Tuesday, 30 June 2009

As June bows out…

… the garden is reaching a crescendo! Bedraggled parent birds collect food, juveniles with beaks wide open are staggering around and new waves of blooms are opening daily to catch the eyes of passing bees as others fade away - their job done for the year.

Parent birds will soon get a rest to recover and many garden bloggers consider a break from the PC around this time of year too. It can be a balancing act there is no doubt when so much is going on outside. I am generally a late evening poster but on a nice night…

A garden has regular visitors at particular times of the year with an interest in a particular food or home. Blog visitors are not dissimilar although they don’t need fed or a place to stay… phew ;-)

My blogging thoughts are to entertain and hopeful inspire others to ‘gardenwatch’ as pre blog I really had no idea what I was missing...

However, I have made it my rule never to post just to keep my blog ticking over. I am quite an enthusiastic person (you may have guessed that already) so it’s all or nothing with me and that goes for postings too.

Time though, does determine things but honestly I really don’t go out of my way to pack everything in one posting. The problem is cutting things down to the best bits… that’s a tad tricky!

Please indulge me with this posting… much is for my own garden records here as we are half way through the year now. Gosh that is scary!! Okay... if I renamed this posting as my ‘Mid Year Report’ that might sound better… yes that would work ;-)

Memo complete… please do pull up a chair and partake in a tea/coffee break with me as we look back at what’s been happening in the garden during the last two weeks of June. I have been thrilled to see so many busy bees…

Juvenile blue tits at the feeders have been brilliant to see too especially after we had no family in our Camera Nestbox this year. The little ‘un in the video below has been a delight to watch out my window and as if on cue has just appeared at the feeder right now!! Just brilliant… so you really are seeing below what I am seeing as I write this :-)

Videos don’t always work for everyone I understand this (depending on bandwidth speed often) so here’s a photo too. The inset photo shows the blue tit juvenile the day after fledging and the main photo was taken a week on.

You can see how it has slimmed down and the beak has matured too. I do worry about the increase in cats passing through the garden at the moment though.

It is fascinating to see how quickly juvenile birds can 'grow up' and it’s hard to remember what that they were like before. But hey… we got another chance with the blue tits!

Last Friday evening another parent brought newly fledged young into my garden… I first heard their distinctive little chirps before I even saw them as the window was open.

My feeders were low in food as we’ve had some finches with Trichomoniasis and I had taken a few down. So it was quick dash to the cupboard for a small food processor to crush some peanuts.

Another quick, quiet dash outside next to add them to my mealworm basket feeder when the birds moved away... then the video camera was fixed to the tripod and out I went to see if they’d come back… and they did!! The parent took my newly crushed peanuts to feed the fledglings too so I was well chuffed.

The video footage below is just over four mins but I just couldn’t bring myself to cut it down any more. I left the sound up full at the beginning so you could hear the chirping but the wind noise was also loud so I cut the sound out again. I always see these first moments out into the world quite special.

Regular readers can possibly see a difference in my videos in this posting. I am trying out Youtube for the first time. I first began uploading my blog videos to Google and have around 125 there.

Then I began uploading to Bliptv to get less blurring with movement in shots. Filming birds feeding is quite a test again and as they move so quickly the processing compression for viewing online does suffer a great deal.

Blip cuts out a set number of frames per second and that helps reduce blurring where movement is concerned but as you can imagine that is okay for plants but for wildlife you don’t get an accurate representation of real life movement.

I have been pleased with my first tests with Youtube so far. Although if you are thinking of uploading videos I should stress that you do need a reasonable quality of film to start off with no matter who you use.

The video below was taken from behind a window and with the sun reflecting inside the room and on to the glass it isn’t the best of quality so after processing I knew this wouldn’t be the best for showing either.

However, it was the moment I was trying to capture and the contrast to the blue tit young above. The juvenile House sparrow patiently swings around waiting for Dad to bring it food as other birds whizz by it. I thought it was lovely and enjoyed picking the music for this film.

Many juveniles are coming into the garden at the moment… perhaps I should do a bird count next weekend. Some juveniles can be tricky to ID in the early stages like the goldfinch below.

I really wasn’t sure what it was from the front view although I wondered if I could just see wing bars. Once it turned around it was very clear to see that it was a juvenile Goldfinch. I had been hoping to get a photo of one of them so I was delighted.

Robin juveniles, I have never noticed in my garden before but there is probably a very good reason for that. To me, a non birder, they look so like the Dunnock. The top row in the montage below (sorry best pics I could get) shows what I do believe is a Robin juvenile.

You can see the Dunnock and Robin in the second row. I have convinced myself that the beak/eye shape suggests the juvenile is indeed a Robin that together with the way I saw it walk about.

Maybe I'm completely wrong but I am curious... so any confirmation here would be appreciated. Thank-you, I am hoping that when published all photos (especially the monatages) will enlarge if you click on them. Update: Comments from Liz & Jan and replies from the birdforum all confirm that the young bird below is a juvenile Dunnock - thanks everyone!

Confirmation of hedgehog visitors had been on my mind too. Lighter and warmer evenings made spotting them tricky too… that added to me not being completely super glued to a night camera! I then had another thought...

