The Garden Diary 2005

February - Part 2

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13 - 17 February - We took advantage of the school half-term holiday to get away on the 13th and spend five days in the area around Poole Harbour on the South Coast. Well, that was the original intention. However Sheila went down with a flu type bug so we came home a day early, and now it's my turn to succumb to the bug!

The weather remained good, if very cold, throughout our stay - we actually saw small amounts of snow by the roadside on our drive down to Poole.

Poole Harbour is a large natural harbour, and away from the town of Poole itself, with its commercial  docks, the harbour has extensive salt marshes around its edges. There are even oil wells here.

Instead of using the caravan we stayed in  Bed & breakfast  accommodation in a house called Tideway, owned by Ken and Hilary Yates, which is situated on the edge of a part of those marshes called Lytchett Bay.

The top image shows the view from the dining room window on a morning when visibility was not so good. The lower image shows the central part of the view, taken as the sun dropped low in the west. The exit from Lytchett Bay into the main harbour is spanned by a bridge that carries the South coast railway traffic. When we left I said that I would be pinching a bit of their view, and here it is!


We kept our fingers crossed that some of the Sika deer that live in and around the marshes would come into the garden while we were about. We were out of luck, but each morning we were treated to the antics of several pheasants, a trio of hens and a pair of cock pheasants.



One of our excursions took us to Arne Nature Reserve on the western edge of the harbour. This has long walks and is frequented by lots of bird watchers. However, we were already starting to feel the effects of the flu bug so we only had a short walk.



However, the trip was worth it. We had parked very close to a couple of feeder tables which were in constant use. The main customers seemed to be Chaffinches, with quite a few about.


There were also Great Tits, Blue Tits and numerous visits by Coal Tits like these two.

They were usually too quick to get pictures at the tables, but fortunately they did pause for longer on overhanging branches.



The real treat of the time we spent watching, was the sight of Nuthatches coming to feed, just a couple of yards from us.




When our wanderings took us to the water's edge, there were always lots of Black-headed Gulls about. Most of them were in winter plumage, but some had the complete 'hood' of their summer plumage.



As the tide went out small numbers of Oystercatchers appeared, drilling deep into the sand with their long, bright red  beaks in search of worms and molluscs.



At one spot the Oystercatchers and Gulls were joined by a group of Crows that entertained us for ages with their behaviour.


They would forage about in the sand searching for bivalves near the surface. Once one was found the Crow would hold the shell with one foot as it tried to prise it open (pic 1).

If that failed, the bird would pick up the shell in its beak, take off (pic 3) and fly to an area of gravel (pic 4). There it would drop the shell from a height of 5ft or so onto the stones below.


It would land and check if the impact had cracked the shell so it could to tuck into the contents.

I saw one Crow repeat the process four times before the shell was broken.


While on this beach we could see a couple of these Red-breasted Mergansers. They stayed too far out to get a good photograph.



In Poole itself, an area of wet grassland was the feeding ground of a flock of 60+ Brent geese. A footpath that runs between that area and the shore is used by a lot of people and dogs, usually not on a lead.

Consequently the geese were disturbed quite often, although usually they would just run to another part of the area.

The times when it did take to their wings the flock landed on the sea close to the shore, and was soon heading back onto land.


18/19 February - Since our return we have been well and truly laid low by the flu virus, so nothing has been done in the garden. However there are two photographs for the record.

On the night of the 17th I had great difficulty getting to sleep so I came downstairs to have a hot drink. The porch light came on at around 2am and when I looked out of a window at the front of the house I came face to face with a fox, the first one I have seem here this Winter.

Then, just after 10.30am yesterday morning I looked out of our bedroom window and was surprised by a fox again. This time it was resting on a roof at the bottom of the garden.

The roof is sheltered, and slopes down to the east, so I assume the fox was trying to warm itself up in the little bit of brightness that made it through the grey morning skies.

It looks like an old fox, and the lack of fur on the rear of its body suggests that it may be suffering from mange.

It stayed for about 20 minutes.

I shall have to watch out for it in the future, and look up information on mange.

This morning (19th) my neighbour (John) came to tell me to take a look at the Ivy tree where he had just seen six Redwings.

Throughout the rest of the morning they made repeated visits to eat the berries, but I'm afraid that with the exception of this image,  the rest of my attempts at photographing them resulted in failure - I'll blame the flu bug for that....


The Redwings is a Winter visitor, coming from Scandinavia, and is the smallest Thrush seen in the UK. The last time I saw a Redwing here was in January 2002.


