Sunday, 31 January 2016

Success for the 2016 Garden Birdwatch

The success was that there were actually birds in the garden to count during my one hour by the window for the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch this morning! I had no expectations when I began, given the very quiet feeders due to the frequency of recent Sparrowhawk visits. Also, as many bloggers will report, when it comes to this particular counting hour the birds usually have a garden break - so this was a proper turnaround :-)

Given the small trees, tall plants and structures in my garden, the Sparrowhawk has some serious manoeuvring to do. Some plants in pots have been deliberately put in his way too. He uses a variety of routes through the garden but the most recent has him flying along the length of my gardenwatching window just missing the glass and no more. I cannot deny he is very impressive in flight. I also cannot deny I am happy he had a garden break today.


Male Blackbird feeding newly fledged chick. Image taken May 18th, 2014.
I’ve noticed that the parents will take bread over seed if both available.


Taking the Sparrowhawk out of the equation, how did the birdwatch count go? Well, I'm delighted to report that the Blackbird took top spot in my garden. I really am. Sadly, this is the bird I most often see the Sparrowhawk feed on in my garden. I'm guessing there must be healthy population in the area which is the positive side to this. Today's count was taken between 10:30am and 11:30am.


6x BLACKBIRDS (5x males and 1 female), image taken June 28th, 2014.
Gardening wouldn't be the same without Blackbirds running around.


4x GOLDFINCHES (all weather birds). Image taken December 23rd, 2009.
Nice to see them back again. Groups usually appear in cold weather.


2x BLUE TITS (favourite garden tree). Image taken November 30th, 2008.
Feeders removed from this Acer, without leaves no cover from Sparrowhawk.


1x CHAFFINCH (female on right). Image taken January 22nd, 2008.
No proper hard frosts here this winter so far – frosts bring lots of birds in.


1x COAL TIT (speedy little birds). Image taken November 16th, 2010.
Often hides seeds in pine tree - the Blue tit has been seen copying it.


1x DUNNOCK (forages under hedge). Image taken November 9th, 2008.
Known as a shy ground feeder but will visit bird tables for seeds too


1x JACKDAW (very intelligent birds). Image taken May 17th, 2010.
Usually feeds at peanut feeders on feeder tree - not in garden borders.


1x WOODPIGEON (slightly clumsy birds). Image taken May 4th, 2014.
Always seen walking through garden borders – they can take over bird tables.


1x ROBIN (successfully nested in 2015). Image taken December 19th, 2007.
Known as the gardener’s friend – turns up when there is work to be done.


So to summarise, that’s 20 birds in total counted over 9 different species. Is that a true reflection of regular garden visitors? Species wise not too bad. Numbers wise, definitely could be more - especially with the Coal tits who are always buzzing about. Also there are currently two regular Blue tit and Great tit pairs and as per usual the fight for renting the camera nestbox will be between this two species.

Chaffinches were noticeably missing this year which is a first as they usually battle it out with the Blackbirds for top spot here. I'm pretty certain the weather will have had an impact on numbers this year. Here, Chaffinches come to the garden in good numbers with cold and snow but we had very strong winds with our snow on Saturday and today wasn't quite so cold.

It's very late as I post this tonight, I'll get to blog browsing tomorrow to see other birdwatch results. I wonder if 2016 will show a quite different top ten bird species here in the UK. The results of the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch are usually out in mid to late March so we will have to wait until then. Meantime, we need to remember to submit our results by the deadline (need to research website further for that) and a fuller picture of the UK's bird population can be made.


This post was published by Shirley for shirls gardenwatch in January 2016.

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Winterwatch 2016 starts tonight

Unfortunately winter needs to catch up here in the UK! Despite NTS Mar Lodge, the Highlands location for this series of live programmes reporting on how wildlife survives the harshness of winter, being regarded as the coldest place in the UK it isn’t nearly as cold as it could be. No doubt Chris Packham will have a chart of stats tonight ;-)

No doubts too, that a warmer winter will have its own issues regarding the survival of wildlife. I’m guessing Winterwatch will be covering on that this week (from other locations in the UK too). There will very likely be some wildlife species in trouble that we might not guess, but I suspect that there will be some species that could be thriving. I wonder who the winners of a warmer winter would be. Mmm… maybe I could ask them. Have you any questions for them?




