Thursday, 30 October 2008

Pine Marten Evening

Yep… the title tells all! Tea/coffee, biscuits, cheese and peanuts were on offer. You can guess who the peanuts were for. Despite being offered a variety of other foods they are the favourite of the Pine Martens visiting this Scottish Wildlife Trust Reserve.

The Visitor Centre at Loch of the Lowes is usually closed at this time of year. This is the first year it has remained open and I was delighted to see that they were fully booked for the Pine Marten Evening last night – I was very lucky to get the last place. The chairs were laid out in front of the viewing window. We all sat quietly. The lights were dimmed inside and the binoculars were searching the ground and the trees lit by outside lights.

We all watched, knowing full well that although our time slot was 6-9pm the Pine Martens would not be keeping our time! There was absolutely no guarantee that we would see them visit. Mm… I have to admit that this is the part I have come to love about watching the birds and wildlife in my garden – you really don’t know what you will see (if anything) and often it is the unexpected that catches you out.

To pass the time the staff/volunteers chatted to us about Pine Martens and we asked questions. Video footage taken at the reserve of a visit seen and recorded during the day was also shown. Pine Martens are mostly nocturnal so it was quite unusual to see them then– a fantastic treat for any visitors there that day!

We also saw footage of the osprey nest with female feeding her chick recorded earlier this year. A few people left at various points including all the children that were there. I had to drive almost an hour to get there so I had absolutely no intention of leaving before the end – despite knowing the temperature outside was dropping to levels that I was uncomfortable driving in.

A soft whisper and a finger to the mouth signalled that one of the visitors had spotted the long awaited star of the Evening! A hush came over the room. I managed to set my tripod high enough that my video camera was able to record over the heads of the visitors that were closest to the window.

For around twenty minutes we all watched the Pine Marten eat peanuts from the ground. I kept checking the screen of my camera to make sure it was still reading record!! I was absolutely thrilled that I would be driving home with something very special on tape. I had just seen something that sadly is no longer seen in other parts of the UK. What an absolute treat it is now to share my sighting here. Cue the videos….

Ah yes… queue the videos indeed! Sorry, it appears that Thursday Evenings seem to be a slow/busy night for uploading videos. I am patiently waiting here with my third video still in a queue. Okay I’ll find you some links while we wait. Oh yes… and I should mention that there are another two Pine Marten Evenings here on November 12th and 26th both at 6-9pm. There are only 20 places so if you are interested in going you might want to give the visitor centre a phone on 01350 727337.

Oh… one other thing this visitor centre has a live cam on the feeder that the Pine Marten might come to and that the Red squirrels frequently do. You absolutely won’t believe me here, but honestly, right at this very minute (11.30pm) as I have gone for the live feeder link – there is a Pine Marten at it!! What are the chances of that?

What are the chances of Pine Marten sightings in the wild in England or Wales? Sorry I don’t have the stats for that but earlier this morning I came across a website, The Vincent Wildlife Trust, that would love to know about them.

Mm… I am getting tired waiting now (so must those who left comments on my teaser post too). I would love to post this but not without one out of my three videos - the first piece of film (shown below) that I captured. It is my favourite and has a funny bit where the Pine Marten is startled and lifts its head up with a peanut in its mouth. I have to say I began uploading almost six hours ago and this is the longest I have ever waited for Blip to process my videos. Yep... I blame Thursdays!

How about some info while we wait? Again, after my searching through my books and on the internet earlier this morning I discovered a few interesting sites with photos and info. However, I know only to well there are limits to how many links will be followed in one posting. Seeing as Autumnwatch is being shown on TV here at the moment I have settled on a link back to Simon King with his sightings of Pine Martens in June this year during Springwatch. I’m sure you’ll enjoy hearing him tell you all about them!

Are you ready to see my juvenile Pine Marten videos now? The waiting is finally over! Oh dear... I hope you enjoy them now. Update April 2010: YouTube have improved their video upload quality a great deal since this was posted so here we have new uploads. Bigger too!

Finally, I have decided to let this posting run a week to let as many of my regular/new visitors get a chance to see it. Sorry, Joe I won't be joining you for a birdwatch posting this weekend again - I hope you catch something interesting with your video camera.

