Thursday, 31 January 2013

The Brambling and the peanut feeder

What fun it has been for the last six years observing the behaviour of visiting birds to my garden. Observational learning is what I have been doing but in my case the reward has been in seeing the variety of bird species arriving in my garden. I guess it’s quite apt that I take a bird break on a high point :-)

“Observational learning is when one animal can watch the actions of another and learn from those actions. This may be as simple as learning the location of a food source or as complicated as learning a sequence of actions that needs to be taken to earn a reward.

The most famous putative example of observational learning was the spread of the ability to open milk bottles, among blue tits, Parus caeruleus, and European robins, Erithacus rubeculain, in Great Britain. These birds learned to rob cream from the top of milk bottles during the early part of the 20th century, and the blue tits later adapted to the use of aluminum foil seals on the bottles, learning to tear them to access the cream. There are actually two hypotheses which could explain the increase in these behaviors: First, birds might observe other birds feeding in this manner and adopt the behavior. Second, each bird might, independently, discover this feeding option. This second possibility is particularly likely if a bottle opened by one bird serves as a clue to other birds that the bottles are food resources.”

Last week I was entertained for some time by the antics of what I thought was our regular male Brambling as it attempted to feed from a hanging peanut feeder. However, It wasn’t until the weekend when I was doing my Garden Birdwatch count that I spotted there were 3 males and a female around so it is possible that this wasn’t the Brambling seen with a female Reed Bunting during my count.

A group of three peanut feeders in my garden are popular with a wide variety of birds which include Blue tits, Coal tits and Great tits which you might expect. The Great Spotted Woodpecker and Starlings will also feed there getting a good grip on the metal cage and I have seen a Blackbird have a go on occasions.

However the peanut feeders in my garden are a hot spot for finches and Siskins can cover every space available – again fun to watch. I have also seen odd Goldfinches and Greenfinches feed here but never a male Chaffinch – the female Chaffinches could be a maybe.

More recently, perhaps due to no fat balls on offer this winter, House Sparrows are finding the peanut feeders a hot spot and it was groups of them that the male Brambling, shown above, was watching with great interest. Was this an example of Observational Learning?

I would take a guess that yes it could be as the Brambling had other options (much easier) to feed on. Did this Brambling rate the food choice by the House Sparrows as a good one and that is why it wasted energy that it needed on a cold winter’s day attempting to hold on to this feeder? I can only assume so. You have to see him try ...

Brambling video, 2min 35sec compilation with background music, try HD quality.

Another assumption I’d make based on my gardenwatch observational learning over the last six years is that garden birds do appreciate the cover of plants especially ones like evergreen shrubs and trees where they can hide from predators. I’m guessing that’s why many people with a new house build garden find their new bird tables unvisited as the new young plants need time to grow. The birds will come.

A garden matures in many ways through use from all its residents. My eldest daughter had just celebrated her first birthday when we moved into this one and through observational learning my garden adapted as my daughters grew. I had great fun with this too.

During February I want to take a look back at the many changes my garden has seen. I do like the idea of a Memory Lane Month and if I get organised enough I might invite other bloggers to join me too. I’ve wanted to do this for some time now. After listening to other bloggers ask how can blogs stay fresh after many years I’ve decided this may be a refreshing spell during a dull month for many who find winter hard and long for summer days.

During March, I will return to the garden birds and wildlife that have distracted me from ironing, other household chores and gardening! It’s been a nice distraction, where I’ve learnt a lot about garden birds. Oh no… my dear garden blogging friends, I’ve not been an expert in this area at all. I have been an observational learner and what fun the last six years have been to share with you all – thank-you for joining me :-D

Wishing you all a great weekend! To my gardening friends, I'm looking forward to reconnecting with you all again soon! To my nature friends, see you in a month (unless something exciting visits the garden). Please do watch the video above as it is for you. Previous posts you might have missed include my birdcount results, snow shelter table and mixed seed trial. Enjoy your Winter visitors and if you are interested in hearing all about Waxwings do pop over to ShySongbird's Nature News there's a great post there :-D

This post was published by Shirley for shirls gardenwatch in January 2013.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

2013 RSPB Birdwatch Results

Before we get to the (exciting late entry) results from the shirls gardenwatch, Perthshire Garden let’s take a look at who opted out during my one hour count.

The now regular female Great Spotted Woodpecker chose to pop by early morning missing out on her chance to be included. The pre count regular small group of Long-tailed Tits weren’t seen all weekend and haven’t been seen since which is a pity as they were very entertaining to watch.

