Thursday, 28 May 2015

Heating vent perch for smart Magpie

A tripod with a video camera on a stair landing, while packing for a family holiday earlier this month was a bit in the way, it has to be said. Capturing video footage was a distraction to the job in hand too, but the amusing view out of the stair window kept catching my attention.

The rain was heavy (much heavier than the video below has shown) and a soaking wet, young Magpie was clearly showing why this corvid species are regarded as highly intelligent birds. It found my neighbour's warm, central heating vent tucked under the overhanging house eaves and sheltered out of the rain!

This young Magpie was perched here for some time, only moving when my movement past the window going up/down the stairs caught its attention. It would always return though. So who was actually watching who then? The Magpie won that... I had a packing to do after all and gardenwatching wasn't on my long to-do list with too little time to do it in ;-)


2x clips, 57 secs, no background music, note the closing eyelids of this bird.






This post was published by Shirley for shirls gardenwatch in May 2015.

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Song Thrush and black berry surprise

Ivy flowers on the garden pergola have been discussed in a previous blog post back in November 2011. Black ivy berries to follow have been suggested in other blog comments as food for the Woodpigeon too, further suggesting the promise of Bed and Breakfast for a pair of Woodpigeons that nested there last year.

As for the black ivy berries, nope I’ve never noticed them. Well, not until Day 1 of BBC Springwatch (Monday of this week). So, it was a sunny Bank Holiday Monday and the garden awaited weeding but at the same time there was ironing in the basket and a washing in the machine waiting to go outside, but... the Robin nest video footage had me glued to the PC monitor!

Walking away was hard, nesting activity is addictive viewing you know, but domestic duties called as did some time outside in the garden and in the sun. Expect the unexpected and all that, but as the washing machine door was opened, movement outside caught my eye that I really wasn’t expecting...


Song Thrush video, 50 sec with background music, try HD quality.


On top of my ivy clad pergola, a Song Thrush was moving about. That, in itself was a nice sighting as they are shy visitors. A quick dash for the video camera ensued and then on zooming in… yep you’ve guessed right… it was eating black berries on my ivy! In May... really?

“In autumn, ivy flowers attract insects, which in turn provide food for robins and wrens. When the black berries appear in the middle of winter, they're devoured by everything from thrushes, waxwings, starlings and jays, to finches and blackbirds.”
Top 10 plants for birds by Gardener’s World.com

“Calorie-rich ivy berries are loved by birds, including the song thrush, mistle thrush, redwing, blackbird and blackcap. Although the berries appear in November, birds don’t tend to eat them until around now – shorter-lived berries such as rowan and hawthorn are eaten first, leaving the longer-lasting ivy berries until last. According to the RSPB, ivy berries contain nearly as many calories as Mars bars, gram for gram.”
English ivy: berry good for birds by Kate Bradbury, February 19th 2015


Video grab of Song Thrush eating black ivy berries, May 25th 2015.


So, all these years as I’ve watched and watched with great anticipation for my Wisteria to flower towards the end of May, over on the other side of the pergola, there has been something going on that I never knew about until now. My ivy has been feeding the birds! Seeing is certainly believing :-)


Wisteria flower buds (flower opening almost there) May 26th, 2015.


Wow... this week has seen two firsts for my garden (the other being our Robin nest having chicks being fed). It's almost midnight and Mr/Mrs Hedgehog has just popped by... so its time to say good night from us both :-)


Hedgehog in feeding station, May 26th, 2015.


This post was published by Shirley for shirls gardenwatch in May 2015.

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Phew... all is well at Robin nest

After last night’s worry, mentioned in this morning’s post, a variety of wriggly food continued to be delivered into the Robin nest this morning… by both parents! Phew… Mum isn’t missing after all.

Apologies are in order too, Mr & Mrs Robin, I can see now that you do keep a clean house by removing the fecal sacs from your chicks! Oh my… your chicks must be getting a good size by the size of the poop parcel below... keep that wriggly food coming!



This post was published by Shirley for shirls gardenwatch in May 2015.