The videos above were taken near Dunkeld in Perthshire on October 29th 2008.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

It was dark...

…so any guesses to whom I am absolutely thrilled to catch on my video camera tonight? Lisa and Gail suggested I was a tease... I am now!!

The photo above is a screen grab from a video taken on October 29th 2008 from an undisclosed location - for the moment!

Cold nights for plants, ponds and hedgehogs

The cold snap that we are having here is sending gardener’s into action to protect plants for the winter – especially ones new to the garden. Recently I’ve had comments on my posting from last year on what I do with my Gunnera. However, one comment has sparked this extra posting:

“…’s stopped raining but now it’s really frosty. Do you think I need to wait for the frost to clear before wrapping up my Gunnera? I'm concerned the weather will just get wet again!”

What would I do about frost? Well, if I hadn’t protected my gunnera I would still do it but would wait until the frost had dried off. Assuming it will at some point during the day. Our frosts aren’t that hard here at the moment. On saying that, yesterday we had a little snow dusting in the morning which came to nothing. Again, if I had snow on it I would risk the plant until the crown and leaves dried out before wrapping it up for winter – assuming the snow will not last here in the UK at this time of year.

The wet has been a worry for me too as we’ve had so much rain recently and as a result I have protected my gunnera slightly differently this year – hence this second posting. I wanted to protect my plant but felt that to do so when the plant itself was wet might be a mistake. I held off until it was dry – which ended up being a cold evening (two nights ago) in the dark again as last year. Worried the temp could really drop that night I went for it.

Gloves on, I cut back the stems of the leaves as far down to the ground as I could and threw them aside to use later as umbrellas for this plant. With the cone shaped flower spikes exposed I was ready to protect it. I had a problem now as the leaves around the garden that I would use next were mostly wet. I gathered what dry ones I could. I expected this might be the case. I had a thought.

A small packet of hay was in my shed, which came with our guinea pig hutch in the Spring, that was unopened. A bit bland perhaps for the taste buds of our guinea pigs who enjoy the herbage packs of hay but just the job to protect my gunnera - I would think! I see no reason why this wouldn’t work as hay/straw is used to protect the crowns of tree ferns which I would say would be a lot less hardy that my gunnera. If anyone reading this has any experience of using hay to protect a gunnera and it hasn’t worked please do leave a comment here.

This pack of hay went a long way as you can see above. One flower cone was on its side so I stuffed some hay underneath it to keep it off the ground. So this year, on cold dry ground, I gave a generous layer of hay before I put my first leaf through the flower spike to protect my plant.

Next, I trimmed the stems from the gunnera leaves I had set aside and was ready to start stacking them. Turned upside down I just pushed the leaves through the flower spikes. You can see below I used the dried leaves collected from the garden in between layers. The layers are purely based only the number of gunnera leaves I have. I don’t use any damp or rotten leaves. These leaves of course don’t stay like this through winter – they do rot down eventually but, in my garden they have done the job of protecting the crown and so the plant.

Just in case you haven’t noticed, I should point out perhaps that my plant isn’t growing in water. However, it is growing deliberately in a slight dip where water runs down and collects. I planted it on a large opened out compost bag which I pierced with holes so the water can stay damp most of the time. The basics of upturned gunnera leaves pierced through the flower spike I saw first on a video of Beth Chatto’s Garden. She has huge clumps of gunnera along a water’s edge in her garden. Most people are afraid their plant will get as huge and don’t try growing it but mine really has not outgrown its space – planted out of water!

Ah… water in the garden at this time of year. Walking past my tiny pond I could see leaves had been landing on the duck weed on its surface - time for the fishing net and a plastic container. That done, I emptied the contents of the container beside a log pile I had made so any wildlife in it could find a new home.

I enjoyed one last look at the water trickling down the rocks and the bubbles on the surface and went in to switch off the pump. I know some gardeners may remove the pump completely especially when the pond isn’t deep like mine but I leave it where it is under a few logs which I placed near the surface deliberately to both hide it and to give birds a place to drink and frogs etc a way to get out of the water. I wonder where the frogs go when it’s cold – perhaps in the caves I build especially for them?