I do believe whatever has brought the hogs in could be what they will always associate with garden. I do believe the saying ‘a creature of habit’ really does apply to hedgehogs. Mm… during the middle of June something changed…

Water from the pipe flowing into my tiny pond went from a gentle trickle to drip, drip, drip. I switched the pump off but didn’t find time to look at it for almost a week. One evening as I was watching out for hedgehog visits it occurred to me…

There was no noise of running water in my garden anymore. I wonder if that made a difference. Perhaps not… but no sooner than I had solved this problem there I spotted a hedgehog near my pond feeding again. This was perhaps purely coincidental but interesting non the less.

Interestingly, another draw to this running water at my pond is juvenile birds. Newly fledged, they have been staggering around the area of rocks... slipping as they went as a parent finds food for them. I decided to make a small change to my pond hoping this would make for a safer drinking hole…

Of course, that just wasn’t enough was it… they wanted to bathe in it too!! So, another small change to accommodate that and then the water level drops dramatically overnight...

Yep… but I do not believe I have a leak in my pond but more likely instead a run back of water flowing outside the liner. That is trickier to find. This ‘small change’ resulted in many rocks being tumbled down as I investigated.

You can see the different changes with the rocks in the montage above. I also left the pump off overnight. Of course during dry spells the water level also goes down so once again a few factors to consider.

My conclusion is that after three attempts at this (leaving a day working between each) I still have a very small run back somewhere (no drop in level when pump is off). Argh… I really am happy with the stone arrangement at the moment too so I am a tad dissappointed.

I also considered the hedgehogs with this arrangement as they are drawn to the edge too. Perhaps another phrase 'leave well alone' springs to mind too! Too late now… just what have I started?

There is now a reasonably stable arrangement of rocks and I have since seen a hedgehog drink from there too which was brilliant! This has become such a popular spot for the moment as you will see in the videos showing two different arrangements of rocks (the later being the current one).

My immediate plan is to top up the water and keep an eye on any increase in drop time for the level. I will need to solve this yet though.

Oh... I perhaps should also point out that it isn't just the young birds that are drawn here other birds visit too including sick ones.

If you see a fat finch sitting nearby any water in your garden it is very likely to have trichomoniasis and sadly will likely die in 3-4 days. I would guess that the other birds that tried to join the juvenile blackbirds in these videos do have tricho. All you can do is keep feeders clean to help reduce the spread of this disease.

Going back to earlier in the month (the 10th) I had another problem to solve. Well… not so much a problem but a worry. Regular visitors may remember my surprise at seeing a hedgehog in my garden feeding during the day in its usual spot...

Blackbirds were somewhat bemused as it was 2.30pm in the afternoon! I took a few photos but did have slight concerns about being happy or not to see this hedgehog out during the day.

The following morning I did get concerned… it appeared as I sat at the PC leaving a comment on another blog where hedgehog visits are shared. How spooky was that?

However, it was the time that was spooky… it was 8.50am! I had company for breakfast and the blackbirds really were caught off guard as they swooped down for food under my Acer tree.

The hedgehog paid no attention to them and carried on munching through the sunflower hearts. The once again bemused blackbirds eventually joined in.

Sorry no photos or videos with this… I was to busy trying to work out what, if anything, I should do about this. My thoughts were that the hedgehog had to be sick to be out at this time although it was eating okay.

Nope… I just couldn’t leave it out there! Shoes on and after picking up a few sheets of newspaper out to the shed to retrieve a pet carrier and a food dish I went. Gardening gloves on... and taking a deep breath I bent down and picked up the hog and put it in the carrier… phew that went ok! That was stage one over.

I would need to call a rescue centre next to see what to do now. Not the day for this… my daughter was sitting her driving test in a few hours! She would also be using the car… the hedgehog could be hours in the carrier or at the worst overnight. Emergency plan two began…

A serious move around in my shed was in order next to retrieve a spare indoor guinea pig hutch that was stored there. The spare igloo would make a hide away too. Cardboard on the tray base would make for a more natural floor surface than the plastic. Yep… but further thought on the ink of the newspaper made me change it to brown paper.

Temporary hedgehog home set up and ready… I very gingerly opened up the pet carrier and lifted the hedgehog across. Initially it stayed put (but didn’t curl up) so I moved it closer to the igloo entrance and after a few minutes it went in.

This cage had a wire grid top which I fixed in place so nothing could get near the hedgehog. I placed it in a shady cool spot at my back door and put a cover partially over it to darken it slightly. Phew… sorted and an hour had passed!

After looking up the Hedgehog Preservation Society website for carers in my area I called the most local number. I was redirected to a central number for the SSPCA . They were very helpful when I explained my concerns. Well what a surprise… they would have someone come to me… well that was much easier. It would be a few hours.

I checked on the hog every now and again and it was moving about okay and had been seen eating and drinking as well as hiding under the crumpled brown paper. It was also seen stretching up the clear plastic corners trying to get out. Although I felt bad holding it there I would have felt worse if I had seen it dead in the garden another day.

Shortly after lunch a very happy and helpful SSPCA man arrived and gave the hog the once over. He was considering taking it away but as it curled up okay when he turned it over he was less concerned. It didn’t appear to have any ticks which would suggest ill health and its eyes were nice and clear too.

Placed on the ground we watched it walk about and although going quite slowly we watched where it went. It went around the border near my pond on a route I have seen hogs use often. The SSPCA man said that he would rather leave it in this environment where it knew its way about. Decision made then... it remained in my garden!