Watching out for the all year round, regular Dunnocks was tricky with the depth of snow we had making it difficult to see them in the edges they favour like under my hedge. I suspect they were there. It’s not surprising at all that they were once known as Hedge Sparrows. So the Dunnock didn’t appear in my count nor did the wished for lone Fieldfare who has been seen outside my garden – but it was spotted just after!

It’s perhaps not difficult to guess why our regular garden birds opt out during our counts over the Birdwatch weekend. Successful promotion of this event had a staggering 600,000 submitted counts last year and with mentions in all media from local newspapers to Twitter word gets round to people who perhaps don’t normally feed the birds but like the idea of taking part.

So our garden regulars are perhaps spoilt for food choices during the weekend of the Birdwatch? Like others, I suspect so. Our garden birds will have no loyalty whatsoever to all of us who go out every morning (in all weather) to top up and clean feeders. Many would agree that it’s disappointing when the count doesn’t match a normal day in the garden.

Some might also say that doing a count when there is snow on the ground could give an inaccurate count. However, this also gives a picture of the birds that are struggling to find food during harsh winter conditions when unexpected species arrive in gardens. All the stats we supply the RSPB help towards understanding our UK bird population and has value for conservation.

Choosing to do my bird count with the good covering of snow we had on Saturday (knowing it might rain on Sunday) I was hoping that we’d see the now regular winter visiting Bramblings who have been at the feeders for a while now. Four were spotted on my neighbours overlooking tree but I could only confirm that one was spotted at my feeders during my count. I was delighted – but there was another surprise to come during the last five minutes of my count.

Thanks to watching extra closely for my Birdwatch count I spotted a bird that I would have probably missed visit completely. Spookliy, my photos below show this surprise visitor was quite familiar with one of my feeders too! I wonder how often she has been visiting. Fortunately my camera was to hand as initially I wasn’t sure what I was seeing.

Once zoomed in on my photos I started to suspect a female Reed Bunting and image searches confirmed my ID. Wow… this took my species count to 14 which is the best so far… and I had a new visitor too! A male Reed Bunting made a brief appearance in the same tree back during the heavy snows of January 2011 (but went nowhere near the feeders) and his visit helped me in my ID guess.

My stats in the image below show a good representation of the bird species visiting my garden just now although not accurate in numbers where the finches are concerned. We get large groups of finches visiting just now and after the count was over… down they all came! Ah well… I was still very happy with my count and as expected Chaffinches still reign top bird in my garden :-)

Although grainy zoomed in images in the montage below, they might help anyone else ID a female Reed Bunting. I know the duller, not perfect images have helped me in the past – note the reddish markings. Note the dark outline shape in the tree where I first spotted her en route to the sunflower heart feeder too.

What a great few garden captures of a female Reed Bunting happily feeding with a Brambling, Goldfinch and Chaffinch I got. I still can’t believe I was seeing this at all in my garden far less during my one hour count!

She was completely at home with the feeder ports too – amazing considering this is a bird with a habitat of reed beds, wet pastures and marshes. It seems that in winter, the Reed Bunting will sometimes look for food when deprived of their natural resources due to snow and ice. Although, it is expected to look on the ground for the sunflower hearts and seeds - not at a feeder!

During my count, taken 10:45-11:45 am last Saturday, the weather revealed our first blue sky in ages and with the sun out too I already expected many birds could chose to sunbathe and not appear at the feeders.

Shortly after, a single bird high in a distant tree caught my eye. I guess I should have considered it to be the lone Fieldfare I keep hoping will feed on the fruit available in my garden. Not being able to make out what bird this was I got out my video camera - although the zoom is limited.

On selecting the spot metering option on my video camera the dark shape revealed an out of focus Fieldfare having this huge tree all to itself. Then… a group of Starlings dropped down to branches just below it and started preening. The Fieldfare paid them no attention. It wasn’t interested in the fast approaching newcomer either as it came straight towards it, then right round behind it deliberately knocking it off the branch.

The Fieldfare just moved further down the tree beside the other Starlings - again being completely uninterested in them. It went back to surveying the area from on high until… another newcomer Starling swooped in came in too close behind. At this point the Fieldfare had had enough of the badly behaved Starlings and flew off… if only it had come to my garden… everyone was behaving here ;-)

I hope everyone that took part in the 2013 RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch enjoyed it as much as I did. I’ve enjoyed seeing the results and comments other bloggers have put up too. I wonder if anyone else saw an unexpected bird visitor during the hour? I wonder even more, if anyone else sees Reed Buntings in their gardens?