The feeding station I made especially for any passing hedgehogs I am delighted to say is being used. A dish of water as well as the peanuts (crushed in my food processor) is definitely a life saver for any hedgehogs (especially juveniles) that visit it at the moment as they need to build up weight to survive hibernation.

A messy peanut dish in the morning is a sign they have been as I don’t always get sightings in the evenings even with my new wildlife camera showing a much bigger range in the garden. I’ll introduce this new camera soon. Of course, the hedgehog always appears when the cameras are switched off! Never mind a quiet rush outside with my still camera on a tripod and I did capture its visit at the end of my night of winter protecting the garden. Note the peanut shell on the nose of the hedgehog as it leaves the box.

Ah… but I have a link here from the gunnera to the hedgehog! I wonder if anyone has spotted it. Since knowing I have hedgehogs visiting my garden I have wondered if they have ever considered hibernating under my protected gunnera. In spring I gingerly removed the old leaves but could see no sign. Mm… but this year there is hay there – I wonder if they will be tempted now. I will set up my camera in that area soon to see if I can see hedghogs pass through.

Tonight however, I will not be watching my garden for hedgehogs or any other wildlife there. This evening I am heading out with my video camera to a quite different location to see if I can catch glimpses of a …

The photos above were all taken in my garden on the evening of October 27th 2008.

Monday, 27 October 2008

Autumnwatch 2008 from Dorset

Red squirrels are set to have a starring role in BBC Two’s Autumnwatch this year – definitely my favourite wildlife animal! This is just a quick reminder to say it starts again tonight, October 27th, at 8pm. This programme has inspired many, many new people to get interested in birds and wildlife over the last few years – I have absolutely no doubt!

Autumnwatch 2008 is being hosted from Brownsea in Dorset. You can view the BBC intro video below.

As Brownsea is new to viewers of the programme Kate Humble (one of the presenters) takes us on a location tour which you can see on their website. The video above, as you can see, is the property of the BBC.

The selection of links below may also be of interest to you too. However, I cannot make a link list from this area without including Jane at My Urban Garden. Jane is already in my sidebar links and is one of the most enthusiastic wildlife Bloggers I have come across. She is now also working on Nature Watch Corfu Mullen and I do wonder if she will appear on the programme at some point.

Brownsea Island and Virtual walk
Dorset Wildlife Trust's Interactive map
BBC Dorset

Finally, I would like to add that I really do believe programmes like this help make children aware of wildlife by the way this programme is structured following ‘stories and events’ through the series. This is all to the good for the survival of some species. Then again, some children have been encouraged to appreciate birds and wildlife by their families from an early age. I am thinking here of fellow blogger Joe and his Wildlife Garden . He has been blogging for the last few months and is very enthusiastic about it and enjoys taking videos of his garden birds too. Sorry Joe, I missed out with a Birdwatch posting with you over the weekend! Oh dear... I've just spotted a Sparrowhawk at the feeders! Hope there are birds left for next birdwatch. Ah… but I'm guessing you will be glued to the television tonight too :-D

The photo above was taken at the Scottish Wildife Trust Reserve on July 7th 2008.

Monday, 20 October 2008

Piet at Pensthorpe

Summer days seem long gone on Autumnal Mondays like today when my garden has been dull, wet and windy. The leaves have been falling off the trees at a great rate and the bare bones of the garden are starting to appear once again. Ah… but do I have a summer treat for you that I have kept back especially for a day like today…

A huge smile came to my face as I looked through my holiday photos of our visit to The Millennium Garden at Pensthorpe in Norfolk, England. This visit was made all the more special as we had visited Pensthorpe for the wildlife and huge fan of the Dutch plantsman Piet Oudolf that I am I had no idea he had designed a garden there! On checking my link for him I see his website now shows images of this garden and some others too.

I was like a girl looking through the sweet shop window as the shop was about to close when we discovered this garden - we were about to leave for the day. I was standing in front of the entrance gate! Nope… I just couldn’t rush this garden. So, with such anticipation in my heart I turned around and walked away to return again a few days later.

Piet designs in a naturalistic way with grasses and huge drifts of the same plant or colour – oh if I only had a spare field! Most would probably say that the pictures I have shown here are not this garden at its best but that now is the best time to see it with its seed heads, dry grasses and cobwebs. That is definitely what I would have thought too looking through the books on my bookshelf. I wasn’t expecting to be blown away with his bold use of colour too.

