Friday, 31 January 2014

No crowds… but a fair tally

No surprises this year, but I was delighted to see 3x Dunnocks and 2x Robins for my one hour’s bird count for the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch 2014. Naturally, numbers were down as expected but they were however a reasonable reflection of bird species visiting the garden just now so I was happy :-)

Sunday, February 16th is the deadline for submitting your bird/wildlife count results. I successfully added my count, without any trouble, but it seems that the website has been running a tad slow with the thousands of people helping with this survey at the moment and the RSPB are asking everyone to bear with them. I'd guess, by now things are working fine with the results rush over :-)

As my tally counter shows, a respectable 36 birds popped in to my garden during my count. That’s up on the 22 birds I had been expecting – but I should have looked at last year’s blog post instead of relying on my memory as there were 36 birds last year too! However, taking the weather in to account, last year’s snow should have seen more numbers than this year’s rain so the 2014 result is good :-)

Sightings submitted, what happens now?

“Our scientists will add all your sightings together with those from thousands of other gardens right across the country and find out how birds and other wildlife are doing.

Once this has all been checked and pieced together, we’ll be able to monitor trends and understand how different birds and other wildlife are faring. Then, together, we can help those in danger and find the best ways to give nature a home.

Look out for the results in March.”
RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch 2014

I suspected a Sparrowhawk watching the garden for my count with the heavy rain and sleet showers. The birds were a tad nervous too so I suspect they did too. Sparrowhawks do seem to appear on days like this, I've noticed this through my gardenwatching years.

So, the bird tables were unusually quiet for my count with the birds favouring hidden feeders like the little one in my Acer tree where the network of arching branches which made for safer feeding perhaps. If you missed my last blog post follow the link and you’ll see the locations of my bird feeders. My bird count for 2014 is in the image below.

Looking between the images above of the birdwatch results for 2014 and 2013 above, you can see how bright the day was last year and how relatively easy the birds would have been to see and count. It really was a dark morning for this year’s count (taken 0950 – 1050) and I suspect little brown birds like the House Sparrows might have be missed in gardens with the same light conditions.

Dunnocks, could very easily have been missed in bird counts as they travel undercover through plants like shrubs, ornamental grasses and around plants in pots too. They skirt round the edges of lawns and corners of gardens – see previous blog post on the Dunnock for help in ID for this bird. I have a nice short close-up video of the Dunnock there too :-)

The Dunnock, is a bird that the RSPB want to see increase in numbers but I might take a guess that perhaps they are in more gardens than figures from the count suggest which is good news for this bird that has a very interesting hidden life.

There are concerns on Starling numbers declining too and most noticeably in my garden, the grated cheese on offer usually found by some sort of radar in this bird wasn’t working for once! No Starlings were sighted in my garden for my count and that doesn’t sound good for this bird at all – I wonder if other gardens found the same. I hope not :-(

Wishing you all a good weekend, do you have any garden plans? I’ve got a bird table job to do and an edge finishing on my new wildlife pond :-)

This post was published by Shirley for shirls gardenwatch in January 2014.

Saturday, 25 January 2014

The Big Garden Birdwatch – why take part?

My first thoughts are that it’s fun to do plus it’s a great garden record for year to year. The organisers, RSPB say:

“Bird populations are a great indicator of the health of the countryside. That's why it's so important to take part in surveys like the Big Garden Birdwatch to keep an eye on the ups and downs of the wildlife where we live.

All you need to do is spend an hour over the weekend of 25-26 January counting the birds in your garden. It's that simple!

