Monday, 28 December 2009

Winter garden dramas

Just when you think the first snowfall series could be ending… the curtains open to series two! Oh yes… and as you’d expect it builds on series one! One of the main characters of series one ‘Smiler Snowman’ has a more sinister look.

Clicking on images will enlarge them.

Yesterday morning, the winter wonderland stage set of last week now looked like the production team had a little too much Christmas cheer and painted the plants with thick wallpaper paste instead of snow. Note to Director: look into camera settings for capturing early morning snow!

The reality is that snowfall series one didn’t actually end… it just took time to break for Christmas Day and then returned to our window screens. Back to the drama of yesterday… softer lighting and a different camera angle and ‘Smiler Snowman’ doesn’t look as sinister anymore.

As you might expect ‘Smiler Snowman’ has a supporting cast in this winter garden drama. This cast requires a fully stocked outdoor canteen with a variety of foods to give them extra energy to survive the cold. They also need a clearly marked route to it…

Queues are likely at the canteen and disputes are a certainty… nobody has time to wait around in the cold. Some arrived before the canteen was open or set up properly. There was only junk food available (bread). Yesterday a record estimated twenty Blackbirds were in this queue… it seems we have some extras for snowfall series two.

Early morning footage, low light levels, deep snow.

The production team had their work cut out for them during snowfall series two. Wellies were required. The remaining snowfall from series one and piles gathered from then made navigation around the garden particularly tricky. Some creative stretching exercises were required to supply food at some canteen stations! A large pile of snow was on the left which was considerably higher than wellie height.

This winter garden drama just couldn’t be complete without this iconic Christmas card character which posed around the garden… until it spotted another of its kind!

Three robins have appeared during series two frequently chasing each other away. However, as could be spotted in the video above, despite their size they are willing to feed on the ground amongst the feuding Blackbirds.

Ah… but a new character may just mix things up with them :-)

Snowfall series two sees its first blue sky in what seems like forever this morning… whoopee!! Maybe we’ll get a break in the weather to get out and about before the predicted snowfall series three returns to our window screens. I have to confess we are getting a bit stir-crazy here.

We have had more snow this series than we’ve had for a few years however it must just be a dusting in comparison to snow in the Highlands of Scotland which also must be a comparative dusting to the snows of the USA, Canada and Alaska. Gosh… to have the ground covered for so long must make it a very long winter indeed. No wonder many bloggers from there enjoy the garden greens in other garden blogs so much.

The seasonal death of characters in dramas is quite real in our winter wonderlands. We can help prevent this by providing high energy foods for our garden birds during cold spells.

Foods like peanuts and fat balls/cakes do actually make a difference to the survival of some birds. Without eating enough energy rich foods during the day birds don’t have enough fat reserves to keep warm overnight and sadly some can die. It’s easy to see now why there are queues at the feeders.

During snowfall series two the snowfall has been so heavy that snowflakes were seen sitting on many backs, tails and heads of Blackbirds. I had never noticed this before. These are birds that don’t hang around much either!

The seasonal bringing back of characters in dramas is something we might wait in anticipation of. Winter garden drama series one saw the return of Long-tailed tits which I was thrilled to see. They only made a fleeting appearance but fingers crossed that they will return.

Series two had a lot to live up to then? Oh yes… but it didn’t disappoint. Series two saw a very special garden character return… Mrs Blackcap was spotted first returning to the apples in my obelisk yesterday around 3pm. It was like she had never left! She did appear very hungry. Perhaps she had travelled far... from Germany perhaps?

As the light brought the curtain down on snowfall series two yesterday Mrs Blackcap joined the Blackbirds feeding on apple quarters on the ground. She’s quite tiny but clearly of strong character! Taking a photo in focus was tricky at the speed she was eating. If I were a betting person I’d bet that this Blackcap was the same female that came alone to my garden last year. She instantly knew her way around.

One bully Blackbird did eventually bother her and every other bird that came near the food at this canteen station! She hung around though, not going far away and the minute its back was turned she was on the ground eating apple!