Still worrying, I found myself watching it wander about for a while in the afternoon (so odd to see during the day) but as you can see in the montage above it did return in the evening again… along well walked hedgehog routes! So... all was well in the garden once more… phew.

A few days later and a new hedgehog story began… the watch inside my daughter’s hedgehog house that she made at school. Ah yes… what I didn’t tell you last time was that we moved a camera into this house before we sited it in the border.

Okay… I won’t keep you in suspense with this… I haven’t any images of hogs inside it. I am ever hopeful we will see something and take regular photos of inside to check the patterns of the hay for movement. There is a little movement so something must be going inside. Fingers crossed here… a female resident would be nice!

My thanks go to Dora (the explorer) our guinea pig for doing a fine job above in showing what room a hog would have to move about... before the roof went on! The hand gives an idea of the quality of image we will get from the camera which looks pretty good to me. It would be just brilliant to see residents in here!

Initially I watched outside too with another camera but only ever saw a cat wander by. I also tried changing the hay base for leaves but decided to go back to the hay again. All I can do is experiment a little to see if something will entice a hog in. Then again… perhaps none are house hunting at the moment.

My daughter’s hedgehog house did look great but soon I discovered that this spot was getting sunshine coming in the entrance. I wouldn’t think a hedgehog would appreciate that. A move around was in order again.

I turned it and replanted around it again to try and shade it as much as possible. I also brought over a silver hebe over from another border. Sadly now, you can’t see much of the front of the house but ultimately we want it to be used. You can see how we positioned our camera in the montage above.

So that’s the birds and wildlife covered but what about the plants? Well, my last posting showed what was flowering in the middle of the month, and they are all still in flower, but since then a few other plants have come into flower as you can see in the montages and photos below. It is interesting to see that my magnolia has produced a handful of second flowers.

Finally... I have come to the end of this posting. Phew… I hear you say! I wonder how many visitors will read to the end... or how many are bravehearts enough to do so and in one sitting too... please do tell :-)

Hopefully, you will have found some parts of interest to you. I understand this is not your average blog post length however it has been 14 days since my last posting and at this time of year that is a long time in the garden :-)

For me, out of all the garden moments I have enjoyed this month the one, without a shadow of a doubt, that I have enjoyed the most is the regular influx of new blackbird fledglings arrive at my pond. More are to still to come too by the mouthfuls of sunflower hearts parent birds are still flying off with. I really have a soft spot for these very ordinary birds.

If there’s anyone still out there… what are your garden favs for this month?

All photos and videos shown above were taken in my garden during the last two weeks of June 2009 unless otherwise stated.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Blooms and babies

How about a little less chat and some action instead for this month’s blooms? Or… do you fancy seeing my baby photos first? Decisions, decisions… so many garden stories…. have you time for a cuppa? Go on… this one’s an easy read.

Okay… are you sitting comfortably? Let’s begin with one of the volunteers that help keep my garden in shape for my Garden Bloom Day postings at this time of year… the Hedgehog.

This little guy and his friends enjoy feasting on slugs and snails… so very welcome visitors are they! I encourage them to return by offering water and extra food sources like sunflower hearts, crushed and whole peanuts (not salted), dried mixed fruit and sultanas. It’s a fair exchange don’t you think?

So many birds are visiting with their young at the moment too. Babies… are all around! Blackbirds, Starlings and House sparrows have brought their newly fledged young to the feeders. I can barely keep up with the demand on sunflower hearts!

Last night (after 9pm) I was delighted to spot a newly fledged goldfinch too… easy to spot any newbies as they peck at the plants until a parent pops over to feed them. Perhaps I’ll get baby photos of goldinches one night. I hope so.

Ah… I wonder if you recognise the cute and fluffy baby in the photos above taken yesterday? This is a young blue tit that perhaps fledged a little on the young side. It left the nestbox almost a week ago.

Yep… I did say nestbox! I am 99.9% certain that these two juvenile Blue tits above came from our Arch Nestbox. I had been hearing chirping from this nestbox when feeding the guinea pigs in the hutch below. I had also noticed this noise increase as Mum arrived and left!

The chirping pitch had also changed to suggest the birds were getting bigger and that there were less of them than at the start. I had no camera in that box to know how many hatched or how many fledged.

Last week, as I was standing at the kitchen sink filling up water bottles for our guinea pigs, at around 9.30pm, I spotted a head peak out of the entrance hole to our Arch Nestbox. The female had been feeding her young. Initially I thought nothing of it until I saw it happen again and again.

I have never seen a bird fledge from a nestbox except on television. I became pretty sure what was happening in front of me. My hands were wet and no cameras were at hand anyway.

The bird finally came out of the box and landed on the top of the Arch just below. I went outside to get a closer look. It flew across towards my hedge and landed on the roof of the bird table. It didn’t wait long and off it flew to one of my neighbours larger trees and I didn’t see it again.

On Sunday, I thought I spotted one or more blue tit juveniles in the garden. The parent (Mum I believe) was seen feeding them. Was this our young birds returning? I have no idea if the bird I watched fledge is in the photos above or below. However, I am pretty sure that this female was the one from our nestbox and she was still feeding her young.

I’m sure you’ll agree that the young do look quite small and vulnerable but that does seem to be how many are when they fledge. I walked to within a few feet of one of them. So, for the moment they have no sense of threat… not that I intended them any harm. Here’s hoping they will get bigger and stronger… it doesn’t take long. Then they just have to get gardenwise now!