This post was published by Shirley for shirls gardenwatch in January 2013.

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Snowy shelter and garden visitors

Taking the full garden tour last weekend was a male Pheasant, will he return to be counted this weekend? LOL... not likely, the birds usually take a garden break during my window break to record what bird species and how many can be seen at any one time during an hour, in my garden.

Living in a tightly packed housing estate near the edge of a small town this isn’t a regular garden visitor so he was watched with great interest. That’s the one positive side of snow - it brings with it unexpected winter visitors and larger numbers of the garden regulars!

The image above is a screen grab from the video below.

Pheasant video above, 2min 6sec compilation with background music, try HD quality.

High above the ground feeder that caught Mr Pheasant’s eye there was a buzz of activity with Long-tailed tits bouncing off three hanging peanut feeders. Grouping the feeders like this has definitely made them more popular than a single one in three locations.

Long-tailed tits video above, 2min 6sec compilation with background music, try HD quality.

High above the deliberate grouping of peanut feeders that caught the Long-tailed tits attention, way up in a neighbours overlooking tree, another winter visitor was spotted some time later. This winter visitor I was looking for and had fruit out to attract. It did come down to it too but as I moved to get my camera it flew off. However I was still delighted to capture, albeit dull, my first video of this visitor up in the tree. It looked like it was calling to others.

Fieldfare video above, 30sec single clip with background music, try HD quality.

Today (Friday) we’ve had a good covering of snow, the type that weighs down tree branches and requires a serious clearing to get a car back in the drive. Last Friday when snow was predicted overnight, I covered one of my small ground feeders with my original jelly box hedgehog feeding station (previously protecting a gunnera) to keep the seed visible and dry for the birds come morning. This idea worked well. However we only had a light dusting of snow then.

During the early morning filling of feeders I decided to scatter some seed under my very short legged large ground feeder that was sited on forest bark chippings beneath a seed feeder (to catch spill). I had noticed that a dip had developed underneath the tray and had seen small birds go under looking for food.

Today, with our heavier snowfall a Woodpigeon was trying to get under this table as you will see in the montage below. However, it was the Pheasant that had this idea first and he who gave me inspiration for the simple snowy shelter bird feeder shown below.

The original plan was to use two unused fence post ends sitting in my shed. Last weekend, my OH was tasked with cutting them in two to give me four table legs. I then requested a piece of exterior plywood (again spare) to be cut in a rectangle for the table top. Having such strong materials meant the table had weight and could take any bursts of wind from around the side of the house.

Once the table was sighted near the flowing water from my small pond, I could see I could use the top as a feeding area too. A fruit platter was laid out in the hope that a Fieldfare might pop by. Watching from my viewing window I could see my simple table needed some practical features. Blackbirds were slipping on the surface of the plywood when they tried to land.

I always recycle tree branch prunings in my garden and it was clear to me a couple of pieces nailed to the top would work as good landing spots. I set to work nailing them on with one tight to the surface and another a raised bar.

As you will see above, I also nailed a branch to a table leg to make a an upright spike for a couple of apples. This also acted as a perch for birds to land and a signpost to advertise the fruit for periods when snow was partially covering it on the table top.

A further addition of an extra small piece of branch tucked in to the larger gave a pocket that I could add peanut butter (natural) for the Blackbirds who have taken a liking to it. Would they find it under the snow though? Oh yes, very quickly too! Of course, not far behind them were the Starlings as you will see from the video below.

Oh yes… this snowy shelter bird table did it’s job even better than I expected. It was now a double decker of a feeding table and below the food stayed dry just as I hoped. With the table being heavy and solid the birds don’t move it as the use it and they’ve very quickly mastered the gaps when running/flying off/in. Take a look…

Snow shelter video above, 1min 29sec compilation with background music, try HD quality.

Further to the action above, a Mistle Thrush was spotted feeding on the fruit early this morning. I did capture video of this first garden feeding sighting but alas had a technical mishap when transferring from camera to PC and lost it. Aw well… should we still have snow over the weekend we could see it again but the forecast is for rain now.

We’ve been very lucky here, we’ve had snow but it hasn’t caused too much travel disruption until tonight. Tonight the garden is very heavy laden with snow but tomorrow morning the Blackbirds and other ground feeding birds will have easy acess to food via this new snowy shelter – it really is working a treat as is the bamboo landing bar too.

The image above was taken mid afternoon and much more snow came after this.

