Thursday, 23 December 2010

Have a birdy brilliant Christmas

Just one sleep to Christmas Eve – now are you feeling festive or frazzled? In the later camp? Yes? Okay, here’s a welcome distraction that might help you unwind.

Andrew over at TALES OF A WESSEX REIVER, has invited bloggers to join him for an informal Christmas Blogging-Bird Competition. I’m guessing non-bloggers would be welcome via comments too :-)

With lingering cold temperatures, snow and a sore head just not shifting I do fancy taking part. Unlike Andrew, shown above, I’m not planning to get on my bike and plan to mostly window watch for his Competition. I also plan to update my sightings in my sidebar for an extra bit of competitive fun :-)

Not considering this a serious competition at all, I have considered my feathered friends when festive food shopping. I’ve bought a few new treats for them too. Sh… don’t tell Andrew. I wouldn’t like him to think I was bribing my garden visitors to win his competition ;-)

To take part all you need to do is “count the number of different wild bird species you see or hear, between 00.00 on 25th December (i.e. midnight on Christmas Eve) and 24.00 on 1st January (i.e midnight at the end of New Year's Day).”

Andrew is splitting the Competition into two sections and will collate all entries and publish them in January. Section 1 is “the highest garden list (that is, perched in, flying over or seen from a garden or urban park if you don't have a garden)”. Section 2 is the “total number of bird species seen over the Christmas period anywhere”. Have fun if you join in.

Let’s come back to sleeps, this time the cold winter ones that birds have when roosting, and an email from Andrew a few weeks ago. He had received a press release from the BTO and kindly passed it on to me. For those who have nestboxes and roosting pockets in your garden this might be of interest to you too. Thanks for the thumbs up Andrew :-)

The BTO are very interested in which species roost in nest boxes and roosting pouches in our gardens during winter. Do you know if blue tits roost in your nest boxes? What about any roosting pockets you’ve put up, have you spotted any birds going in or out at dusk and/or dawn?

Mm… I’m feeling a bit guilty on the roosting pockets as I do believe I spotted one in my shed the last time I was in. I should look it out when it is daylight and put it up. Perhaps I’ll set a camera on it to see how quickly it gets used and who might go in it.

The Roosting Survey by the BTO started on December the 14th so it’s well underway now. With the freezing temperatures we’ve been having here in the UK I’d take a guess that small birds especially will be on the lookout for a warm place for the night and many nestboxes will be occupied.

All you need to do is choose just ONE evening over the winter to look in your nestboxes via a camera if you have one or keep an eye out at dusk/dawn. If you do fancy joining in, the BTO suggest you read the survey instructions.

Looking via my two nestbox cameras tonight I can see that I still have two Blue Tits Roosting in them (one in each). They have been there a couple of months now. I’ll be honest and say that I am always thrilled to think that by having nestboxes in my garden I am helping birds survive a cold night.

Still on the subject of Surveys, I should perhaps give a quick mention/reminder here of the 2011 RSPB Big Garden BIRDWATCH at the end of January for anyone that is wondering when it is. It is running over the weekend of the 29th/30th of January.

For those new to birds and the RSPB BIRDWATCH I also received an email from the team at the Dobbies Blog who posted videos of this year’s top ten birds. I have also posted the stats with comparisons for the last 4 years that may also be of interest to anyone that has missed it.

Finally, I’d like to say I’ve been missing visiting my blogging friends, posting and taking photos and video in the last few weeks. I hope you are all well and staying safe and warm this winter.

Just two sleeps to Christmas Morning – can you believe it? I do hope you are feeling as festive as you’d like to be and I'd like to send you the warmest of wishes for a wonderful time with all those dear to you. I'll end with a favourite festive video from last December with a seasonal soundtrack.

Merry Christmas Everyone :-)

Friday, 3 December 2010

A snow and bird filled week

Let’s start with a walk shortly before sunset last Saturday. Back then, the gentle light snow decorated the landscape artistically. It blended in beautifully with the warm tones of Autumn. However, soon Winter was to seriously take charge.

Clicking on all images in this post will enlarge them.

Overnight and into Sunday saw more substantial snowfalls. The artist, also known as nature, was using a thicker paintbrush now.

My garden is on the East side of Scotland and on Sunday the major disruption and chaos on the roads began. I should stress that the end of November is not a time for snow to normally cause a problem here.

Schools etc have been closed all week which is a first for any winter. My husband couldn't drive out of our street to get to the major roads but if he did he would only have found them closed. He became a stat in the many who have worked from home most of this week. I can confirm he has more than worked his hours too.

On Sunday, my husband and daughters were not just held up in the first of this unexpected chaos on the roads but then found themselves with thundersnow when they finally reached their destination in nearby City of Perth.

Prior to this we had never known of thunder and lightning in a blizzard. My daughter missed her train but fortunately got the next one which took the journey very slowly as the lightning was affecting the points on the track.

Meanwhile, back in my garden I kept myself busy by making a snow feeding station for the many birds that were arriving in my garden. I thought I'd try another bird feeding experiment.

Chaos of a different sort could be found in my garden. You might also say there was some major disruption too. Instead of thunder and lightning, Starlings had begun their week long invasion.

After looking out at Starlings all week,
I’ve decided they look pretty stunning in winter.

Yep… Starlings have posed, squabbled and eaten from all feeders they could cling on to. To my surprise they have also been very, very keen on the apples I put out especially for Waxwings. Few apples are left now.

Also seen enjoying these apples this week have been, Blackbirds, Robins, Blue tits, Chaffinches and Goldfinches. Taking a guess at numbers there has to have been 30-40 Starlings visiting. Chaffinch numbers have increased too perhaps reaching 20-25.

Starlings, although on the endangered list and needing help, aren’t always welcome in gardens due to their rowdy, greedy behaviour. However after seeing so many this past cold week, I am warming to them.

I've noticed that although Starlings fight over food like Blackbirds, unlike Blackbirds they do work as a team also. I have enjoyed watching their behaviour.

Moving in to the week, Monday at 7:30am, you can see that we now had a deep snow carpet covering the garden. It looked seasonally pretty with soft artificial lighting.