Okay… time for the monthly celebration of flowers in the garden… with a few foliage shots too. I’ve joined Carol and many others with a June Bloom posting. Let’s start with my front garden… not baked with the sun this time. It was raining here yesterday… of course its sunny today :-)

Through the garden gate... and the mood of my partially shaded back garden cools you down on warm day but warms you up on a cool and wet day as the foliage covers it like a blanket. This is the area to the side of my house and this video has a finale with my now blooming wisteria...

Through windows... I look out on to the back of my back garden, a narrow but long strip. It is here that I watch the birds at the feeders, the bees buzz around my plants on a sunny day and visits by hedgehogs and bats as the day ends. This videos ends with a special home for wildlife… the hedgehog house my daughter made finally sited in my garden yesterday...

My plan was to end this posting with a few teasing words about more hedgehog stories to come…. which there are! However the tease is on me now as looking out my window I can see a rose (shown in bud in my third video) starting to open! I am thrilled about this as it didn’t flower for me last year (in its first year)

So above, here we finish this posting with a wonderfully scented bloom of the moment, Rose Mdm Alfred Carriere, flowering fashionable late for Bloom Day. That's lucky too as I am posting a day late too (as often the case) making my posting the 141st! Wishing all particiapants a belated Happy Bloom Day :-)

Wishing everyone else, time to enjoy the flowers/blooms in your garden this week. Happy gardening, Happy Bird watching and Happy Widlife watching too!!

All videos shown above were taken in my garden on June 15th 2009. All photos above have been taken above during the last week.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Do hedgehogs visit your garden?

Have you ever wondered if hedgehogs visit your garden? Would you like to see them? A quite wander around your garden just as it starts to get dark at this time of year will give you just enough light to perhaps see them with nose on the ground searching for tasty bites.

A still night would be best. Put quiet shoes on and stand near one of your borders. Watch the plants for signs of leaves moving and listen for any rustling of something moving about beneath them. You could walk around and listen for other noises too.

A huge signal for more than one hedgehog visiting your garden is a fairly loud snuffling sound. I have never recorded this yet but I do know someone who has. See the sound accompanying this hedgehog video by Midmarsh John. I’d love to capture this with the little dance the hedgehogs do during it too. I’m not asking for much then? I have watched this a few times and it is really quite fascinating.

There is one thing, costing absolutely nothing, which could encourage any passing hedgehogs to return to your garden. You could put out a dish of water. They will appreciate a drink as they pass by. If you keep it regularly topped up especially during dry spells of weather and they find it they are very likely to return.

Another thing which costs nothing extra (if you feed birds already) will be the food that is dropped to the ground especially after greedy Starlings have attacked your feeders spilling it out all over the place. Below bird feeders would be another place I’d look on a quiet night. I believe that is how my visits started.

Since then, I have experimented with a number of feeding stations (from my very first one back in 2007) which have all had success. The key would be to always have a supply of food and water in the same place as they appear to be creatures of habit following the same routes.

Following edges is something I have noticed my hedgehog visitors do many times in my garden. Side of house walls, fences and along the bottom of hedges and lawn edges – especially any little hedgehog wide strips as you can see above. This is a popular spot and with their colouring they are pretty camouflaged there too. I wonder if they know this.

Just a warning though, don’t be tempted to put out milk for hedgehogs thinking it would be a treat instead of water. Cow’s milk can give hedgehogs very bad diarrhoea. Bread too is another ‘no’ as they cannot digest it. Hedgehogs can die through this as a diet.

In my garden I have found that dried sultanas or mixed fruit is a huge hit as are peanuts especially if they are crushed. Crushed is best for any young hogs that may pass through. They also munch their way quite happily through sunflower hearts too.

I don’t put out cat food but understand they love that. I’ve also heard that they love dried dog food too. There are many brands of special hedgehog mixes available in Pet stores and Supermarkets but I even when there are no sultanas in my garden to accompany this they have never eaten the hedgehog mixes. I no longer try new ones as I know and they know what they come to my garden for! They perhaps take hedgehog mixes in other gardens.

I have always associated hedgehogs visiting from late August into December, just before they go into hibernation, and have never set up feeding stations at this time of year. I will do from now on. Until now, I never saw them as a subject for Spring watching.

I missed Thursday’s BBC Springwatch programme and haven't watched last night's recording so don’t know if they included any mention of hedgehogs. However, it would be a good idea if they did suggest to viewers to put water out in the evenings for them. It would be nice to raise the profile of this species of wildlife on this programme as we can take small steps to help it survive when numbers are causing concerns.

Last night, I spotted what looked like a different hedgehog visiting. It was on the small side and had quite a large collar without needless around its face – don’t know the proper name for that part. I dashed in for my camera but… no charge on battery. A quick, quiet run back inside for the video camera (phew… it had charge this time) and I’m so glad it did.

I had already written and uploaded my photos for this posting during yesterday but still had a few bits I wanted to add and ran out of time to publish it last night. As it happens that was very fortunate. The video I captured last night fully supports the content of this posting! It’s almost like it was written for this action. You never know what you’ll get when you start recording these wonderful wild animals. Sometimes they just scoff, scoff and then run off!

Roll the camera… I’ll not say too much except that my heart was in my mouth when it decided to consider the rock face down to the water in my pond.

