Monday, 31 December 2012

New Year Wishes from…

There were many nominees from the 2012 gardenwatch year that could be fitted with a Scottish kilt graphic and bring a smile to blog visitors. I’ve considered quite a few fun ways to review the year too. Then, after walking into my local supermarket and hearing the Scottish music playing I decided there was another way… something to help get round the Hogmanay cleaning too perhaps?

Jimmy Shand, a favourite of my Dad, will play out 2012. The first ‘tune’ in the video below is a Bluebell Polka. The image in the video of the Bluebell wood is also a reminder to me that I want to visit more gardens in 2013 and I’ve never seen a Bluebell Wood before so it’s going top on my list. Believe it or not, I’ll likely be heading to where I grew up as a child! It’s that just the way ;-)

The second ‘tune’ in the video below is ‘The Northern Lights of old Aberdeen’ and that’s one that my Dad would play on his harmonica (or mouth organ as we would call it). This tune is apt in many ways.

I’ve become keen on watching out for sightings of the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) from my garden and caught a slight glimpse one night this year. I was amazed – it was a first for me. I’ve followed links to many stunning images and followed the fun of sightings via twitter too. Perhaps we should head up to Aberdeen in 2013 which is also where my eldest daughter will be taking in the New Year this year – a first again.

Okay, it's time to get your dancing shoes on. Wait a minute though... before you start jigging around the room to the video below, I’d like to wish good health and happiness to you, your family and friends for 2013.

See you next year!

Shirley x

This post was published by Shirley for shirls gardenwatch in December 2012.

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Christmas Wishes from…

There were two nominees up for the Santa hat and song at shirls gardenwatch this morning. The now regular female Great Spotted Woodpecker came runner-up due to the fact that a hat would fall off her head as it’s always tilted when she feeds at the fat cake and peanut feeder.

The Coal tit on the other hand, although fast and fun darting through feeders and branches can stop from time to time –for just a moment I grant you. However, just long enough to hold on a hat and mime a Christmas jingle ;-)

Oh… and the Coal tit also had some lines to remember too… “on behalf of the birds and wildlife at shirls gardenwatch our thanks go to everyone for following and commenting on our life here in our small Scottish Garden during 2012. We have fun here. We are also very lucky that our garden has trees decorated with a variety of feeders and foods. However we’ve heard…

… some miles away across in a garden in central Indiana, USA, Chickadee’s (who look very like us by the way) have a Christmas tree especially decorated and filled with tasty treats for them! Well, not just for them but for all the birds that visit blogger Robin’s garden. Perhaps our blogger shirl should take a closer read at Robin’s Nesting Place.

So many bloggers share tips and ideas for all that grows and visits our gardens (thanks Robin for allowing us to share your photo). On behalf of all the birds in shirl’s garden we’d like to say a huge thank you to you all for giving shirl ideas that we benefit from… please keep on blogging them and leaving comments here ;-)

Merry Christmas to everyone out in the garden with us and everyone cosy indoors. We wish you special times with your families... oh yes and if you've any leftovers like nuts, fruit and Christmas cake... please do send them our way ;-)”

From the Coal tit’s x

This post was published by Shirley for shirls gardenwatch in November 2012.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

All change in the garden

Back on the last day of November we had a few flowers left for 2012... Astrantia drooping, Gunnera falling down, Geum fighting on bravely and Erysimum 'Bowles's Mauve' smiling through everything as she does ;-)

Meanwhile in my shadier back garden, frosty nights and mornings had begun in earnest. Bird activity in the garden was increasing but any sunshine was slow to warm the ground so birds didn't stop for long.

Early morning sunshine was once again lighting up the coral bark of my maple leafed, Acer
palmatum Sango Kaku. What a picture this is as birds bounce through its branches en route to the feeder like baubles glittering on a Christmas tree.

This cold snap also signalled winter arrivals like the Brambling. I was delighted to see a male Brambling joining in with the good sized Chaffinch group now visiting my garden. I know this one is a special garden visitor to have.

Siskins, Goldfinches, House Sparrows and odd Greenfinches were all adding to the tree decorations. Starlings were visiting in bursts like fast irritating tree lights that keep annoying the eye. I don’t mind them really – just wish they would be more polite at the feeders ;-).

By December the third we had our first snow and I had been noticing a lot of Robin visits to my garden. I’m beginning to wonder if 2012 has been a good breeding year for our cheeky little Robin. I’m also wondering if my mixed seed mix had brought at least one regular Robin to my small pond. More on my seed trial when I’ve sorted through my images.

Once the snow disappeared, the garden escaped its winter capture for a few days. Quickly taking this brief opportunity for a quick chilly hour’s tidy up in the border opposite my window, my secateurs were out in action cutting back the wilting Japanese Anemone foliage and other plants in this area.