However two hours later, in the harsher cold daylight, the real picture was quite different. The artist, known as nature, was using oils and a palette knife now.

Hungry birds were attempting to fly from feeder to feeder but many were hidden. Heavily snow laden branches made it difficult for the birds to land near them too.

The sense of urgency from the birds to find food was easily seen. I scattered seed in a variety of places to help. I knocked snow off branches and feeders I could reach too.

I also spread the feeders around my garden rather than all birds going to the one area. However, with the high numbers of birds now arriving in my garden no feeding area was quiet.

Like the queued motorists struggling through snow on the roads the birds were queued, struggling, cold, hungry and impatient too.

Sunshine, and blue skies by lunchtime saw Starlings and other birds preening and soaking up what warmth there was from the sun perched on my neighbour’s cherry tree that overlooks the garden.

The artist, known as nature, has a delicate brush now and enjoying colour and light. The picture has a bit of calm now.

This is a very popular tree for the birds that visit my garden. Note, above right, the tiny Blue tit is eating a sunflower heart. Blue, Great and Coal tits often take food to eat up there.

Just a two hours later and it’s a serious business in the garden once again. Now the birds try to eat as much as they can in order to have enough energy to keep warm and alive overnight.

There is no time to waste. Soon orderly queues won’t be in operation. Light is going and the cold night to come is creeping in.

Wait a minute though… a new bird visitor had also crept in! I nearly missed it too in the medley of birds. You’ll see this new visitor on the right of the photo above.

This was one on my 'realistic' bird visitor wish list! I am delighted to say that Bramblings have arrived in my garden :-)

What a treat this has been to see them. I don’t know how long they’ll stay and they don’t stay all that still when they visit but I hope to get some clearer photos of them before they go.

A male Brambling can be seen in the photo above (on the right) and (2nd from the right) in the group photo below. Also in the group photo the female Brambling can be seen 4th from the right. Two females and one male have been spotted.

Male Chaffinches are seen with the Bramblings and it is likely that the Bramblings joined this large flock of Chaffinches that are visiting my garden at the moment. I do hope I get a closer view of the male Brambling.

Getting views of the Chaffinch is much easier. A male is in the close-up below on my bird bath that I've temporarily converted into a feeder. Positioned below a window I have access to cover the food when the snow comes on.

As to be expected the quiet, the calm images of the Chaffinches and Blue tit to this make shift feeder are only occasional ones. Starlings and Blackbirds squabble here too.

This pattern for Monday, has been repeated all week long (including more snowfall each morning and throughout the day). Other birds visiting my garden this week have been Blackbirds, Robins, Dunnocks, Great & Coal tits, House Sparrows, Greenfinches, Goldfinches, Siskins and Woodpigeons.

Sparrowwhawk visits, I hadn’t seen this week which has been quite a surprise. However, right on cue as I am typing this, one just flew into the cherry tree that had been full of birds at the time.

The birds in the tree made a quick, safe exit and the Sparrowhawk was left all by itself looking around almost bemused. I suspect it is trickier for it to catch food when there are such large groups of birds. A collared dove arrived just after, good job the Sparrowhawk didn't see it.

So how much snow do we have? I’ll be honest, I have not been out with a measuring tape. Suffice to say that the only measure I am interested in is that of the height of my Wellies (Wellington boots). It is right to the top in most areas of my garden so careful steps are required.

Taking a sweeping brush to my Greenhouse roof was also necessary as I was concerned that the weight of snow up there might do damage. Nearby, our satellite dish also got the sweeping brush treatment as the signal was going. I needed to dig out a spot for a ladder there.

Going back to last Saturday, when I tried building an alternative winter feeding station for the birds, I had no idea we would see so much snow. I might have altered my design a tad, however it has been successful. I didn’t take photos when I made it.

You can see it in my window view above. Notice to the bird bath feeder on the right too. I keep a garden skuttle nearby and place it over the food when the snow comes on again otherwise the birds spend too much energy trying to dig out the food.

So, for my tunnel I basically made an igloo type tunnel. I took a plastic storage box and filled it with snow, tipped the snow bricks out and built my tunnel. I then added the blue lids of large storage boxes from my shed as a roof. Blackbirds, Starlings, Dunnocks and Robins have taken the food from inside.

In the long garden view you can see the other entrance of this snow feeding tunnel on the left. You can also see where I have trudged through the snow to top up feeder and the Arbour in the distance.

In the Arbour area, with the lunchtime Sunshine on December 1st , you can see an untouched carpet of snow. Long winter shadows too.

The artist, known as nature, has perfected the art of mood and atmosphere.

Perfecting the art of finding food in a garden has to go to the Starlings though. In a bid to spread around the food for the birds I re-opened Hedgehog Manor with an extensive buffet.

Needless to say along with Blackbirds and Robins, Starlings found fat balls, apple pieces, sunflower hearts and mealworms on offer. I have some video footage but as yet have only mastered editing photos and need more time to become familiar with the video options on my upgraded PC.

Finally, I’m at the end of this Winter update from my garden. Yesterday afternoon diggers finally cleared snow on our street and cars can get out. Now, we are seeing temperatures drop. It was -12 deg C when my husband left for work early this morning. It is trying to snow now and the temperature has increased to -4.

My hands are getting cold as I type this, I think (like you perhaps) I’m now in need of a warm drink. I think the heating has gone off too, I’ll be putting that back on :-)

Before I make my coffee, I’ll head outside, with Wellies, coat and gloves on, to add apples to my obelisks and tree. Only three remain. I’ll also fill up any empty feeders and put out a buffet in both Hedgehog Manor and the igloo tunnel.

Much of the UK has had the disruption we have had (worse too I suspect). I can’t imagine how long the huge piles of snow from clearing roads and paths will take to go. Let’s hope this is not a repeat of last year’s long snow spell.

Wishing you a safe and warm weekend. Enjoy window gardenwatching if you can’t get out :-D

All photos shown above were taken in my garden during this past week.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

One picture tells all…

Over the weekend we spotted a grey squirrel in the garden. Seen on occasions tentative, followed by a quick leap towards something, followed by a run around everywhere this squirrel was not dissimilar to how I’ve been.

