Monday, 26 January 2009

The RSPB & Birdwatch Results

Before listing the results of my Big Garden Birdwatch taken at the weekend I’d like to take a moment to introduce the RSPB to visitors outside the UK. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds is a registered charity. In 1904, only 15 years after being founded, it was granted its Royal Charter.

Okay, I should perhaps say that I’m not really a history buff. However, on looking through their website for info on what they are currently working on my attention was drawn instead to why the RSPB was formed. I am guessing many others in the UK may find this interesting too.

The first president of the RSPB was the 6th Duchess of Portland shown in the painting above in 1912 (image courtesy of Wikipedia). You might wonder why when you look closely at the plumes in her hat. However, she and many other people wearing plumes at that time were its strongest supporters.

On reading from the RSPB website: “In its earliest days the Society consisted entirely of women who were moved by the emotional appeal of the plight of young birds left to starve in the nest after their parents had been shot for their plumes.” After watching the plight of blue tit parents to feed their young in my camera nestbox I can completely understand the driving force behind this.

The society had simple rules: That Members shall discourage the wanton destruction of Birds, and interest themselves generally in their protection” and That Lady-Members shall refrain from wearing the feathers of any bird not killed for purposes of food, the ostrich only excepted.”

During the late Victorian era (1871-1901) the plumes of thousands of egrets, birds of paradise and other species were being used in women’s hats – fashionable at the time. Previous to this native birds used for their plumes resulted in The Sea Birds (1869) and The Wild Birds (1880) Protection Acts. However: “the trigger which led to the foundation of the Society for the Protection of Birds in 1889 was the continued wearing of ever more exotic plumes.”

Today: “The RSPB speaks out for birds and wildlife, tackling the problems that threaten our environment.” They rely upon memberships and donations to fund their work. I could list many stats but as there is so much info on their website I would suggest you might enjoy browsing it yourself. I’ll just settle for a couple of points that caught my eye tonight. The first is that the RSPB has at least nine volunteers for every paid member of staff. I'd say that is pretty impressive!

The second is the recycling of old mobile phones and inkjet cartridges. For every mobile phone and inkjet cartridge sent to The Recycling Appeal, the RSPB will receive a cash donation. This money will help us to carry out vital conservation work across the UK, such as creating habitats for wildlife."

The RSPB continues to say: “It’s really easy to join this scheme and help raise valuable funds for the RSPB. Just log on to the recycling appeal website and order your freepost envelopes. Once you have completed your contact details on the envelope, enclose your old inkjet cartridges and mobile phones and post to the RSPB recycling appeal.”

Okay… now to my Birdwatch results. Unexpected changes to plans meant that my count wasn’t at the time of day I would have liked. Never mind, I did do it and I will submit my results this week. My count was taken on Sunday between 9:30 and 10:30am. I didn’t have a particularly big show despite not seeing the female Sparrowhawk regularly hunting in the garden. There were ten species and a total of twenty-six birds. The photo montage below represents my count.

Blackbirds topped my count with seven. Three Chaffinches, Greenfinches and House Sparrows were seen. Two Great tits, Blue tits, Robins and Woodpigeons plus one Coal tit and one Dunnock bringing my count for 2009 complete. Despite this count being really quite low it is still of great value to the RSPB in their survey.

So that’s it for another year. The results are out in March and I will add a link here then. I will be particularly interested in numbers of Blue Tits this year after 2008 saw for the second year running a brood of eight chicks all die in our nestbox. Our boxes weren't the only ones to fail either from comments and emails. I don’t know how these parent birds will adjust to shortages of caterpillars and other insects when they need them to feed their young. It appears that the trigger to start the whole nesting process is not the days getting warmer but daylight levels increasing. During my count I did see a pair of Blue tits at our Arch nestbox and we have activity (including a rooster) in our Camera box now too. I’ll update on that shortly.

Finally, I have to say I have been completely overwhelmed by the response my last posting on Desert Island Plants has had! What a buzz around the garden blogs there was that day and a good time was had by all. I’d like to thank everyone who joined in and visited then and since. It really goes to show, just like everyone counting birds on The Big Garden Birdwatch, how our interests can connect us all. Just brilliant!

The photo of the Duchess of Portland was taken from Wikipedia see licensing details here. The montage photos were taken at various times of the year in my garden. The young blackbird was taken on May 19th 2007 in my garden.

Thursday, 22 January 2009

Desert Island Plant Challenge

Two posts ago I mentioned ‘If I was to be stranded on Dessert Island… it would be a plant I would take! Mm… that might be a good subject for a posting – I may come back to that one.’ Well here we are and the initial one plant has become three and by gosh this was so much harder that I ever expected! Given the criteriano limits to growing conditions whatsoever’ and with the assumption that food was on the Island this completely opened up the game. A plant from any country was now on the cards. Argh… too, too much choice!

Okay, seeing as this posting is acting as a host for others too I’ll try and keep mine fairly brief. My one plant was a complete no-brainer. It would be a foliage plant. A tactile one with height, movement and some sound as the wind gently blows through it.

Choice number one is a Bamboo, a bambusa, the clump forming type of bamboo which is not usually invasive. I would take a large specimen and consider dividing it before planting it. Above you can see some frosted leaves on one from my garden and a specimen courtesy of Wikipedia.