Yes, I know it can add atmosphere to the garden when tall plants are left unpruned to add winter interest especially on frosty days. Perhaps to some the border above may look dull and bare now with earth exposed.

Not so, to my eyes. This ‘all change’ in my garden brings light and activity to this area of ground as birds are seen running around. It offers great photo and observation value too. No, not dull :-)

After six years of gardenwatching at this window observation area, I know that some birds look for a landing spot before dropping to the ground and foraging for food. Yes they can land on the branches of a small Acer at the side of my pond (shown above) but when this is heavy with snow they have problems.

Taking the brief opportunity when the soil was still soft enough under the frosted top crust I found myself experimenting with the idea of a landing spot what would work during heavy snowfall. It needed to have enought space for Blackbirds to run around below it too. I found myself musing on a description for my home grown bamboo trapeze bar for my visiting birds.

Ah but there was another couple of reasons that I felt the need for a new winter structure in my border… there was ‘all change’ at my tiny garden pond.

In previous years I never kept the pump running all year. After my low voltage pump went faulty and we couldn’t replace it we had to set about with some mains wiring. Not being concerned about a box inside getting warm anymore I have left my pump running pretty much all of the time since it was put in earlier this year. As a result, we have running water when the bird baths are frozen. My low, bamboo landing strip will help birds get down to the running water.

After just few days, it is clear that this very simple structure will become a very popular feature to my winter garden for the birds, my gardenwatching and camera lenses. What fun this will be to watch. You can see my current observation window view above as it was yesterday morning. I wonder if anyone can spot all the feeders that can be seen – there are eleven ;-)

After some very cold nights, it is also clear that the birds have found this source of running water and some bickering with the Blackbirds has already begun. Yep… this new winter feature for my garden is popular with the residents and hopefully occasional visitors like the Long-tailed tits (that have been seen in the last week) will discover the water too.

Of course, I’ll need to keep a very close eye on this small trickle freezing over when the pump is still running. Perhaps this feature will be switched off should temps really plunge. It’s pretty chilly here already and icicles are forming over the mossy rocks. This could be a temporary winter feature but we'll enjoy it while it lasts :-)

So fingers crossed, that for a little while we can see birds drink and bathe from our observation window and the birds have a source of water to drink. It’s going to be difficult to walk away from the cameras and get other works done ;-)

Oh yes… the second reason for my winter bird structure… photo opportunities! I took a little time considering the height of the bar so I'd get frosted or snowy grass in the background. Yay... a result already... birds are sitting still on the bar and looking around for a moment or two as I watch them with my camera to hand. Yep... all change in the garden with new winter gardenwatching opportunities.

How’s your winter garden? Have you made any changes? What garden features are interesting you at the moment? Have you anything growing in your greenhouse just now or is it stuffed with overwintering tender plants? My next ‘not so chilly garden day’ has to be tidying mine! Wishing you a great weekend :-D

It was late last night when I finished writing this post so decided I'd give it a quick read through again in the morning. Lol... how fortunate was that... it was all change again for my garden window observation view. Yep, we have a lovely dusting of snow now. I just had to put the outside lights on to grab a quick photo.

As I finally go to hit the publish button for this blog, I have just seen a Blackbird bathing in the small area of water that trickles into my tiny pond. Brrrr.. on saying that its not so very cold as it has been over the last few days. The bathing Blackbird then went on to perch on my newly installed landing strip for a quick preen and another Blackbird joind him. Yep... this winter border is not going to be dull at all :-)

Off now to get a warm bowl of porridge and a nice cup of tea! The light isn't so good just now for taking photos so I'll just relax with my breakfast at the window and enjoy the antics outside. I'll enjoy my porridge even more knowing that I have provided food and water for the hungry birds too.

So, for a second time... I'd like to wish you a great weekend. Stay warm and safe and enjoy your window views too :-D

This post was published by Shirley for shirls gardenwatch in December 2012.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

New bird seed mix, new Coeliac & Blogaversary

Would you ever believe it - gluten free bird food? I kid you not. Okay… perhaps I am slightly, however Blackbirds were feasting and fighting over pieces of gluten free breakfast health bar in my garden yesterday morning (homemade with rice flakes, apple juice, butter, soft brown sugar, eggs, nibbled almonds, sunflower seeds, chopped figs and dates).

A short time later the Starlings arrived and the early morning diners had to run away with their posh breakfast grub. Needless to say, it wasn’t long before the dish was empty! Yep, once birds like the Starlings find something to their liking they don’t forget and the food doesn’t last long.