Did you spot the hedgehog walking straight past the full dish of water? This hedgehog probably never considered to look for water there. As I said earlier, hedgehogs do seem to follow the same routes and only explore a little more around it.

It clearly knew there was water down the rocks though (so glad it didn’t fall in) but the interesting thing here is that my pump has been off for the last few nights so there was not a sound in this area to suggest water. So, this hedgehog can’t be a new visitor. I noticed it had a mark on its back so I should recognise it again. I really like to see the smaller ones get food and water.

The disappearing act between the grasses was very impressive don't you think. The young hedgehog clearly knew there was a dish of water in there. Oops… but what did it find? As I said earlier in this posting if you do put out water (or food) in the same area keep it filled up regularly. We’ve not had a lot of rain recently and with all the plants around this tray I hadn’t noticed that the tray was almost dry. I remedied that shortly after the hedgehog left.

Did you spot its freefall down the edge and on to the grass? This is not the first time I have seen this. Having seen it from the other side they almost just let themselves go and tumble down. They don’t try to walk it at all. They really are such entertaining animals to watch.

Perhaps you’ve already seen hedgehogs in your garden and would like to share your stories via my comments on this posting. We’d all like to hear about them. Ah… but wait a minute… the power of the internet… I’ve just read on Midmarsh John’s blog that the RSPB are interested in hearing about these visitors too!

Yesterday, they launched their first Summer garden wildlife survey. I didn’t know about that. Thanks for that John, I’ll help pass the word too. The RSPB say on their website:

“Running from 8-14 June, it is the first time the charity has asked people to count the wildlife in their gardens over the summer. We hope Make your nature count will build a picture of the wildlife visiting gardens and define how important gardens are for some of our breeding birds and summer migrants.”

“It’s not only birds people are being asked to record. We also want to know about some of the other wildlife visiting gardens, like frogs, toads, squirrels and even badgers. At this time of year, gardens are alive with young birds and we are asking people to record blackbird, robin and song thrush chicks. Song thrush numbers have declined by 50% since the 1970’s but in recent years have started to make a bit of a recovery. Counting young birds will help give an indication of how successfully they are breeding across the UK. “

I like the line on their logo for this: “Love nature? Then tell us what crawls, hops, flutters and flies in you garden” This sounds like fun. I assume they are including night visitors like bats and owls too as well as the star of this posting – the hedgehogs. Night time is a good time to spot frogs and toads too! Yes… they are interested in all nature that visits your garden whatever time it visits.

If you want to take part you can submit your results online. You might just be amazed at what does visit your garden at this time of year too. Pre blog, I had no idea my garden had so many visitors during the day far less at night. I am always thrilled to see more arrive too - although a few less Starlings would be okay! Perhaps I should make myself a sheet on what visitors I'd expect to be seeing now and take it from there! I wonder if there will be any surprise entries. Hope you are able to enjoy your wildlife visitors now too :-)

Update a few hours later! Wow... this is the first ever daytime visit I have seen of a hedgehog at 2.30pm in the afternoon. It looks like that perhaps it's the one in the video above. Yep... if I hadn't been looking out the window at that exact time I would have missed this. What a treat... I think. Hope its okay :-)

The firt photos above were taken in my garden on June 6th & 7th 2009. The daytime hedgehog photos were taken at 2.30pm today. The video above was taken in my garden on June 8th 2009.

Sunday, 7 June 2009

Front garden car parks

Butterflies and bees really are a welcome sight in front as well as back gardens. However, I am feeling a wee bit miffed at all the talk on gardening programmes (Gardeners' World on Friday night for example) about how many of our front gardens are a concrete ‘whatever’ as we use them for parking cars and therefore the assumption is that plants and wildlife are never considered.

I expect I’m not the only gardener that thinks this is an unfair assumption. Yep… and gravel in front gardens has been suggested by many as an easy non imaginative solution to a low maintenance garden too. Oh yes… without a doubt we do have busy lives and not everyone has time to maintain a back and front garden as they would like. I can’t deny that.

Painted Lady butterfly resting in sunshine on gravel.

Mm… but is a gravel mulched garden really completely unfriendly to wildlife… nope, not always the case as you can see above.

This morning I was thrilled to see my first Painted Lady butterfly arrive in the garden. Where did I spot it first – sunning itself on my quartz gravel. This is not the first time I have seen butterflies do this either. I have seen Small Tortoiseshell and Peacock butterflies do this too.

Painted Lady butterfly feeding on flowers of perennial Wallflower Erysimum ‘Bowles’ Mauve’.

My front garden can be baked with the sun (yes, I do live in Scotland ;-)) and without my light coloured gravel mulch around my plants reflecting the sun and keeping the ground from drying out I would be continually watering my plants growing there. I tend to grow sun loving plants there (ones that will survive winter here too) and I very much keep sun loving wildlife in mind with my plantings.

Painted Lady butterfly with wings closed as the sun went behind a cloud, still feeding on flowers of perennial Wallflower Erysimum ‘Bowles’ Mauve’

I’ll make up my plant list soon – perhaps for this month’s Garden Bloggers Design Workshop at Gardening Gone Wild. They are revisiting the topic of front gardens. Perhaps you might want to join in with a posting on your front garden or are looking for ideas? We’ll call this Part 1 of my posting.

Gardening Gone Wild say: “…we consistently get so many visitors seeking ideas for their front yard or front garden, it seemed worthwhile to revisit the subject. Our last front-yard workshop was over a year ago, after all, and we have many new readers and participants now. So, let’s see if we can help out all those folks who need some inspiring ideas to make the most of that often challenging site.”