I absolutely adore his use of form and shape in his plantings like the spires used in the photo above. They are repeated again and again weaving their way into the distance. Walking through the different heights and blocks of colours is just quite magical.

Mixing foliage textures in his planting even in areas with less ornamental grass ratio absolutely captivates me. Much of this can be scaled down and work in our own gardens. I always play around changing my plantings anyway but oh… to have a field.

Large block plantings of water lilies in the pond and lush foliage with dots of strong colour around it looked fantastic especially with the almost black foliage plants almost mirroring the surface of the water. Oh… I’ll stop chattering on for a moment and let you look in peace at a few more views from this wonderful garden.

This last selection of photos will wake you up with a start if this garden has made you a little dreamy! This is mid July colour and what a riot it is too. What an absolutely fantastic contrast to the huge weaving blocks of dusky flowing ornamental grasses. The red monarda was the plant that really caught my attention.

I am absolutely thrilled to be able to share my garden visit with any Piet fans reading this. I know I have thoroughly enjoyed my visits (through blogs) to other Piet gardens including his own private one – thanks Yolanda.

If you are new to Piet’s style of gardening I hope that you too have enjoyed this tour. If you want to read/browse some of his books - my bookshelf proudly holds the list of books below. Ah… and if you are looking at plants and plans for your own garden next year I hope this gives you some inspiration.

Dream Plants for the Natural Garden by Henk Gerritsen and Piet Oudolf.

Designing with Plants by Piet Oudolf and Noel Kingsbury.

Planting a Natural Garden by Piet Oudolf and Henk Gerritsen.

Gardening with Grasses by Michael King and Piet Oudolf.

Oh… but wait a minute this garden style celebrates movement in the garden. Okay, you’ve twisted my arm… here’s some video of the garden too. Unfortunately moving the camera on plants that are already moving makes for less than perfect resolution after processing. However, the photos above in no way show the scale of planting in this garden or the true height of the plants.

Watch out for the few people I caught walking around the garden with me as they will scale the garden for you. I really hope you will enjoy the walk too.

Finally, I do have one more posting to come from my visit to Pensthorpe which will be on the birds. Sorry, I'll have to keep you waiting a little longer for that one.

The video and photos above were all taken on July 22nd 2008.

Saturday, 18 October 2008

Regular visitors

At this time of year as the leaves begin to fall from the shrubs and trees we are once again able to see the birds that almost live in secret throughout the summer months. I do love to see this transformation of the garden almost as much as I do seeing the new buds and fresh leaves appear in the spring.

Garden bird feeders and tables are now being put up in gardens all around the world where winter approaches. Here in the UK the RSPB are highlighting this with a ‘Feed the Birds Day’ and lots of fun events have been arranged throughout the country next weekend.

Feeding garden birds now will encourage them to regularly visit. In the cases of blue and great tits they may even stay around until spring and nest in the nestboxes that may also be going up at the moment too. If you see birds looking at your nestboxes now (as we have) they could be considering using them to roost in over the cold winter months ahead. All great activity to see!

For my regular blog visitors, that particularly enjoy seeing garden birds, I have decided to try regular posting on Saturdays to track the progress of the activity in my garden in the coming winter months. I think this will be an interesting exercise.

It was through Joe asking me if I was interested in joining him with a regular bird posting (updates from the week etc) that I considered this. I think it is a great idea and time pending this may be weekly or every second week. Short postings are what we agreed on. However, as this has been more of an introduction it has grown a little! Of course, this posting would have to begin with the robin and the one below is rather special as it is a juvenile.

Watching videos from gardens is a great way to share what is going but only they only work on dry days. The video footage that I have spread throughout this posting is mostly of blackbirds and dunnocks who, although will go to bird tables, do enjoy feeding from the ground. I really love to see them running around.

The partial albino blackbirds (blackbirds with white feathers usually on heads but sometimes in tails) are being seen visiting regularly again too. We have quite a few now and I really must try and get some photo/video ID’s of them all to show how quite different they all are. They must nest nearby as we saw juveniles visit during the summer.