Feeding birds is an added expense to the household budget - especially at this time of year. I absolutely appreciate this as I experiment with a variety of foods and more bird species find my garden feeders. I have been considering my choices of foods in regard to best value for bird species and money. I have been closely watching the birds feeding in my garden for six years now.

During the winter our diets change to hearty, warm meals - here in Scotland anyway. All the bird websites, books and nature programmes tell us that birds need hearty, high energy foods to keep them warm when winter takes hold too. Birds need to build up enough energy through feeding to survive a cold night.

During years of shortages in natural food sources birds can come to rely on the foods available in our gardens. I am guessing this is one of these years as we had never seen the Great Spotted Woodpecker in our garden until recently. Now we have a least one regular female visiting daily and our temperatures have yet to get proper chilly!

Wishing not to waste household food like the breakfast bar above (which I considered reasonably high energy) I guessed the birds might try it if I cut it into beak sized pieces. If they hadn’t eaten it during the day, I would have removed it as leftover foods like this has the potential to attract unwelcome visitors such as rats. I would apply the same rule to bread too.

Wishing not to waste money and energy on bird seed at my garden feeders and tables I have tended to favour sunflower hearts over mixed seed mixes over the years. Unless they become damp and stick together, I find sunflower hearts are always eaten and are popular with most of our regulars. They can be expensive so this year I am trying to supplement this with a small group of peanut feeders for when the sunflower hearts run out quickly. This is working well for now and my garden is buzzing with bird life.

Taking a good guess, more people are likely to put out food for the birds at this time of year. When the garden plants die down and bird activity is more noticeable, the idea of hanging up bird feeders or putting out a bird table can sound an attractive idea. I would absolutely recommend it too with the added incentive that the birds do need our help.

Okay, despite all that I promote here on my blog… I’m going to be completely honest and truthful here – there are some unattractive things about putting bird feeders out too!

Weeds can be classed as plants just growing in places where they aren’t wanted. What I don’t want in a bird seed is uneaten food falling or being tossed in to my borders, cracks in paving and through my shrubs. This seed usually germinates and then when your gardening back is turned a weedy wonderland grows! It’s for this reason that I have not favoured mixed bird seed mixes.

Yes, I have heard (but not tried) that by putting bird seed in an oven you can sterilize it and then uneaten seed won’t germinate. Does it work? I couldn’t tell you – has anyone tried this?

Yes, I have used the ‘no mess’ mixed seed varieties. Did they work? I think to a degree they seemed to work (it’s been a while now) but I found the birds didn’t find all the seeds to their liking. The smaller grains were left uneaten which I then had to clear away… so food energy and money was wasted.

When an email came in from the RSPB headquarters in Sandy, Bedfordshire asking me if I would be interested in testing “a new extra table mix that has 10% more energy than standard RSPB Table mix” that has recently gone on sale, I instantly thought that it might be fun to experiment with this in my garden. Could they actually convert me to a mixed seed mix?

Would the birds visiting my garden find this new mix to their liking was the question? “We added a higher proportion of smaller and husk-free seeds such as sunflower hearts, oats and millet, making it easier to eat.” Would there be any waste though? That’s what I want to know. I also want to know if this mix will attract any new birds to my garden. Lol… yes I want it all ;-)

My seed sample came last Friday (thank-you RSPB) and I have to say early indications in my seed trial suggest my bird visitors might just be approving. However, I have some experiments I wish to do to thoroughly test this seed in the variety of locations and feeders in my garden. I want to compare it against sunflower hearts too. Lol… expect a lengthy, illustrated review when I'm done :-)

The minute I opened my seed bag and spotted the black sunflower hearts I knew who my first diner would be – I was correct. Lol… it began with one Coal tit :-)

This morning the blackbirds enjoyed another gluten free breakfast option. The Starlings turned up on cue as expected too. It was eaten even quicker today! I’ve an airtight container that will provide a couple more breakfasts over the coming days. Providing tasty gluten free food for a newly diagnosed Coeliac – well that’s another matter!

Last Monday, we got the unexpected news that my youngest (training to be a chef) daughter has Coeliac disease. Having never come across this in anyone I know I’d welcome any tips anyone has to share – for others too. Please drop me an email if you are unable to leave a comment and I’ll add your comment here. We have much to learn and adapt to.

As with bird foods (added expense in household budgets) gluten free foods are on the expensive side and what is needed here is tasty food with no waste if possible. My daughter has joined the Coeliac Society UK and is now awaiting her welcome pack with food and drink directory. This directory is going to be invaluable when grocery shopping.