The more people involved, the more we can learn. So, grab a cuppa and together we can all help to give nature a home.”
RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch

Regular feeders of garden birds may say that bird numbers are low on this bird count and not a true reflection of birds visiting. The RSPB say that numbers average out and with 590,000 people taking part in 2013 counting a staggering 8.2 million birds you’ve got to agree. So my (likely to be) meagre count is absolutely worth sending in – yours too :-)

Apologies to regular blog visitors if I am repeating myself here, I’m trying not to. I do hope this post is picked up by people new to feeding birds (perhaps for the first time through taking part in the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch). I wholeheartedly recommend taking part in the Birdwatch. I have no doubt that it will bring a new appreciation and enjoyment of your garden. I can now say that with some gardenwatching experience here :-)

As always, I do hope more bird feeders and perhaps nest boxes go up (a good time of year to do this if you don’t have one) as a result of the high profile of this annual survey. I hope my enthusiastic garden chat about feeders and observations from my garden will help in some way too. For regular visitors, I hope you find my garden bird feeding layout interesting :-)

Despite having my own birdwatch stats since I began this gardenwatching blog that tell me I probably won’t see more than 22 birds visiting… I bought an inexpensive (£2.20) tally counter this week!

The large groups of Finches and House sparrows that are visiting just now have me looking in every direction as they fly from one feeder to another excitedly. If they all turn up during my count then that’s a bonus. Ever the optimistic ;-)

The mobile phone panoramic view of the feeders I’ll be watching this weekend can be seen below. They include, from left to right, hanging on the coral bark Acer tree: a clinger feeder with sunflower hearts and a cage feeder (for small birds) with fat cake inside.

Trees are great for hanging feeders up high keeping birds safe but not every garden has room for big trees. Straight ahead from my gardenwatching window view (shown below) is my usually very busy, homemade feeder tree. For this we used medium sized branch prunings from a garden Rowan tree bolted to a 8ft x 4in fence post which is in the ground using a metal post spike so as not to disturb the Bamboo roots close by.

This homemade feeder tree has been a great success and I would recommend it as an alternative to flimsy bought feeder hanging poles. I change around the feeding options here. At present (for my count) I’ve got 3x peanut feeders, 2x small 2 port niger seed feeders and 1x seed feeder with sunflower hearts. When it’s very cold I will add a second sunflower heart feeder and a basket fatcake feeder that caught the eye of the Great Spotted Woodpecker last January.

If you click on the image below to enlarge it you will be able to get a better idea of scale and location of my feeders which in turn show that by spreading the feeders around, with different foods and in different feeders, a wider range of bird species will find food and your garden will come alive!

Another very popular feeding spot is to the right of my tiny pond with running water (just outside my window). I have so enjoyed watching this close view of feeding birds over the years. Ground feeding trays attract Blackbirds, Dunnocks, Robins as well as Woodpigeons and Collared Doves, House Sparrows and Finches. For a few years now I have provided sunflower hearts here but add fruit like sultanas and apples during very cold spells with grated cheese and bread every now and again too. I’m always surprised to see Blackbirds running away with the bread when there is seed on offer.

Blackbirds and other thrushes will run away with chopped apple on the ground but if you cut it in half they will feed where it is allowing you to see them. I had fun with an apple feeding experiment back in November 2007 with apples on obelisks which was a great success and something else I would recommend. I've more to share on feeding fruit that I'll keep for another time - when I introduce my latest gardenwatching cam ;-)

My smallest garden feeder is a wooden window feeder (that proved too popular with Starlings noisily knocking it at my window). For a few years now, this tiny feeder has been secretly tucked in branches of my low domed Acer tree – just above the ground feeder you will see its pitched roof in my garden view. In summer months when this tree is in leaf I add mealworms for birds feeding young. In winter, this is not such a secret feeder and popular with many birds from the Finches and Sparrows to Blue tits, Blackbirds and even Woodpigeons!

Last, and by no means least, to the 3x bird tables in my garden. They are all popular just now. If I were to start feeding birds in another garden and could only put up two feeders I would always include a bird table as it feeds the widest variety of birds. Oh yes... and grey squirrels too on occasions too - not too sure that's a selling point ;-)

Location is the thing I feel is important with bird tables. Finding a position where you can see the birds feed and the birds can see the food to approach it, with cover to hide when predators like Sparrowhawks come chasing them is what I’d consider. An easy jump for a cat is another – I’ve tried to make that difficult in my garden using plants taking care not to give a cat a hiding place!

