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.

13 comments:

Joe said...

Hi Shirl,

Fantastic post, loved the springwatch style. The quality of those videos is incredible. Well done with that! Those Wrens are so clumsy. Maybe they left the nest earlier because of the hot weather like the chicks on springwatch. We are completely over-run with fledglings around here, so hopefully this will make up for the unfortunate Blue Tits in your nestbox. Good luck to them!

Surprisingly, despite the fact that the starlings were flying off with our mealworms to a nearby nest, we haven't seen any fledglings yet. Maybe they are around somewhere else. It appears that everyone else is getting hundreds of them.

Love the new hedgehog home. If I were I hedgehog, I'd use it!

Midmarsh John said...

A terrific read and watch Shirl. Great videos, thoroughly enjoyed watching them. Really lovely colour video footage of the hogs and the wrens. I had wondered whether to fit some temporary lighting near my camera to try to get some colour as I can't see the hogs from the windows.
There are going to be some really spoilt hedgehogs with their new executive dwelling. I hope they appreciate the effort.
Thanks for the mention. I was also disappointed with the lack of comments on Hog Blog as it is a site well worth viewing for us hoggy followers.
BTW I managed to record some snuffling last night but not at the same time as video as yet.

Victoria said...

Great post, Shirl - it's like a single-handed Springwatch all of your own! I've been enjoying the programme actually - I haven't really followed it before because of the hours I work, but I was off for May half term last week so managed to catch it. Not being a regular viewer, I can't really make a comparison between Chris Packham and Bill Oddie - but personally I'd rather see less of ALL the presenters and more of the wildlife, and the scenery. Those shots of Wales are so gorgeous.

G L Wilson said...

Hi Shirl

Again, what a lot of lovely photos!

Springwatch isn't quite the same for me without Bill Oddie, even if he was a bit of an anarachic curmedgeon.

I'm a bit unhappy with the Your Movies section of the Springwatch website. To start with it was very bird-centric - other animals hardly got a look in - although that's beginning to change now. I sent a couple of my hedgehog videos over a week ago which have been ignored.

Until today they have not featured hedgehogs - and the video they have featured is just of a hedgehog drinking - it's a beautiful picture but not much happens really, whereas I sent pictures of hogs butting into one another and running around. I just don't understand their selection procedure or what they deem suitable for the site.

Another video said something like "I videoed this in 2006". That's hardly THIS spring, is it?

I know I'm whinging a bit. I'm just disappointed.

shirl said...

Hi there Joe, John, Victoria and GL :-)

Joe – Thank-you, I can’t believe how long it was in the end! Thanks, I’m delighted you enjoyed the videos. I loved the first wobbly steps of the young wrens too. I’m not sure if the heat would have influenced this nest of young as it was under a wooden building in a woodland setting with lots of trees around shading it. Great to hear you’ve so many young around – I bet it’s a noisy place too ;-) Time will tell on the fate of our nestbox family. She just need to find a good source of insects and she’s got a good chance. Oh…that can be the way can’t it - where your food feeds families in other gardens :-D Be careful what you wish for – the Starlings will arrive one day ;-) Thanks, so do I… I’m pretty certain the camera is going in there now :-D

John – Thanks, a read it certainly was – hope I didn’t put too many people off by the length! Thanks, I loved the variety but theme of the videos. Yes, I’ll experiment more with colour but not all areas are lit with my lights having an ‘L’ shaped garden. Yes, perhaps temporary lighting would be an idea for you. I don’t know if it would put the hogs off coming for food. It certainly doesn’t bother them too much if they are already eating a few mins first. LOL… Yes, really love this new house. She still has roofing felt to go on it and I know exactly where I am putting it. I think I’ll move the Manor to yet another area - a route some hogs pass by as they just run by it where it is at the moment. They seem to enjoy the perimeter routes along walls, fences and edges and I feel the Manor is too central a location at the moment. You are most welcome, I always like to pass on links to blogs with similar subject matter as my readers will perhaps enjoy them too. Thanks for the return link too. I was delighted to hear you captured the snuffling sound – well done! Good job I didn’t challenge you – I did consider it ;-)

Victoria – Thank-you, it’s funny that I didn’t start out writing it that way - it more evolved but was fun to do. The more I wrote the more I wanted to include! You can imagine how hard it is for me to supply 200 words on what is going on for a quarterly newsletter!! That reminds my I’ll have a deadline this month. Great you were able to see the programme this time and I agree completely that more wildlife and a little less chat could be good but to be honest on the other side I think the chat has brought viewers watching that might not have otherwise. More scenery shots are good though. Yes, I didn’t want to start a debate on the two presenters but changes can do that. As long as it stays a team show it will be alright and I think it is doing that having two new presenter instead of just the one. I love the live shots and the original programmes had less ‘let’s look at what we recorded earlier’. However, it’s great not to miss action too. Hope you continue to enjoy the show :-D

GL – Thank-you! I do hope you get a few more visitors and comments from the mention too. I see Joe has been over visiting :-) I was never a huge Bill fan at first but his enthusiasm and entertaining way did bring in audiences - including me. I doubted the programme would work with Chris but adding two new presenters was a good move and I think small changes in the format will stop it from being too predictable and keep/bring in viewers. Ah… I think perhaps last year I considered adding a movie (no idea what now) but uploads took far too long and after two attempts I abandoned it. I did take a look at the time to see what they were showing and I’ll be honest did wonder why some were there. I haven’t looked this year but I’d have thought head-butting hogs would have caught the eye of someone. Then again, I can imagine that there will be so many uploads for them to look through too. Yeh… I’d have said current Spring would be a good idea and if they limited it to that then uploads would be quicker too. I can understand your disappointment :-)

easygardener said...