We’ve browsed a local health food shop for basics, browsed gluten free food isles in supermarkets to see what they have and back in the kitchen a store cupboard has been rearranged to accomodated different ingredients and instant food choices. Lots of airtight containers were involved :-)

Although we can aceess recipes online and are able to buy books cheaper there too, we have also browsed bookshops and bought a gluten free recipe book. As you will have guessed from above - the first home baking trial wasn’t to my daughter's liking. I didn’t like it either. However, I am always up for a challenge and currently focusing on finding ways to continue providing as many favourite family meals as possible by adapting them. This food trial is going to be a true labour of love for me.

My blog has also been a labour of love over the last six years. I have enjoyed storytelling, taken many photos, captured much video and have experimented with layout and content. There is always something I want to add or adapt should I have more time. Gosh… and I have a huge backlog of unseen stuff I want to share… one day :-)

Due to lots of difficult personal stuff over the last year and a bit, my posts have been unpredictable and sparse. I’d like to say A HUGE THANK-YOU to everyone who has continued to visit and comment especially when my blog visiting has been on the quiet side. I really appreciate your loyalty. I have been very fortunate to come across so many fellow enthusiastic, kind and caring people over the last six years.

My 6th Blogaversary came on the day my daughter was diagnosed as a Coeliac. Understandably, my thoughts were elsewhere and I didn’t post a blog to mark it. However, I had planned ahead the night before by buying a cake which I photographed for my post. Spookily, we ate a piece then too not knowing what the next day would bring. My family had fun with a card and I put seven candles on my cake as I saw my blogaversary as stepping into a 7th year of Blogging. I was looking forward. I still am :-)

This Gardenwatching blog has opened my eyes in many ways over the last six years. To think it all began with pictures of the little chap above :-)

Regarding feeding garden birds, I hope my enthusiasm has helped others to experiment with foods and feeders too. My ultimate two tips would be to keep bird feeders clean and to be patient - don't give up if you don’t see birds come to your feeders right away. I’d add to that, don’t be frightened to move your feeders and mix up the bird foods you put out as then you are more likely to attract a wider variety of species especially during the cold winter months.

I often remember one past post title “if you build it they will come” in relation to a new Nestcam birdbox. What will come to my garden during year seven and where will my blog take me? Now that is indeed the question… hopefully back to garden visiting as I’ve missed sharing that. Wherever we go, I’d like to invite you to join us. Lol… thinking of you and my late nights at the PC, I’ll worker harder at shorter regular posts ;-)

Year seven… here we come!

This post was published by Shirley for shirls gardenwatch in November 2012.

Friday, 16 November 2012

Shy female Great Spotted Woodpecker

A 30 second video clip of a female Great Spotted Woodpecker at a garden feeder, although a very special first for me, would have taken the limelight away from a star sighting in my lengthy last post. So yes, you were right Sue, the ‘W’ was for Woodpecker too :-)

What’s really special about this video capture is that it highlights the one concern I have about seeing quite few glimpses of this nervous, exciting to see, bird at my feeders. Nesting time is my concern. The Woodpecker will raid nests and nestboxes for eggs and young and I have a nestbox in my garden that is favoured by the little Blue tit which is seen above feeding happily with the Woodpecker.

Oh dear… it’s a case of being careful with what you wish for. Introducing our new (shy) regular at the bird feeders, a female Great Spotted Woodpecker…

Seeing as it’s the weekend, I’ll keep this short like my video clip above. If you’ve more time and missed my last ‘I spy’ post you can see it here. The photos here are screen captures from the video clip. My weekend challenge is to capture photos with my camera – if I’m quick enough. If it’s dry I might get some garden tidying up and the winter duvet on my Gunnera to protect it.

Wishing you a great weekend :-) I know at least one other blogger that is trying to capture video footage of a Great Spotted Woodpecker at garden feeders - Good luck John! Have you any challenges and garden works planned? Lol... Mrs Woodpecker below is thinking about it ;-)

This post was published by Shirley for shirls gardenwatch in November 2012.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

I spy with my little eye… something beginning with ‘W’

Would it be the white stripe on the back of the speedy Coal tits darting through almost every tree and shrub in my garden just now? …Nope :-)

Would it be the white cheeks of the Coal tits as they briefly slow down before changing direction through the wonderful coral stems of my Acer tree? …Nope :-)

Would it be the white collar of the rather tropical looking Goldfinches that impatiently queue to get a feeder space? …Nope :-)

Would it be the white spots on the back of the black tail of these charming Goldfinches? Lol… you need to be quick to spot them ;-) …Nope :-)

Okay, yes, I’m playing a game with you now… but the ending is good! Through my last six years gardenwatching, I have found spotting and identifying birds in/from our garden great fun. I would definitely recommend this as something for young families especially ahead of the RSPB’s annual Big Garden Birdwatch which takes place during the last weekend in January.

The game I play with my garden visitors is by moving the feeders around from time to time (this reduces the spread of disease below) and in changing the foods I put out depending on the time of year. I have great fun setting new feeding areas up - also as I wait to see who will discover the food first.