A birds eye view of feeding birds I thought would be fun. I added some sultanas and crushed peanuts to the ground feeder that had sunflower hearts already in it and scattered some more on the ground around it. I left the camera outside on a mini tripod and hit record. Of course now that the camera was outside I had the wonderful background chatter of the morning birds. How great is that to be able to share the sounds of the garden too!

The hanging bird feeders were also very busy with great, blue and coal tits buzzing around and finches fighting amongst themselves for space. Sunny spots at the top of my garden, like my arbour seat, are also popular – but not by the birds! Neighbour’s cats are sitting in the distance watching the activity at the feeders. Of course they don’t always stay there…

I haven’t been sitting at my PC these last few days for many reasons including my monitor ending its days on Blog Action Day. I intended promoting community gardens in the fight against poverty. However, I would like to acknowledge the efforts of so many Bloggers who did – especially the garden, birding and wildlife ones.

Finally, if you do visit Joe's blog the first thing you will notice is the completely different mornings we had. His looks quite bright and mine was dark and windy which are not ideal conditions for successful video uploads. This was fun to compare both visitors and weather conditions too. I will look forward to the next time!

All videos shown above were taken, through a window except for the last one, on October 18th 2008.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Garden Bloom Day October 2008

Last summer flowers are just holding on as Autumn takes hold. I was well chuffed that this year saw my first success growing sweet peas from seed! Although this wasn’t the colour on the packet it has looked great mixed with white borage which is also still in flower.

Deep purples flowers look particularly good in Autumn don’t you think? This clematis, Fleuri, was a new one to my garden this year that only grows to approx 1 metre (3 - 4ft) - so great for seeing the flowers then? Well, perhaps not if you don’t remove the dead ones! I was a bit lax on this and didn’t see as many flowers this year – note to self for next year.

Considering some winter colour this year I bought some viola plug plants that I brought on in my small greenhouse. They are now quite happy out in a border and I look forward to seeing this smiling Babyface Ruby & Gold all winter.

Autumn is a season for more than just the last pretty flowers don’t you think? Grasses and more unusual flowers like the spiky flowers of the Sea holly and the spires of the Gunnera flowers begin to steal the show.

If you are worried about how to protect your Gunnera for winter you can see what I do here. Gosh I'm almost a week away from this! I'll keep an eye on the weather now but it doesn't feel quite cold enough to tuck it up for winter yet.

Fungi too I have noticed more at this time of year when on walks. I have taken some photos recently but gosh the plain duller ones are not half tricky to ID even with photographic reference books! There are so many. I would suggest that you photograph the stem too as that will help an ID greatly.

Walking away from the border after taking my Gunnera pic above I spotted these growing on a mossy log. It looks like something has been eating them! If anyone would like to help me out with an ID on this one (common one I expect) and to what has been eating it that would be great.

Berries are also adding colour to the garden at this time too although I don’t expect these cotoneaster ones shown below will be there in a week or so – the blackbirds are starting to eat a few! That I am more than happy about – I planted this tree near the bird feeders especially for them!

Brown teasel seed heads can be seen just behind the berries. I must cut a few heads and put them in a paper bag to collect this seed for next year. However this too was planted for the birds – the goldfinches. I am really looking forward to seeing if they will feed on them after reading that they should do. That will be fascinating to see.

Very surprising to see is the flowers that are trying to flower out of season! I say ‘trying to’ as I wonder if a frost will quite literally nip them in the bud. Seen below is one of the many blossom racemes of a Pieris (I have two plants like this) and the Choisya Aztec Pearl with a few wonderfully scented flowers about to open. Even more strange is that this Choisya is less hardy than the Ternata variety I have.

Japanese Anemones have always been a great source of flowers at this time of year but they have flowered earlier than usual. I am wondering if they may even be missing in my next GBBD line up. Ah… but don't go yet as I’ve a few more yet to show you for this month.

No narration on this GBBD video due to technical hiccups and a rather buggy software program – I did try and try. However, I do have an unexpected entry for you. I have also chosen to film in the morning and in again in the evening as it was getting dark as that is when I feel the true depth of Autumn colour can be seen. I find it so atmospheric then – but maybe that’s just me?