BBC Springwatch tribute weeks

Last night BBC Two Springwatch returned to our screens with seasonal chat about nature at this exciting time of the year. Story developers follow live cams (many on birds nesting) 24hrs throughout the three weeks of this show. Oooo… now that’s a seasonal job that would suit me very nicely ;-)

Last week’s Chelsea Flower Show tribute week (still more to come) was such fun that it would be amiss of me not to give Springwatch the same treatment. After all, it captured my attention when I began this gardenwatch blog. Regular visitors will know this blog began just as a temporary thing (a broadband friendly way) to send images of the Eurpoean Robin to my homesick friend in Australia back in 2006. Sadly, she died in a tragic, freak accident and won't get to see this :-(

For the next three weeks I’ll try to keep up with Springwatch, posting snippets from my own garden about the birds and wildlife that find their way here as well as footage and images from out and about. Lots of old video footage and stories are sitting just waiting for their moment. This could also be fun and a great gardenwatch update for me too. There will be an interval or two back to Inverewe Garden to complete the Chelsea tribute and the Gardening Scotland Show which is on this weekend too.

In my story developer role, I’m delighted to update on our garden story of the Robin pair that frantically built a nest in an open fronted nest box sighted in my ivy clad Pergola. Did the noisy neighbours (woodpigeons and hedgehogs) scare them away? No they did not, we came back from our hols and they were still in residence :-)

This Robin nesting story has since moved on a bit, yep, last weekend the male was seen visiting the nest more often… now with wriggly food in his beak! Although there isn’t a camera in the nesting box, my basic video camera on a tripod below it has captured a more detailed look of the food deliveries - not for viewing at mealtimes perhaps ;-)


1min 46sec, compilation, Robin pair bring in wriggly food, no background music,
try HD quality. A cheeky Blackbird landed on the camera at the end!


Just like the Springwatch story developers, I sat watching my many clips of video capture on my monitor looking for one thing (food going in) and observed a piece of random behaviour with a fly. Clearly the female Robin knew it was coming and was on alert and she very efficiently dealt with the situation. It was such fun watching the footage not knowing what was going to happen next.


2 mins 11sec, 2 clips, Female robin chases away fly,
with background music and pair in nest without music, both leave.


As I’m the only story developer here, not able to gardenwatch every day, I couldn’t guess at how old the Robin chicks are. However, some seriously big food deliveries were made yesterday morning with a quick exit by the parent birds. Having previously been the story developer for a successful Blue tit nest with a nest cam, I might say the Robin chicks are a good size already!

Appreciating that not everyone has time to view the short videos above, as per usual, I've captured a few video grabs to give you a flavour of the varied menu the Robin chicks having been served. Notice the female sitting at the back of the nest in the first image with a juicy green caterpillar – a few caterpillars went in this yesterday (when all footage this was taken).






In my story developer role, I have observed that the Robin is a way more cautious bird to approach the nest than the Blue tits were. In the image above of the male with the wings open, he landed but quickly left again so he was clearly unhappy with something around him. He did return as can be seen in the video. Note in the video that the female is leaving the chicks alone for spells but brings them back a food delivery from her trip out :-)

The Robin doesn’t appear to be removing the Fecal sacs (chick poop bags) as the Blue tit did either. From the views seen of the female on the nest, she doesn’t appear to be doing the diving into the nest cup to keep it clean but then again my view is limited. Sadly, my time as a story developer with this Robin family might be limited too and just as I was getting into the swing of it.

Last night, I was outside just before dark and heard a Robin calling again and again. In the low level of light, I could just see where it was perched and it was a branch I’ve seen the male use many times over the weekend. It was a pretty persistent call of a kind that I’ve not been hearing from the Robin in my garden. It was quite eerie seeing his silhouette too.

Perhaps the male robin was just calling the female out telling her the chicks can be left alone now. Perhaps, he was calling the chicks out to fledge. But then again, I have heard an eerie, persistent call like that from a Blue tit female when she had chicks to feed. The male Blue tit never returned and the female was unable to find enough food for her chicks and they died. Oh dear… has something happened to our Robin Mum!


This post was published by Shirley for shirls gardenwatch in May 2015.

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Small garden from Inverewe to Chelsea

Inspiration for a small garden space is more likely to be found in the categories of the Fresh Gardens and Artisan Gardens at Chelsea Flower Show. Here will be found a quite different level of creativity with the balancing of plants and hard landscaping elements telling a story. Attention to every small detail is what counts here and Chelsea designers seldom fail to deliver.