So this weekend the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch has finally arrived and if we have still have snow my count could be quite interesting. However, I might need a friend to help count the many Chaffinches who feed in all areas! If you are taking part with a count, have fun :-D

Wishing you a good weekend, stay safe and warm. Gosh, I kid you not… it’s almost midnight and I’ve just spotted something out of my window. There is movement out of the pockets in the snow around my little pond. Can you guess what it is?

This post was published by Shirley for shirls gardenwatch in January 2013.

Friday, 18 January 2013

RSPB TABLE MIX EXTRA trial results

Reviewing products is new to me, but as this one comes down to spending money from the household budget versus garden birds getting extra food from feeders in our gardens to survive a cold night in winter… I have taken on this task seriously! Okay… I had fun too ;-)

My first thoughts went to… Did this product do what it said on the packaging? The RSPB TABLE MIX EXTRA claimed that Robins, Blackbirds, Song Thrushes, Sparrows, Doves etc would eat it. I would say that it did :-)

My usual suspects, in garden bird terms, don’t include the shy Song Thrushes - they are more in the category of occasionally seen garden visitor. Doves? Well, Collared Doves have periods when they visit but Doves can’t really be included in the usual suspect list either. However, putting out a new food source can attract new visitors to the garden and that that’s what attracted me to accepting the bag of seed from the kind peeps at RSPB headquarters in Sandy, Bedfordshire.

Taking one look in this mixed seed bag I instantly knew who my first customer would be. I was right too… Coal tits, in my garden, can’t resist black sunflower hearts! A mixed bag, in weather terms, was likely at the end of November/beginning of December in my Scottish garden too. That predication also came true too and was excellent for both my trial and birds that had flocked to my garden due to the freezing temperatures.

Let’s take a look at the mixed seed fest in action through a few small video clips. Remember you can select a clearer HD quality through the ‘gear’ symbol at the bottom RHS of the video. You’ll see the difference on the title text and then know you have it for the clips. We start with a sleet/snow shower and lots of Chaffinches which are the top bird in Scottish Gardens. Note the dissatisfied customer at the very end of the video… it enjoyed a drink though ;-)

Drinking water is also necessary for garden birds especially during winter when puddles, pools and ponds freeze over. I always wondered if visiting grey squirrels would drink from my pond and the video above shows they do – that was a garden first. Oh my… I wonder if there is the tiniest chance that a red squirrel would be thirsty enough to search gardens for water (she sighs).

This is the first year that I have had a pond pump running in my small, rock pool garden pond. You could say this is a trial too. Will my pond pump keep running during the very cold temperatures and can such a small waterfall trickle keep going? If so, just who will find this water source… my very own window Winterwatch and (lol) the cameras will be there catching all the action ;-)

Ah… (I hear you) but this is a mixed bird seed trial post? Yes, it is but when it comes to bird food sources in a garden, my thoughts are, location is key to its success. Positioning a new bird food that claims to attract Robins, Blackbirds, Song Thrushes and Sparrows just cried out to be on the ground and there could be no better place to start than beside running water. My theory worked too as you'll have seen from my video.

I began my mixed seed trial with a small mesh ground feeder that I bought for feeding hedgehogs which the birds are used to. There was another nearby that continued to have sunflower hearts so I could observe what the birds would do with choice.

The Coal tits instantly took ownership of this feeder with such speedy trips back and forth by numerous individuals that no other birds had a look in. Blackbirds then began investigating when I stopped the supply of sunflower hearts in the other tray and the Coal tits had removed all the black sunflower hearts. The Coal tits were probably caching the hearts somewhere to come back to and eating only the occasional one at the time.

Blackbirds now squabbled over the seed mix - scattering it as they do at the same time. Robins began investigating the mix. The weather changed and snow came next. Expecting considerably more interest in the ground feeding tray, the small mess feeder was replaced by a larger ground feeding bird table that was previously located below hanging seed feeders of sunflower hearts to catch fallen seed. The video above shows that the bigger the area of seed available, the more birds will feed from it with many birds catching the spill.

The image above (not taken during my trial or this morning) gives a bigger window view and illustrates the locations of other feeders and choices the birds had when I ran my mixed seed trial. The large ground tray can be seen back at its location under 3x hanging peanut feeders and 1x sunflower heart feeder.

There was a fat cake feeder (enjoyed by a now regular female Great Spotted Woodpecker) and to the left a log tied to a pine tree with a trench cut out for peanut butter. I continued to put this food out as I thought it was important to show that a mix of feeders and foods brings in a mix of birds. I wanted to see how many species would feed from the table mix I was trialling given the numbers that visited my garden and that these birds had choices already.