Snow piled under my window made watching her a bit tricky and she appeared aware I was doing so too. It didn’t stop her eating though, which she continued to do long after I had enough light to take photos.

Two robins watched her intently. The male Blackcaps are quite aggressive and do chase away robins but the females just seem to visit, eat, eat and leave. If she does return I do expect these main characters of any winter garden drama will be watching her!

Here’s hoping there have been no dramas in your winter wonderland like your central heating boiler ending its days or water from burst pipes damaging your property. Let’s hope your dramas have been fun to watch like the birds dashing about your garden feeders :-D

All photos above were taken in my garden on December 28th 2009. Most were taken through a window.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Merry Christmas

No dreamin’… we will have a white Christmas. At -12C (10F) at 6.30am it’s a pretty chilly Christmas Eve morning too. Not a morning for standing still too long in the garden! Nope… coats, hats, gloves and scarves may not be enough to keep warm today. How about a party?

Click on the image above to enlarge it. This is a scanned copy (with added copyright notice) from a Christmas card I sent out this year. I found it fun… the queuing and stand-offs are pretty accurate too. It made me smile.

Our snow has been with us for a week now whilst areas just a few miles North and South of us have been clear. It’s always weird when that happens. As the News now reports, snow and ice is widespread throughout Scotland and the UK. Driving conditions are dangerous especially with the low temperatures.

Just under 14cm (5 1/2 inches) read my ruler pushed into the snow on top of my outside table. For visitors outside the UK, this is a good snowfall for here although by no means the most we have had. I spent a few hours yesterday clearing our front drive. Snow was up over my step and had come up my door. I know this is nothing compared with other countries like the US and Canada… but I’m not in the Highlands of Scotland.

The photos below were taken yesterday in my garden just before dusk. We had a little more snowfall overnight but my garden looks pretty much like this still… except the bird feeders are almost empty! I’ll fill them up shortly.

Okay… enough snow chat… everyone is busy today! I’m heading out shortly myself (walking). Do take care if you are out and about too.

Queues for the fatcake…
the Robin has now discovered it!

The fatcake feeder is in the distance.
Birds fly back and forth frantically between there
and to where I stood taking this photo.

There are two pine trees in this area the one with a feeder and silver baubles
is outside my window. You can see the arch with more feeders
and the bird table roof tucked behind snow laden bamboo branches.
Spot the mature tree in the distance catching the last rays of evening sun.

No snow on the branches of my small magnolia.
Birds use it as an approach to the ground feeders.
Many birds sit quietly and queue from here.

Starlings don’t wait!

Blackbirds assess the situation first.
Male Blackbirds are fighting quite a bit. Twelve have been seen at the same time…
and that is just the ones I can see in the morning light.

There are a few female Blackbirds too. I can hear what this one is thinking…
whose idea was it to put the apple in the freezer?

Mr & Mrs Chaffinch having a quite Christmas drink…
from the snowflakes on the pine tree in front of my hedge.
This tree was only moved here a few months ago
and is very popular as a queuing spot for the feeders.

Goldfinches also queue here.

Blue tits will use both pine trees but favour the one that is outside my window.
This one is opposite my camera nestbox. There are still daytime squabbles with it.

Even pine tree branches bend with the weight of snow.
I’ve enjoyed seeing the baubles on this living Christmas tree.

Even the popular ‘smiler’ snowman is bent over with the weight of snowfall.
You’d never know a small pond was behind it now. Note the igloo on the right.
This was an experiment to find a way for the ground feeding birds
to find food in the snow. It’s an unused fruit basket with a large handle
on its side and I built up snow around it. It is working okay.

Finally, a bit of tradition in many houses here…
displaying Christmas Cards along staircases.
I like walking past mine.

Whatever traditions you follow at Christmas and however you celebrate it I’d like to wish you a good one! I hope its all you’d like it to be :-D

Update 2pm: Having lunch, looking out the window and guess who came to join me? I’m thrilled to catch my first glimpses of the Long-tailed tits returning (buzzing) through my garden.

I’ve been watching for both them and the Blackcap that can appear at this time of year too. Don’t know how many Long-tailed tits are in the group. At a guess at least five… they spread themselves around three feeders so are difficult to count.