Birds queue/hide in shrubs, video 0:21 with gentle background music, try 720p HD quality.

A new peppermint painted bird table on the right of my garden view is out in the open, to three sides, standing tall at a feeding height of 134cm. This table shouts out… watch me! It’s new to my garden having arrived at the beginning of December. The video below shows that counting birds when a bird table is quiet needs a good eye at times.

As this post is getting a tad long, I’d like to review this bird table next time together with my bird count results. Although I get a good view from my gardenwatch window of this table, I get an even better one from my kitchen window as you can see in these zoomed in video grabs and in the next video. Preparing veggies and washing dishes is not dull at all now ;-)

3x House Sparrows, video 0:31 with gentle background music, try 720p HD quality.

Opposite my potting shed window is a partially hidden bird table we’ve had for almost 15 years now. It is made of hard wood which I stained a willow green colour a few years ago to match our camera nestbox. This bird table is in need of repair and as it has sentimental value I hope we can save it - maybe even add some new features at the same time?

If you look back at my garden panoramic you will see that there are branches over this bird table. I have a weeping pear in a large glazed pot here and the colour of the table blends in to the silver grey leaves of this tree which, being in a pot is behaving itself and not getting too big. The birds have a little protection from Sparrowhawks and cats with this tree canopy and at the same time I enjoy watching them perch and bounce through its branches en route to the table as I potter in my shed.

When counting, or just watching birds in your garden, look where birds like the Great, Blue and Coal tit take their fast food grabs. They often feed on branches high up on trees but they also stay close by a feeder and come back and forth to the same spot a few times. The clip above is very short but this Great tit took three visits with seed to this branch (one after the other) and the forth it flew away with.

Great tit feeds on branch, video 0:25 with gentle background music, try 720p HD quality.

My smallest bird table located in the foreground of my garden view (by cost, height and box size) was going to be flimsy – I knew that when I bought it. However, I had a very specific plan for this one bought a few years ago after some serious heavy snowfall that lasted months (not usual for us). I was looking for a winter bird table that would tuck out of the way during summer months. Below my small domed Acer tree next to a ground feeder was the perfect location and this has been another popular feeding spot working as a ground, rainy day feeder throughout the year too!

At approx. 18 ins off the ground (I shortened the main support) birds like Blackbirds that run around the ground looking for food when there is snow on the ground had a place they could go for food. As yet, this table hasn’t been properly put to the test (no such heavy prolonged snowfall since Dec 2009) but the Blackbirds and other birds are very aware where it is now so will find it if the snow levels become a problem again. In January 2013, I had fun making a another homemade snow shelter which was a great success - I saw yellowhammers for the first time with this one :-)

Finally, I’ve just remembered about another larger ground feeding tray that got good use during a seed trial I did before the Birdwatch last year. I tend not to use this ground feeder during the summer. At present it can just be seen on the ground below my homemade tree feeder, next to three informal path slabs - it too catches some of the debris from the feeder above. This feeder caught the attention of a Pheasant last January 26th - I wonder if it will return to be counted this year ;-)

Okay, that’s more than enough feeder chat. Its daylight here now and the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch has already begun in gardens with 303 results submitted already! If it’s sunny at lunchtime I might suggest not doing a count then as the birds like to catch the sun’s warmth high up on trees and don't come to the feeders. Mid morning to just before noon and mid afternoon around 3pm would be my suggestions for the most bird visitors :-)

Oh wait before you go…. this is especially for US blogger Lisa at Greenbow (hopefully you’ll catch this first thing in the morning – I think the time difference stopped you seeing the live cams last time) please do tune in online to see some live UK birds feeding.

BBC Winterwatch isn’t quite over yet. Over the weekend they will be bringing live action of the UK's garden birds with experts chatting from 8am (UK time) and on Red Button and Live cams online . Based at the Lost Gardens of Heligan in Cornwall they will also be broadcasting live shows at 1pm and 4pm with the very popular Iolo Williams. Enjoy!