Before I give a brief update there, I’d first like to extend huge thanks again to everyone who left comments on my last post celebrating four years of blogging. It was unexpected to get comments from new visitors too. That was a surprise :-)

So why am I like a squirrel just now? Lol, no… I’m not storing stuff. However, I am jumping and running around exploring somewhere new. As mentioned in Blogaversary comments, last Friday was also an exciting day for the PC that I have blogged on for my whole blog life. It was getting a serious upgrade.

When asked for a graphic description of what was happening to it, my husband compared it to a human operation where only an arm was left. He was the surgeon during this very delicate operation and after my PC came back to life… yes, you’ve guessed right… there have been a few complications.

No worries, my PC surgeon is keeping up with all the symptoms for the moment… even though each day I'm bringing a few more. I am absolutely, going to post on all of this as there has to be many others having these problems too… without a wonderful surgeon for aftercare :-D

Suffice to say the photo above really does tell all at the moment. The window reflection represents getting used new operating systems and applications on my PC. There's been more to that than I expected. Today, I sent my first email!

The cable ties on the arch represents the quick fix stage when more time is required to learn something when there are so many options and settings.

The missing arch support bar represents stepping into something new only to leave some parts behind. As my faster PC can handle newer versions of software, I am leaving the old and familiar. It’s a tad scary. Oh yes… I’ll get that bar repaired ;-)

At the moment I am using trial versions of photo and video editing software to see what I am comfortable with. I’ll go in to details another time but this steep learning curve is quite time consuming. No video and the photo above tells you progress is slow. Sorry, I haven’t been blog browsing as quickly as I hoped :-)

The photo above also shows my garden is succumbing to the season with plants dying down for the year. I need to get out and do some ‘real’ garden work done before we get the very cold temps and the soil is too hard. My garden shed needs a serious winter sort/re-org too. Me thinks… I’m doing way too much talking and not nearly enough walking ;-)

Finally, moving down to the left hand corner in the photo above and we return to a previous story. The caged bird feeder represents not all my feeders are back up. Sadly, I saw the return of the finch disease Trichomonosis the day after my clean feeders went up after a break of 3 weeks.

Considering again what Chris Packham and others have said, and knowing full well that my newly put up feeders didn’t cause this disease in not one but three finches that arrived in my garden, I have tried a different approach.

This time, I only removed the feeders that I saw the three, very puffed up starving to death, finches visit. I cleaned the other bird feeders, moved some around and kept feeding the birds albeit with less food sources.

Time will tell what happens here, but the bottom line is that if other feeders in my area are not kept clean and have so many diseased birds visiting them and then people (like me) take all clean feeders down, this disease could spread further and further.

As with many diseases, I’m sure new thinking will continue to emerge.

I will continue to consider all options with this disease so that birds may be saved from it. I will never, not feel the pang of sadness when I see birds dying (or dead) in my garden.

On a brighter note, I’m also going to consider all options with software and hardware on my PC and look forward to sharing the good and bad stuff that I discover there and in turn in my garden and out and about.

Please bear with me… Year 5 has me at school again ;-)

Just quickly, before I go back to my studies... so far my Waxwing feeding station has not enticed Waxwings in to my garden. However, Blackbirds, Blue tits and Goldfinches have been seen enjoying the apples. I think I might keep this up as a winter feeding station. Blackcaps have enjoyed apples in my garden before and just maybe Fieldfares may be attracted to this Acer, come apple tree, when they pass our way :-D

The photo shown above was taken in my garden on November 21st 2010.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Blogaversary, gosh… 4 today!

After considerable blog chat, comments and email exchanges perhaps it’s time I revealed a little about the person behind shirls gardenwatch. However, first, I have to say a HUGE THANK-YOU to everyone that has visited and commented for another year. I have really appreciated it especially when there are so many blogs to follow now. After wavering a little… Year 5 here I come :-)

My first reveal is that although my blog is titled shirls, it is not how I am known outside the blogging world. I picked this name for a little bit of anonymity and because it was short and slightly quirky for leaving comments etc. Let me introduce myself… Hello, my name is Shirley :-)

Despite all the chat about birds and wildlife in my blog behind this I am a very much a gardener. I began gardening at the age of 10 by moving a rockery at my parent’s house...

Clicking on photos in this post will enlarge them.
I hear you asking... yes there were colour cameras then,
and yes, I'm in the group... on the right :-)

My Dad’s work van is seen in the foreground. Note the kangaroo on the side. That’s one of my earlier artworks! Lol… the kangaroo symbolised the way that on occasions the van was a bit jumpy when it drove. I don’t know if this was my Dad’s idea or mine ;-)

This van is parked in front of a kitchen window and below it was an outside tap with a hose tied up. I think there was a climbing bush there too. My earliest memory of birds was at age 8½ on the day we moved into this house and found a bird’s nest with chicks in this area.

After having no garden with our previous house this garden was so exciting! I’ve no idea what bird it was now. Nor could I have imagined some years later, with my own house and garden, that I would be watching the whole story of nesting :-)

Image taken the day before these Chicks fledged in June 2010.
You can read the nestbox diary and see video and photos

My parents grew fruit and veg in their garden and I helped out there. In the small front garden I also helped maintain the square lawn and the box hedge and clipped box balls tidy. I have some young box in my own garden just now but I don’t keep vegetables except in pots.

My second reveal is that although I know many perhaps see cutting grass a chore I do actually enjoy it. However, I hate cutting the edges afterwards so tend to cut them unconventionally first ;-)

My third reveal is that I loved drawing trees and pieces of driftwood as a teenager. I guess the plants in my parent's garden and the mature trees in the open fields opposite our house influenced that. I also enjoyed walking in local woodlands where I would see red squirrels... not knowing at the time that they were quite special.

Photo above taken at Cambo in February 2009.
That would make a great drawing/illustration wouldn't it?

Some years later I left this special garden and house, in a very small Perthshire village, to go to college (in a big city) to study art. That was quite a change in environment at the time. I wasn’t at an Art College. Instead, I was studying more the technical side of things. Of course, now that would be done at Art College/University.