Did you spot it? This hedgehog kept me from getting this posting sorted last night as I found myself watching the night camera (after midnight) for it to appear again! I built the pile of a few logs, twigs and leaves below the feeder after seeing this at a nature reserve – robins etc would search around it for food. It was fun to watch this hedgehog searching there where it was quite safe – however bonfires are indeed another matter! Enough said I think.

Finally, there are still a few more flowers in my garden that got lost on the cutting room floor - Blue borage, Thyme, Red Campion, Heuchera, Stachys – yep I think that could be it now!

If you would like to see more current flowers from gardens all around the world pop over to May Dreams Gardens where Carol and many others will be posting on the 15th. I do enjoy joining in with these monthly postings and it's a great way to compare the garden from year to year too. Enjoy your garden flowers!

Perhaps I should say that I have posted a day early this month (instead of a few days late) as I will be posting for Blog Action Day on the 15th. This is the second year of this annual event. The organisers hope that 'thousands of bloggers will unite to discuss a single issue'. This year the topic is Poverty. Bloggers are being asked 'to try to keep their posting related to their regular blog topic so that posts are individual, suited to their audience and look at the issue in many different lights'. I better get my thinking hat on now!

The video and photos above were taken on October 13th 2008.

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Catching up

A breakfast bird count followed by a garden ‘need to do’ and ‘would like to do’ list sounds like a plan for a Sunday. Although, once my coat and boots are on and I walk out into the garden ‘plans’ very quickly get forgotten. Today… I must stay strong and focused!

The montage above shows the birds that visited this morning from 9-10am. Picking an hour is quite tricky to get an accurate count of the birds that visit and some like the goldfinches didn’t make an appearance in this time slot – arriving just after ten. I was thrilled to see the Wren pass through as it is even faster than the speedy Coal tit. I wasn’t certain we had siskins visiting at the moment but my count confirmed that they were too.

For those unfamiliar with the garden birds above starting top right they are: Coal tit x2; Blue tit x1 (but shortly after 4 were spotted with a pair looked at the arch Nestbox again); Great tit x1; Robin x1 (but there is also a rather bossy juvenile robin seen at the moment chasing off the dunnocks); Dunnocks x2; Chaffinches x 4 male and female; Greenfinch x1; Blackbirds x 4 including 2 partial albinos; Wren x1 (seen around pond today but recently seen foraging around and in a hanging basket); House sparrows x4; Siskin x1 and Woodpigeon x2.

It’s a dry, slightly windy day at the moment, so I will take this opportunity to get into the garden when I can. So it's some weeding, taking penstemon cuttings, planting bulbs and moving around a few plants for me. I wonder what other gardener’s are doing in their gardens today - much of the same I expect. Please do share what's going on in your garden - I know I'd love to hear about it.

The photos in the montage above were taken at various times in my garden.

Thursday, 9 October 2008

For Lisa…

…and anyone else who may be wondering how the hedgehogs are getting on in my garden. During the summer months they are rather hidden from view with the foliage of my plants - if they are out and about during daylight hours. I would love to see one during the day but alas I have not. I have never seen any young hoglets either even at night but once again the foliage would act as great cover for them.

It is later on in the evenings I can get glimpses of any hedgehog visitors to my garden. On warm nights I don’t see them much at all but colder nights are much better. I don’t set up my night camera every night as it does need me to sit and watch the screen on my PC – I don’t use motion captures. I like to see these visits real time. For me, that’s the fun part of watching wildlife in the garden – especially with the night visitors and the action inside a Nestbox.

Two nights ago I caught the following hedgehog visits to my garden. I tend to set up my night camera on a tripod positioning it with food in view. The film below shows a dish I put out in the open along a wall edge - I have noticed hedgehogs like to follow edges. The dish had crushed peanuts and fresh water from my water barrel. I also scattered some peanuts along the crack of the paving for any that were running past. Of course the hedgehog doesn’t always get in the middle of the screen!

Dish outside feeding station, video 0:57 with background music, try 480p quality.

Foraging everywhere in the garden you will find the woodpigeon. I know this bird can be a pest but it is also very entertaining to watch as you will see in this next capture. My night camera was still sitting out one morning after watching the hedgehog. Some strange noises were heard outside my window. They were coming from my hedgehog feeding box which has an entrance hole of 13cm x 13cm…

Well, there you go you just never know what you’ll capture with a camera outside in the garden!