Plant number two had to be a tree. I love large trees but there is just no way my small garden could ever support one. A Desert Island could so… after a great deal of deliberation there was only one choice. I would have a huge, mature, weeping cherry tree. Ah… dripping with blossom and filling the air with its scent - just wonderful.

Next, my thoughts went to flowers on the ground. Oh my… I went round and round the houses on this one. So many books were opened here. This is where I really struggled! Mail came in saying other bloggers were going to take part and let’s just say panic set in. However, ground cover was my first thoughts for this one and my first love of alpines kicked in. However, on browsing I discovered something that really caught my eye and I started thinking about wild flowers. Before I give you my final selection I would like to share something else with you.

The photo above doesn’t look that exciting perhaps at first glance but this is the Machair on Berneray in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. Reading from Wikipedia where I found the image above: ‘Machairs have received considerable ecological and conservational attention, chiefly because of their unique ecosystems. They can house rare carpet flowers, such as Irish Lady's Tresses, orchids and Yellow Rattle along with a diverse array of bird species including the corn crake, twite, dunlin, redshank and ringed plover, as well as rare insects such as the northern colletes bee. Some machairs are threatened by erosion caused by rising sea levels as well as by recreational use of vicinity beaches.’ Notice there are no trees.

My searching then took to me to rare wild flowers for a while but I decided just one wouldn’t be enough. My Desert Island couldn’t have its own Machair as that would be cheating and my tree and bamboo would spoil its habitat. However, just imagine a Machair with wild flowers from all over the world. Now wouldn’t that be something!

Small simple flowers have always won me over. So, so many stuning flowers in the world and I have chosen a very simple plant. Also, its one I can’t grow succesfully outdoors in my own garden despite following all the advised planting methods. Ah… but any plant will grow in this Desert Island!

The third plant to come with me to this Desert Island would be a Lewisia, not one that shouts out with a rainbow of colours either. To me, rediviva, the one above has beauty on a whole different level. I would never tire of plants like this. What a picture this would be spreading around the Island. My picture is complete and I am eager to see what everyone else has chosen so I won't keep you any longer!

Very quickly, I would like to say a huge thank-you to everyone who has helped pass around the word with this. Thanks too, if you have posted. I do love postings like this. If you'd like to add the link of your posting below we can all pop by to see your choices. Another option is to leave a comment if you don't have a blog or don't have time to post. We'd all love to hear about them. Although this has been hard it has defintiely been fun - I hope you've enjoyed it too.

Just one final thing. I'll keep this posting up right through the weekend for anyone still wishing to join in. I'll do my bird count posting on Monday evening.

Update March 2011: I've reopened the Island! It is looking quite stunning now ;-) New plants are welcome... if you'd like to jump aboard :-D

This post was written by shirl for shirls gardenwatch. All photos above with the exception of the first one were taken from Wikipedia and all licences can be seen via the links given.

Monday, 19 January 2009

Plant & Bird Challenges

Snow was falling over my garden this morning making a Desert Island Plant Challenge definitely one for the imagination. Yes, I'll suggest no limits to growing conditions whatsoever in this challenge! Purely for fun this one. Let's assume that there is food on the Island - will that make it easier I wonder.

Would you like to join me on Thursday? I’ll set up a link list for you to leave the URL of your posting on mine so we can share in our choices. I will try to invite as many bloggers as I can but if you could help me by passing the word around that would be great. Feel free to copy my photo below. No problem if you don’t have a blog either you can still take part by adding your choices as a comment to my posting - the more the merrier. I'm really looking forward to seeing everyone's plant selections and I am guessing at a few too!

Seals on Kinshaldy beach (near St Andrews) during Sept 2004

Perhaps you’d like a Bird Challenge? This weekend sees the 30th RSPB BIG GARDEN BIRDWATCH. Wow… Congratulations are in order here! I have to confess pre blog I had no idea this even existed. The RSPB is delighted: It may be our 30th birthday but we're only celebrating because everyone taking part has helped make the event such a huge success. It suggests: So go on, spend time with friends, family and children, put on your party hat, have a bit of birthday cake and enjoy yourself.

This sounds like fun to me too. However, on a more serious note our garden counts really can help the RSPB with their records here in the UK. It will highlight species in decline and on the increase. Taking part is easy too.

The RSPB goes on: For the last 30 years, the way we do the survey has remained exactly the same – watch the birds in your garden for an hour and record the maximum number of each species you see at one time. You really don't need to be an expert to take part. Whether you're young or old, an 'expert' or a beginner, there really is no better place to start than our Big Garden Birdwatch. I’d have to agree with that. It does also help having more than one pair of eyes when you are counting!

You could consider when you do your bird count but don’t worry if you don’t see as many birds as you usually do. The RSPB says that with the huge amount of data they get it all evens out. However, I do appreciate it can be disappointing if you feel it doesn’t fully reflect the birds you usually see. We had a Sparrowhawk visit last year during ours and it may well do again this year. I plan to do my count between 11.30-12.30am. Any earlier and I may not see the numbers of finches I can see on a cold snowy day like today so I am giving my count a chance to be accurate.