I spy with my little eye… something beginning with ‘W’… Window views? Yes… you’re getting warm now ;-)

Spying birds in overlooking garden trees when you don’t have mature trees in your garden can be fun but tricky too (remember they don’t count in the RSPB Birdwatch). These overlooking trees act as a great viewpoint to activity in gardens which will bring birds to your feeders. From my window view, I nearly completely missed seeing the Robin above until it moved its head :-)

I spy with my little eye… something beginning with ‘W’…

A window view... way out into the distance? Oh yes… getting hot now! The tree photo above has been cropped to show two birds spotted on Sunday. This is a very large tree that can be seen from my window – fortunately this one doesn’t overlook my garden! I was also fortunate that I was looking at my window at this particular time :-)

I spy with my little eye… something beginning with ‘W’… Winter visitors? Yes… burning hot now!

Here in the UK, berries in gardens and parks can bring in winter visitors like Redwings and Fieldfares especially when the temperatures drop. The answer to this ‘I Spy’ post is a special Scandinavian winter visitor which has recently arrived in parts of the UK.

On Sunday, I spied with my little eye… something beginning with ‘W’… WAXWINGS!!!!! Okay, so it was only two Waxwings and a distant view at that, but I'm delighted that they have been in my area – even if it’s only been for a short while. I suspect this pair are part of a bigger group nearby somewhere. It is also possible they have just been passing through.

It seems, due to food shortages, every few years this bird will travel away from its normal winter range to the UK and further south into Europe. That's what makes Waxwing sightings sought after in the birding community. Of course, once images of these striking pinkish brown birds with distinctive colour markings appear in local newspapers etc then interest and fascination to see these visitors in gardens and towns spreads.

Above is a cropped, screen grab from the short piece of video footage shown below. It was the head with pointed crest and its size, that I could just make out in the distance, which made me pick up cameras to get images to confirm I was actually seeing Waxwings from my lounge window!

Can you spy with your little eye… a Waxwing (Bombycilla garrulus) preening in the sunshine high up in a tree in the video below?

I spy with my little eye… something beginning with ‘W’… Winter feeding? Please conintue reading... this game isn't finished yet. There's more Waxwing chat and images to come ;-)

Coming right back to outside my window, also on Sunday, a Blackbird was spotted feasting on berries from my small Cotoneaster tree. I planted this tree especially for the birds and do enjoy seeing them eat the berries. Note the detail in my photo captures where the Blackbird’s tongue can be seen in the first image and the berry gets squished in the second.

Here in the UK, it’s not just berries in gardens and parks that bring in winter visitors like Redwings, Fieldfares and Waxwings to feed. Orchards and gardens with fallen fruit like apples can become invaded by groups of feeding birds too.

Back in 2010, inspired by a blog post with fantastic close-up Waxwing feeding images from the Fair Isle (an island in northern Scotland, lying around halfway between mainland Shetland and the Orkney Islands) I tried a feeding experiment with apples (bought from my local supermarket). I didn’t get lucky – but the fun was in trying.

Through Twitter feeds I read last Saturday, I discovered 2012 is a year that Waxwings were being seen in the UK. Thinking of Tommy’s Fair Isle Blog once again I went shopping for apples as my small offering of berries that the Blackbirds were raiding had no chance of attracting Waxwings to my garden.

Since my first 2010 Waxwings sightings, we have a homemade feeding station that consists of good sized, pruned Rowan branches from a tree in my garden which are bolted to a 4x4 inch post in the ground. I hang a mix of bird feeder types and foods on this natural looking feeding station that is positioned next to an established clump forming bamboo.

Since Saturday, I have cored apples, (with a thin slice off the top) spiked through some of my feeder branches which is seen in my video and image above. Wow… would I love to get images of Waxwings from here!

So how do you know where to look for Waxwings? Well, perhaps taking a scroll through the Twitter feed at @WaxwingsUK might list sightings in your area. Funnily enough Car Parks, where berries may be found, are a common location and City Centres too. The website BIRDNET is also another place that lists sightings that’s worth a look.

Finally, I have kept the very best to last (in my opinion anyway). The video below is really, really worth a look. It is very special. Two years on I’m back looking at Tommy’s Fair Isle blog but this time I’ve a video that he’s taken. You’ve got to see and hear this…

Was that not just brilliant? Did you hear that car alarm like sound? That’s what I thought I was hearing until I looked up to the tree to my sighting of a large group of Waxwings back in 2010. What a surprise I got that day and that’s my tip for locating Waxwings – listen out for them :-)

I wish Tommy could have seen the smile I gave on hearing his video alone. As for seeing Waxwings feeding from his hand…

I spy with my little eye… something beginning with ‘W’… a WISHLIST!!!