There is a standard bird table on the right and a low one front, right too. For the first few days of my trial I continued to put sunflower hearts at these tables to observe any changes. Nothing changed. I then offered the table seed mix to all tables and you could go dizzy watching the Coal tits!

Chaffinches, Siskins, House sparrows, Blue tits, Great tits, Robins, Blackbirds, Woodpigeons and Dunnocks were all seen visiting the main standard table. The mix started to go down. The lower table is always quieter (except for Coal tits) but saw plenty of interest too. This tells me that if you could only afford to put out one seed for the birds on your table then this RSPB Table Mix Extra would feed a good mix of birds.

That being said, I would tempted to suggest that adding one hanging peanut feeder (wire mesh) would help make your seed mix last longer and leave more for the Blackbirds, Robins etc. Feeding at peanut feeders in my garden I see Blue tits, Coal tits, Great tits, Long tailed tits (in winter), Chaffinches, Greenfinches, Siskins, Goldfinches and House Sparrows. That's my tip for garden visitors during next weekend's RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch and if you get food out this weekend the birds should find it in time for your count. Lol... no I don't work for the RSPB ;-)

Okay… now to the practical side of my mixed seed trial and this will be of more interest to those already feeding birds. I have used mixed seed in the past but prior to using this mix I was only using sunflower hearts and peanuts and there has been a reason for this. I don’t like the mess that can come with mixed seed mixes and I don’t like being left with the small round seed that the birds seem fussy about.

On the positive, when my trial table seed mix got frosted on my large ground table the small round seed (red & white millet and canary seed in this case) was chosen as it broke away from the iced mass more easily and the birds could feed. Blackbirds, Robins and Woodpigeons were seen taking the small seed.

However, during non-frosty, windy days (which we got too) the small seed blew off the tray easily and further when the birds were selecting favourite bites. I was getting the mess I didn’t like. On the positive there, when we got snow and heavy rainfall (which we also got) more birds came to feed as was seen at the start of my video. This made the mess a little more bearable as it was fun to watch the feeding frenzy.

I should make it clear, that this seed mix I was trialling was being sold as a table mix and if used on a table the wind wouldn’t catch it in the same way. It is still likely to spread from a table but I found that by adding a small mesh tray on my table it did help with most spill landing on the table base itself. I also found that by changing back to my first ground mesh feeder I had less seed to spread ;-)

Like the birds, I was fussy with my bird food choices! I was asking for it all in my seed mix! I wanted empty dishes and the place all cleaned up after the diners were finished ;-)

Yes, when there was no sunflower hearts on the other bird tables in my garden, my first trial dish did get emptied after a few days. I have to say I was very pleasantly surprised. I had a mixed seed mix that could tempt me back to buying it :-)

But… yes there is a ‘but’… the small seed was being left on the larger ground feeder where it blew to the edges. It was also left on the trays on the other two tables. Not being one for giving up easily when it comes to feeding experiments in my garden, I gathered up all the small seed and poured it on the centre of a new filling of my ground feeder to see what happened there. The small seed still wasn’t being cleared.

At this point, I decided to return the large ground feeder back to where it was below other feeders and I brought the first smaller trial dish out again. I swept up the seed that was left on the ground and started again with the small seed as my trial now.

I filled my first trial seed tray with the small seed remains from the other tables and was delighted to see the Blackbirds and Robins coming to feed from it! Then along came a Woodpigeon who returned quite a few times making good inroads to the small seed – however it did make a bit of a mess too. After a few days the tray wasn’t completely emptied but the trial bag of RSPB table mix extra was.

I ended my trial back in early December and can confirm that Grey Squirrels don’t approve of the RSPB table mix extra. So what about me? Well, in the main I did approve of this new mix. I would say this seed mix is the best that I have tried so far. Although, if anyone is listening, I might like to see fewer small seeds and some more of the flakes (the birds in my garden did choose them).

Ooops… I have a confession to make now. As I had a tub of sunflower hearts and peanuts in my shed I went back to using them at my tables adding bread crumbs and mixed dried fruit some of the time. Recently, my stock of sunflower hearts began to run out and when I discovered how expensive my large 12.75kg would be I didn’t take it. It seems the weather of last summer has had an impact on sunflower heart yield and the cost increase reflects this. I bought a smaller amount from the fill your own paper bags.