The RSPB gives tips on their website and from there you can print a counting sheet which is very helpful too. Submitting counts can be done online which the RSPB encourages to keep costs down. However, you can also pick up the leaflet shown above. Overleaf you will find an address card to fill in and post to receive a Big Garden Birdwatch pack. Time is running out if you want to send away for one. Oh… but you might want to attend one of the events organised by the RSPB being held throughout the country. I am sure you will enjoy taking part. Oh... one last thing - you don't count birds flying over.

Finally, if you can't see the online form on the website don't worry as they will open on 24 January 2009 for you to enter your 2009 counts. The RSPB will collate and publish the results in March 2009. From memory I think the results are out near the end of the month. Enjoy counting your birds or choosing your plants! I'm looking forward to hearing all about them. Once again if anyone from outside the UK wants to join in with a bird count too please add them to my Birdcount posting. Have fun!

I am guessing you may recognise the bird in the photo above taken in my garden at lunchtime today! Yes, the Starling can be a bit of a bully at the feeders but here in the UK there are worries about its decline in numbers. I am guessing my blogging friends in America will once again offer to send some our way :-)

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Garden Bloom Day January 2009

It’s the 15th of the month. It’s time to browse the garden for flowering plants. Fortunately it wasn’t too cold today and the snow of last night didn’t come to anything. My lunchtime browse was a more like a full blown search… not much out there this January. Mm… the official flower count was a grand total of two and as I don’t do house plants that’s the lot. A few plants did catch my eye… before the rain came on. Oh… but don’t be too disappointed with my offering… read on to the end.

The rhododendron buds I would have expected to see today but I was surprised to see some on the Choiysa. February is usually much colder here so I doubt these buds will last. I was too busy focusing on the buds that I didn’t notice an insect on the leaves.

The gunnera flower spikes have now darkened as have the leaves protecting the crown but they always catch my eye when I walk by. The hellebores in this area were put in just over a year ago but as they were young plants I didn’t expect flowers until this year. However one thought it would get ahead of the game flowering out of season and now sits hanging it head full of seed.

Sedum Carl Forrester looks like its trying to get ahead of the game too but the cold of February will surely set him well and truly back! This skimmia is a bit of a disappointment. It has berries of a sort which are starting here and they will get a lot deeper in colour. Mm… I’m thinking a revamp in this bed beside my Arbour and it could go!

Magnolia buds are unmistakable and always a joy to see – but why do they need to tease us for quite so long? Ah… but the biggest tease for flowers has to be the wisteria. Will it or won’t it flower and what do wisteria flower buds actually look like anyway. Ah… it’s all in the pruning. It can take a few years but it is definitely worth the wait!

Small flowers seem to go unnoticed at this time of year don’t you think? My tiny viola flowers (grown from plug plants) aren’t really lifting their heads up much at all just now. These guys need a little sunshine to bring a smile to their faces – and who doesn’t? This tiny white arabis flower brought a smile to my face today. There were only a couple above the carpet of foliage but hey… it completed my count for today!

This pieris blossom worries me a tad. I really don’t think we should be seeing it and I worry if it does survive February then it may flower early and perhaps the blue tits won’t get any insects from it when they are feeding their chicks. Oh… just in case you missed it… we have roosters (I suspect from different pairs) in both our camera and non-camera nestboxes.

Bulbs popping through my lawn are appearing daily at the moment. Here you can see some narcissi and crocus. My more recently planted ones in a different area may be a little later this year but I will be delighted to say them whenever. The final image above is of polygala. This one, in previous years, has flowered for going on eleven months. But for some reason it seems to be in limbo. For a few months it has been at this stage and I have no idea what it’s up too. They are such beautiful pea like flowers and the bees love the good sized carpets I have.

Ivy flowers are the strangest of things here seen on the variety sulphur heart. The birds apparently will eat them but I’ve never seen them. Usually when I’m out taking my photos for Bloom Day there are some birds about following me. I try to include them in my posting. I bet you are curious what the photo above on the right is about.

The photo with the hand squiggles in it was taken through my window. At lunchtime just before I went out with my camera I spotted something on the fence/post. All I could initially see was a tail. It wasn’t until it moved a little and I saw the shape and pattern I realised what it was. More than half its body was hidden too!

This griselinia is one of my favourite plants of the garden – I brought it from my last garden in a pot. Therefore, I was horrified to see a female Sparrowhawk dive in it for its lunch! In a split second a small bird (don’t know what it was) came ‘flying’ out as shown by the red line. The Sparrowhawk gave chase around my bamboo. The bird dived into the safety of my hedge and the Sparrowhawk continued its chase through there too.

Some of the bird feeders were empty. I considered what to do. The birds were going to risk coming out looking for food if I filled them up or not. In fact they would more than likely be safer getting food than taking longer to search for it. I filled them up and as I was out taking photos now I guessed they’d get a chance to get to it as my presence would deter the Sparrowhawk. That was the theory.

However, as I was taking my last shots of the magnolia before going inside the Sparrowhawk came behind me. I wonder if it was watching me too! As I walked towards the door it swooped down towards my griselinia once again although this time it was a fly by. I’m guessing she didn’t catch the bird earlier. Mm… now wait here Mrs… you are crossing a line here now!!

