Sunday, 30 November 2014

A harsh winter ahead?

Weather folklore and the images below taken at the Royal Botanical Garden Edinburgh back in mid-October might suggest it just might be!

“When berries are many in October, beware a hard winter”



Myth or not, could nature really be providing more food for birds to survive a harsh winter? What about the birds themselves - do they recognise this bountiful crop of berries as a sign to eat up now and fast? I'm thinking they might do.



Cotoneaster on Chinese Hillside


Having seen the berries on my small Cotoneaster 'Hybridus Pendulus' tree being left too long on less harsh winters makes me think that the birds knew there was no hurry to eat them. Unfortunately the cold wasted the fruit these years.

Watching the birds in my garden over the last eight years has certainly shown me that bird species do pay attention to the feeding areas of the other birds in the garden. They appear to follow each other out of curiosity at the start but quickly learn new food sources.



Here’s a thought then, in bumper berry years do a wider variety of bird species recognise this extra food source nature has provided? Do the smaller birds, the seed feeders, notice there is more feeding on berries and see that as a signal to feed up more often? Again, I'm thinking they might.



For sure, birds appreciate high energy foods like fat cakes, fat balls, peanuts and sunflower hearts during cold days. The bustle of activity at the fat cakes and balls especially tell me that!

The harsh reality of a harsh winter is that birds don’t survive the night if they don’t feed enough during the day – sadly they perish. I might wonder if the birds know the fat cakes and fat balls are so valuable to their survival. Do they watch the clever species of birds and follow their lead? Have they learnt which species to gardenwatch?



There is certainly an abundance of weather folklore results on an internet search on the suggestion that an abundance of berries relate to a harsh winter. However, no stats or pie charts were to be found - perhaps Chris Packham will produce one on Springwatch next year ;-)



Dwarf Rowan, Sorbus reducta


Many articles can be found on Waxwings feasting on berries here in the UK when Scandinavia has had a shortage. These special visitors have caused quite a media stir in recent years.

Twitter users tweet sightings under the hashtag #waxwings and @WaxwingsUK track and notify all Waxwing sightings in the UK. I’ll be keeping an eye on twitter and will be gardenwatching the mature tree seen from my window where they have been spotted in previous years. My last sighting was in November 2010


Scottish flame flower, Tropaeolum speciosum


Brrr… as we move into the month of December tomorrow, the weather forecast tonight suggests our temps will be dropping a bit. Ha-ha… living here in Scotland that isn’t making me rush around trying to find hat, scarf and gloves - yet ;-)

In view of a possible harsh winter I have been stocking up on high energy foods for my garden visitors. Berries or not, I’m ready. I’m also working on a potting shed experiment for storing the food which I’ll come back to another day ;-)




The warm colours of Autumn could soon be a distant memory by the end of the week - potentially. This final burst of colour just had to happen tonight. However, potentially by the end of the week colourful new garden visitors could be following the current fat cake crowds of House Sparrows! How exciting :-)





Well… brrrrr! I’ve just popped out in car to collect daughter from bus stop to find back car window frosted and the car temp reading 3 deg C! Ha-ha… I went out without a coat on and didn’t feel cold until I saw the little warning crystals come up on the temperature display – the power of suggestion ;-)

Coming back to gardenwatching, what fun it can be at this time of year – I do so love it! What do you enjoy about this time of year? What new garden visitors might you expect to see? Little gardenwatching was done here over a busy weekend – so no sighting or video footage yet to report on our newest visitor :-)


Copyright: Original post published on http://blog.shirlsgardenwatch.co.uk/ by blog author Shirley, November 30th 2014.

Friday, 28 November 2014

Friday @ the Flicks – A foraging Wren

Today’s planned blog post remains in draft after being bumped back for yesterday’s sweet video capture of the shy Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes). Apologies for the slightly bumpy tripod work at the start but these birds scurry along the ground like mice and it’s hard to predict which direction they will take next.

Fellow blogger Midmarsh John regularly posts ‘Friday at the Flicks’ with recent video footage and often more than one video too. I thought I’d join him today seeing as my footage was current too.


Short Wren video, 36 seconds with background music, try HD quality.


If you find yourself looking out your window you too will find that it’s much easier to spot small, ground foraging birds with the border plants dying down at this time of year. However, the Wren was not what my video camera was sitting on my tripod poised for yesterday. It was a very nice second prize though :-D

What could beat a Wren capture I hear you ask? Well, I do believe we had a gardenwatch first on Wednesday. I do need video footage of this visitor to confirm my suspicion (should it return). I'm quietly confident it will but will I be gardenwatching at the time - I do hope so :-)

Can you guess what I’m guessing was spotted foraging on my pine tree branches just below the fat ball feeder? Wishing you all a great weekend and hoping my US blogging friends have enjoyed a good Thanksgiving with their friends and families :-)


Copyright: Original post published on http://blog.shirlsgardenwatch.co.uk/ by blog author Shirley, November 28th 2014.

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Back to gardenwatch basics – The Bird Table

Where, oh where, have all the garden birds gone? In reality they probably haven’t gone anywhere. It’s more than likely they have been hiding in the undergrowth and among shrubs and trees in or nearby your garden. This is the fun upside to plants dying down and leaves falling from trees at this time of year – we get better views of visiting birds. I do look forward to spotting them scurrying and darting around again :-)

Lurking alongside the Christmas displays at Garden Centres just now, you will be spotting bird table displays as a possible gift to ourselves or for others (great idea btw). The reality is that birds do appreciate tables and feeders stocked with food being available all year round, especially during their busiest time of year (the breeding season) when you might not spot visits until they bring in their noisy, newly fledged young.