Ah yes… my confession! Well, my garden shed has a tub of mixed seed in it and it’s not the RSPB table mix extra seed that I said was the best I have tried so far (she hangs head). Here in the UK we have rewards cards when you spend money in supermarkets. I had £17 of points (nectar) on my card and an offer at the end of an aisle in another store (Homebase) caught my eye and I came away with enough to fill my large empty seed tub in my shed (with some extra) and I only spent £1.33. I was well pleased. Perhaps the RSPB mix has converted me to mixed seed after all!

Ah… but… I do hope the peeps at RSPB headquarters in Sandy, Bedfordshire are still reading my lengthy post (I said I’d give honest feedback). I can confirm that the RSPB table mix extra is still the best seed mix I have tried as at present the Tom Chambers Seed Blend Classic and Daily is not going down too well in my garden. For the record, in complete honesty, I hadn’t planned a comparison in products but I can’t deny what I see looking out at my tables and ground feeder.

Quite simply, with my current seed mix, I went for quantity at little cost to me as the weather peeps said we should expect cold and snow and I wanted to stock up - I know how many birds I can expect based on previous spells. What I did wrong here, was not to try a smaller bag of the seed first and that is what my suggestion would be to anyone buying seed they have never tried before.

When the snow comes I suspect the Blackbirds will fight over the seed and Chaffinches will come in good numbers so it will mostly get taken so I’m happy enough with that. Although I also can't deny, that for the first time ever, as I finish this blog there are nine Woodpigeons in my garden and they are showing great interest in my seed mix... I'm getting a tad worried :-0

Finally, I want to say thanks again to the peeps at RSPB Sandy for asking me to trial their new seed mix. It was fun trying something different and watching to see what happens. I hope this post has helped them and anyone considering using their new table mix.

I also want to give one more reminder about peanut feeders being a great idea as an addition to any seed mixes you use. Blue tits are probably the first birds you’ll see feeding but if you are lucky enough, like me an hour ago, you might get the very sweet Long-tailed tits (winter visitors) descend in a small group to feed. Oh but you should know…. remember mixed seed mixes aren’t just for winter ;-) Parent birds appreciate food during Spring and Summer too :-)

Wishing you a great weekend, what do you expect to see out your window or out on walks? What feeders/foods do your bird visitors favour?

This post was published by Shirley for shirls gardenwatch in January 2013.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

January, when I think of you…

I see your blue skies after the snowfall,
I feel the chill before your snow.
I see garden birds increase in numbers,
getting ready for the show?

I see your snow crystals melting in sunshine,
I feel the chill of a frosty morning.
I see Erysimum 'Bowles's Mauve' still in flower,
I listen to your weather warnings!

I see your hellebore flower buds ready to burst,
I feel the excitement of seeing your blooms.
I see bird feeders being emptied quickly,
I remember the fun birdcount that looms.

I see your Big Garden Birdwatch for the RSPB
I feel the excitement for visitors new.
I see people across the UK counting birds for an hour,
Oh January… when I think of you :-)

RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch Sat 26 and Sunday 27 January 2013

This post was completely influenced by a few bloggers I know and also my intention of promoting the RSPB Birdwatch. Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day is the 15th of the month (Happy Bloom Day to everyone posting what is in flower in the garden) and is organised by Carol at May Dreams Gardens – my contribution is Erysimum. Another new meme also set on the 15th of the month, is organised by Katarina at Roses and Stuff and the idea here is to ‘post a photograph that represents the current month to you’ and I discovered this one by visiting Patient Gardener, Helen who followed her photo with what January meant to her. Thanks Helen - I liked that idea although it’s gone midnight so I haven’t quite made it on the 15th – perhaps I should have given the poem attempt a miss! Good luck with your meme, Katarina :-)

This post was published by Shirley for shirls gardenwatch in January 2013.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Is it too late to protect my Gunnera?

Ooops… I feel a Christopher Lloyd quote coming on! For a few years now I have shown images of what I have done to protect the Gunnera in my garden. Let’s take a look back on 25th October 2010…

Let’s take a look further back to January 29th that year. My Gunnera manicata had seen through a fair few chilly nights and sprinklings of snow on the ground…

The Gunnera flower spike turns a black colour with winter wet and cold as you can see above. Eventually the leaves go the same way. However below the withered leaves the crown (the area from where the flower spike grows) was protected with a thick layer or two of hay. This layering method, between the upturned leaves of the gunnera, has successfully protected this plant for many years now.

The big Gunnera question for 2013 has to be … is it too late to protect a Gunnera plant from winter when its leaves and flower spike are completely black and wet? Well, that I can’t say for now, but I should be able to answer by March sometime – one way or the other. Ooops...