I stood in the doorway to see if it returned – I might even get a photo. It was deadly silent. Aw… one of things that I always associate my Bloom posting is birdsong as I take my photos. I turned and went inside and someone else caught my eye. Elisa, my daughter’s guinea pig was sitting silently watching me. She didn’t squeak or chatter for food. She didn’t run around to get my attention. She seemed to know it was a quiet time. Camera in hand I took some photos of her. I have decided she can be my favourite ‘flower’ for this posting.

Oh… but wait a minute I have a few more flowers to share. My last posting cleared my camera card but I’ve heaps of video tapes to go through and I have been keeping this one back as a gardener’s ‘pick-me-up’. So many of my garden blogger friends have cold, snow and ice covered gardens. These are for you and anyone else missing flowers.

The videos below were taken back in June 2008 at the Scottish Garden Show ‘Gardening Scotland’ in Edinburgh. Usually I would cut back the sound track of people chattering in the background but this time I thought I’d keep it in so you can all enjoy the buzz of a garden show. I have also let the odd carrier bag of plants come into shot too so you can really feel it all. There is also one silent piece in the first film to simulate stepping out of the hall for a little quiet time… and hot choc and even hotter fresh doughnuts with my daughter!

There are always favs at shows and the second video shows mine. I will always have a soft spot for alpines and rocks as well as the mosses, primulas and blue meconopsis poppies. However, the poppies in the last section of the first video really, really caught my eye too and came a very close second.

Finally, before you leave… two things. Firstly if you’d like to taken part in Bloom Day pop over to Carol’s posting and leave your link there. If you would like to browse all the gardens that have taken part you will get links there too - there's quite a few already. In my last posting I was considering something. I have a quick question for you…

If you were to be stuck on a Desert Island which three plants would you take? Let’s assume there is plenty of food available. Perhaps you’d like to think about it and join me for a posting next Thursday the 22nd of January. A photo would do if you are short on time. I’ll set up ‘Mister Linky’ as Carol does and you can add your posting there. This could be fun… I hope you can join me. Thanks Karen (for requesting three and not one as I originally thought) and Frances for asking about food!

All photos above were taken in my garden on January 15th 2009. The videos were taken in June 2008.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

A clean slate…

… or should I say a clean memory card on my camera. It’s about time too. Already, we are almost half way through January and I still have photos to share and stories to tell from last year! I have kept these photos on my card deliberately to remind myself about them every time I uploaded new ones and… well you know how it goes. Perhaps you might want to pour yourself a cuppa…

Ah… the frog living around my pond. This photo was taken one evening back in October and I don’t remember taking it now. I am guessing that was the last sighting of this frog. I wonder where it spends the cold winter months. Perhaps it is in one of the many caves I built in this area.

The mossy rocks around my pond are commented on many times but oops... I don’t remember why these photos were taken now either. Sometimes I just test light levels through the window – you can see some reflection on the RHS. However, this photo does show the success of the logs partial submerged in the water as a way to help wildlife in/out the water. The birds drink from them and the wren gets food around its edges. I love this mossy area.

Ah… yes the leaves! Yes… I am thinking now this was left as a photo reminder to mention regularly removing leaves from ponds during Autumn and Winter to stop the water turning oily on the surface. Ah… I see slight hints of it in my pond at the moment. I’ll need to get my net and a bucket out. If I catch it in time I shouldn’t need to change the water. I could take a bucket or two out and just top it up with rain water from my water butt.

Not all moss stays on my sandstone rocks… the birds are responsible for some removal but not necessarily at nesting time as you can see in the photos above which were taken on December 27th. If you look closely you can see some sand on the beak of the female blackbird. Mm… the most recent culprit I suspect.

Now… I should point out that the blueberries that this robin is eyeing up aren’t the usual delicacy at this feeder! My teenage daughter had used the rest in a cheesecake topping and these ones were going soft. I didn’t see which birds ate them but they were all gone by the end of that day!

Back to the mosses… if you look more closely you can see subtle differences in form and colour. They look at one with nature, so woodland with their cushion mounds and elaborate weaving. However, that is not what these photo reminders were taken to show.

Mm… did you spot the purple leaves of the heuchera in the foreground? I don’t welcome the mosses in this area! Why don’t the birds lift these bits – I’m sure there must be insects below. Why don’t I welcome these mosses? Ah… I have a problem in my garden that some visitors may not know about. These photo reminders were taken back in the first week in October.

The problem? I don’t have many earthworms in my garden – in fact a sighting is cause for celebration! This moss is growing on the surface of the soil as the earthworms aren’t around to aerate the soil’s surface or the roots of plants. I need to do ‘worm’s work’ using my hand fork or hoe. I deliberately choose to use ground cover plants but there lies a problem with my hoe or hand fork because before the plants knit together the moss quickly fills in the spaces and I end up removing some plant material as I remove the moss. On the whole regular ‘worm’s work’ keeps the moss at bay but later on in the year when I’m not out in the garden as much, with rain or for other reasons, it can take hold as you can see above. It has been removed since.