My guess is that visitors to Chelsea want to be wowed the large show gardens and wooed by the smaller ones. The mood and feel of these smaller gardens seems to us to be more achievable to take home to our own gardens. A false sense perhaps, but non-the-less we will find inspiration with a more ‘home garden’ scale of planting blocks, climbing structures, hard landscaping and paths.


Inverewe doesn’t fail to deliver in its creativity throughout the whole garden and it too has small garden areas within it. My best in show on my visit back in August 2014 has to be the Small Pond Area near Inverewe House (not open to the public).

Perhaps no surprises I picked a water garden, but it was the surprise ‘deck’ in this woodland setting and the scale of water to planting with rocks in the water that both wowed and wooed me! This was a little show garden you could take home with you :-)


Okay, this might be a little tricky to build but it does give inspiration for sure.


My approach to the area from a lower path, note plants hide the artistic feature.


The guide book doesn’t say the idea behind this ‘deck’ shape – a snail’s shell?


Tiny frogs swimming in the rock circle (front left) were fun to watch.
The guidebook lists this a spawning pool.


Plants include Iris forrestii, the North American ostrich fern, candelabra primulas from China, skunk cabbage, groundsel (Senecio smithii) from the Falkland Islands.


Very surprisingly there was no mention of the stone circle island with carnivorous plants in the guidebook which I thought was the star planting of this small garden area. I love to see rock islands in a pond and loved the moss covered one in the background. If you read my post yesterday you might guess why – it’s all about the reflections in water for me :-)

It’s back to the walled garden for my people’s choice area of Inverewe next time. I better get my vote in for my Chelsea pick before midnight first! I do hope you’re enjoying the snippets from this garden so far. I do think this small garden area would get a medal at Chelsea – Silver perhaps as the judges wouldn’t be happy with the brown edges on the hosta ;-)


This post was published by Shirley for shirls gardenwatch in May 2015.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Reflections from Chelsea to Inverewe

Water is a tricky feature to get exactly right in a show garden and the designers at Chelsea seriously push the boundaries on creatively using it. Yesterday was medals day at Chelsea Flower Show but medals aren’t the only focus for this show, it is also about giving inspiration for our own gardens.

This week, horticulturalist, broadcaster, designer and writer Rachel de Thame has been showing television viewers how to bring a bit of Chelsea back home to our own gardens. I was delighted to see that earlier today her topic was all about water and what it can bring to our gardens with ‘movement, sound and a play of light’.

She chats about how water sets the mood in a garden and I couldn’t agree more. My tiny pond from my gardenwatching window doesn’t have much of a surface for light reflections. However, its small waterfall spout made from a broken roof tile (matching the sandstone rocks around it beautifully) turned upside down works a treat. I love to see the movement from my window and the sound as I walk by it to my larger wildlife pond.

In completely contrast, my wildlife pond is absolutely all about reflections. Ha-ha… I had a vision for my pond build and I am delighted to say it has almost been met (chat about that another time). I did spend some of my pond budget on a pump but it wasn’t to be used as a fountain or waterfall but to give ripples over the surface like a shoreline.

Sitting on the arbour seat beside the wildlife pond, the stillness draws you in and it has become the most tranquil place in the garden. A place to dream and a place to completely clear your head. It has also become a place to leave the water be… so the pump has stayed in its box for now. I now can’t imagine my garden without this source of light and its cloud reflections over the surface. ‘A play of light’ it is indeed!

This week, in keeping with my Chelsea Flower Show tribute, I’m posting images from one particular garden visit to the NTS garden, Inverewe on the edge of Loch Ewe in Wester Ross, Scotland. This time I’d like to share The Pond Garden which has been dammed from the Wet Valley with a stone wall and has drainage seepage from the old peat bog which maintains its water level.


My approach looking towards the glorious, end of August, colours of Rodgersia.


The path view looking across the pond from the Rodgersia side.


Jaw dropping, Rodgersia reflections – I can't be the only one that thinks this?


Blue sky, tree trunks, and the bamboo screen also reflect in water pockets.


White waterlilies look stunning on black peaty water, note the willow sculpture.


Willow sculpture hidden away just like the resident palmate newts in this pond.