The photo of the hedgehog drinking water and video of the hedgehogs eating peanuts were taken on October 7th 2008. The video of the woodpigeon was taken on August 21st 2008.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

What are birds doing when…

...they are seen going in and out of nestboxes from October to February? They can’t be nesting then can they? Possibly they could be stating their intention to use it in the Spring. Ah... but the blue tits that freely nest in nestboxes also use them to roost in over the winter months. Do you think you have a rooster at the moment and how would you know?

We had a roosting blue tit in our Camera Nestbox from the end of October last year. However, when it came to January we also had a blue tit pair interested in the Nestbox who visiting during the day. Eventually when that female decided to roost in the box (to definitely state her claim to use it for nesting) there was a bit of trouble and the winter rooster was off. So it doesn't mean that a rooster will finally nest in the nestbox.

Last year, as per suggestion by the RSPB, I put some wood shavings on the floor of our camera Nestbox after we cleared away the used nest. Is this really necessary I hear you ask? I guess not although I do plan to add some to our new camera Nestbox soon. What about our Arch Nestbox without a camera? Oh... I don't think I'll bother adding any to it. Can you guess why?

Yep… once again our Arch Nestbox without a camera has the interest of the blue tits. I thought I’d seen a bird go in it during the last couple of weeks but last Friday it was very clear something was going on. But what was this bird doing?

Blue tit October cleaning for roosting, video 2:30 with background music, try 480p quality.

You can see the frequency of the visits in the video above. For those who cannot view my video, I watched it go speedily to the trees and return. In and out the Nestbox it went on this cold windy October day. Wait a minute... I recognised this behaviour. Ah… the penny finally dropped as I watched closer.

This bird had something in its beak and it was going straight to a branch of a tree and dropping it just as I saw during nest building earlier this year. However, it wasn't building a nest - it was clearing away the unused nest! Clever little bird. Okay, so I don’t think I’ll add any wood shavings to this box.

There is no camera in my Arch Nestbox so the only way to confirm my suspicions of a rooster was to set up my video camera outside the entrance in the evening. You would likely miss this if you sat and watched. The time to see this can vary a little but once you see it once you will have a guide when to look – 20 mins either side I’d say.

The first two clips in the film below were taken sometime between 6.25-7.55pm but the last clip was after 7pm probably as it was a warmer night. I didn’t alter the lighting so you can see the differences. So now I would say with three clips showing three consecutive nights of a blue tit going in this nestbox I have confirmation of a rooster there at the moment. I should also add that I captured a fourth night after I edited my film. It's a pity we can't see inside isn't it? We have a side opening in this box and we opened it this morning to see if there was any moss left and all that could be seen was a few bird droppings most likely from the roosting bird.

Night night, video 0:52 with background music & narration, try 480p quality.

In Spring we wanted the enquiring blue tits to choose our Nestbox with a camera so we could see and share what was going on during nesting. However, I still feel that it may be a little early for roosting in my area and it is very likely that another bird might take a look inside it our Camera Nestbox so I am still hopeful. Oops… but what’s this below?

I am delighted to be able to share the first video capture from our new Camera Nestbox and what an interesting piece of film this is – can you guess what is going on? What is the bird doing lying on the floor?

Blue tit inspects camera nestbox, video 2:05 with background music, try 480p quality.

When editing my video clips I do see them again and again so I am at an advantage. I believe it is surprised by the light levels in this Nestbox and it is looking at the ceiling! Why the surprise? Well, I am certain this is the rooster from the Arch Nestbox and it must be a lot darker in there. I found it amusing to watch – you have to wonder what it was thinking. Oh yes… and after the closer inspection of the camera you can see that blue tits are very curious and agile little birds!

My first challenge after seeing this new footage from the camera box (taken on the same day the roosting blue tit cleared out the arch box) was to compare the two birds. Why do I do this? Just simple curiosity I guess – although it does take some time! I grabbed video frames of similar angles of the two birds which you can see above.

I convinced myself that there was a similar dot marking in the two birds as I watched them. However, after final editing of my videos I spotted there was also a misplaced strand of a feather that was common to both so that confirmed it.