You could argue that I am spoiling the natural wilderness that the moss provides, but this is growing in the middle of borders and on the top of the grit dressing on my rockeries. It can be seen in pots too. This moss needs to be removed. Not only will my plants suffer but insects and bees will suffer too if the plants don’t get a chance to grow well and produce flowers. I do have wild areas where I will let the moss grow but it very quickly covers shady and damp areas so I do have to keep it in check even there.

Do you recognise what is on the left of the photo above? I do hope many don’t! I’ve looked back files for this one. You are most likely to find it in damp places like under rocks or pots and I do I think that is exactly where I found this one back in 2007. I hadn’t seen one in while so assumed they had moved on. This chap is responsible for the absence of earthworms in my soil.

Let me introduce you to the New Zealand Flatworm and you don’t want this in your garden! It survives by absorbing the earthworm. It looks disgusting and this process is too. I’ll refer hardened readers to a previous posting where you can read more including how to reduce the spread of the flatworm. They must be caught and destroyed. It is as clear as that. However, I should say that a garden can survive with and after the flatworm – my garden is testimony to that.

However there are many, many valuable insects and invertebrates in our soil that we can help survive the colder months of the year. Creating a winter habitat is a wonderful idea and can be a lot of fun too especially for young children who love mini beasts. What a great way to use up things lying about the garden, shed or garage. This certainly comes into the category of 'Do one thing for nature’ and ‘cleaning up our environment’ both at the same time.

The Wildlife House above was seen back in July in a wood at Pensthopre Nature Reserve in Norfolk. Notice the holes drilled into the logs for insects to crawl into or even lay eggs. I wonder how many species were in there at the time and how many more are in there at this moment. Much simpler versions can be made. You could take a handful of canes, cut them into small lengths and tie them together with twine or string and hang it up or tuck it in a sheltered spot. You could also make holes in a a few logs and put them in a corner.

Most of us delight in seeing these guys above fly around in the summer months – except my daughter after a toddler experience in a butterfly house! By providing winter homes for wildlife we are increasing the chances of this in our own areas. Ladybirds and bees too will appreciate a winter residence. Is it too late to build one? Well, perhaps not… where I am the ground isn’t frozen over. In my garden I have a rule that it is better to do some work late than not at all. But that’s just me.

My trip to Pensthorpe last July gave so many wonderful photo opportunities, including the butterflies above. I have been holding on to this last image of our summer visit. Oh no… it wasn’t taken in Piet’s garden but instead on a woodland walk around one of the lakes. In fact it’s not that far away from the home for wildlife shown above. This was one of the last looks over my shoulder as we left this area.

Unexpected drifts of plants winding through the trees. Soft grasses with tall golden daisy head flowers - some in the shade of the trees and others with stripes of sunshine across them. Just lovely! Yes… I do enjoy seeing birds and wildlife but plants will always be my first love – especially in woodland walks.

This was a photo reminder of how keeping a hedge regularly trimmed gives you more room inside the garden and pushes it right out into the background allowing our eyes to see the other plants instead. If you look closely you can see that we were trimming it at the time. The hedge then becomes a backdrop and a wind break – and hopefully not a nuisance to your neighbour too. We trim our Leylandii hedge in August.

You can also see how close my bird table (and other feeders further along) is to my hedge. The birds are spending a lot of time in this hedge just now especially in the mornings. They pop out quickly to get food and back in again. The Sparrowhawk is still regularly popping by and over the weekend I saw it fly in and through this gap missing the bird table and the fairly large and wide bamboo planted to give the birds some protection.

In this tiny space the Sparrowhawk caught a bird sitting on a feeder less than a foot from the safety of the hedge. It was so quick. It dropped immediately to my lawn with the bird. I’m not certain but I am taking a guess, by the colouring of the head, that it was one of the Siskins that has been visiting recently. I stood up to see and it flew off with its catch.

When I first saw this happen in my garden I felt sick at the thought. However, I have to say I do find watching the flight of this bird, around the obstacles I have put in its way, quite fascinating! Yes, I know it has to eat to survive too just like the birds that come to my garden. I would just like to make a request that it moves on to other gardens now. I’d like to keep the Siskins a little while longer if you don’t mind. Numbers of Greenfinches are increasing now too. Yes… Mrs Sparrowhawk, please keep flying on by next time!

The Dunnock, being more a ground feeder bird, should be less likely to get caught by a Sparrowhawk. But… in my garden, even with food on the ground for them, they can be seen feeding from my bird table and fat feeders. It also uses the feeder hidden in my small domed Acer tree. Instead of jumping up from the ground it does the same as many other smaller birds. It lands on the top branches of the tree and bounces through them down to the food. So this was a photo reminder to say that although some birds are said to behave in certain ways from what I see in my garden they also adapt by watching others.

Bulb photo reminders are an excellent idea for me. This one wasn’t taken to post but as a reminder of what I put where. Perhaps others forget like me?

Back to the birds with a couple of ideas for more natural looking feeding areas in the garden. The montage below shows an area of twigs and logs below a bird table at a nature reserve. I liked this idea and partial adapted it in my own garden with a thought from the Pensthorpe wildlife home too. I’ll show this in another posting.