For those taking part with a birdcount – have fun, enjoy watching the birds in your garden and I hope you see many different species plus a few surprises :-)

Quick update: Oops I completely missed this info on this year’s Birdwatch … “For the first time in its 35-year history the Big Garden Birdwatch is also recording mammals and amphibians.” Yep, they want to hear about sightings of birds and garden visitors such as deer, squirrels, badgers, hedgehogs, frogs and toads too :-D

This post was published by Shirley for shirls gardenwatch in January 2014.

Monday, 20 January 2014

Winterwatch Live cams streaming now…

Viewing is addictive! Hopefully visitors from outside the UK can watch this too. I’ve just been watching Red squirrels, Jays, Woodpecker. I’m not going to keep you with a chatty post. Pour yourself a cuppa and enjoy some UK wildlife from the Scottish Highlands …

Winterwatch Extra: Now live on the web and Red Button.

A quick reminder for UK peeps too… Winterwatch is on BBC Two tonight at 8:30pm. Looking forward to that too. Oh... but you just can’t beat these Live cams – sometimes there is chat on it too. Please do take a look :-)

Next time, I’ll back to the build-up for the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch this weekend with chat on a new bird table :-)

This post was published by Shirley for shirls gardenwatch in January 2014.

Friday, 17 January 2014

Welcome... Buddleja ‘Buzz Ivory’

In Autumn 2013, Buddleja ‘Buzz Ivory’ arrived in my garden. Plant Breeders’ Thompson & Morgan claim this plant to be a hardy shrub. I do hope this is the case as I am a bit nervous at the moment, knowing, that it is yet to feel a good Scottish winter cold snap growing here in my garden. Fingers crossed :-0

I bought a second plant soon after seeing this plant look so good in flower in my full sun, front garden. I could protect one plant maybe? Has anyone experience of over-wintering this plant? I would dearly love both plants to survive for their long flowering period – that is something I look for at shirls gardenwatch :-)

Buddleja has the common name of Butterfly Bush and is said to be the best plant to attract butterflies to your garden. Ah… but the butterflies don’t get this nectar all to themselves - Bees love it too. Plants with flowers that provide food for butterflies and bees is another goal at shirls gardenwatch :-)

What about height and spread: 1.2m (4ft) x 1.2m (4ft). I read ‘Buzz Ivory’ to be fast growing here. The Plant Breeders’, Thompson & Morgan also claim ‘Buzz Ivory’ to be easy to grow and problem free. Listed as a Dwarf patio buddleja, they say it will last more than 10 years and won't take over your garden! Sounds good to me :-)

So, to the ‘Buzz Ivory’ Flower size: 15cm (6in). Yes, they are normal sized buddleja flowers! However the plant is half the size – great for a small garden like mine then :-)

Many clusters of flowers on one plant make a great feeding station for butterflies and bees as they don’t have to travel far to feed and collect nectar. Buddleja is perfect for that and with ‘Buzz Ivory’ not being too tall it is perfect for getting photos and video of these very welcome garden visitors. Photo opportunities is another thing encouraged at shirls gardenwatch :-)

What about tips for growing? As with any summer flowering plant, deadheading faded flowers is always worth the effort especially as new flower buds get a chance to grow and open their nectar rich, flowers. I must remember to regularly check my plants in 2014. I must also check back here on the pruning section from the Thompson & Morgan website below.

How to prune Buddleja

Buddleja plants are really low maintenance, but they do benefit from pruning in early spring. Pruning will prevent them from becoming leggy and helps to maintain a nice compact plant. Buddleja plants flower on new growth, so pruning will also help to promote lots of new stems that will flower in the same year.