Due to their height, as with tall plants, bird tables can make a bit of a statement in the garden. It can be appreciated that not all gardens have the space and not all gardeners have the desire for a bird table in the design they have created. Pre gardenwatching I might have been in the later camp but not now. Winter visitors of passing Blackcaps have been my bird table highlight so far but the usual suspects entertain all year round!

Following the garden advice of right plant, right place the right location needs to be found for a bird table too. If you have put out a new bird table and are disappointed by lack of visitors, the RSPB give the following advice:

“A quiet location with a good view from the house is normally the best place for a bird table. This allows you to enjoy observing the garden birds while they feed with little disturbance.

Choose a site sheltered from extremes of weather, but where the birds have a good all-round view, so they can see that they are safe from predators while they feed.

The table should be safely away from cat ambush sites. A small bush or a tree about two metres from the table gives the birds somewhere safe to perch while they look to see if it is safe to feed, to ‘queue up’ for a place on the table, and to dash to if disturbed. It may take a few days before you see any birds on a new bird table.

Once the birds discover the food and convince themselves it is safe, they should visit regularly.”
Sitting a bird table by the RSPB


I’ve had a pretty special, garden feature of a bird table in my garden for almost a year now. I offered to review it as I thought it would look great during the dull winter months – but would I keep it in the same location over the summer?

Agreeing with the last point in the RSPB advice above, I was nervous about the idea of moving my bird table when the birds seemed happy to use it where it was. However, during the summer months more walking access was required to the right of the bird table going to my greenhouse and potting shed.


Both the birds and I have been happy! My bird table has blended beautifully into my summer garden at the same location as in winter with only just a couple of simple tweaks. The angle of the table was turned round (RH image below) to bring the base further into the basket border. Another brick was placed in the border to protect the base foot.

Changing the shape and colour of the pots decorating the base of my bird table was next. The border planting addition of the shrub Euonymus gave me my garden design fix too, adding light in a shady area and complimenting the colour of the bird table at the same time.

As it grows, the Euonymus will scramble over the table base and up the planting basket becoming a pretty feature for my eye and a safety feature of ground cover for birds like the Dunnocks that scurry along the ground. I do enjoy the fun challenge of tiny garden make-overs don't you?





Being a plantswoman at heart, I have to admit to being a tad worried about the possible competition my colourful table could give the colours of my spring and summer flowering plants. Many are quite special to me like the blue Meconopsis poppy.

Silly me… there was no competition… the bird table stepped back gracefully when the Meconopsis opened its delicate, stunning blue blooms in the early morning sunshine :-)






Meanwhile, stepping forward with confidence and winning the competition on the bird table, a lot of the time, have been Wood Pigeons. They appear to have increased in numbers with visiting the wildlife pond this year. Up on the peanut feeders Jackdaws are regular visitors now resulting in less peanuts going past their best which is a good thing!

House sparrows and other small birds still manage to feed at the bird table, peanut feeders, and fat cakes that are attracting the bigger birds so no real worries there. Captured on film at the wildlife pond have been small groups of Magpies - more new regulars for 2014. It has been a busy garden this year :-)




The final video screen grab above shows a young 'innocent' looking Magpie discovering the bird table buffet. They are smart birds right enough – more on their antics another time! However, it isn't all good news with the Jackdaws and Magpies. One or the other has been up to mischief :-(

Recommending the addition of a bird table to a garden is easy – definitely! Seeing birds choose to land and feed there is such a privilege to see. Recommending the brightly coloured, stylish Buttermere bird table as a purchase or gift is easy too – yes, I have loved mine! (Please note that the links to this bird table in my review blog are broken at present. I am unsure if this product is still available or the website is being redesigned).


Views of smaller birds feeding can be seen in a previous wordless Wednesday post as can my original review of the buttermere bird table.

Update since posting: Enhanced views from the bird table can be enjoyed if a small camera is added in the roof - see MIDMARSH JOTTINGS video footage posted yesterday :-)


Copyright: Original post published on http://blog.shirlsgardenwatch.co.uk/ by blog author Shirley, November 22nd 2014.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

A blog post in time saves nine

Dwindling regular blog posts after eight years of blogging isn’t really that surprising. So is it time to gracefully bow out? I hope not. Gosh… eight years… who would have thought? I certainly didn’t that’s for sure, nor did it occur to me that the special place in my heart gardens have always held could increase tenfold when I watched my own and others in closer detail.

Year nine needs more PC time to save shirls gardenwatch, plain and simple. On the other side, 2014 has been a great year for claiming back the garden. Yep… after all the photo and video edits, the stories and internet searching for further info and links it had become all chat and no real garden action at times. Hands up now… I’m guessing I’m not the only blogger here?

Nor I suspect, will I be the only blogger that has folder upon folder of photos and videos clips taken for blog posts that missed their seasonal slots. Gosh… I have some going back years! I’ve also got word docs with part written blog posts and draft blog posts with just images uploaded that need to be written. Does this all sound familiar too?




On this blog anniversary I’d like to include a HUGE hats off and give respect to all the garden bloggers that do manage to regularly post 2-3 posts a week and then get round all the blogs they follow and leave comments too. I feel honoured to have been part of this garden blogging community albeit lightly over the last year or two :-)

On behalf of this absentee blogger, bloggers with writers block and newbies to blogging please do leave comments sharing tips and suggestions on your approach to blogging. Do you have a system that you find works for you? What are your thoughts on images and stories that have missed their slot – would you go back to them?

My sincere and genuine thanks go to everyone that has followed shirls gardenwatch for another year. I really do appreciate your visits and comments. The image above shows perfectly how my blog posts get waylaid… selecting and cropping images at the same time as watching a live garden nestcam! Yep… you can guess what wins the attention there ;-)


Copyright: Original post published on http://blog.shirlsgardenwatch.co.uk/ by blog author Shirley, November 19th 2014.