My course included photography, where we went into the city and took then developed our own photos. I loved that. I could never have imagined then, that I could be adjusting a photo digitally in the future… and still loving photography. It was buildings and engineeering (especially old and neglected) I loved to photograph then.

Illustration, technical drawing, reprographics, design and printing techniques were also included in my course. I particularly enjoyed the illustration side of things and the designing of graphics.

My fourth reveal is that I am sad that I lost my drawing hand and I would love it back now. I know my artworks weren't perfect but I did enjoy doing them. Once I began working as a graphic designer the illustration side of things slowly slipped away.

Initially, I continued to draw favouring the pen and ink illustrations that I had enjoyed at college. Of course now, at a click of a mouse on a computer, a photograph can become a pen and ink drawing in seconds. I never imagined that.

The image above of an owl (with a very bad, head feather day) I would have copied from a book or magazine. It looked at us, framed, from the wall at the top of the stairs at my parent’s house who by then had moved to the City of Perth. When I left college I came to live here.

Suffice to say, this time in a good sized city garden, I continued to enjoy working in my parent’s garden. I was doing a lot more planting now. After having design shapes and colour instilled in my head at college, I began experimenting with planting schemes which I still do to this day.

A few years later, married and with a new build house with just topsoil and some paving to the front door, I began to experiment even more with plants and designs. Oh yes… and I had a collection of rocks to build my very own rockery ;-)

My fifth reveal is that I spent the second week of my honeymoon with a dustbin and a riddle! Lol... we were sifting the larger stones in the topsoil of our soon to be new front garden lawn! Yes, romantic it was.... as my new ‘non gardening’ husband helped me. Lol again... he is still my ‘non gardening’ husband :-D

A few years on leaving a well stocked garden, taking a number of plants and cuttings potted up, we moved to my present garden and the one that is shown in shirls gardenwatch. Little did I know then that I would be sharing it with people from around the world!

Scanned photo taken at Beth Chatto's Garden.

My sixth reveal is I’m shy of the camera, so I’m afraid (shown above) this first photo of me on my blog may be the only one you'll see. I don’t really wear hats as a rule but I bought a couple for this special coach trip with my Mum. We were going to the Chelsea Flower Show and come rain or shine, I was going to wear a hat. Sadly it did rain.

However on our visit to Beth Chatto’s Garden it didn’t rain. I had wanted to visit this garden almost more than Chelsea so I was going to wear a hat there too and get my Mum to take my photo. Daughters at 3 & 4yrs stayed home with Dad for this garden visit.

Scanned photo taken at The Dorothy Clive Garden.

My seventh reveal is that on family holidays I dragged my daughters (and husband) on garden visits. Well, not exactly dragged, you can see the are happy in the photo above. I generally tried to pick gardens that had somewhere to eat and some form of fun for children like garden trails and quizes :-D

When they got to their teens, I generally let them lose with my video camera and that did the trick nicely. Mm… perhaps their version is different ;-)

My eighth reveal is that I am a tad uncomfortable with dogs. As a baby and toddler I was more than fine with our very amenable, good natured Bulldog who guarded me in my pram and provided a step-up on to chairs when I was toddling about.

A few years on, after being frightened by a barking dog running down stairs towards me on a visit to a relative, I was bitten and that changed things a little. Suffice to say, walking into an unknown farmyard with a serious possibility of barking and running dogs as an adult was a bit of a big step... but the possible reward outweighed this fear.

Scanned photo, one of the many layouts my small front garden
has had over the last 19 years. I loved this particular day :-)

My ninth reveal is that I can’t help but admire piles of stone when I see them! I get almost as excited by them as I do new plants or bird visitors to my garden! Although I don’t use stones in a traditional rock garden style anymore I still love to arrange and rearrange them around my garden.

Driving past a pile of stones beside some local farm buildings, a few years back, had me in a bit of dilemma. They had been stored by a farmer after he dug them up whilst ploughing his fields. Oh… they looked so good to me!

The photo above tells all. I gingerly walked to the farm door, keeping eyes and ears alert for dogs, and after a phonecall we came to an agreement. A few days later, the Farmer, equally gingerly, tipped out stones on to my driveway from the bucket of his JCB digger!

Wonderfully, he had brought the digger to the pile of stones in his farmyard and we were able to fill it with the stones we wanted. I was smiling all day... and the next few!!

A couple of years later, we did this once more. The mossy rocks around my small pond were all dug up in this local farmer's field. Recycling at its best :-D

Finally, my tenth reveal is that my gardenwatching only began after my daughter was observing and counting birds for a school project the summer before I began my blog. Prior to that we had no bird feeders in the garden.

Now, I can’t imagine having a garden without a bird feeder - except on a temporary basis. I also cannot imagine not gardenwatching and blogging about it!

It has been absolutley fantastic that Waxwing sightings have ended Year 4. What great timing! They are still around too so fingers crossed they might visit my apple garlands made especially for them :-D

My garden of plants has grown and matured in a way I could never have predicted. Hedgehogs and a staggering 27 species of birds have been seen in my garden in the last four years. That includes a Pheasant walking up my lawn! Even more staggering is that I have seen 12 bird species bring in their young to my feeders.

If I were to take a guess as to why my garden has had so many visitors I would probably say that it has a lot of cover with my plants of varying sizes and shapes. I would also say that each time I saw a new species I looked up my book to see what it like to eat and provided it. Then… more birds came :-)

My Long-tailed Tit watercolour above symbolises a few things that will shape Year 5 of my blog. I am returning to my roots but in a new way. Hopefully I’ll be able to make time to pick up a pencil and paint brush too.

I will continue to blog about plants, gardens, birds and wildlife but I want to explore them all further through the many fascinating websites and blogs that can be found on the internet.