It’s going to be hard… but I must pull myself away from the window and put my camera away in its bag so I won’t be tempted to use it for the next couple of hours!! Okay... let’s be realistic… I’ll just go and busy myself in another room. Perhaps I should put a Christmas CD on and then I’ll get through my jobs quicker ;-)

All snow photos except the long-tailed tits were taken in my garden on December 23rd. If you click on them they will enlarge.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

The invasion begins

Magic moments… as gardens get invaded with these seasonal men in white! I wonder just how many were made today. I made a request for mine and my daughter kindly obliged! Perhaps we could run a BIG GARDEN SNOWMANWATCH ;-)

Organised moments… as kitchen, dining and coffee tables get invaded with seasonal wrapping of every description. I wonder just how many parcels will be wrapped today. No… I do think we’ll do a count on that one. It really is the giving that counts. I’ve enjoyed wrapping mine today :-D

Visiting moments… as cards and wrapped gifts invade car boots and bags. I wonder how many Santa runs were carried out today. Yep… we’ve enjoyed that one today too :-D

Smelly moments… as fridges and freezers get invaded with season foods and the great Christmas cook off begins. Okay… I need to get back to that one... tonight its time for the invasion of the seasonal cookbooks to leave their shelves!

Gardenwatching moments… as gardens get invaded by birds desperate to find extra high energy foods to help them survive the cold nights. Peanuts in seed feeders are going down well in my garden at the moment. I wonder how just many birds visit your garden today… it's fun to count them. Perhaps you might want to join the RSPB’s BIG GARDEN BIRDWATCH on January 30th or 31st 2010 for an hour to count them.

Enjoy all the magical moments of this time of year :-D

The photo above was taken in my garden on December 20th 2009. Thanks C :-D

Thursday, 17 December 2009

From snowflakes... to snowflakes!

Yesterday’s green tips of the snowdrop’s cousin ‘snowflakes’ are well hidden tonight. They have been covered by… the real cold and wet stuff! Yep… today saw our first covering of snow.

Arbour with Rowan tree on left and new Hawthorn on the right.

Some night time pics again… I didn’t get out with my camera during the day. However I couldn’t lose a photo opportunity of this nice crisp snow that is beginning to thaw a little. The outside lights went on and my camera went on my tripod.

Fatcake in bird feeder hanging from a hook on Acer palmatum Sango Kaku.
This Coral bark maple is brilliant at this time of year.
The tree and its feeder is likely to be very popular tomorrow!

I’ll not chat on too much. The weekend is almost here and everyone will be very busy just now with Christmas so close. I’ll just take you a quick walk around my garden and then into my kitchen… someone was busy, busy in there when I was outside with my camera just before 11pm tonight.

View from back door. I’m thrilled with the silver baubles on my pine tree.
This is exactly how I hoped I’d see them.

Yesterday’s garden tidy-up was a bigger job than I anticipated… there’s more to do!

A forgotten feeder away from the main feeding station… empty! Will fill it with peanuts tomorrow to feed the rising number of blue tits enjoying them.
Wisteria stems unpruned… need to trim back to four sets of buds ASAP!

Ah… now it’s the turn of the Snow Queen to test the hardiness of the perennial wallflower Erysium Bowles' Mauve.

The weight of snow did bend some stems...

While other stems stood up to her in defiance!


Back in my kitchen, my daughter was busy baking mince pies. This is just the second time she has made them… don’t they look great!

Yep… it was late and she does have school tomorrow! However it’s only until 12 noon and then she is off for the Christmas break. Tomorrow she is having a little Christmas Lunch/Party to end the school term and to exchange Christmas gifts. I can hear their laughter in my head as I type this :-D

Oh but… she didn’t just make mince pies…

Please let me tempt you with a virtual chocolate muffin to go with a cuppa over the weekend. I’m sure you could do with the energy for all the jobs and shopping ahead. Sh… just don’t tell her I’m offering her muffins around the world! I’m guessing they just might be a little more popular than the mince pies with her friends… don’t you?