Buff tailed Bumble bee feeding on flower of Cirsium rivulare 'Atropurpureum'. These thistle flowers aren’t even properly open.

Finally, I am not completely impartial here. I do know that there are many concrete/slabbed front gardens which are a problem especially in areas susceptible to flooding. I know many people aren’t interested in plants too. However, perhaps there is another way of supporting this issue instead of showing the ugliest and most unkempt front gardens. Everyone that does use their front gardens for parking cars become tarred with the same brush.

Smaller bumble bee (not sure which one) feeding on Catmint, Neptata ‘Walker’s Low’. This is this is a very popular plant for visiting wildlife.

Street parking of cars is not available to everyone and the reality is that many of us (not all I know) have one or more cars that have no choice but to have them parked in our front gardens. For my part, like many others, I live in a corner spot of a cul-de-sac and I don’t even have a street edge on which to park even one car. Sorry, I’ve maybe come over too strong here but as you can see this does rattle me a tad :-D

Buff tailed Bumble bee feeding on flowering heads of Allium ‘Christophii’.

Oh… but I am in good spirits and looking forward to another week of Spring watching. My wisteria will soon be in full bloom and the chicks in our blue tit Nestbox (over my back door) are getting more vocal by the day which would suggest that they must be getting bigger. I’m seeing lots of hedgehog visits too. They'll need a posting all to themselves… coming soon!

Buff tailed Bumble bee feeding on flowering heads of Allium ‘Christophii’.

Wishing you a great week :-)

All photos above were taken in my front garden on June 6th & 7th 2009.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Spring watching special

Nesting birds, fledglings, hedgehogs, bees, butterflies and so much more… what a great time to watch the garden! At a guess I’d say if you’re reading my blog here in the UK, like me, you are also watching the BBC Springwatch programme at the moment. I hope you’re enjoying it too.

Scruffy Blue tit parent grabbing a bite to eat. The Blue tits were the first popular stars of the Springwatch nestcams.

What a wonderful variety of nesting bird families they are following with their cameras. I couldn’t say which was my favourite although those swallows have caught my eye. What beautiful birds they are. You can follow some of these families live through the BBC Springwatch webcams and there are message boards for chat too.

I am certain the BBC Springwatch programme has had a huge influence on people now taking an interest in nesting birds and wildlife in their gardens. Many viewers have joined in with the programme by sending photos and videos of their sightings. I’ve never sent any in but I have some treats for you today – sorry didn’t get them all sorted in time to post last night as promised.

Scruffy Starling parent with food but who wants it? Worms are seldom on the menu from my garden after having the New Zealand Flatworm.

Springwatch is now in its second week out of three and can been seen on BBC2 at 8-9pm, Mon-Thurs. Although the success of this programme is due to a strong team of crew, camera people and presenters, I am quite certain that Bill Oddie has played a huge role in widening the audience and appeal of nature.

Sadly, Bill is taking a break from the programme (including Autumnwatch). This entertaining presenter has suffered from depression for many years but you would never tell by his performance in front of the camera. I had no idea until now. I’d like to wish you well, Bill. So many people suffer from this illness every day. For famous and well-known people this must be so very hard to deal with.

Blackbird Juvenile - thinking it's a Buzzard?

Bill has written an autobiography ‘One flew into the Cuckoo’s Egg’. His mother was committed to a mental asylum when he was a small child and he writes very movingly and candidly about the impact this has had on his life. However, this is not a depressing memoir. It is as entertaining as the man himself.”

Sorry, I feel the need for a good moan here! Comments and threads on the BBC message board have been quite cruel to the presenters of the show - especially to Bill. I am not saying they are responsible for him leaving but the chat is intended for nature and what’s going on both in the programme and outside it. However, as you might expect, there is now chat and comparisons between Bill and Chris Packham who has joined Kate Humble as a co-presenter. This doesn’t reflect the views of the majority of members I know, but like them, I do wish it would stop. It certainly puts me off visiting. Moan over.

Fluffy Starling juvenile enjoying a sunny perch as frantic parent finds food. Some patiently wait! In the background a male House sparrow is buzzing about at the feeders for sunflower hearts to feed his young.

Former Springwatch producer Martin-Hughes Games has now come forward from behind the camera to be part of the presenting team too. I do like the presenting style of Martin but Chris, sorry, I worried about you.

Chris certainly has plenty of knowledge behind him but I am guessing his style won’t suit everyone. I was of that camp myself, but I think he’ll be okay. He’s going through a ‘settling in’ period just like one of the many Starling juveniles in our gardens at the moment ;-) Note to BBC: please stop showing footage of Chris and his two Poodles at his home. I really don’t think that is helping his viewer appeal.

Starling juvenile swinging on the empty fatball feeder - a popular spot to wait for food. Peanut and sunflower feeders are swinging around it as the parent tries to collect food.

Okay, before I loose my own viewer appeal how about some of my Spring watching videos. I’ve a few for you with varying degrees of quality but all capture some special moments so that is why I've included them. Time to put the kettle on perhaps? Oh sorry... you've had it on already ;-)

Where to begin now? Hedgehog visits perhaps? Mm… let me take you out of the garden first and up to favourite SWT Reserve Loch of the Lowes last week. This trip was a break for my daughter who had just finished her exams. The car park was busy as the Ospreys have two chicks now.