This post was published by Shirley for shirls gardenwatch in November 2012.

Friday, 9 November 2012

Friday gardenwatch catch-up

In hindsight, I was feeling a bit sad when I browsed through many images (taken on the same day) for my previous Wordless post and I guess the power and draw of one single image showed. Yes, looking now at the tired and tearful Anemone I can see that it reflected pretty accurately myself at that time and perhaps a different blog title would have been more appropriate like “Sad moments” or ‘Missing you”.

Only some blog visitors will know the reason for my sadness, I mentioned a dedication in a post at the time. Seven weeks ago my Dad died suddenly after a short illness. The day after posting the Anemone image a new wave of sadness engulfed me whilst driving. I am really missing my Dad now. Perhaps this image from my garden unlocked emotions that I have been keeping back.

“but when the bright sun shines on the late autumn colours they can still take your breath away!!” was the comment from Gerry at The Potters House Penketh  on the sorry looking Anemone flower in my last post. Absolutely true, Gerry! On that same day, my camera captured vibrant colour and blooms that did exactly that…

I wanted to readdress the sadness behind my last post with happiness and life that goes on. I have many happy memories of my Dad – he was quite a character. He enjoyed hearing what I was up to in my garden and what visitors came too.

I’m very happy with the way the colours are mixing in my sunnier front garden above. Below my back garden holds lots of little gems if you take closer look…

Although my blog posts have been quiet, my gardenwatching has not! I love this change of pace in the garden at this time of year. Yes, it is sad to see the plants begin to die down for another year but at the same time views of garden bird visitors are getting clearer.

During the last few weeks numbers of the tiny Coal tits have been on the increase. They are at all the different feeders eating fat cake, peanuts, peanut butter and sunflower hearts. The speed at which they have been flying about has been mesmerising! They are definitely the entertainers just now.

Since the spotting of the first Male Great Spotted Woodpecker to be seen in my garden I’ve been sitting with breakfast at my window eagerly hoping to catch some video. Alas – no joy. However one morning a female Great Spotted Woodpecker dropped by and I captured some shaky footage of her. She didn’t feed at all but perhaps she’ll come back as she saw the feeders :-)

The first image below won’t play the video but shows where to select the better quality HD image when viewing the actual video below it. It does make a difference especially when you see the speed of the coal tits at the sunflower feeder! You can see the timid Woodpecker next and at the end of the video there is another special regular visitor at breakfast time – the shy wren. Enjoy…

Finally, there have been occasional visits from another acrobatic entertainer to the garden over the last month. Back in October one grey squirrel was enjoying the sunshine as well as peanuts!

A wet day at the beginning of November saw a more nervous grey squirrel with a very thin tail sit around for ages before going to feed for a brief while at a tray of sunflower hearts at a low bird table. Being spooked by a Blackbird it returned to its lookout spot where it remained almost statue still for two hours. That’s more committed gardenwatching than I do!!

I’ve enjoyed this gardenwatching catch up. I genuinely enjoy sharing what can visit a garden if you creatively locate plants and bird feeders. This morning I was out being creative with apples in an attempt to attract any possible Waxwings flying over - should they be in my area. Oh yes… and I keep forgetting to say, there’s been a roosting Blue tit in our camera nestbox a while now :-)

I also enjoy sharing other seasonal spectacles outside the garden too – can you guess what’s coming soon? I’ve been ages editing down 66 video clips of this. What garden and seasonal spectacles are you enjoying where you are at the moment? Wishing you a great weekend to enjoy them :-D

This post was published by Shirley for shirls gardenwatch in November 2012.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Wordless Wednesday - Dirty garden whites

Autumn repaints the picture.

This post was published by Shirley for shirls gardenwatch in November 2012.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Oh my… a Great Spotted Woodpecker pops by!

Yesterday’s late breakfast companion took me completely by surprise. Wow… this is a species I have never expected to visit my garden. Fortunately, whilst preparing breakfast in my kitchen, I paused to look out the window en route to the fridge and spotted the male Great Spotted Woodpecker feeding from a peanut feeder. I can’t deny I got a tad excited and ran for a camera!

My photos aren’t as clear as they might be due to the window angle from my kitchen window but I do have a record of this visit so I’m delighted. This fine looking bird is a male Great Spotted Woodpecker.

Looking up my first (and still) favourite RSPB BIRDFEEDER GUIDE, I see that Great Spotted Woodpeckers will take suet and peanuts from garden feeders and my photo above is an example of that. I had a few fat balls in a little cage – I wonder if he fed from there too. I also wonder if yesterday was his first visit to my garden.