My plan is to search out and share what I find. I’ve already got something interesting for you! When time allows, I also plan to visit new bird and wildlife areas. Garden visits are a given ;-)

So, for Year 5, I am not revamping the look of my blog, as done in previous years, but its content instead. I hope my blog can act as a stepping stone for any visitor that stops by. It will be nice if new visitors browse around my posts too of course :-D

A HUGE THANKS for another year goes to my non gardening, but very technically focused, husband. In the last week he has finally finishing his programming of my blog menus which will allow me to gain access to the editing myself. My menu links are about to get a make-over now! I’m looking forward to it too :-D

Finally, for Year 5, I would really like to make a pledge that the majority of my posts will be a shorter read. I don’t know if I can keep that one though. Honestly, I’d really like to :-D

Seeing many of my postings have been published around midnight I’m aiming for that this time too - real time too. Soon the bells (PC clock) will bring in the new blogging year for shirls gardenwatch… thanks so much for bearing with me. It’s been great having you join me :-D

Wishing you a brilliant weekend!

Monday, 15 November 2010

Waxwings still here :-)

I hope I don’t jinx their stay by saying that! Especially as I am now trying to tempt them from the large mature trees they are preening and sunning themselves on to come down into my garden. I most likely have no chance in doing so but as you might expect, I’m giving it my best shot :-)

Wouldn’t it just be the thing, that after having Rowan Berries for the last 18 years in my garden that it was this year that I decided to cut back my tree during work on my new (unfinished) wildlife pond… Aw well ;-)

No matter, after seeing apples being popular with Waxwings on the Fair Isle that was the route I would take to tempt them in to my garden.

Unfortunately, for a feeding experiment like this (being a plants person) I don’t have a lot of open areas that would give the Waxwings a chance to actually see my special Waxwing café.

A number of years ago I made a ring of apples to feed the birds in the winter. I threaded strong wire through the apples. From memory it wasn’t that popular.

Since then I found that coring an apple and pushing it into spikes (like my obelisk) works very well with Blackbirds and Blackcaps thoroughly enjoying them there. I think once the skin has been broken the birds seem more interested in feeding from them.

For my 2010 Waxwing feeding station experiment I looked out my strong wire again. I quickly popped down to my local supermarket for five (reasonably priced) bags of apples.

Without coring the apples first, I threaded the wire through them. My plan was to decorate the brightest and most open tree in my garden with apple garlands.

Thinking on photo opportunities from my window the Coral Bark Maple (Acer palmatum palmatum Sango-Kaku) was the one. Okay, this isn’t a big enough tree to support 60 Waxwings but they could land on my Ivy covered Pergola, my Leylandii hedge or my small Pine trees and work their way across from there.

As this tree does not have thick branches I used small metal bird feeder hooks to help take the strain. Bending this strong wire around was a bit tricky but big loops of wire will also act as a solid perch for the Waxwings should the decide to dine here… we can but dream ;-)

Job almost done except that perhaps the Waxwings would be more attracted to the fruit flesh. A few slim slices of the face of some of the fruit did the trick.

Notice the sunflower feeder. It is popular with Blue, Great and Coal tits - Goldfinches too.

Sorry, there was no time to take step-by-step photos. Understandably, as this was a sunny lunchtime, I was in a hurry to get the job done… did someone call service?

Perhaps Waxwings like to have an earlier lunch? Perhaps a mid-morning snack before sunning themselves? Unfortunately rain is forecasted here for tomorrow but rain or shine the Waxwing Café at shirls gardenwatch will be open ;-)

Without any control over focus or light conditions, my video will be ready to record too. Can’t believe the timing of this but equally I can’t believe the timing of this experiment either… I’ll come back to that at the end of the week :-)

Today I captured video footage of the Waxwings from outside in my garden across to one of three mature trees I can see them visit. In the beginning of the video below the sun isn’t shining on the tree but this changes. At a guess there were 60+ seen at one point.

Although the images aren’t the best they do show a bit of the character of these wonderful birds. I enjoyed watching the way they moved about positions on the tree and how they would fly away in all directions. I like to see them enjoying the sun too.

In the close-up view you can see that they are almost behaving like parrots. Notice the two in the bottom right just seen preening. When some birds fly off the bird above looks like its suggesting they fly off too. I do enjoy seeing the behaviour of birds like this.

Finally for tonight, I’m aware that searches for Waxwings sightings are finding there way to my blog so I’ve been doing a bit of searching myself tonight that might be of interest.

If you follow this link to BIRDNET you will see more details of fairly recent Waxwing sightings on Thursday November 11th.

Note: If you hold down the Ctrl key in your keyboard and press the ‘f’ key you’ll get a ‘find’ box above the webpage on the right. If you type in the word waxwing, the webpage will appear with waxwing highlighted in yellow. That should help you find your way around.

Listed are:

Scotland: Aberdeen, Ayr, Clyde, Granton-on-Spey, Lothian, Perth & Kinross, Fife, Shetland.

England: Cumbria, Derby, Berks, Lancs, Co. Durham, Lincs, Norfolk, Northumberland, Staffs, E.Yorks, N.Yorks, S.Yorks, W.Yorks,

Wales: Gwynedd, Conwy,

Northern Ireland: Co. Antrim, Belfast, Ballycastle, Co. Cork.

BIRDING LOTHIAN is another website here in Scotland. They suggest you text in sightings (to 07794509106). I see Edinburgh had quite a few sightings of Waxwings today at the Airport, Sighthill and South Gyle.

If you know any other websites that are listing sightings please leave a comment below. If you want to share your Waxwing sightings please do add them here too.

Now… I wonder what tomorrow might bring ;-)

All images shown above were taken from my garden on November 15th 2010.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Current garden birds and Waxwing sightings

Garden birds were featured on this week's BBC2 Autumnwatch programme. Regular blog visitors would be quite correct in thinking I found this a particularly interesting episode.

Quick update: If a search for Waxwing sightings has brought you here perhaps the lists and links via my next post may interest you. You’ll find brief Waxwing videos at the end of that post and this one too. Okay back to this posting…

Mm... perhaps you might like to pour yourself a cuppa. There's lots here tonight.
I have to say a few things caught my attention in Autumnwatch this week including an incredible Waxwing sighting on the Fair Isle.

You have to take a look at Tommy, his son Henry and their apple feeding visitors here. I'm guessing that the preview image below of Henry will have you clicking your mouse if you need any persuading. It's fantastic that they have shared these stunning images with us all. What a day that must have been!