I’m also guessing there will be Christmas cooking prep in kitchens throughout the world over this weekend. I for one, especially love cooking for my freezer at this time of year.

My daughter has a question she has asked me to ask my American visitors. I wonder if anyone is able to answer this. Perhaps I’m looking for an American living in the UK or a UK person living in America.

At 16 she is a huge fan of watching cooking programmes on TV. One of her favs is the Barefoot Contessa Ina Garten. Her first question regards ‘half and half’ that is poured out of a carton. Her guess is that this is a cream of some kind but does anyone know if it is like our single or double. She would love to know what its equivalent is in the UK.

Her second question regards the large white eggs she sees Ina using in her recipes. Hen’s eggs here in the UK are a lot smaller and usually brown. Are these white eggs, hen’s eggs?

Okay… question session over. Thanks for any answers. It’s getting late here. My daughter is in bed. I need to get to mine too but I said I’d dry the dishes! Mm… could they wait until morning? Nope… I’d better do them and get her muffins in a box as the chocolate will have gone hard now… anyone fancy another before I put them away?

Wishing you a great time over the weekend, be it out in the snow, shopping, cooking or baking. Perhaps there might be some time for garden watching too :-D

Update 18th December... the video below of our European Robin taking time out from the frantic busy feeders today just had to be included here. I love the Christmas music which was an audio swap with YouTube after I uploaded it. I picked a track closest to the length of my clip but it ends abruptly. On the positive it looks like the Robin has decided the music is finished and I'm off thank-you very much!

I'd also like to take this added opportunity to wish everyone safe journeys on the ice and snow covered roads this weekend. It looks like the snow is hanging around. Stay safe.

BTW the muffins and mince pies were both eaten... the plate came back empty today :-D

The photos above were all taken either in my garden or kitchen on December 17th 2009. The video above was taken through my window on the 18th of December 2009.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Wordless... a keen eye

Can you see them? I’m surprised I did today. I can’t wait now.

A first for my garden. Need any clues?

These flowers took my breath away earlier in the year.

The photo above was taken in my garden on December 16th 2009, in the evening, with outside lights and flash. Perhaps you might like to browse more Wordless Wenesday postings.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Last flowers standing

This morning the perennial wallflower Bowles’ Mauve was standing up to the cold carpet covering my garden overnight. I went out with my camera to get photos of it as I have no idea how this plant will do over the coming winter months. However, it looks like it could beat penstemon ‘etna’ to be the last flower standing for this year!

Bought in flower back in April this wallflower still appears to be pushing up new flower buds even now.

However, as I don’t know if they will open I have avoided cutting back the almost past flowers which would give the new ones a chance to open. I have thoroughly enjoyed this plant in my garden. What an addition it has been. I'm only sorry I ran out of time and didn't take any cuttings from it.

Knautia ‘Mars Midget’ can be seen in the centre of the top row in the montage below between the wallflower and penstemon. I’ll also be watching how this plant does with the cold too. It has had a very late second flush of flowers but its stems were bent forward with the cold unlike the penstemon and wallflower. I guess it will take third place in the last flowers standing. I wonder if it will be around on the 15th.

Back inside in the warmth, I sat breakfasting at my window watching the birds. They too were eating. As you’d expect on a cold day, the feeders were very busy. My garden had a hurried buzz about it.

The baubles decorating my pine tree don’t appear to be bothering the birds at all as they enjoy the peanuts in the feeder also hanging on it. I’ve peanuts in seed feeders too and I’m guessing that’s why the numbers of blue tits have increased recently.

Starlings are also starting to appear in increasing numbers. Their visits don’t last long but they cause quite a bit of commotion all the same. You can see how small the blue tit is compared to the starling in the middle row above. If you click on this image it will enlarge.

Blackbird numbers are also increasing again and on a few occasions this morning they gave an alarm call and all the birds scattered into my hedge. Although, the one above decided to stay where he was under a shrub instead.