Inspired to add water to your garden? Perhaps you already have a pond or water feature, if so, please do share where you got your inspiration in a comment. My pond was also built for wildlife as well as to please my eye and soul. I lose all sense of time standing by the pond edge watching pond skaters, backswimmers and beetles dive up and down! I really can’t recommend having a pond in the garden enough :-)


This post was published by Shirley for shirls gardenwatch in May 2015.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Chelsea Flower Show tribute week

Let’s celebrate gardens some more with a garden visit week taking a Chelsea Flower Show twist (do join me if you fancy). The NTS garden Inverewe, on the west coast of Scotland, is a worthy gold medal winner to my eyes after a long awaited return visit last September. Yay… the rain stopped and the sun came out for it too! Fingers crossed the weather is kind for the gardens and visitors to Chelsea this week :-)

The judges at Chelsea are looking for perfection in blooms so I guess the poppy below wouldn't have made it. I have to admit to enjoying photographing flowers that are going past just as much as the perfect ones. I wonder how many photographs and videos will be taken at Chelsea this week. Any guesses?



Debris of all kinds including garden trugs need to be removed before 6:30am on the Monday of Chelsea week when the Chelsea Judges begin their rounds. I also have to admit to enjoying photographing garden tools etc in borders on garden visits - wheelbarrows and trugs are my favourites! I wonder how many wheelbarrows and trugs were taken to the show this year. Any guesses?

Walking round the Show Gardens and Floral Hall Displays, the Chelsea Judges will be scrutinising planting combinations to make sure they fit the brief given by the designer. Visitors to all garden shows/on garden visits will also scrutinise planting combinations for inspiration for their own gardens. I take many photos here again – colour and texture are the things I look out for.



Garden visits can transport us to other parts of the world with their choice of plants, materials and designs just as show gardens do. The warm currents of the Gulf Stream and the 100 acres of woodland, planted by Osgood Mackenzie to shelter the garden, allow many plants to flourish you wouldn’t expect at this northern location.

Once again, coming back to the judges at Chelsea, they are looking for a mood to a planting that helps transport the visitor. That mood has to blend together seamlessly, depending on the designers brief, it might be to a hot climate where the use of different planting heights/story levels and mulching are crucial and a reduced pallet of colour has to be balanced very carefully.




So the design brief for Inverewe could be written (as per the NTS website) as:
“A lush, sub-tropical-style, oasis perched on a peninsula at the edge of Loch Ewe amid the rugged landscape of Wester Ross”. Looking below, I’d say it definitely fulfils that brief - wouldn't you?


Dense planting, narrow paths opening up to vista views work well in our own smaller gardens too. Simple ideas like this can transform gardens.


Simple design ideas like this boundary fence of branches at Inverewe
will be highlighted by presenters in the TV coverage of Chelsea Flower Show.


Show Garden designers like to play with the element of surprise too,
like switching from formal to wild through a garden gate or door.


Inverewe Garden caught me completely by surprise here – fantastic!


Voting for the garden that you think should win the BBC RHS People's Choice Award 2015 takes place on Thursday after each of the 15 Show Gardens have been reviewed. If there was a People's Choice Award for an area at Inverewe Garden my vote would be for the Walled Garden and I’m pretty confident it would win with a large margin.


A sneak preview, watch your feet in the mud… oh my it’s pretty high up here!


At garden shows we can only look from afar as only the judges
and invited guests get to wander through the show gardens.


Later in the week, I’d like to invite you to join me for a wander around the Walled Garden at Inverewe. So many views and features caught my eye on this visit - perhaps should warn you it may spill on to more than one blog post! I’m delighted to finally find a fun way to share my many photos of this garden visit with you!

Finally, to keep with my Chelsea Flower show twist and as I am writing this blog late evening (gone past midnight) I’m going to schedule its publishing to 6:30am on Tuesday as that is when the BBC presenters and RHS personnel go round the gardens leaving medals where they are given. I do love to see the TV coverage of this moment. Looking forward to seeing more coverage of the gardens too. If you are watching too - enjoy :-)


This post was published by Shirley for shirls gardenwatch in May 2015.

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

… and the potentially noisy neighbours are…

… Woodpigeons and sorry Mr & Mrs Robin, we were here first! We enjoy preening in the morning sunshine on the roof of the pergola and we enjoy a bit of exercise jumping across its rafters. Then there is the great central location with a lookout over the whole garden - especially towards the potting shed where the gardener goes to get seed for the bird tables :-)



So what’s this all about then? The gardener has gone towards the potting shed (I'm on the house roof lookout this time) and she is standing behind one of those video cameras we've seen her with before and is pointing it towards the Robin’s new house! Mmm...