Unfortunately, after an outbreak of Trichomonasis, there were no feeders up outside the viewing window and red squirrels were not to be seen. Although the squirrels have been quite resourceful in this lean time looking for extra food - they found where it was stored and broke into the bag! Yep… some grey genes there then?

Live footage of the nest was on the TV screens in the centre but as it was a warm day the chicks were left on their own. No need for Mum or Dad to keep them warm. They were also seen breathing quite fast and panting with the heat. It seems the panting helps cool them down – isn’t it amazing at 13 days old they know to do this.

Enough of the chat... I’ll let you see it for yourself. The footage below was taken with my video camera on a tripod in front of the TV screen. The staff very kindly zoomed closer into the nest for me. I always cut the sound when in public places like this out of respect for any conversations. I add the music rather than leave the film silent. People do walk about and sometimes walk in front of the camera. That’s okay. I try to keep out of the way as much as I can and deliberately continue chatting so everyone knows they don’t need to keep quiet for me.

Undoubtedly that was special footage to see but oh… for me I captured something much more special. Yep… in true Springwatch fashion… something rather unexpected happened outside the window. A member of staff had mentioned a wren family were being fed in a nest under the centre. She said Mum was very busy all morning back and forth feeding them.

There were no birds outside the window so when one did appear it caught my eye very quickly. I pointed out to the member of staff that it looked like a wren feeding a chick. Next minute, another member of staff ran across to the window – the family of wrens were at that moment fledging and we were all watching. They went just ahead of the Springwatch family of wrens.

Wonderfully, I was able to catch it with my camera. Some footage is a bit shaky as I tried to follow the chicks. Also, when people starting moving about behind me their reflections are picked up in the window. Despite all that there are some fairly clear images of the chicks. I was trying to follow them all but it was hard. Not sure if there was four, five or more. Mum fed the first on the pile of branches and then flew across to another lower area and they all one by one followed her.

I didn’t spot where she went next but then I spotted a bird high above on a branch by its tail bobbing up and down. I wanted to keep the camera searching for the young but here was Mum keeping and eye on them! Brilliant , I was chuffed to bits to see this. I have never seen young fledge so this was quite special. Roll the film…

True Springwatch don’t you think? Just lovely. We went home and my daughter relaxed a little more watching TV whilst I watched further episodes of bird TV out the window. It was a gloriously warm day but I enjoyed staying indoors for a while. I had my camera still on the tripod but didn't expect to be using it quite so soon.

Starlings juveniles were squawking about pestering parents for food while blackbird juveniles ran along quietly following their parents for food. I had been noticing how busy the male house sparrows were feeding their young especially in the sunnier parts of the day. That unfortunately makes for difficult photos with contrast. I had tried to get shots on other days.

What was this though? Most of the house sparrow juveniles would come with the parents to the feeders and sit on branches, often in a line waiting for food. However here was one staying in a pocket in my Leylandii hedge waiting for Dad to come to it.

This was tricky feeding for Dad. Unfortunately he didn’t make too many attempts and I didn’t catch him on camera. I did catch the juvenile though as it decided it wasn’t too interested in coming out into my garden! I wonder if the nest was just inside my hedge. I will look in here later on in the year. Just a very short clip and I have tried to alter the contrast but between that and processing it’s not the best. It’s a nice clip of the moment though.

Woah… this is becoming a bit of a one hour special! Not my intention, honestly, just two more special stories and videos to go. I have been hinting already that I had hedgehog stories so I’ll keep you waiting no longer...

You might remember that I moved Hedgehog Manor to a quieter spot for the summer. I also cleaned it out and repositioned the camera hoping that a female may use it to have her young. The shot below is a still capture taken last night. It really doesn’t look like there has been much movement inside but I do have other pics to compare and the hay has moved around a little. So… nothing major going on in there at the moment so far.

So what has been going on? Well, I decided to set up another feeding spot for the hedgehogs under my Acer tree where I’ve seen them look around for food near the ground bird feeder. I had a sandstone rock that had split in two so I’ve place its pieces beside the rocks already there as the hogs do climb over them. I also moved the stone top of a small ornamental birdbath, placed in among the rocks and filled it with water. I can see them more clearly from my window now too… so we’re all happy!

The shot below was taken last night at 9.45pm and shows the area. Notice the blue petal floating on the water of my pond. By evening the meconopsis (photographed in the morning) had already lost all petals on one of the flowers and all but two on the other. However, today two new flowers have opened.

Back to the hogs… Last night I put food out for them (sunflower hearts and sultanas) at the same time as I fed our guinea pigs. I expected to see a hedgehog feeding just an hour later and that was approx right.

I first captured it on my night camera set up just off the ground to give a hogs view. I then put an outside light on (which doesn’t seem to bother the hogs once they are eating) and tried filming with my standard video camera from inside to see if I could get a colour capture. I captured two visits but can't tell if it was the same hog. Roll the film… spot one under the tree, drinking then walking through the water and out into the night.

I was thrilled the colour came out so well. Now, but it wasn’t just the colour images I having been trying to get of the hedgehog. I am looking to capture the loud snuffling sound they make. It perhaps can be a sign of one chasing off another but I have heard it can also be part of the mating ritual as they walk around in circles and can go on for up to an hour without success. The female really has to agree here and more often than not can just toddle off. What a loud noise they can make and you really can be mistaken for thinking you have an intruder!