Winter scenes just aren’t complete without a robin and today this little chap above was chasing all the other smaller birds (except the blue tits) around. Now, this is the time of year I’ll start looking out for Blackcaps spending the winter up here. If any males do arrive that robin and all the other smaller birds will have a new bossy boots in the garden to deal with!

It's minus 3C here just now so I suspect my last flowers standing will have a hard night ahead of them. Brrr… keep warm!

All photos above were taken in my garden on December 13th 2009.

Friday, 11 December 2009

Nestbox v. popular

Spring isn’t the only time there is action at the Nestboxes in our gardens. Perhaps over the weekend you might like to watch yours for the hour between 9:30-10:30am. You could be surprised at what you could see.

Early nesting? No, not likely. Birds, especially Blue tits here in the UK, will use Nestboxes to roost in over the cold winter nights.

However, if you did have a nest in yours during Spring its perhaps a good idea to remove the nest and sweep out the Nestbox (if you haven’t already done this) so birds could use them now.

It’s not too late. I’ve one I need to look at myself although I have a feeling water has been getting in it and I may need to remove it completely.

Christmas is just two weeks today. Argh… just where does the time go… Mmm… I think I know the answer to that one! You’ll be busy too I expect. I’ll make this a brief posting for today. Let’s just have a look inside my nestbox… I’ll not chat on too much ;-) Speakers on? Watch the volume!

...and there's more...

The montage below is for those who are unable to play these videos. It shows snapshots from inside and outside my nestbox on Wednesday morning.

My thoughts are that one of these birds is roosting in my Nestbox. I do know, for certain, I’ve a rooster in there at night. However both birds were very agitated here. My original guess was the bird inside was the rooster but as I edited the footage for my video I began to think that the one outside must be it.

Today, I’ve seen no signs of any activity. However, when I’m editing video footage I don’t have the camera image up on screen. There are some feathers in the corners of the nestbox to suggest a lot of wing flapping (which the videos show).

I suspect that our rooster will come into the Nestbox at around 3:45pm to make sure it gets to stay there for the night. Unfortunately, as my Nestbox is day lit only I won’t be able to get good clear photos of the rooster’s head to compare the pattern to the birds in my videos. I find it fun trying to work out who’s who!

Okay, I said I’d keep this brief :-) Wishing you a great weekend… brrr…it’s chilly and very foggy out there… wrap up warm and keep safe on the roads.

All photos above are screen grabs from either my camera in my Nestbox or a video camera. The videos were taken on December 9th 2009.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

I wonder how many...

… people were working in their gardens last Saturday just before noon. I also wonder how many were out in the rain planting trees in gardens, parks, schools and woodlands last Saturday just before noon.

Oh, but... I really wonder how many trees were planted both in the UK and outside in the exact same hour (between 11am-12 noon GMT on December 5th 2009). I wonder... if a world record was ‘planted’!

Now… have you heard of the expression ‘best laid plans’? Well, that about sums up my contribution... read on for my story! However, if you did successfully take part here’s what you should do next…

Tree O’Clock was an event organised by BBC Breathing Places here in the UK. In order to determine that a world record has taken place ‘proof of planting’ is now required. If you have taken part do remember that there is a deadline of noon on Friday 11th December for adding your tree/s. Some records are already in… Congratulations Northern Ireland!

In one email, you are asked to tell the organisers how many trees you planted and what type/s they were. You are asked to provide a full postal address and postcode of the place of planting. Finally, most importantly, you are asked to attach one photo of your tree/s to your email. You can find a link to preformatted and addressed email here. Scroll down to the 'Proving' section.

So what happened in my garden? Well, everything was in order. Sapling collected… tick. Photo of garden centre crate for posting… tick. Posting published to support the event with event links… tick. Planting spot picked out in the garden… tick. Thursday night…. time slot for Saturday clear. Friday morning… time slot for Saturday gone. Plan 2 went into action.

Plan 2 was to be a first for my garden… I was going to plant by proxy… my husband was going to plant his very first plant while I was out. The plan was he would mail photos to my phone so I could see how it was going. I really liked this idea for my contribution.