Tree trunks make the most natural bird and wildlife feeder of all but in a garden the roots of large trees are usually a problem so on the whole they are dug up and the trunk has to go. Although… I suppose you could cement a piece of tree trunk into the ground as you would do a post for fencing – that might work. I really meant to post this photo back in October when I took these photos - the ground is too hard for most people now. Perhaps an idea for next year?

Have you any idea what the top right photo on the montage is about? I was certainly curious when I saw it at this Scottish Nature Reserve. I had never seen it on any other visit or since. This was a trap for a new visiting grey squirrel. The reserve was trying to catch it and planned to remove it completely from this estate which is home to the red squirrel. I don’t know if they ever caught it or not but I did see one running across the road in front of my car nearby on a subsequent visit. I do hope the red squirrel is not driven out here.

Frost and snow photos have been appearing in so many garden and bird blogs recently. What amazing photos too! Lucky us… we have only really had a couple of days of hard frost here (already posted on) but this image caught my eye since. Just a little frosting I grant you but I thought it pretty and I kept it as a photo reminder of how even the smallest of pine trees can have cones and what fun it is to watch the coal tits pull out the seeds from inside them. These cones have a bit of growing to do yet but I’m sure the coal tit will be up to the challenge of getting inside when the time is right. I couldn’t believe what it was doing the first time I ever saw this.

Growing teasel is something I have never done and I will be honest and say that I am in two minds about pulling it out. I grew it for the seed heads in winter as a food supply for goldfinches – sorry boys and girls if you don’t get interested in this soon it may go! I really grew so I could take photos/videos of the goldfinches eating from it. It is not really suited to this part of the garden but I positioned beside the feeders so the birds saw it and also so it would only seed into the bark below and not into my borders – I hope!

Ah.. but that was not why I kept it as a photo reminder. I did wonder why when I first looked at it last night. The teasel isn’t really in focus. The light sprinkling of snow isn’t that pretty either. Ah… but take a look closer! Sitting on a branch on the tree behind the teasel, almost looking like a seed head itself, is a Long-tailed tit.

Ah… I remember now. This was a photo reminder to say that we’ve still had occasional visits of Long-tailed tit groups but we’ve also had one coming in on its own with the blue tits. This little chap seemed quite keen to explore without the group. It also shows how well camouflaged birds and wildlife can be and its so very easy to miss seeing things right in front of you. The Starlings, especially on a cold day, won’t be missed coming in their groups and with the squawking they do you can often hear them before you see them! They particularly love fat based foods.

The camera card is empty
now, outstanding stories told and photos shared. I’m ready for the new and current stories of 2009. Well… perhaps a video or two yet to come! Your tea/coffee must be cold now… oops.

My poll 'questioning posting preferences' is complete now and I’d like to thank everyone for voting. The ratios are pretty much as I expected with two/three postings per week – although not as long as this one!

I began blogging to post bird videos and I do still enjoy that immensely. I can’t wait to get using my outdoor wildlife cameras again too. However, I don’t believe I have succeeded in one other aspect. This year I plan promote plants more. If I was to be stranded on Dessert Island… it would be a plant I would take! Mm… that might be a good subject for a posting – I may come back to that one. Plants are my passion and I would like to share that passion more in 2009.

All photos above were taken from July 2008 to the present unless otherwise stated. They were taken both in and out the garden.

Friday, 9 January 2009

A quiet night in

Tomorrow I hope to finish off some bulb planting (crocus) in my lawn. I have noticed that some in another area are starting to appear through already! I have a few overdue gardening jobs. Bird feeder cleaning is also on the cards. I don’t know if anyone has put up new feeders recently and had little interest in them. The birds do take time to discover them – they tend to go to the ones they know first especially on a cold or windy day.

The apples are still very popular on my obelisks although there have been no more sightings of the female blackcap. Perhaps she will come back, I do hope so. It hasn’t been so cold lately – maybe that is the trigger that brings her into gardens.

The female blackbird in the video above really has the knack of getting the fruit. Notice how she removes fruit from inside the skin. She works pretty quickly so I’ve had to slow down this clip so you can see more clearly how she eats the apple. Notice how she keeps alert for any threats too.

Male blackbirds have been enjoying the peanuts from the feeder hanging on my small pine tree although they don’t seem to have the knack or speed that the female above has. Notice how they queue to get at the feeder in the video below.

The original feeder has been replaced with one that has a top the fits properly. I’ve secured it via two small black plastic cable ties (threaded through the back) to the trunk of the tree. The feeder is positioned higher than it was before with a break of four branches at its base which allows the larger birds like the blackbird to get at the peanuts. It needs to be secure for the force of the larger birds but I will need to check on the trunk regularly to make sure the cable ties don’t cut into the trunk of the tree. Perhaps I’ll replace them with a softer material.

Andrew at Quicksilverbirds metioned the distinctive eye of the male blackbird. He said: 'Next time you look at a male blackbird look at it's eye, if it has a yellow ring, it's a UK bird, fit for purpose, and showing off to a lady. If it hasn't got one, chances are it's a Continental bird, and won't go into breeding colour for a few more week when it returns to foreign climes.' Interesting Andrew - thanks for that I'll look more closely now. You can see that one blackbird near the end of the video below has a beautiful yellow eye ring. I wonder if he has being trying to impress the lady above!