Down here in Perthshire, I regard February as the month to winter watch. We’ve had some quite harsh ones here. A warmer January always makes me nervous of February to come. Don’t get me wrong, I love cold winter days for watching the birds in the garden but as for travelling around – I don’t do snow.

The delight of wildlife programmes like Winterwatch (Springwatch and Autumnwatch too) is that they give us exposure, images and family stories of wildlife that we may never have heard off far less ever seen. I’m certain the readily available nestboxes with cameras is due to Springwatch which is great… Thank-you!

My contribution to Winterwatch is a short video of the Red Squirrel. Will it appear in the live cameras series – you’ll have to watch to see. I’m guessing it might. I don’t see the Red Squirrel in my garden but it is not completely out of the question based on sightings seen a few miles away. My earliest wildlife memories are of the Red squirrel and I’d be ecstatic if one appeared in my garden!



Footage (25 seconds) captured on April 25th, 2013
through observation window at SWT Reserve, Loch of the Lowes.


So where do you find Winterwatch to follow everything this week? Here’s a link to a page giving full details of this week’s Winterwatch coverage. You can follow, share sightings and ask questions on facebook, their blog and on twitter using the hashtag #Winterwatch too which is great for my blog visitors and wildife enthusiasts outside the UK.

On looking for the links above, I discovered one with a video of Red Squirrels in the snow at Mar Lodge (the base location for this week's Winterwatch). I must watch that after I post this! I'd also like to invite any visitors to this page to share their earliest wildlife memories and/or wildlife winter watch stories from your part of the world. I know I'd love to hear them :-)

Finally, sending my best wishes to all involved with the making of Winterwatch for a great week of live wildlife captures. Enjoy your time in Scotland :-) For all wildlife watchers wherever you live, here's a little taster for tonight's show...


Looks like tonight’s Episode is going to include how the otter
is surviving this unseasonally warm winter (turn up speaker volume).
Brief summaries of the other episodes can be found here.


Oops, nearly missed this… if you are in the UK and Winterwatch gets you looking out your window to see what’s visiting your garden, this weekend its the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch and you might enjoy taking part. Make yourself a cuppa, sit by a window for an hour (to one side so you are hidden a little) and count the maximum number of each bird species you can see at any one time. You’ll find counting sheets, info and tips on the RSPB Website but you can also catch up with all the chat and share sightings on facebook and twitter using the hashtag #BigGardenBirdwatch too. Have fun!



This post was published by Shirley for shirls gardenwatch in January 2016.

Friday, 22 January 2016

Previously... Song Thrush juvenile

The year was 2013, the month July and what a boom of newly fledged chicks were to be seen visiting the garden then – so my handwritten blog diary tells me. At this time, exciting family stuff was going on and postings were few but the recording of photos, video and gardenwatching notes in my well-loved, hardback, A5 yearly diary continued.

As mentioned in comments in my previous post, the Song Thrush is in serious decline in many parts of the UK. So, it’s no surprise then that a possible first sighting of juvenile Song Thrush in my garden was exciting! But was that what I was seeing? I wasn’t sure.

Gardenwatching over nine years has taught me many things (forever learning) especially when it comes to identifying new garden visitors. Rushed photos aren't always enough. Yes, granted, videos help more but its the watching of the behaviour that usually clinches it. Juveniles always catch my eye (or ear if they are newly fledged and begging for food). The youngster below caught my eye.


New visitors to garden, watch the activity of other birds before joining in.
Juveniles watch longer, look lost, stand and walk on soft plant foliage.
Juvenile Song Thrush image taken from video screen grab.



21 sec video clip of juvenile Song Thrush at edge of birdbath.
Blackbird comes to drink (bottom RH corner) and youngster moves.
Video footage taken through window, has gentle background music.



35 sec video clip of juvenile Song Thrush exploring garden border.
Could this inexperienced youngster know already to look for snail shells?
Video footage taken through window, has gentle background music.



Nope, crocus bulbs are not what this youngster was looking for.
Juvenile Song Thrush image taken from video screen grab.



Neither are the crocus roots - past observations of newly fledged
youngsters have shown they taste anything they come across.
Juvenile Song Thrush image taken from video screen grab.



This youngster continues through the bulbs to make sure.
Another sign of a juvenile, an adult bird would move swiftly on.
Juvenile Song Thrush image taken from video screen grab.