The photo above is the property of Thomas Hyndman
who has very generously allowed me to include it in my posting.
It was originally published in
this posting on his blog.

I have a feeling Tommy's Blog, Fair Isle , will be one to watch over the winter. American visitors might be interested to hear that he is originally from Saratoga Springs, New York having moved to Fair Isle in November 2006 with his wife Liz and son Henry.

Feeding garden birds during winter was also included in this week's Autumnwatch. Info can be found on the Autumnwatch website here. I’m delighted to say that feeding garden birds in my garden has resumed after a three week break when Trichomonosis was spotted in a Greenfinch.

Interestingly enough, Chris Packham did mention Trichomonosis on the programme on Thursday. He said that although feeders do need to be cleaned when this disease is spotted in a garden it wasn’t necessary to keep them down. Chris said you should continue feeding the birds.

After seeing this disease in my garden I can’t agree with him on that one. My recommendation would be to keep feeders down and bird baths empty when there is a diseased bird visiting them to stop this awful disease spreading. How long they are down/empty is entirely at your own discretion.

For now, my garden bird café is working on a supply and demand basis. I haven’t put up all my feeders yet. Once more birds return I will return more feeders and offer a more varied menu. I'll introduce things slowly. Peanuts are next.

At the moment I have fat balls in a caged feeder (I use this one as Starlings struggle to get in it), sunflower hearts in a feeder pole (great for cleaning), sunflower hearts in a clingers only feeder (I love watching the birds on this one especially when its windy) and three small mesh ground feeders with sunflower hearts. There is also a good number of halved apples on an open area of my lawn. You might guess now who they are for... you would be right too ;-)

Only one of my ground feeders is actually on the ground. You can see there is one in my small Acer tree in the larger picture in the montage below. You can also see that some black sunflower hearts have been added to it. They are especially for the Coal tits who seem to like them and take them from here.

This is a very popular feeding area with Blackbirds and Dunnocks too. From my window I can get a good clear view here. If you clicked on the image above I wonder if you spotted what was missing. Perhaps not, I was looking closely after an earlier sighting of this bird that day.

Carefully selected (so as not to upset anyone) the Blackbird male shown in the montage above has a missing eye. You can see this in the bottom, right image. I have never seen this before. I have other images that show this in more detail.

Perhaps this bird has a genetic problem or the eye has become diseased but more than likely it has been a fight with another bird. I’ve posted photos and asked about this one on the BirdForum. If I get any replies you'll see them here.

Coming back to Chris again, he mentioned on the programme that the regular garden birds that we see in our gardens (like the blackbird for example) are very likely to be different ones from season to season. He suggest that come Winter some will move South (mine perhaps to Europe) to the warmer climates that they would have had in the Spring/Summer when they were born.

That I did find interesting, especially when it is during the winter that I see many more partial albino Blackbirds in my garden. Perhaps they were born in Scandinavia and are here in my garden just for winter? I guess without ringing them we wouldn’t know the answer there.

White feathers in the head, body or tail of any dark coloured birds really do make the partial albino's stand out when visiting the garden. However, as I get a few, it is the patterns on these birds that equally catch my eye. Over the last few years I have considered that this pattern isn’t always random and that it can follow a parent bird.

When I spotted the first partial albino male Blackbird (shown below) earlier this week, with its bent back right foot, I took my photo to see what was going on with this foot. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a clear view of it in the dull lighting. However its white feathered head markings looked very familiar.

I looked back my photos and was astonished to see that three years ago (on October 16th 2007) I had another partial albino Blackbird at roughly the same age. With the exception of the prominent white feather in the body just under the wing, it has a head a pattern of white feathers incredibly close to the one in my garden this week. Now, that is fascinating.

Tiny wrens start to reappear around my tiny rock pool pond at this time of year and this week one has been fluttering up and down shrubs. No… it wasn’t seen eating berries in the tree below but I guess between this small tree and a climbing rose on the arch beside it there were plenty insects around there for it to feast on. I do love to see the Wren visit.

A quick tidy up of fallen leaves in the garden late on Wednesday afternoon revealed another sight that delighted me! At just after 4:30pm, when it was just starting to get dark in my garden, I spotted a Blue tit going into my nestbox that has a colour camera in it. So we have a rooster then?

After getting my OH to reconnect an extra IR camera (we added to this nestbox earlier this year) to my switcher box I could see that we did. Brilliant! Wonderfully, this nestbox was successfully used this year. If you missed this story you can catch up here.

However, I did put up another nestbox (courtesy of Ian Daniels of the Dobbies Blog) that only has a black and white IR camera. I was very interested to compare the quality of images. I have to say I was impressed with the B&W.

OH also reconnected this one to my switcher box and wonderfully, for the first time, we have a rooster in this nest box too!! The image above, right is from the Gardman Camera Nest Box from Dobbies although on checking links for this it appears that they are not stocking it any more.

Now the big question next was, did we have two Blue tits roosting in our garden or was one a Great tit? The next night at around the same time I was able to watch and wait… we had Blue tits in both! Although I was secretly hoping one would be a Great tit I am still delighted.

One other interesting comparison we now have (not intended this time) is that there is no wood shavings on the floor of the B&W Nestbox. I have noticed that this bird moves around a lot more as you can see in the above images. I wonder if it is cold?

The bird in the other nestbox (shown in the bottom row of the montage above) that has wood shavings on the floor has generally stayed in the one corner. However, last night it was seen removing quite a few beakfuls of wood shavings out of this nestbox before settling down for the night. Interesting again.

Now, leaving the interesting and back to the Waxwing sightings… on Wednesday, with gloves just on and ready to pick up fallen leaves…

I heard a noise in the distance. Being completely honest, I thought it was a car or house alarm. I wasn’t sure though. I carried on lifting leaves.

I heard the noise again and stood up looking in the direction of a large mature tree about 60 metres from my garden. I don’t have a recent photo but below you can see the size of this tree (with my hedge in the foreground) shown all frosted back in a previous posting...