Moving a feeder to a different location if birds don’t show any interest in it can be a good idea. Today I moved one that I am very keen for the blue tits to discover. It is another square caged feeder with small entrance holes and it has a small dish inside. This feeder is intended as a live feeder which I plan to use for mini live mealworms in the spring.

I am thinking well ahead about helping the feeding of possible chicks in our nest boxes this year. At the moment it has crushed peanuts in it which will be extremely popular when discovered. I am trying to get the birds to look for food in it. I have also positioned it on my pergola beside a pillar of ivy which will have lots of insects in it too.

This is the time of year to keep an eye out on your nest boxes to see if any birds are popping in to have a look around. You might even see a pair going in if you are lucky. It is also a time for getting last year’s nest boxes emptied of old nesting material too. We have had a rooster in our Arch nest box that has no camera in it since the first week in October.

Recently I’ve seen these blue tits take a look in our camera Nestbox. I have seen them go from one to the other. However, as I was editing my videos today I heard a familiar tapping coming through the speakers. A quick look in the camera Nestbox - but I missed the visitor! However, on this occasion I was much more interested in what was left in the box. I choose not to add wood shavings to our new nest box so the evidence that we have had a rooster using this box was clear for all to see – droppings were on the floor! The picture below was taken via torch light at 8.30pm tonight – a quiet night in.

Watching a few visits of the blue tit leaving this Nestbox earlier on in the day I could see that it didn’t go anywhere near the Arch nest box. I am wondering now if we have two roosters – one from two possible pairs. Now… this could be another interesting year of nest box activity!

Ah… but this weekend my thoughts do go to Joe and his new Nestbox with a camera in it. He hopes his Dad will be able to put up for him. He has been quite excited about getting one of these and I am certain he will be as addicted to watching it during nesting as I am. I wish you success with it Joe, but sadly the reality of nesting is that not all broods survive. Joe is in a completely different part of the UK than I am – quite far South. Fingers crossed that there will be plenty of caterpillars around when any broods need fed in his garden this year. The mornings seem to the busiest for sightings in the Nestboxes at this time of year – good luck Joe!

Finally, it isn't just the blackbirds that have been enjoying the peanut feeder above. Blue and coat tits enjoy it too, as I would have expected, but unexpectedly a siskin was seen on it yesterday and today a group of four where clinging to the ball feeder I have with peanuts in it too. That was an odd sight! Whatever you expect to do or see in your garden this weekend - do enjoy it!

The videos above were taken in my garden on January 7th & 8th 2009. The photo above was taken from my camera nestbox on January 9th 2009.

Monday, 5 January 2009

What goes with white?

I’m thinking red – especially apples. How about orange – but not an orange? Ah… I’m on a roll now. How about a chestnut brown but… yep you’ve guessed it – not a chestnut!

Just as light came up this morning our overnight frost got a gentle dusting of snow on top. It transformed the garden very quickly into a winter scene complete with this little chap below who was making his presence known around my small pond this morning.

Three robins are regularly being seen around the garden at the moment. One does get chased off so I am guessing seeing as the other two seem at ease with each others presence they may be a pair. I wonder if anyone can tell me why the Robin is said to have a red breast – it looks pretty orange to me. But hey… it really does look well with the white snow and I think he knows it too!

The red apples on my obelisks really do add a bit of colour to the garden as well as a great food source for the birds. They are especially popular on cold days like today. In fact the whole garden was going like a fair today! You could be fooled into thinking there was a special offer out there. Everyone came by, including a small flock of Starlings and a Jackdaw.

Numbers of Chaffinches have seen a big increase and the Siskins were about today too. I also believe my mystery guest flew by my window but still no photos to confirm this one. Like Trisha, I had a job walking away from my window this morning!

I have been scanning (not literally) the birds that I see buzzing about the garden since the middle of December looking for a chestnut colour. This morning I was thrilled to spot it! She was clearly waiting until the snow arrived to make her entrance - knowing full well her chestnut cap goes so well with both the white of snow and the red of apples – she being the female Blackcap. Welcome back my dear...

The male does have a ‘black cap’ and is a bit more aggressive than the female. Two years ago we had a male and female and then I suspect a Sparrowhawk got the female by some feathers left behind. Last year we had two females but no male and they stayed much longer and fitted in much better with the other birds feeding alongside them happily. I was hoping a female would return – I have mixed feelings about the male though. Perhaps they aren’t always aggressive with other birds.

So, as you can see it was the apples that drew in the Blackcap today - just as they did last year. You can also imagine that, with their red colour against a white garden, they would be easily spotted by any birds flying over it. The first year it was a fatcake that caught the eye of a male Blackcap and they both enjoyed that – there were no apples up then.

Today the female Blackcap even discovered the little tray feeder inside my small Acer with sunflower hearts and crushed peanuts in it. If I were to make a guess – she might one of the females from last year. She certainly went straight to it and it is quite hidden. Mm… maybe I’m joining the dots too far with that! However, she ran around the ground just below my window – attracted to a quarter slice of apple I’d thrown there early this morning. You can see in these darker photos how tricky her chestnut brown cap is to see in lower light levels. This is a bird, from previous sightings, that is out early with the Robins, Dunnocks and Blackbirds.