Finally, I have to say find this slightly scruffier looking blue tit quite a character and I do hope we see more of it. I am also wondering if it has a mate that will eventually join it to roost in our Arch Nestbox – now that would be interesting to see! Fingers crossed that we will see some action via our Camera Nestbox too and it looks like these two nestboxes will open up extra interest in my garden once again – the stories begin! Enjoy your nestboxes.

The video footage and photos above wer all taken between 3-5th October 2008.

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Water in the garden

How would you convince someone, like Nan at Gardening Gone Wild, that they just couldn’t survive another growing season without water in the garden? Oh… I’m not talking rain water which she would dearly love! I am talking water features like ponds, waterfalls or container gardens.

Mm… yes, I have a tiny pond I could tell her about but first I’d much rather share some of the photos I have taken for reference over the years at shows and on walks. Here goes Nan - perhaps you might like to pour yourself a coffee and turn up your speakers as here are some of the reasons I love water in the garden!

Mm... what do you think - tempted to add water now?

Okay… I here you say ‘but ponds/pools require maintenance – are they worth the bother?’ True, they do need managed but when this is done correctly that isn’t so bad. The positive benefit to mood in the garden far less the value to wildlife, and the opportunities you will have to see it, outway any negatives.

The smallest water feature in my garden allows me to see birds bathing and drinking. It is a very simple large grey plastic plant pot saucer with some blue grey pebbles on the bottom. It is positioned on the ground under a small pine tree in a border with ground cover plants around it. This area is partially shaded and it doesn’t need topped up too much. I also have a free standing bird bath which you can see in the opening image of my Sept GBBD video. I love watching the raindrops break circles on its surface. Simple yet at the same time quite magical.

What nobody wants to see is the green pea soup water in a pond or pool. Through reading the posts for this Design Workshop you will know how important plants are in the water to keeping it clear. As Nan is in America and I am in Scotland I will let others give plant suggestions. However, I am guessing they will include some sort of oxygenating plants which would apply to any country.

A pump and perhaps a pond filter (in cases of large ponds with fish) helps keep the water clear. I have a small pump in my tiny pond but I switch it off during the winter. I know some people may remove the pump completely but I don’t know if that is necessary – maybe others do? Barley straw is another simple and natural way to help keep the water clear and is one of the suggestions that the RHS here in the UK suggests you might find their advice for algae in ponds interesting.

Choosing the best position for a pond is one of the first keys to its success. Generally speaking you should choose a sunny position away from overhanging trees. Of course that isn’t always where you have space for it. A small pond is likely to overheat in hot days and that causes algae problems so you should bear that in mind too. My pond is tiny and is in a mostly shady spot only getting early morning sun. I have wonderful mosses growing over the sandstone rocks I choose to edge it with.

The surface of your pond large or small should also be partially covered. The RHS suggests that you should ‘Aim to have at least one third of the pool's surface area covered with oxygenators or other aquatic plants. If you have fish or are considering adding fish to your pond it also suggests you should ‘Avoid over-stocking with fish, which produce nutrient-rich waste.’ All pretty sound advice I would say.

So what advice would I give? Well, throughout the year I’d regularly go fishin in my pond and I would recommend that for any invasive plants. Blanket weed, if I have a problem with that, I usually remove by twisting a cane round and round and pulling it up like candyfloss being made at the Fair. However, at the moment the leaves are about to fall of the trees. Windy days are more common and even without and overhanging trees you could get leaves blown into your pond. I try to remove as many out as possible but I do get a clue if any are still there by the oily surface on the top of my pond. Oh yes... and would regularly top up my bird baths with fresh water.

Finally, if you are still in doubt about adding a pond/water to your garden I’ve links two more of my back posts for those who may have missed them. They show the wildlife I discovered on a visit to a nature reserve in the summer and the unlikely wildlife couples I saw when doing my own pond watching during the evening. Oh yes… ponds have interest at night too!

Sorry, there are lots of links in this posting but water in the garden is a huge subject and I have only made ripples in it. Sorry couldn’t resist that! So what do you think Nan? Have I convinced you, or anyone else, that water is just great to have in the garden and well worth any efforts to look after it?

The photos in the video slide show above were taken in the last 8 years.