Now look at it more closely on Wednesday…

Let’s crop another image some more and get a better look…

Yep, for the first time ever I not only saw Waxwings… but from my own back garden! In actual fact the images above were taken though the same window where I have captured many of my garden visitors in photos and video. Wow :-)

Unfortunately, my video camera display screen has gone faulty so taking any video was difficult to say the least. However, try I did… although I only caught the tiniest of shaky capture (with no control over focusing) it still records this special moment…

The number of Waxwings on this tree is a bit approximate as just before I went inside to get my camera a good number left the tree. 40-50 Waxwings at least (based on my photos) had to have been there. Now… here’s the thing…

Don’t laugh now… but not only did I think that they sounded like a car/house alarm… when I first looked up at the tree my first thought was Woodpigeons!! I then stood considering that although Woodpigeons were regulars on this tree I had never seen such a big a group of them. These birds looked smaller too :-)

My ID for the Waxwings was through sound first. Before I went in for my camera I reached for my mobile phone. I have an iPhone and have Bird Apps on it. I knew one had a good collection of birds and calls… and Bingo I had my ID!!

I was actually hearing Waxings from my garden… how cool was that? Passing by a bowl of apples in my kitchen I quickly halved them and scattered them on an open area of my lawn to tempt them into my garden... no luck yet though.

Regular visitors to my blog will not recognise the format of my video editing above either. Unfortunately, after removing a piece of software from my PC I have lost access to my video editing software that I have used for a very long time. That's a shame I have to say.

I am not familiar with Windows Movie Maker, but needs must and I really wanted to post and share my first Waxwing sighting. Fortunately changes are afoot with my PC and Christmas is coming for a replacement video camera perhaps ;-)

Now… I kid you not, this afternoon after taking a visit up to SWT Reserve Loch of the Lowes Waxings were the topic once again! I was chatting to Charlotte would had just written a blog post on them for the Centre in the morning. She was disappointed she had never seen one herself and was hearing from many visitors to the Centre of their sightings elsewhere. I didn't help her cause :-)

One Waxwing sighting in a garden in nearby Birnam had Centre Manager, Peter out with his video camera. Charlotte showed it to me and the other visitors in the Centre. What a wonderful capture Peter took of Waxings feeding on pink Rowan berries. I believe she said it took them an hour to completely strip the tree bare of fruit. If you ever visit the Centre do ask to see this piece of film :-)

Last night when I was waiting for my video uploads to complete (which they didn’t) I browsed other Waxwing videos and discovered the one below that I’m sure you’ll enjoy too. Funnily enough I had never seen pink Rowan berries until yesterday. There is music with this piece of film.

Watch out for background music volume. Video by I R Lavell. See Youtube page here.

Isn’t that just a wonderful capture? Now... this still isn’t the end of Waxwing sightings! Once again, I kid you not… on my drive home we were to see yet another group of Waxwings! Sh... don't tell Charlotte ;-)

I was driving into the City of Perth and coming out of a roundabout and this group were flying low back and forth across the road… there was a tree of berries on one side. This time I didn’t spot the colour of the berries… I was too busy watching I didn’t drive through the Waxwings!!

Wow… what a week this has been! I hope it’s been a good one for you too. Enjoy the rest of your weekend… and if you have any Waxwing stories/sightings please do share them in a comment :-D

Now... I wonder if any Waxwings will spot the feast of apples in my garden. Probably not... but it is fun thinking they might :-)

The Waxwings in the photos above were taken from my garden on November 10th 2010.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Autumn, the best time to see…

… The Meikleour Beech Hedge in Perthshire. Blog posts from around the world are celebrating the magnificent colours and beauty of Autumn just now. My planned contribution today was to be for Wordless Wednesday. Then, considering there were tall stories to tell, I changed my mind ;-)

Clicking on the image above will enlarge it.

Late this afternoon (camera and daughter in the car) I took the drive along to see (what I’ve always known as) the beech hedges at Meikleour. I was telling my daughter stories of the area en route.

I remember passing by this hedge as a child. I’m pretty certain I visited Meikleour House too with my Grandmother. I’ve a memory of sitting in a kitchen. However, I don’t remember any stories of the hedge itself except that it was pretty tall and perhaps the tallest in the world.

As an adult, I discovered the Meikleour Beech Hedge was in fact in the Guinness World Record Book. It has been the highest hedge in the world since 1966! I’ll come back to the stats later as first I want to tell you what is believed to be the story behind this wonderful bronze wall of beech above.

Let’s turn back time to 1746 and the Battle of Culloden…

The Battle of Culloden (1746) by David Morier, oil on canvas.
Image from Wikipedia.

Many men were killed. A little earlier, in the Autumn of 1745 Jean Mercer and her husband, Robert Murray Nairne planted this European Beech (Fagus sylvatica) Hedge that I stood beside today with a digital camera in my hand. Here I was, trying to capture a photograph of this hedge in autumn when it looks pretty special.

Little did I know then that the story behind the height of this hedge is pretty special too. It is believed that following her husband’s death at the battle of Culloden, Jean Mercer of Meikleour allowed the hedge to grow towards the heavens in a tribute to his memory. I wonder if she imagined it as it is now. I guess she would be pleased.

Now looked after by The Meikleour Trust, every 10 years this beech hedge is pruned using a hydraulic lift and hand held equipment. At 530 metres (1/3 mile) long and an average height of 30 metres (100 feet) it’s not surprising that it takes 4 men about 6 weeks to prune it. Photos usually appear in the newspapers when this is being done.

At the North end (where I was standing) the hedge peaks at a staggering 36 metres (120 feet) in height. As this hedge runs along the busy A93 Blairgowrie road the lower section is more regularly trimmed. Looking closely at my image above you can see that.

There is a little parking (3-4 cars) at the other end of the hedge from where I stood but strangely for something that is a landmark and a world record there isn’t a viewpoint to safely take photos on the opposite side of the road. It isn’t signposted either. That's a pity.