Did I catch it? No, sadly I didn’t… but I was so close! The tape head on my camera needed cleaning at the worst possible time. After running inside, finding it, playing it and getting back out again all the main commotion was over. However, two hogs continued but were out of sight for my camera. Aw… if only I thought to film anything close by just to get the sound. It didn’t occur to me at the time.

So, what was the commotion and how did I discover it? Well, it was the first night of the newly positioned stone feeder and after a while watching a hog through my night camera I put the outside light on and went quietly outside and watched the hog. I am always curious to see which routes they use. It went one way so I went around the back of my pond to also discover the snuffling noise.

Under my bird feeding arch I could see two doing the circling around each other thing. Then I noticed the one that I had started watching run across the lawn towards them. Instead of running by them it decided to go in between them! So as you can imagine there was a lot of pushing and shoving and eventually the larger hog (I’ll guess the male) did enough to make it run off! You can imagine my absolute frustration in not getting my camera to work… although I did get a photo!

So now we know for sure there are at least three hedgehogs in the area but I suspect there could be a few more yet as different hedgehogs use different routes and walk right past some food to go to a particular place. They do seem to be creatures of habit. So if you see one (or droppings) in one place you could take a guess that they’ll be by that way again so that would make an idea spot to put out food or water.

Is the drama in my garden over yet? No, not quite yet… this is Spring watching so expect the unexpected! Last night I was able to confirm that we do have Blue tit chicks in our Arch nestbox (the one without a camera of course). I had only spotted a bird going in every now and again but these visits had increased a little recently . Just a little, mind you.

Last night at 8pm just as the Live cameras rolled for Springwatch I had my video on this nestbox. I counted the number of times a Blue tit went in (using my recording) and six times in one hour isn’t really enough for growing chicks. It looks like once again we have a single Mum here. Could it be the one from last year again? I have absolutely no idea.

Was the blue tit removing faecal sac from the nestbox – yes I do believe she was as you will have just seen in the slowed up action above. I also increased the speed of the last bit to show the last of the evening sun coming across the nestbox gently warming the box for the night for just a very short spell.

The chicks poop quite quickly after being fed, bottoms go up and the chick will try to push it out (sorry I hope you’re not eating). The female (and sometimes the male) helps by pulling the poop completely out – thick white sticky stuff. She then removes it from the nest immediately. Although in some cases, when the chicks have been very young I have seen her eat it. So, if poop was coming out then we have confirmation of chicks.

How many and how old I have no idea but at that frequency of feeding (based on the last two years of watching this) I’d guess only three may survive at this moment. However if she finds a good food source things can turn around pretty quickly.

So without a camera in the nestbox how can I tell if there are chicks in this nestbox? Well, the first telling signs would be a bird going in the nestbox during the day. The frequency of these visits at the beginning and end of the day would also be another sign.

Watching where the blue tit went in the garden also gave me a clue that we could have chicks. I spotted her searching around shrubs and ledges of buildings so the likelihood is high that she has been looking for insects which would suggest food for chicks. Today she has being taking food from the fat ball feeder into the nest in quick succession visits today which would suggest, for another year, there is a shortage of caterpillars.

I find it sad to see this frantic scruffy exhausted little bird struggle to find food. I have planted climbing roses in an effort to supply greenfly for any chicks and I’m hoping my new honeysuckle will also be a home to spiders and other insects too. It is difficult not to get pulled in with the plight of nesting birds after seeing this up close a personal watching this in through our camera nestbox over the last two years.

I’ll keep you posted on what goes on but not in quite such a lengthy manner as this. I can’t manage postings on a daily basis which often results in less frequent but lengthy postings depending on what is going on with my family. Honest, I do try to keep them short :-) I knew this one had the potential of being lengthy but its way longer than I even I expected! Don’t worry… I’ll leave it up until the weekend to give you longer to view the videos etc.

Okay… I thought this was my Spring watching update complete but I’ve special unexpected addition to end this mammoth posting. Just after 4pm I opened my door to...

A Hedgehog House on the doorstep and a head popping round the door to see my reaction! I didn’t expect to see this come home today and my daughter didn’t expect to be carrying it home (with a little help from her friends). This was her first day back after study leave and exams. She designed and built this in her Craft & Design class for her exam.

She is delighted that I am delighted with this new addition for the garden. There are still a few finishing touches to it and I will post on it again when it takes proper pride of place in the garden!!

Now… what about a camera? Oh… I’ll keep an eye on the Manor and if nothing happens in there by the time she has completed her House (in a few days) I’ll remove it and add it in my wonderful new specially designed Hedgehog House. For once I’m not wanting to see action in one of my cameras!

My wisteria is almost out and I expect will be a carpet of scented snow over my pergola by the weekend. Gosh… update complete now! I don’t believe it :-D

Just one very final thing before I go. There are probably many other blogs posting on hedgehogs in the garden and I do believe I have mentioned John at Midmarsh Jottings already. However recently, like John, I discovered another. Hog Blog has some wonderful video footage and a feeding station but sadly not a comment in sight – well not at this last time I looked. I have added this blog to my link list as there are some wonderful bird photos too. I know perhaps after this posting you’ll need a break from Blogs and the PC but when you return I would strongly recommend a visit to this blog.

Have a great week Spring watching week.

All photos shown above were taken in my garden.