Prune Buddleja in March, once the hardest frosts are over, as the new growth begins to show. Firstly remove any dead, diseased, damaged, or weak stems, before pruning all off the remaining stems back to form a low framework. In future years you can simply shorten the previous season's growth back to 2 pairs of buds from this permanent framework. A top tip for pruning buddleja is to always use clean, sharp secateurs and make your cuts squarely, just above a healthy pair of buds.
How to grow Buddleja Buzz

For anyone considering propagating Buddleja ‘Buzz Ivory’ it should be noted that this plant is subject to Plant Breeders’ Rights  and must not be propagated without a licence from the breeder who is Thompson & Morgan. “Breeders can choose whether or not to apply for plant breeders' rights, which enable them to charge royalties for protected varieties. Royalties provide a means for breeding companies to fund their work.”

Peacock & Large White butterflies, 0:49 with gentle background music, try 720p HD quality.

Ah… that was refreshing look back at the summer especially watching the video, butterflies bring something special to the garden don't they? However, there is plenty of wing flapping to be seen at the moment as numbers of garden birds at the feeders increase day by day. Ha-ha… that’s until I sit down and count them for an hour - then the garden goes spookily quiet! I wonder how that works then - all too common a story too by what I hear in comments and from other bloggers.

Wishing you all a great weekend, here’s hoping the weather will be kind to you :-)

This post was published by Shirley for shirls gardenwatch in January 2014.

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Birdwatch Count, Goodbye & GBBD

The annual RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch is at the end of the month and I have heaps to chat about but I'm off to a slow blogging start for 2014. My plan was (still is) to share observations at the bird feeders in a particular way to help and inspire people to take part with a count. The birds would benefit too which is the best outcome :-)

Bird feeding tip #1 - make sure feeders can be seen, grouping helps.

Writing a garden blog really can benefit all that grows and lives in our gardens. One garden visitor leads to another. One garden photo leads to many more too and garden videos bring observations to a different level again. Then the planting and feeding experiments come and this closer look at what’s been going on in our gardens brings surprise visitors – who would have thought?

Who would have thought that, 7 years ago, 37 species of birds would be seen visiting my small, town garden? I definitely wouldn’t have! Like many people about to join in with their 1st Birdwatch count, it all began quite simply with a couple of hanging bird feeders (when my daughter was doing a school bird project over a summer).

By November I took the blogging plunge and began sharing our garden visitors. Regular blog visitors will know that shirls gardenwatch began simply too – as a way to share images of the small charismatic Robin with my homesick friend in Australia. After a few blog posts (short at that time), I emailed her the blog link and she thought it one of the kindest things anyone had done for her at that time. Knowing I had one interested blog visitor then kept me going and I’ve had a ball gardenwatching ever since.

A fb banner Robin image at the waterfall of my small pond that my friend ‘liked’ a lot :-)

It is with great sadness, here on my blog, I wish to say thank-you and goodbye to my kind, well-loved and respected friend who died in a tragic accident on the 1st working week day of 2014. Her family will be in shock for some time to come. I am holding on to the happy photo images in my head of her visit to Scotland during Autumn last year and the ball she had on her visit to New York for a week before returning to Australia.

Rest in Peace my friend, here in my Scottish garden 2014 will be an interesting gardenwatching year with my wildlife pond waiting for new life to find it. I will continue to feed the birds sharing stories and images on my blog hoping to inspire bird feeding in more gardens. As always, I will have thoughts of you when taking photographs and video of the Robin xxx ooo

GBBD Jan 2014: Pieris, Hellebore Christmas rose, Erysimum 'Bowles's Mauve',
Hellebore orientalis, Iris reticulate (yay – I finally planted some),
Autumn Joy sedum thinking its Spring!

To my blogging friends, I’d like to wish you all a belated Happy New Year and a Happy Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day for today. It’s not been a particularly cold January 15th 2014 in my Perthshire garden – a bit dreich though. We haven’t much in the way of flowers here but the plants think spring is on the way – big mistake. I look forward to seeing what has been in flower with you all soon :-)

This post was published by Shirley for shirls gardenwatch in January 2014.