I’ll not leave this on a negative note though. Wonderfully this World Record hedge is providing food for a variety of wildlife. Squirrels (red I hope), Pheasants, Woodpigeons, Rooks, Jays, Chaffinches and Wood mice can all feast on the triangular brown nuts released from the female catkins. Now, that’s what I’d call a legacy :-D

The photo of The Meikleour Beech Hedge shown above was taken on November 3rd 2010.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

While the birds are away…

…the mice will play. Since taking down my bird feeders last week after the finch disease Trichomonosis was spotted in my garden, bird numbers of visiting birds are dropping rapidly. I expected that.

However, being a mostly nocturnal animal I did not expect to see how comfortable the little wood mouse below has been out in the open now.

As you can see it still hides in the rock spaces around my small rocky pond. When I put in this pond, I deliberately built hidden pockets for toads and frogs with the rocks. I also hoped a wren would build a nest in this area as it is spotted there too. Alas no. I’ve another plan for that idea now.

Although a little blurred in the next photo (as the mouse was moving) I loved the way it pulled itself up from the rock pocket. If this mouse was moving fast it would have been very blurred. So you can see that it was in no hurry.

The wood mouse appeared to be finding little bits of food left on the ground. I had scattered some roasted chopped hazelnuts on the ground around the rocks pre trichomonosis after finding them in a store cupboard during a tidy-up. I guess it was finding them.

Looking up a wildlife book on my shelf I see that feeding signs to look for with a wood mouse can be fir cones with scales gnawed off (neatly) and hazelnuts with teeth marks around the outside of a hole. Well then, my tiny offerings must have been wood mouse heaven!

Regular readers will have seen recent video of a wood mouse carrying away mealworms and storing them under our hedgehog house. I also had footage of the daddy-long-legs taking the mealworms in that posting too. Now that was spooky to see.

On many other occasions, I have also seen wood mice run away with sunflower hearts at night and during the day. During the day they have once again been taken in to the tunnels around my rock pool pond. At night too.

What was interesting about the behaviour of the wood mouse the other day was that, without the birds running round this area, it ate al fresco. It was quite relaxed about it too. Watching it, especially with no birds about, I considered that a cat might fancy an al fresco meal too! If it did, thankfully I never saw it.

Referring back my Pocket Wildlife book this morning I see that a wood mouse (being a forager of woodland floors) is an opportunist. I would definitely agree with that. When in season, its diet includes seeds, nuts, fruits and fungi.

Now, I wondered who might be eating from my small garden clump of fungi. Interestingly, a wood mouse will also feed on insects and invertebrates. I didn’t know that either. You might guess now what I am planning next.

Yes, you guessed right! I’m going to move my outside cam to view the fungi clump at night. I may see nothing but I’m seeing nothing outside the hedgehog house anyway… I might get some spooky viewing!

The photos of the wood mouse today had been planned as a Wordless posting on a Wednesday. Other bloggers take part with this. Alas, some chatting elsewhere kept me from doing this. I’ll come back to that another time. I’m all chatted out for the moment... well, almost!

Spookily, at the moment, when I look out my window gardenwatching I feel it is the garden visitors that are watching me! The Blackbirds almost stare back straight at me. Thank goodness they don't have the deep beady eyes of the wood mouse.

Only the Dunnocks seem to be out there feeding as usual. I’ll get my post on them tied up soon. Having lots of distractions at the moment.... good ones though. I’ll tell you about a particular one in a few weeks - chatting has been involved ;-)

Wishing you a great wildlife watching and gardening weekend if you can. Enjoy Halloween too.

We have a Halloween Birthday in our household. This year, it's one of those big ones for our eldest daughter… she is about to leave her teens!! Now, that’s spooky for her. Mm... until now, I never considered that’s even more spooky for us!!

Enjoy time with your family this weekend. We will :-D

The photos of the wood mouse shown above were taken in my garden on October 26th 2010.

Monday, 25 October 2010

Time to wrap up

Gosh… is it that time already? Don’t worry I won’t bore regular visitors with another blog post on how I have just protected my Gunnera plant for the winter. Suffice to say it was done yesterday after predictions of frost and low temps overnight. We switched of the water supply to our outside tap then too.

This morning, the frost came as predicated. I went out with my camera early this morning as the sunshine warmed frost on my Arbour seat. Don’t you just love the shadows and light of this time of year?

Frost was also seen on Japanese Anemone flowers and a Hellebore (beside my tiny rock pool pond) that has been in flower for some time – out of season I should say. Another out of season, is a flower bud on my Clematis, Miss Bateman.

Leaves of Heuchera and Acer had an ice coating over them as they hugged the ground. I love the patterns and textures of them too. The seed heads of Klein Fontaine, an ornamental grass, was free from frost catching the early sunshine.

Meanwhile, behind my garden gate the sunshine doesn’t appear until afternoon. I went there to check on my newly protected Gunnera plant and smiled to see a suggestion of frost on the newly upturned leaves.

Not all in my garden had a good covering of frost this time. Between my gate and the Gunnera I spotted some 'free from frost' Fungi on a rotting piece of tree/log.

This was just a brief camera outing. Also seen in my back garden this morning were wonderful deep red leaves on my small Acers, red berries on my Cotoneaster tree, fluffy Clematis seed heads, Red Campion still in flower and Gentian flower buds trying to open but struggling with the cold.

Early evening in my front garden saw Sedums, Nepata, Penstemons, Lavender and the perennial wallflower Bowles’ Mauve flowering in the late sunshine. I must get a brief camera outing there soon before everything changes.

Cameras will be clicking in gardens all around the world just now recording the current changes, the best bits from the year, the disappointing bits, the ‘must move this’ in the Spring reminders as well as the ‘remember I planted this’ there!

For many of my gardening blog friends and visitors who can’t grow a Gunnera this last close-up photo of the flower spike is for you. I know it is the giant umbrella-like leaves that are the main attraction of this plant but the flowers really are quite extraordinary looking.

For those new to growing Gunnera you can see how I have protected this plant in 2007, 2008, and 2009.

This year I have used hay again between the upturned leaves. I’ll probably add more material from the garden on top of these leaves as I tidy things up. The end-of-the-year garden tidy must be well underway in many gardens. How’s yours going?

All photos above were taken on October 25th 2010.