Being aware, that Great Spotted Woodpecker can raid nest boxes to eat the eggs and young I did consider if I should really be pleased that it has found its way to my garden. Then again, I may never see it again and it could have just passed through.

Reading through the profile page of this bird in my book, I see that outside the breeding season Great Spotted Woodpeckers live solitary lives and it is unlikely that I will see more than one at my feeders at any one time – that is should it return at all.

Trying to capture photos and video of the Great Spotted Woodpecker on visits to SWT Reserve Loch of the Lowes has always been fun and a challenge. At the visitor centre observation window, we would watch the Woodpeckers favour (non salted) peanut butter which staff would press into cracks on tree bark.

Having bought a tub of this peanut butter from the shop, I have experimented with it at my garden feeders by pressing the butter into pine cones which I jammed into spaces on tree branches. I also scattered some cones on the ground for blackbirds, robins and any other birds that might try it. I usually did this in winter however…

Not being able to resist a new bird feeding challenge, that might bring back the woodpecker, I cut a piece of log post to a size I could jam into a spot on my homemade feeder tree. I took a chisel and hammer and cut a good grove into the post. As you can see in the photo above, I pressed the peanut butter into the grove and decorated it with whole peanuts.

Birds can take a while to explore a new feeder, especially if they don’t recognise it as food – hence the whole peanuts. Now, I do expect Blue, Coal and Great tits to be interested in the whole peanuts and when they remove them they’ll get a taste for the peanut butter. I’ve seen these birds, Robins and Chaffinches all enjoy the peanut butter at Loch of the Lowes. I’ve seen Blue tits and Starlings enjoy the peanut butter in my garden in previous winters.

This is the part of gardenwatching that I really do enjoy. If you build it they will come… but who will the ‘they’ be that is the fun part. If I end up getting a regular Great Spotted Woodpecker visit my garden and it becomes a bit aggressive towards the other birds I’ll just change my feeding regime. I’ll also add the little metal plate at the entrance to my camera nestbox to deter any raids come nesting season.

So, when I can, I will now keep an eye out for any return visits by the Great Spotted Woodpecker to my garden for photo and video opportunities too. I’m also very keen to see who is first to try out the peanut butter in this new location. Roll on breakfast time ;-)

For those that missed my post back in July with images of a Great Spotted Woodpecker family seen from the observation window at Loch of the Lowes (note they are on Winter Opening of Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays only just now) you can see them here. What a delight this was to see, we had never seen juveniles or Mum feed them before. Oh… let’s add the video here too ;-) You can see that the female doesn’t have the crimson nape and the juvenile has a red crown. Enjoy…

This post was published by Shirley for shirls gardenwatch in October 2012.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Wordless Wednesday - dull October morning?

Perhaps not :-)

This post was published by Shirley for shirls gardenwatch in October 2012.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Early October visitor: Red Admiral Butterfly

After September’s new garden visitor the Comma butterfly to my sunnier front garden, the Red Admiral butterfly has now made an appearance or two for October! Hurrah for some sunny, dry afternoons/early evenings to get out and watch them… with a camera to hand of course ;-)

What a delight it is to see butterflies visiting the garden at any time of year. Ah... but I'd take a guess that I'm not the only one that finds visits at this time of year much more special with time and warm, sunny days fast disappearing for another butterfly and gardening year.

Yep... the weather is definitely turning and leaves were seen dropping from trees like a heavy snowfall yesterday. Then the heavy rain we were expecting followed. No butterflies spotted to catch my camera lenses yesterday and none likely today as the rain continues. However, last Sunday...

The pretty mauve flowers above that the Red Admirals are feeding on belong to Erysimum 'Bowles's Mauve'. This plant has seriously earned its place in my Scottish garden managing to flower for almost every month in the year – even with a good snow covering mauve flowers can be seen peeking out! I especially love seeing these flowers with frost on them as they look sugar coated and something I would decorate a special cake with.

Taking photos, especially close-ups, of wildlife visitors and flowers I have found to be a special experience. I definitely recommend it! I’ve discovered the small, pretty details and behaviour patterns that I never noticed at all before I began picking up my camera. What a lot I was missing :-)

Capturing photos of butterflies feeding on the springy stems of the Erysimum on breezy days has been a tad tricky that’s for sure. Then again, the butterflies flutter around so quickly from flower to flower making capturing video a bit of a challenge too as you will see below…

At least four Red Admiral individuals have been visiting regularly. Up to three Red Admirals have been seen feeding at the same time alongside two tatty looking Small Tortoiseshell butterflies and a variety of bees. I know there has been a fourth visitor as the tatty Red Admiral seen in my photos and video isn’t always spotted when the others are feeding.