Perhaps I should remind her I’m here. Shh… chaffinches, I’m trying to get us some seed…

Woodpigeon calling, short video 26 seconds, try HD quality.


Oh dear… well that’s not working! Wait a minute… Mr Robin is using the perch I like to use to stare in the window at the gardener to get her attention. The Blue tits and Great tits have perched there too en route to the camera nestbox on the house wall above. Perhaps we should go and tell them that we’ve got nesting competition!




Yes, Mr & Mrs Robin, as mentioned earlier… we were here first. We made a nest in the more common ivy on the opposite side of the pergola to you in June 2014 and we laid two eggs! Unfortunately we had to leave in a hurry (the gardener thinks Magpies or Jackdaws had something to do with us leaving our eggs just before they were due to hatch).


2014 Woodpigeon nest completely hidden from the garden border and only
just visible from the path below. Abandoned eggs disappeared from nest.


Okay, Mr & Mrs Robin, strictly speaking we weren't the first to take advantage of the cover and food provided within this pergola area. Yes, there are other noisy neighbours to this location besides us that you should be aware of.

The gardener here has hidden a feeding station for night garden visitors between two of the ivy clad pergola poles at ground level below your new house. Yep… during the night when you are sleeping, directly below you, passing by on a well travelled route through the garden are hedgehogs.






So, Mr & Mrs Robin, just before dusk (sometimes later) you should also be prepared to hear the quiet footsteps of the gardener walk by below you as she brings food and water to the feeding station known as Hedgehog Manor.

There are two tables here after altercations with diners. It can be a bit noisy when the ceramic plant saucer (used as a water dish) gets pulled out for cleaning and refilling but wait until you hear the huffing and puffing of two hedgehogs!

Both the gardener and a hedgehog got a fright one night as the plastic scoop of food gently bumped into a diner. It was dark this night and a quick photo has revealed the strong roof is sagging with the the likely roots of a bigger plant above so some attention is required here so you should expect the gardener at work below you too.




We weren’t visiting this garden when the gardener experimented with her first hedgehog feeding station of an upturned plastic box with an entrance of 13cm x13cm cut out of it. It worked fine at the time (we've heard) but this garden has got way busier since the introduction of the more spacious hedgehog Manor hidden out of the rain and wind.

So to sum up, Mr & Mrs Robin, our 2014 Woodpigeon nest is still sitting across from your new house and we have visited it already for a spell a few weeks ago. We are currently not in residence but you should expect us back, calling to each other and to see us preening and jumping on the rafters above you - Blackbirds too.

Finally, before you completely settle into your nice new house we should give you the final thumbs up on your potentially noisy evening diners. When they take their huffing and puffing altercations out to the street below you need to be prepared for the night sounds that hedgehogs make…


Hedgehog huffing & puffing in annoyance, great sound,
image not perfect but great capture of behaviour in feeding station.


This post was published by Shirley for shirls gardenwatch in May 2015.

Friday, 1 May 2015

A surprise, speedy nest build!

A Robin has shown more than a little urgency in collecting dry moss and leaves from my garden earlier this evening. Having had a push on garden works of late as the weather holds, it seemed to be doing the same tugging away at dry material from rocks around my small pond. At speed, back and forth it went!




To my surprise and delight the Robin flew right past me straight up to an open-fronted nestbox in my ivy clad pergola (the variety Sulphur heart on this side). This Blackbird nestbox has never been used despite being in my garden since 2008 (a birthday gift from my Mum and Dad). My Mum will be thrilled when I tell her now. I'm taking a guess that the Robin just discovered this nestbox this afternoon.






March 2008 when the nestbox was first put up.


What a surprise start to May! Now, the only thing about this location is that the Robin pair could have the potential of noisy neighbours! I do hope this doesn't put them off. On the positive, the ivy has grown considerably since the nestbox was put up and should now give good cover.

Wishing you all a great weekend and hoping that you too have nest building activity in your gardens and are happy with progress of your garden works. May has always been my favourite month in the garden but it is extra special this year with our first (known about) Robin's nest!


This post was published by Shirley for shirls gardenwatch in May 2015. Images 2, 3 & 4 are video grabs.