Adult Song Thrushes, can easily identify sultanas as a food as do Blackbirds.
Brighter photo taken under Acer tree after leaves drop back in October 2007.
Note that isn’t blue slug pellets in gravel, it will be decorative pot grit.



Adult Song Thrush above – can you spot the differences between it and the Juvenile Song Thrush below? What a pretty bird it is isn’t it?



At the time of this juvenile sighting, it was its shorter wings that caught my eye and the face looked slightly different too. On looking at these images now,
I can see the adult above has a pale defined eye ring.


For this blog post and descriptions on the appearance differences between the adult and juvenile Song Thrushes, I referred to my bookshelf and the few bird books I have collected over the last nine years. However it was a book bought, many years before and recently unearthed during an attic clearance that I have found a great resource recently.

A caption next to a small illustration of a juvenile Song Thrush in an old Reader’s Digest (Nature Lover’s Library) Field Guide to the Birds of Britain gave me the best clue by far. Next I searched through my photos and video screen grabs to illustrate this for my own records. Hopefully this will be of help to others wondering if they too have seen a juvenile Song Thrush.



The caption in my book read:
“Speckled back plumage distinguishes juvenile from adult bird”.
That can be very clearly seen in the images of the Song Thrush above.


Finally, there is another Song Thrush comparison that many people search for – I know I have. What’s the difference between the Song Thrush and the Mistle thrush? Well, I was aware that the Mistle Thrush was larger and a bit greyer but that’s a bit vague so I went searching for a video and discovered a good one by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO). I hope this of interest of others too.



Very helpful 5:04 video by BTO on differences between Song & Mistle Thrush


Being fully aware that the Song Thrush is a shy bird as well as a rare one in some areas of the UK, Yorkshire for example where fellow blogger Sue is, I wanted to share my special sighting and images.

I would also like to share a theory by Dominic Couzens in ‘The Secret Life of Garden Birds’ that is currently on my bookshelf. He suggests that perhaps numbers are in decline due the young birds not finding food in the first two or three months after fledging. I do hope the youngster above did not fall into that category.

Wishing everyone reading this Song Thrush sightings in the future especially if you are not seeing them now. If you are seeing them, I hope you continue to do so. Hopefully there can be a turnaround in the decline of this species here in the UK. Fingers crossed.


This post was published by Shirley for shirls gardenwatch in January 2016.

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Not all Wednesday, Winter woes

Two blackbird snatches in less than 5 minutes suggests there had to be a least two male Sparrowhawks hunting over the garden yesterday morning. There have been regular, flight path practising by Sparrowhawks recently too explaining the quiet bird feeders on cold, snowy days.

I guess it comes as no surprise that a black bird running along white snow is going to attract the attention of a bird of prey scouting gardens. A Blackbird would also provide and bigger meal than many of the smaller, faster birds like coal tits that bravely make quick snatches of peanuts and sunflower hearts to eat them in a safe, sheltered spot.

Video screen grab, one of yesterday's Sparrowhawks with Blackbird meal.
He was high up, on snow topped hedge, not bothered by me getting close.


Although very unpleasant to see the messy table manners of the Sparrowhawk (feathers everywhere) I do understand that this bird needs to eat for winter survival too. Over nine years of blogging, I’ve tried to come to terms with this sight. That’s the reality of nature for you – there is an animal food chain and that includes the worms that we gardeners need to aerate our soil so the roots of our plants grow well.

When (carefully) driving, I’ve see Buzzards (a bigger bird of prey) pull large worms out of the grassy, motorway verges. Back in the garden, it’s the Thrushes that I've seen take worms. Blackbirds are part of that species group which include our tiny Robins too. I saw quite a few worms going into our Robin nest last year - those four chicks were well fed!

It’s not all winter woes today, winter is a great time to see birds in the garden that you may never see at any other time of year. Last week we had a garden first with a female Bullfinch that came in with a good sized group of regular Chaffinches. I couldn’t reach for a camera in time then, or when I had a suspected sighting of a Goldcrest in my pine tree a few days before.


Shy, Song Thrush blends well with plant stems keeping it safe (video grab).


Monday’s surprise return visitor - tricky to follow with video camera.