It is no wonder the parent birds look a bit tatty and bedraggled with the work they have to do. I hope your Blue tit manages to find enough food for her chicks. It must be doubly exhausting if she is on her own.
Great post by the way!

Blackswamp_Girl said...

Awww... that little blackbird DOES look like he's taking himself way too seriously! :)

Cheryl said...

Hi Shirl....I love sprinwatch....personally I do not mind who presents it as long as I can see the wildlife and learn from the programme. I am sure you could do a programme on your own....this post is amazing and unfortunately I have not had time to view it all as I am on the point of going out. I will be back.....
I loved the Reed Warbler on springwatch....tht is my favourite at the moment.....

The wren footage is lovely....one of my favourite little birds...I have them here but they are so illusive....I hear them more than see them.....

We have around twenty fledgling starlings in the garden at the moment....I am feeding them on mealworms......we also have a huge amount of hedge sparrow juveniles, the most I have ever seen here....

Have a good weekend....and again an amazing post.....I shall be writing to the BBC to put your name forward for presenter of springwatch...lol

Lisa at Greenbow said...

I love seeing all of your birds in the garden but those hedgehogs do just steal my heart. They are such cute little creatures. It was fun watching the one in the video scarffing down the seeds. I hope you do get the sound of them doing their thing. A little vidoe of their mating dance would be nice too. I would do the same thing as you did in not thinking to take pictures or video. I am always awed by nature.

ShySongbird said...

Hi Shirl,

WOW! That was a post and a half :) and thoroughly enjoyable.

I am watching Springwatch as usual too and although I think all the presenters are good I actually think the most professional presenter is Martin, I have been very impressed with his style. Like you I have been put off reading the message boards this time as I found far too much of it is taken up with subjects other than Nature, particularly presenter bashing, which I understand did affect poor Bill last year.

I enjoyed all your videos and well done on the fledging Wrens. Some of the parent birds do look scruffy especially the Tits, all so busy poor things. But they will look lovely again later on when they have had their moult.

Great views of the hogs and I'm looking forward to seeing them in their new, very special abode.

Have a great weekend, it's pouring here :(

Patsi 'Garden Endeavors' said...

Still love your birds.
It's a shame that some people are cruel...I think it makes them feel better. Sad huh? Great post.

Liz said...

Lovely photos Shirl, and you must be thrilled with the number of birds visiting you at the moment!

It's been very wet for the past two days, and I've has an incredible number of birds visiting me each time the heavens open. Lots of babies, I'm thrilled they obviously see me as the best place to feed in such circumstances!

Who needs Springwatch when we have our own blogs/gardens?! :D

shirl said...

Hi there Denise, Kim, Cheryl, Lisa, Jan, Patsi and Liz :-)

Denise – I agree completely! I hope so too, I have noticed every now and again she makes lots of visits to the fat balls – the problem is so do the Starling parents. I let it go empty and then add others in the evening for the Blue tit’s supper runs when the Starlings are nowhere near the garden. Well, some are still chirping away could loudly now – would guess about four maybe. Yes, she does look exhausted. Thanks :-D

Kim – Yes, it so does! Thanks for stopping by :-D

Cheryl – I agree, and I do think all balanced out it is the wildlife that takes the show. LOL… sorry it was a bit on the long side I know – hope it didn’t put too many off reading it. Yes, I liked the Reed Warbler too although it is great to see the finch families too. Oh… I was absolutely thrilled to capture the wrens and have watched that footage quite a few times now. Wow… that is a lot of Starling juvs! Wonderful you are seeing so many young sparrows too. Thanks I have had, wishing you a good week… LOL… thanks but I don’t think I could stand the scrutiny of the message boards :-o

Lisa – Ah yes… they catch mine too but I can imagine it goes double when you are not likely to see them in the wild in your garden. They are quite little characters and surprising cute too! LOL… yes I enjoy the scoffing shots too. Yep… I don’t know if I’m too late for the mating dance this time around but they can have more than one brood of young during the time they are awake! Fingers crossed I’ll this strange noisy dance :-D

Jan – Oops… just when you were trying to catch up too! Glad you enjoyed it. Ah… I thought you’d be watching the programme. Yes, I agree I have taken to Martin’s presenting style too. Oh… I didn’t realised message board comments did affect Bill. I thought he’d just laugh them off to a certain degree anyway. I am sorry to hear that. Thanks, yes I was well chuffed with the content of the videos and enjoy looking at them myself. Yeh.. the parent birds will soon all get a rest from their duties – they may even get some ‘me’ time… LOL. Thanks, it’s been a busy weekend for my daughter what with Cricket days and Parties so the Hedgehog house has still to get its finishing touches. I’ll keep my most recent videos and photos a few days longer! Thanks, we have had rain (for cricket of course) but we have has long spells of sunshine too – the garden really needed the rain though. Have a great week :-D

Patsi – Great, I always enjoy seeing yours too. Yes, some people can be cruel – I suspect nothing better to do with their time! Thanks, I’m glad you made it to the end – collect your Gold Star :-D

Liz – Thank-you, yes I am although not with the food they are going through! Oh… exactly, it seems to be on wet and windy days the feeders are at their busiest. I agree, it is nice to think they have chosen your garden on extreme weather days. I agree, we can Spring, Summer and Autumnwatch from our own gardens! Have a great week :-D