cannot deny that they do have a beauty of their own too. I watched this one move around the mossy rocks and it was fascinating to see how it gracefully it moved. Oops… did I really say that? Yep, on the rocks they looked great but when they start climbing higher - oh that’s a way different matter!

Most of these images have been captured after midnight. I often write posts later in the evening as this works my family life. I started this one last night but it got too late to finish. Before turning in for the night I went outside with my camera once more. I stood in the still quiet night and did very well to spot Contestant number two again. The common frog was hiding under leaves of primula and astilbe. I am pretty confident that this is contestant number two as the patterns are the same. Having photographs really helps.

Finally, as I wait for big brother to arrive at my pondwatch am I considering any evictions? Oh yes… sorry you may have a pretty name Lemon Slug but consider yourself nominated!!

All photos and the video above were taken around my pond during the last week of August 2008.