20 February - A bright start with ice over the ponds and the birdbath, although that disappeared by the afternoon as cloud cover increased. A few snowflakes fell late in the afternoon. The flu bugs seem to have started packing to leave - the sooner they go the better we will like it!

The Redwings were coming and going all day, Spending quite a lot of time on the Ivy and also making a couple of visits to the Rowan(?) a couple of gardens away that was largely missed by the Waxwings.

The Ivy berries were also being eaten by the Blackbirds (especially a male) and a Wood Pigeon. A Song Thrush also made an appearance. It landed in the Birch, but it flew off again when the male Blackbird landed near it.

I've set up a hide on a scaffold tower down the West Wing in the hope that I can get a closer shot of the Redwings tomorrow.


21 February - The weather today fluctuated from bright sunshine to cloudy with sprinklings of snow, which came to nothing. Temperatures stayed a few degrees above freezing and there was no ice on the ponds this morning.

With the flu still in control I needed to have a restful day, so I spent most of the day up in the hide, wrapped up against the cold.

I had a comfortable seat, which was fortunate as there was precious little bird action within range of my camera.



The Redwings came and went, but on the other side of the Ivy tree - with the exception of one opportunity as this individual perched atop the Ivy before going down to feed. Not a perfect image, but a lot better than yesterday's - well worth the wait!



There were a few visits by Blackbirds. This rather undignified shot of a female shows her tongue as she swallows a berry.


This morning, as I set up a flashgun outside the hide, a Song Thrush carried on eating berries as though I wasn't there, and even stayed put as I walked right underneath it. It returned just once while I was in the hide, but was chased away immediately by a male Blackbird.


22 February - A grey start, with snow falling, but it's not cold enough (2C) for the ground to turn white, and there is no sign of ice on either the birdbath or ponds.

However, the dull conditions have been brightened greatly by bird activity. We very nearly needed air traffic controllers in a short while ago as we had the Sparrow flock feeding, along with a trio of Goldfinches; the Blackbird trio were dashing about, the Song Thrush heading into the Hawthorn to stay out of their way; and the six Redwings came to feed on the Ivy, along with a couple of Wood Pigeons. The pair of Collared Doves just perched in the birch, looking bemused by the activity, and this local Great Spotted Woodpecker pair (female on the left) appeared on the scene! Poor light conditions meant that these are very 'grainy' images.


The Redwings continued to visit all morning, and I spent another hour or so in the hide while they ate on the other side of the Ivy, as usual!

They sometimes spend ages perched in the Birch tree, not usually in a spot where I could get a clear shot with the camera - this was the nearest I got.

A look at the path below the tree shows their droppings having an understandably dark purple/blue colouring, but in addition, there are lots of very 'clean' ivy seeds scattered over the path and soil. I saw these being regurgitated by the birds every so often, completely stripped of the fleshy parts of the berries.


For a while I was entertained by the sub-song of this Starling. A sort of gurgling/crackling sound, it really gets the throat feathers vibrating, although I missed this when I took the photograph.




The temperature hovered around 2C all day and although we had numerous snow showers they had no effect until this somewhat heavier fall around 3.30pm. Paving stayed clear, but as dusk fell the grass remained just about covered and there is more snow falling at 5.30pm.

It seems that we are likely to get more snow over the next few days.



23 February -  Temperatures overnight stayed just low enough for the snow to be still here in the morning, and the ponds were frozen over. However, by this afternoon all traces of ice and snow had gone again, and we have only seen a few flakes falling during the day so far. The forecast is for all that to change overnight, with, perhaps a few inches of snow tomorrow.

Other than topping up the feeders, I have not done anything outside today, and have been feeling extremely tired. Nevertheless, there have been a few exiting moments to report. For a short time this morning there were at least ten Redwings here, and it looked as though they were part of a larger flock that I could see perched in the Chestnut further down our road.

We had four Goldfinches here, and the Thrush was down under the Hawthorn, feeding on raisins that I put out. The female Great Spotted Woodpecker made another appearance, but by the time I got upstairs with my camera she had gone.

The trip wasn't wasted. As I got to the window there was bedlam in the Hawthorn with the Sparrows reacting in the way usually reserved for a Sparrowhawk attack, something not seen very much this winter. However, it wasn't a hawk, but this lone Magpie that was doing the attacking.

It pounced in a very characteristic hawk way, swooping onto the Hawthorn from my neighbour's tree, and then flying around it before landing in our Birch. I had just pointed the camera and focused when it launched itself from there, straight at the Hawthorn again, and this time succeeding in scaring several Sparrows enough to take flight.

It was last seen chasing one of them away across neighbouring gardens.