It’s always a delight to see the Song Thrush in the garden. It never hangs around out in the open for very long so I was very happy to capture a tiny bit of video. A few minutes later, coat on, walking out the door and something catches my eye out of the window – the Song Thrush was perched on top of my bird table seeing me away! I guess I should have expected that.

What I didn’t expect, blog browsing late last night, was a quite different winter, snow related surprise. One bulb of the snowdrop, galanthus 'Wendy's Gold' to be precise! Last week fellow blogger Anna at greentapestry had a draw for everyone who commented on her post about this special snowdrop (that she has been nurturing for several years) and my name was picked out. So that’s properly blown away any Wednesday woes :-)



This post was published by Shirley for shirls gardenwatch in January 2016.

Friday, 15 January 2016

GBBD: From Monday to Friday

A quick, very chilly, lunchtime browse for plants in flower today was a serious contrast to Monday’s garden wander showing a Scabious bloom. How quickly the garden can change in just a few days at this time of year.

On the 15th of every month garden bloggers around the globe share images of what’s in flower in their gardens - joining Carol at May Dreams Gardens where links to blog posts can be found. It’s fun to see what we all have in common and to share the differences we have too. January blogs are especially interesting.

Happy Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day (GBBD) everyone :-) Here's my contribution from Perthshire, Scotland...


Monday’s out of season flowering Scabious trying to dodge the snow.


A couple of spider-like insects sheltering in the scabious bloom
(photo rotated to side view to show the insects more clearly).


Together with the odd snow covered, perennial wallflower Erysimum 'Bowles' Mauve flowers, the Scabious flower above brings my GBBD count to a very generous two! I'm not too worried there as I enjoy the winter structure of my garden more than blooms at this time of year.

A little worryingly for the birds, garden berries are really struggling holding on just now. Water for drinking is also a problem with ponds and birdbaths frozen over. Fortunately for birds visiting my garden, a small spout of running water is available at my more sheltered, rock pool pond with ground bird feeders nearby.



Monday’s cotoneaster & Ophiopogon planiscapus 'Nigrescens' berries.
Wildlife Pond iced over (wind-blown bags below the ice… oops!)


The ‘Oops’ in the caption above refers to me not being a vigilant wildlife gardener in keeping wind-blown rubbish out of my pond – not good at all for any wildlife like the damselfly nymphs that I know will be living in my pond just now. I know this, after capturing video of them crawling along the water's edge during the summer. I also captured video of a mating pair of Large Red Damselfles laying eggs below lily pads and other plant material – very exciting that was!

Consistently heavy rain and winds prior to Christmas knocked my wildlife pond (not seen from any windows) out of my radar completely. When temps increase and the water thaws I should, fairly urgently, also remove the wind-blown leaves that are in the water as I spotted a small oil looking patch on the surface during my Monday browse indicating leaves are decomposing. This can’t be good for the wildlife either.

An even bigger garden ‘OOPS’ is required for the image below showing Gunnera flower spikes also taken today. On the positive… I forgot to add them to my GBBD count so that brings my flowering total to a more respectable three ;-) On the negative…


So... what’s wrong with this photo of January GBBD flowers?
Answer: You shouldn’t be seeing them!


To clarify this further, this Gunnera is not flowering out of season. These flowers are holding on from 2015 and they might well be the last seen from this plant (although I have thought this before and it has come back). Why do I say this?

After posting on more than a few occasions on how to protect a Gunnera plant for winter, I haven’t followed my own advice here, here and here. These flower blooms should be covered at their bases (with only the tips exposed) to protect the crown of this plant and that is how a Gunnera survives the cold and snow of winter. And here’s me thinking I was an attentive gardener in 2015 (hangs head slowly down to keyboard).

Okay, I’ll stop rambling on and let you get browsing on through the many GBBD posts and other blogs on gardening, birds and wildlife – there are a lot out there. Enjoy :-)


This post was published by Shirley for shirls gardenwatch in January 2016.

Monday, 11 January 2016

From snowdrops to scabious

A quick lunchtime blog browse today took in A Flurry of Snowdrops. A quick lunchtime garden browse took in the surprise of a flowering Scabious! Really... in January? It was looking pretty healthy too considering the cold temps of late.

A record garden shot for future years (should it survive what winter holds).