For those who aren't able to watch the 2 minute video above, it begins with close-ups of the Red Admiral butterfly feeding/walking over heavy flower heads of sedum (not sure the variety) which are very popular just now too. The breeze is bobbing the sedum about too. You can see the tatty, Red Admiral feeding on the Erysimum but there are a couple of fun clips in there too like sunbathing on Heuchera and tongue sticking out on the front doorstep :-)

The large, tatty tear in the Red Admiral’s wing can be clearly seen in the first photo below. I saw that easily when taking my photos. However, in the second photo I didn’t notice until I had cropped my photo that the Red Admiral has a white underside to its head/chin which looks pretty. Lol… I also noticed it looks like its wearing fashionable, stripped socks! I’m guessing they are grippers of some kind helping them hold on during breezy days or upside down moments which I’ve noticed they do often – does anyone know?

Butterflies are seen sunbathing in my front garden on the brick house wall, windowsills, gravel on paths and rocks in borders. However, I loved the image below of a Red Admiral warming itself on ‘Marmalade’ Heuchera – that did make me smile :-)

I have been spreading ‘Marmalade’ around my shadier back garden for a few years now. I love it. I didn’t know how it would fair in the sunshine of my front garden but it seems to have coped okay with its leaves becoming much lighter in colour. Lol… you could say we have golden Marmalade here. Note how worn the black parts of this Red Admiral's wings are...

Another golden photo moment was of a soggy bee on this same Heuchera planting after a rain shower back in the middle of September. I guess as the sun came out it was hanging out there to dry out. Had I not spotted an even soggier bee on the sedum I wouldn’t have picked up my camera at all... and I would have missed this behaviour completely. The good news is that when I checked some time later, both bees were gone so I am assuming they had successfully dried out and buzzed away. I should have a fun competition for captions in these two photos...

Reading through the webpage on the Red Admiral Butterfly on the Butterfly Conservation Website, I see that fresh new butterflies can be seen from July right through to October and even into November. I doubt I’d see any that late, but now I will keep an eye out. Hibernating Butterflies start emerging from March/April. The reality for my garden is our main sightings are usually at the end of the season, then as quickly as they begin appearing… they disappear again.

The Foodplants section for the Red Admiral caught my eye…

”In Britain and Ireland the most important and widely available larval foodplant is Common Nettle (Urtica dioica). However Small Nettle (U. urens) and the related species, Pellitory-of-the-wall (Parietaria judaica) and Hop (Humulus lupulus) may also be used.”
Butterfly Conservation

What really caught my eye above was the Hop. I have this plant covering a structure just over the fence in my back garden. It’s been there a few years now and can be seen scrambling through plantings and even under the fence. I wonder… could it be responsible for the highest number of Red Admirals my garden has ever seen?

Looking through my basic pocket book on Butterflies & Moths I discovered Red Admirals can be seen in the autumn drinking from fallen fruit, including rotting apples. Now… it just so happened that I had a cored apple at my bird feeding station in my back garden. I removed it, cut it in half and placed the pieces on two warm spots beside rocks in my front garden where I’ve seen butterflies sunbathe.

Did I spot any butterflies feeding on the apple during a dry spell today? Nope… just a wasp. So, it’s safe to say I won’t be placing a piece of apple on my hand to attract a butterfly to feed on it... which I read they may do.

Viewing my newly uploaded Red Admiral video above, as per usual, a further list of similar videos were displayed on a column on the right. Here, I spotted an interesting video of a Red Admiral feeding on apple juice on a hand. Also in the list, I spotted footage of Red Admirals feeding on ivy flowers.

Now… on another structure in my back garden, my pergola, I have two varieties of ivy. Although, I keep the pillars trimmed for walking through, I let sections of the top grow as it pleases and… there is a good clump of flowers up there! The big question here is… will they open in time for the butterflies to feast on them? I’ll pay attention there now too :-)

Finally, I should mention my planting of sedum that is maturing nicely in my front garden. It goes through many pretty colour shades at different times of the day as the season goes on. At this time of year, I love the richness of the colours from the last rays of sunshine come early evening. That’s my favourite time to go out with my camera too.

Above you can see the Small Tortoiseshell butterfly which seems to join any other species that is feeding in my garden. It was seen feeding with the Red Admirals and was around the day the Comma Butterfly was spotted. I might say the Small Tortoiseshell is my favourite butterfly visitor despite the Comma sighting being very special arriving when it did.

Tell me, what are your favourite butterfly visitors? What species are visiting your garden and which plants are they enjoying at the moment? Perhaps you’ll get some warm sunny spells over the weekend and the time to get out watching what flutters by. You might find yourself with a camera to hand too... enjoy the challenge of capturing butterfly images :-)

This post was published by Shirley for shirls gardenwatch in October 2012.