I know that Magpies will take young birds during the nesting season, but this is the first time that I have even seen one hunting adult Sparrows in this aggressive way. In the past we have often seen the Magpies about, usually in pairs, and especially when following the Sparrowhawk about as it hunts - This individual seems to have learnt a few techniques from the master!


24 February - Well, yesterday's warning of overnight snow was greatly exaggerated. This morning we awoke to another sprinkling of white over the garden and rooftops, but with the outside thermometer still reading 1.5C most of the snow has already melted away. At 9.20am we are having the snow version of a fine drizzle, and that is having no effect on the ground.

I did a quick check for footprints in the snow. Apart from some Blackbird tracks on our veranda and elsewhere, there were no fox (or cat) tracks to be seen.

The Redwings are still visiting (at least, I have seen four here). This morning I noticed them being harassed by a couple of Sparrows. At one time there were Redwings, Goldfinches, Sparrows, Blue Tits, a Chaffinch and a Blackbird in the Birch - an unusual sight.

I should mention that the Blue Tits are now regular visitors to my neighbour's old nestbox, and that there is still no sign of any birds taking an interest in my main main nestbox.

The female woodpecker visited the peanuts briefly, and the Magpie returned again, but after a pause in the Birch it left without a repeat of yesterday's attack.

The Song Thrush has already been here several times this morning, preferring to tuck into some insectivorous bird food that I put out occasionally, rather than the raisins favoured by the Blackbirds.




Half an hour later, and I was watching two Thrushes feeding at this end of the garden, unfortunately, not close enough to get a photograph of the pair. I cannot recall seeing more than one here for a very long time indeed.

Here they are for the sake of comparison, with the second individual on the left, as it rested in the Hawthorn.


The day ended damp and miserable, with none of the snow cover that was promised for today.


25 February - The snow is back, at least just enough to decorate the garden without causing disruption on the roads. I may add a suitable picture later but, with the Redwings continuing to visit  I have just spent an hour or so down (or is it up?) the hide, triple wrapped against the cold - it turned out to be well worth the effort!

As usual they headed to the far side of the Ivy at first, and then this one has decided to start eating the berries on the hide side of the Ivy

This cropped image shows a bit of detail around the mouth as another berry is consumed.




Here is a front view that can be compared to those of the Song Thrushes in yesterday's entry.



Eventually one of the birds settled on a group of berries on a more exposed area of the Ivy and gave me this almost ideal opportunity to get a decent shot.


After that I retired to the house to have some late breakfast.

Today's weather had that typical, changeable character to it. First thing this morning there was an ice covering on both ponds, and the bird bath required a bowl of hot water to make it useful. It started snowing again around 9am when I decided to go down to the hide and the left hand image shows the garden it that time.

The snow continued to fall steadily for most of the time I was watching the Redwings, and even then I could see that paved areas were clearing. By early afternoon the garden was transformed, with all the snow and ice gone completely.

Then, late afternoon sunshine gave the place a Spring-like feeling, if still rather cold, with the temperature hovering around 3C at 4pm.

The Song Thrushes have been here again, individually this time, as has the female woodpecker.


26 February - After a bright start (with just a sprinkling of snow overnight) it has turned into a dull, damp day with the temperature around 5C this afternoon.

No photographs today (so far) but a couple of things to note. First of all, with just a couple of visits today, the local Magpie has started to gather twigs. Each year the Birch tree next door is visited as the bird(s) selects fine, live branches to twist off and carry away. Last year it was the 6th March when I first saw this happening.

The female Woodpecker is becoming a daily visitor now, with just the one feed just after 1pm.

After yesterday's encounters with the Redwings, today we have only seen one here. Perhaps they have reached the time when they start heading North again.


27 February - A very quiet day, both for me and the garden. The Redwings seem to have gone now - at least the Thrush is continuing to visit.


28 February - Last night was the coldest of the year so far, dropping down below -4C. Farnborough recorded -8C last night. It was still -2C at 8.30am.


Needless to say, the ponds and birdbath were frozen over, and the ponds remained covered all day.

Despite the low temperature there was little in the way of 'photogenic' frost, so I ended up on hands and knees taking these close-ups. They show very similar columnar ice crystals on a Crocus flower head (left) and a Primrose leaf.


There was a brief visit from a single Redwing at lunchtime, eating a couple of Hawthorn berries, but there was no sign of any of the others.


This visit by a Song Thrush took place while I was doing some tidying up on the veranda. It wasn't at all worried by my presence, or my getting the camera to take this shot as it perched by the Snowdrops  (which are now well past their prime).

Tonight the garden is once again covered with a thin dusting of snow.

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