When it comes to garden plants, I generally give them the benefit of the doubt. Sometimes, for one reason or another we don’t get round to doing the garden jobs we mean to at the right time. Does this mean it’s too late to do them? Well, it depends what they are I guess.

In the case of the ‘Gunnera plant v winter’ I wasn’t going to give up on it entirely. Perhaps my mistake may be a useful exercise for others protecting Gunnera too. I’ll return to this post with an outcome image come spring.

My January 10th ‘late in the day’ Gunnera protection story for 2013 went… all black, wet flower spikes and leaves trimmed down. Truth be told most just broke away anyway.

Two large clear plastic bell jars were filled with hay then turned over the wet flower crowns as this is the part that needs protection from winter.

Not having a third bell jar, I used a plastic jelly box that was originally used as a hedgehog feeding station (with 13x13 cm entrance cut out at one end) which was also filled with dry hay.

As these were all light containers, I placed a few heavy plant pots around them to help stop them being caught in gusts of wind. Wire pins might be a good idea here. Job done!

I should stress, should anyone be following this method before I know the outcome, I don’t know if my plastic bell jars themselves will stay intact through winter frosts and cold – follow this method with caution.

It was a lunchtime weather report suggesting a weather freeze was on the way that prompted my late afternoon 'gardening sprint into action'. Two days later and no cold temps or snow yet but my Gunnera will be appreciating ‘being prepared’ with its duvet of hay. It was almost dark when I finished but just look what I spotted…

Tiny cluster of Brunnera ‘Jack Frost’ flowers,
Daffodil leaves peeping through, Alliums heading skyward :-)

Crocus bulbs in large basket container and in borders near back door
growing much further on than planings in lawn (bit early for here).

Much earlier on in the day, during breakfast at the window, just look what other sweet garden moments were to be seen…

I’ve been noticing a couple of Long-tailed tits joining the large group of siskins that have been visiting my garden recently. LOL… the Long-tailed tit wasn’t stuck in the branches of my small domed Acer tree that holds the small window feeder.

My photos of the long-tailed tit and coal tit feeding together are a bit grainy due to light levels being low but what a new a fun sight to be seeing. I know I’m not the only one with the challenge of capturing early morning photos and video at this time of year.

John at MIDMARSH JOTTINGS captured a low light image of a Fieldfare on a morning bird table the same day. I hope he gets another chance to capture some images on a brighter part of the day – that was a special winter visitor. Some video would be good too, John :-)

If you are out and about experiencing winter conditions – stay safe and warm. If you’d like to see birds feeding in your garden, it’s not too late to put up a bird feeder and during cold weather the birds should quickly find it and you will be helping them survive a cold night. Wishing you a great weekend :-D

Oh yes… that Christopher Lloyd quote that came to mind when I wasn’t following my own Gunnera protection plan of the last few years. I was thinking of it in terms of the winter rush of tidy–up and protection jobs to be done. However, I also move plants around when I want to ;-)

There is always such a rush of work in spring that we should get everything done that we can in the more leisurely periods of congenial weather during the autumn and even into winter. But where there is any doubt about moving a shrub or splitting up a herbaceous plant in autumn, the task should be deferred until spring. That is my official pronouncement. Don't expect me to follow it myself, because I'm also a great believer in doing a job when I want to do it, and to hell with the consequences.
Christopher Lloyd, The Well-Tempered Garden', on 'When to Plant'.

This post was published by Shirley for shirls gardenwatch in January 2013.

Friday, 4 January 2013

Garden Visit: Castle Fraser

If a garden sparkles in rain then it’s a gem for sure. Truth be told, when we took the soggy jog from the car park to the tearoom at Castle Fraser, back at the end of August 2012, I didn’t even consider a garden wander. It was a wet, chilly and windy day – no surprises there based on last summer’s weather.

Our visit to Castle Fraser was simply a time passer after a daughter drop-off and expected pick-up again in a few hours. Instead of spending time in the busy City of Aberdeen we headed out west for 16 miles for a wander round a Scottish Castle and some refreshments to warm us up.

We began our visit through the rear courtyard en route to the tearoom. The photo above was not taken by me but kindly available through Wikipedia Commons. The tearoom was on the left and a Gift Shop was on the right.

As you will see below, the tearoom was bright and airy. A September Bulb and Garden Produce notice caught my eye on the tables (2 weekends during the month) and I had intended promoting it. I’m guessing this is an annual thing so if you check the website events page during 2013 you’ll get details of it and other stuff going on at NTS Castle Fraser.