To cut a long story short, my plans changed. I didn’t go out… until I discovered I didn’t know what tree my sapling would grow into. Plan 3 was a very quick dash to a garden centre. We arrived to a brass band playing Christmas Carols… but there was no time to stop and listen.

A Hawthorn was the tree we quickly searched for. It was 11.10am now. There were three to choose from and I picked the one I guessed would be the largest I could get in my car. Negotiating the tree through the garden centre with doorways and people was tricky in a hurry… especially on a Saturday morning a few weeks from Christmas!

Getting the tree into the car wasn’t straight forward either as seats etc needed to be rearranged at speed. The clock was ticking all the while. My daughter was with me and was now questioning if there was time to plant it when we got back. I was ever optimistic… but knew it would be tight.

We were just a street away from home when we came to a stop with a learner driver slowly manoeuvring… in reverse towards us! It was 11.45 now. Fifteen minutes to plant my tree was going to be very tight.

Back in my driveway the tree came out of the car more easily then it went in. Next… a quick dash inside to get my camera, coat and a key to my shed for tools. I quickly picked up a half bag of garden soil on the way to my planned planting spot.

My tree was going in an area that had a gravel mulch. A quick rake back of the gravel revealed dryer soil even though it was raining. Although I took out a spade it wasn’t necessary for me to use it for digging a hole. Instead I intended using it to dig up a pot of bamboo that had been sunk into the border to keep the roots from becoming invasive.

With a hand fork I broke up the bottom and sides of the hole to give the roots of my new Hawthorn tree a better start. This tree fitted perfectly into the hole with space around it. Now… in my hurry I almost forgot to take photos! I was also worried about using a camera in the rain and you can see raindrops in some of my rushed photos. All the time I was running back and forth between planting and taking photos I kept an eye on my watch... and the time.

11.54am… my tree was in the ground! Soil was quickly poured on top. I lost some soil when I tipped the pot to get the tree through a door at the Garden Centre. The extra soil in the hole was pushed gently, but firmly, down into the gap between plant and planting hole…. a quick dash for another photo!

Gravel raked back, tools moved out of the way and at 11.58am the job was done with a photo showing how this new tree fits into my garden. Phew!! I actually made it in time. I was delighted.

So I did it… yes? Not quite. After a quick run out in the rain to see my planting I showed my OH my photos. Before he even uttered the words… I guessed what he was going to ask. I put my head in my hands. I meant to check this too. I looked down at my photo in the viewing window with him. We looked for the time… it read 1 hour later than it was!! My proof of planting wasn’t valid.

Okay, so Tree O’Clock won’t be receiving an email from me by Friday with an attached photo and I can’t claim to be part of this tree planting record attempt... although I was. However, my garden is a Hawthorn richer and I’ll look forward to seeing it with blossom next Spring. In future years insects on it may help support chicks in my nestboxes too.

I could consider this Hawthorn as my Christmas tree for this year too but I already had another living tree planned for decoration in my garden. Later in the afternoon the rain stopped and I went out into the garden once again... this time with a box of silver baubles. It wasn’t Christmas Carols from a Brass Band I was entertained with then. Nope… it was Christmas Chatter courtesy of House Sparrows and friends!

The arrow in the photo above indicates where my Hawthorn was planted and you can just about see the network of trees birds have in my garden.

As my back was turned and I went up and down my small ladder House Sparrows went out and in my hedge to a bird table. What a chattering they did as you can hear in the video below. It was taken around 3.45pm and the sound was almost deafening. It could stop so quickly too when I made a noise with my ladder. Their silence didn’t last long though!

Perhaps the chattering birds were preparing to roost early for the night as it was getting dark. They continued chattering as I went inside. I found myself thinking that in future years they will bounce around the branches of my newly planted Hawthorn. Although my planting was a tad rushed it was still fun and…. I always enjoy a challenge anyway.

Now a bigger challenge is when I say ‘to cut a long story short’... I keep too it!!

The tree planting photos above were taken in my garden between 11.50-11.58am on December 5th 2009. The pine tree with silver baubles and the video were taken at around 3.45pm on December 5th 2009. It was a dark day and the camera (set to auto) used a flash.