My garden snowdrops have noses just peeking through the soil. Anna’s Flurry of Snowdrops are flowering in pots in her greenhouse. What a neat idea for seeing the detail in their markings especially when you are building a collection. You don’t want to misplace these very delicate blooms in garden borders (or disturb them completely, never to be seen again as I'm likely to do).


Damaged cotoneaster berries, a very late flowering cowslip, black berries of Ophiopogon planiscapus 'Nigrescens' and greenhouse succulent mix.


A quick lunchtime browse also took in the start of a Greenhouse collection of succulents but it is clear more protection from cold temps is required here. My greenhouse isn’t heated and the door has lost its seal on one side so it's getting bumped up to the urgent list!

Although pretty chilly, I did find myself considering some pruning today. I snipped a few dead stems to get clear views for photographs and it was great to be (very briefly) gardening again – another first for 2016!

The next gardening job (also needing urgent attention) is to pot up all the bulbs sitting in my potting shed (the ground is too cold for them now I suspect). I’ll enjoy planting them from pots later in the Spring.

Finally .. can I get a show of hands from other garden bloggers who have bulbs still in their packaging waiting to be planted? I wouldn't think I'm the only one ;-) Also, what have you flowering out of season just now - has anyone else got scabious or cowslips?


This post was published by Shirley for shirls gardenwatch in January 2016.

Thursday, 7 January 2016

A flash of blue brings in 2016

Iridescent blue-green to be more precise! This swift blue flash excitedly grabbed my attention as it mirrored over a small pond at the bottom of the Chinese Hillside Garden at the Royal Botanical Garden, Edinburgh yesterday. What a spectacle we were treated to :-)

Not being totally convinced that the rain would stay away and only on the look out for plants in flower, I wasn’t prepared for such a special sighting from a very shy bird - no video camera or zoom lens packed :-( Photo crops below are more record shots for myself but what a great start to a new gardenwatching year!


View from Pavilion, a standing Grey Heron can be seen in the distance.


Usually we approach this pond, with its small waterside Pavilion (or T'ing), from the top via the winding paths and bridges that cross small rocky waterfalls which tumble into the pond at the bottom. On this occasion we approached the building from a lower, outer path and perhaps that was key to what we were about to see! It was just before noon, the winding paths were quiet of people and sound.

For those that haven’t guessed – we were treated to the spectacle of a Kingfisher hunting for food! I still can’t believe our very lucky timing. It perched on shrub and tree branches on both sides of the pond and in the distance to the left of the Heron. Not having sufficient zoom on my camera or binoculars in my coat pocket, I couldn't see if its dives were successful or not. Back and forth it went, swiftly in and out of the water. We watched it for over 20 minutes :-)


Record shots of perch areas, top right shows the first blue flash with reflection.


Cropped shot showing best image – such a shame no zoom lens packed.


View from other side, no luck in sightings after walking along this path.


Robin followed me over from the Pavilion – they are very tame there.


Another surprise sighting – Male bullfinch bathing near the Heron!


A wide variety of birds will find shelter in the dense planting of shrubs and trees in the Chinese Hillside Garden at Edinburgh Botanics. The bounty of its berries are sure to be a valuable food supply during winter. However, when the pond freezes that’s the food supply for the Kingfisher completely cut off! Oh dear… I’ve seen this a few times. I will look at this area quite differently now.

I hope the Kingfisher can successfully go hunting in the bigger, deeper pond in another area of the garden that may not freeze completely over. I’m guessing it is feeling the temps dropping and knows it needs to feed up for as long as it can before the snow and ice come. I do hope we see it again another day but the garden is not usually as quiet as it was yesterday. I am happy to have my record shots to know where to look out for it - I will be returning with my video camera :-)

For visitors to Edinburgh Botanical Gardens , other birds I’ve spotted in the Chinese Hillside area include: Blackbirds, Moorhens, Coal tits, Blue tits, Great tits, Long-tailed tits, Bullfinches, Treecreepers, Woodpigeons and Magpies. If you add the Kingfisher, Grey Heron and Robin that’s 13 species for the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch (this year its the weekend of 30-31 January).

There are other birds to be seen in this Botanical garden and I’d definitely encourage families to go bird watching there and in other Botancial gardens and parks close to you. You will be surprised what you could see there if you stand still and look a little closer. Just take your camera with you ;-)



This post was published by Shirley for shirls gardenwatch in January 2016.