My snapshots of Castle Fraser are exactly that – small shots taken using my phone in a hurry so it wouldn’t get wet. Fighting with an umbrella too, we had one focus and that was to find the entrance door.

Being truthful, I was disappointed not be allowed to take photos inside the castle but fully appreciate why. For those interested in a peek inside and some History of the Castle I thought this Undiscovered Scotland page was good. You can also browse through slideshow images on the main NTS page for the castle.

For an alternative view of Castle Fraser, Garden and Estate Hot Air Balloon trips are available. Once booked you wait in the main car park for the balloon crew and pilot! I can’t truthfully say I can recommend this trip as it’s not something I’ve done. However, walking round gardens for inspiration… well that's another matter entirely...

For anyone new to gardening, there are a wealth of books and magazines with images to inspire you when you set out deciding what to do with your new outdoor space. My recommendation would be to take the full 3-D surround view you get with walking through an established garden that is open to visitors.

Okay... let’s get virtual garden walking until you are able to get out there for yourself…

My eye was instantly drawn to this planting above with the chocolate foxgloves (a new addition to my garden earlier in the year). I took a good look to see what planting combinations were used here. What's great about 'real' garden visits is that you can walk around plantings to see them from all different angles. I like to do that.

I loved the deep planting and plant choices for height, texture and colour in the borders of this garden. This was a walled garden that was formal but at the same time so many ideas could be taken away. I loved the copper beech hedges at two ends drawing you through.

The cornered beds looked great from every angle and also drew you in. This design looked like it could be transferred quite easily to a smaller garden setting. We really can get inspiration from garden visits.

Long border strips (loved the Jap Anemones) behind the cornered plantings and in front of the deep red beech hedge were lush with foliage and neat, solid planting. They made me just sigh…

On leaving the walled garden I found a stone sign in a hedge of Yew and realised I could have had a different view if I had entered from this car park side. I was making a hasty exit back to the car with the rain getting harder. My travelling companion daughter and OH were waiting for me there.

A very wet bird table caught my eye outside the walled garden. There were bird feeders on tree branches but what was I seeing in the distance? I walked on (getting distracted for a moment or two by a wildlife pond nearby).

I found I had wandered into a woodland garden with bamboo, azaleas and rhododendrons (not in flower). I was also in a Woodland Secrets adventure playground that looked like it could double up as a theatre space. Even in its muddy state it had a magic about it.

Making our garden spaces magical isn’t as hard as you might expect. As you garden, you get braver and more confident in what you like and will find you try new things. Your garden is personal to you and will grow with you and your needs for the space you have. Lol… I like to leave enough grass space to pitch up a tent. Strange but true! Do I go camping... no ;-)

What I loved about the walled garden at Castle Fraser was its use of architecture in its hedging and the deep colours that were included in the plantings. I bet it looks fantastic in winter. Yes, it was a formal garden, but when walking through I felt a sense of personal space too. Perhaps that was because a lot of the plants were favourites of mine and I am exploring colour more myself.

I’m delighted to have a garden visit post as my first one up for 2013. I really do hope to go on more garden wanders this year. I also plan to chat more about propagating plants as this is something that interests me. Randomly, for me, I am considering growing tomatoes in my small greenhouse this year! Oh yes… and this year... I will finish my wildlife pond :-0

I’m thinking January will likely be a bit of a birdy blog post month but I hope to throw in some garden/plant stuff too. The RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch is at the end of the month and I’ve had some thoughts on that. I've a post due on my seed trial too.

I’m thinking February could be a bit of a flower and foliage month using the heaps of photos that I’d love to share. However, when it comes to the weather, blogging and gardenwatching predictions aren’t always that accurate as we all know ;-)

For 2013, I really want to get my garden properly back in order and exercise better blog management time. Mmm… did I not say that last year? Please do share what garden/blog plans you have. Have you any garden visit photos that are waiting to be shared? I know I’d love to see them! Wishing you all a great weekend :-D

Oh yes and one final thing... and quite a big thing... after helping with techy stuff on my blog for the last 6 years, my OH is about to start his own techy blog! He's at the tweaking and set-up stage before his first post. lol... which I might have influenced ;-) Good Luck to him and anyone else taking the blogging plunge like Angie at Angie's Garden Diaries who's recently started blogging from her Edinburgh Garden - I'm sure she'd love more visitors :-D

This post was published by Shirley for shirls gardenwatch in January 2013.