Oh yes… I wasn’t the only on to see a female Blackcap this morning either – Trisha saw one too! Amazing… we are at different ends of the country and there we were watching exactly the same visitors arrive on the same morning. Both thrilled about it too! This really is a fun time to be watching the garden. Yes… it is covered in snow I grant you, but the activity on top of it is quite magical too.

Finally, I am aware of how the voting is going in my poll regarding frequency of postings and here’s me going against it. It is only the current activity that has me posting daily at the moment – don’t worry I won’t be keeping this up on a regular basis. I completely understand that some postings can be missed this way. Just in case you haven’t been by in a few days you might want to see some Wren photos and some Long-tailed tit photos taken over the last few days. I’ll get the video camera out when I can. I wonder now what tomorrow will bring to my garden.

All photos above were taken in my garden on January 5th 2009.

Sunday, 4 January 2009


A curious post title for some visitors perhaps but I am guessing others will know exactly who (not what) I am talking about! I won’t keep you guessing for this one though. Nope… my camera was sitting in the right place for a second consecutive day. Gosh… my pond is a popular drinking hole too. The blackbirds and robins use it regularly. Yesterday we were lucky to see the wren and today it was the turn of the…

Mm… but one long-tailed tit remembered about the little tray feeder on the branches of my tiny Acer beside the pond. I so love to see the birds weave their way through its branches down to the ground. Ah... but it got there to find no sunflower hearts in the feeders! Oops.. once it left I quickly went out and topped it up again.

The peanuts on the pine tree are a popular fast food spot too. The long-tailed tits were having tasters of almost all the food on offer today including the apples on my obelisks! That was odd to see when the blackbirds had been eating from them just before.

Ah… but I do believe we had a surprise visitor (the second ever sighting) bouncing quickly through the branches of my small pine tree this afternoon. I can’t be sure until I catch it on film. Mm… maybe its time for a guessing game now…

All photos above were taken in my garden, through a window, on January 4th 2009.

Saturday, 3 January 2009

Twenty-one +

No, not my age but my count from the garden for “the number of different species seen or heard in the wild, in Britain, between 00.00 on 25th December (i.e. midnight on Christmas Eve) and 24.00 on 1st January (i.e midnight at the end of New Year's Day). Escapes, cagebirds, birds in a zoo, the Christmas turkey do not count - everything else does” as challenged by Border Reiver at Quicksilverbirds. Mm… I missed the part about being heard although my experience in identifying a bird by its call is seriously minimal! However, I was delighted that the wren made an appearance in the time slot and again today.

The tiny Wren’s appearance around my pond this morning has given a wonderful start for bird photos from my garden in 2009! I know they aren’t as sharp as they could have been. My camera had been on my tripod and I had been experimenting with a faster ISO setting (1600) as it was dark in this area earlier on and when the wren came along I forgot to change it I just started snapping. All the photos below were taken through my window.

The wren was so fast that to be completely honest when I finished taking my photos I actually felt a little dizzy! Oh… but even though they aren’t the best shots I am thrilled with them as they completely show the wonderful hide and seek character of this delightful little bird. It hides from us and it seeks out the insects around the waters edge of the pond.

Sorry… I was posting on my bird species count. Okay, in my garden I saw:

Blue tit, Great tit, Coal tit, Long-tailed tit
Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Siskin
Blackbird, Robin, Dunnock, Wren
House sparrow, Starling, Collared Dove, Woodpigeon
Sparrowhawk, Jackdaw (Total 18)

Flying over the garden Herring gulls, Rooks and Pink footed geese were seen. We also saw one of the biggest flocks of Jackdaws I have ever seen (25-30) and one also made it into the garden staking out the peanut feeders! So the ‘from the garden’ count ended at 21.

I haven’t been out and about much over the Christmas period but one trip out saw a Buzzard on a tree over looking a busy road and large flocks of both Pink footed and Graylag geese were seen in fields with smaller flocks of pheasants in other fields more into the countryside. Not sure if we saw partridges too so won’t count them. So ‘out of the garden’ my brief trip took in 4 more species just by looking out the car window.

Final tally for my contribution to the Quicksilver Christmas Challenge is 25. Now this number is a fraction of the 90 that Border counted but as he said in his posting it really is the taking part that counts! To see other results (or add your own) go to the link above. I am more than happy with my count as I really am in no way what you’d call a birder and I’ll be completely honest and say that pre-blog I probably could only have identified only half the birds in my count and probably missed seeing some completely. Now… that is a result!

P.S. Border has just left me a comment suggesting
that if anyone who visits/comments here wishes to send him a submission, from anywhere in the World, he’d be glad to add these to the report. The more the merrier! I know I have recently discovered some new bird and nature blogs perhaps they might like to join in too. You can leave a comment on this posting. I have to be honest and say I love to read the lists and see photos of birds from outside the UK too. Sorry… perhaps I should have extended this invitation to you all earlier. Oops.

The photos above were taken in my garden on January 2nd 2009.