The Garden Diary 2006

December (part 1)

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1 December - The warmest Autumn on record ended with a low of 8C last night, since when the temperature has been rising again today. The day has been glum, with low cloud and increasingly wet as the afternoon has progressed. Now, at 4.30pm and with it dark and wet outside it is 12C and climbing! The Met office site suggests that this month (and January/February) is likely to continue with higher than average temperatures.


On that theme, in addition to the Garlic leaves which are popping up all over the area under the Hawthorn, there are now Snowdrop buds popping up, some three weeks earlier than last December.

I haven't photographed them, but there are also groups of Bluebell leaves appearing around the garden.


Other than that snap of the Snowdrops (taken from the shelter of the veranda) I haven't taken any photographs today. Yesterday I took a few late in the day, although by then I was too tired to add a diary entry.

I had spent a short time in the garden and did a little bit of pruning, including a couple of straggly ends on the Stinging nettles. On the terminal leaves on one stalk there were several, what I think are scale insects like this one.

They all appeared to be nymphs, but are clearly looking different to the species on the Ivy.



They measure about 2mm in length are much more mobile, with longer legs and antennae that protrude beyond the rim of the body.




2 December - A bright and sunny day with the temperature falling gradually from last night's mild conditions, so that it is around 8C at 9pm. There is a Met Office warning about stormy weather that could hit us in the early hours of tomorrow morning, and this time they appear to be much more certain - it could mean an early wake-up call!


If the wind does come, there are few leaves left to shake off our deciduous trees now. 

In the picture you may just make out a couple of the ropes that form part of the storm precautions that (hopefully) protect the caravan shelter.




In yesterday's edition of 'Shared Earth' on BBC Radio 4 there was an item about mites.

At the moment I'm seeing quite a few mites every time I check the Ivy leaves, and they seem to be most obvious around the Barkflies, taking a lot of interest in the webs produced by the flies, or at least debris attached to the silk.




In this second image, a dead Barkfly has become a focal point for mites.




On the Ivy leaves I've found several intact cocoons like the one in the top left image, as well as some that have been 'opened' (bottom-right - notice the mites) and white marks that indicate where some had been previously.

They measure around 5mm in length, and I have yet to link them with any particular insect species.



There haven't been any new birds in the garden recently, but this morning, in addition to ten Goldfinches,  I counted at least a dozen Blue Tits around the feeders and the Hawthorn. I can't recall ever seeing that many Blue Tits here before.


3 December - Well, we are still here, and while it did get windy during the night,  the very strong winds didn't materialise. This morning was dull and wet to start with, but it turned into a very pleasant, sunny day.


Before the gloom lifted, we had a visitor in the form of a Song Thrush down under the Hawthorn.

I'm afraid that by the time that I was able to point the camera its way, it was heading back down the garden, so I'll need to be better prepared tomorrow!



Despite the sunshine I spent very little time in the garden today, other than to check the Ivy and Bamboo again.

No news from the latter, but I did take a few photographs of this Barkfly on an Ivy leaf. It appears to be much darker than any I have recorded previously, although I can't tell if it a 'new' species for the garden or just an individual variation.



Barkfly on Ivy leafLooking back at yesterday's picture of mites, I've just realised that I forgot to include a couple of pictures taken a few days ago (30 Nov). I was finding very pale Barkflies on a number of the lower leaves of the Ivy which looked quite different to the Barflies that I could see on the Bamboo leaves.

Again, I'm not sure if they are a different species or, in this case, are pale because they have just moulted, although I couldn't see any darker examples.


5 December - A wet, dull start to the day after a wet and windy night, with gusts of 40-50mph, and still relatively mild with the temperature nearly 12C at 10am. At 10.45am it dropped a couple of degrees in very heavy rain.

Not quite the morning for it, but today's post included a letter encouraging us to 'enjoy savings on your energy bill' by investing in an advanced solar energy system. While solar water heating may be a good idea, and could be a good investment in the right circumstances, our house has a inherent disadvantage - our roof slopes East, West and North, but has no south facing surfaces.

On what is a more realistic path for us, yesterday we took a step towards greatly reducing our dependence on gas for heating. We are going to have a log burning stove installed (date to be arranged). With two sons involved in the tree surgery business we should have a good supply of fuel, and I bought an excellent hatchet at a car-boot sale on the weekend! I'll have to ensure that I grow a few more tree seedlings (to be planted elsewhere as there is no more room in the garden) to offset the timber we burn.


6 December - a decent, sunny day after a dull start. The dry weather was appreciated as we needed to drive up to Heathrow Airport to send one of my sons on his was to New York where he will meet up with his partner who is coming to the end of her 'Around the World' adventure. She has just spent the last couple of weeks diving in Fiji (I'm green with envy!!!) so when they come home it will be interesting to hear what she saw of the coup that has just taken place there.

First thing, while it was still quite dull outside, the Goldfinches were joined by not only the Blue Tits and a Great Tit (I forgot to mention that there were three of those here yesterday), but also a pair of Greenfinches.

It's quite unusual for us to see three different species together at a feeder.




The Greenfinches only came to the feeder one at a time, and these two shots show the male in the upper image and the female in the lower one.

While the Goldfinches returned frequently throughout the day, the Greenfinches only appeared 'for breakfast'.


At long last I've started to assemble next year's calendar - it will be available on the website after Christmas Day.


9 December - A dry, mainly sunny day, but with the wind swinging around to the North is has been getting colder. Last night the temperature dipped to around 3C and today it peaked at around 7C during the afternoon sunshine. It was nice to get out into that sunshine when at the moment my brain seems to want to hibernate! The forecast suggests that we may get a frost tonight.

The garden looks quite sad at the moment. I wondered if the mild weather would encourage late (or early) flowering but apart from green foliage, red berries and the browns of fallen leaves the  there are only a few touches of other colours.

Today I could only find these plants in flower, a White Dead Nettle, a rather tatty Red Campion, and a single, opening flower bud on one of the Primrose plants that are now showing healthy leaf development.




On the fungus front, there are a few to record. This is a log behind the Hawthorn, covered with bracket fungi. The fruiting bodies have been developing over the last month or so.




Just beyond the far end of the ponds, these Wrinkled Club fungi (Clavulina rugosa - I think) are growing around a piece of well decayed and mainly buried wood.

Like the previous fungus, these have been developing for the last few months.




Finally, on other side of the log on which I photographed the Wrinkled Peach Fungus (10 October), are these Jew's Ear fungus (Auricularia auricula-judae) fruiting bodies which have only appeared in the last week or so. I first recorded this species on this log back on 14 January (Those fruiting bodies withered away over the next month) but there are more of them this time. The largest one is about 5cm across.




The bodies are somewhat rubbery to the touch, bouncing back into shape when you take your finger away, and they have a velvet appearance.




It's when you look at them from below that you can see where the 'ear' part of the name come from. The hole in the upper body makes the name even more appropriate.




11 December - Well, we had the promised frost the night before last, just cold enough to cover the birdbath with a thin layer of ice but not providing a photogenic morning. By the end of the afternoon the temperature was back up to 8C in heavy rain which continued through the night and much of this morning, accompanied by blustery winds. Tonight the temperature is dropping again (5C at 11.30pm).


The weather doesn't suit me but the frogs are happy. Last night I saw at least a dozen in or around the big pond.

In the daytime there are always fewer to be seen, and at lunchtime today I could find just these two watching out for movement in the air above the big pond.



I'm still able to find Barkflies on the Bamboo and Ivy, although their numbers are dwindling now, and tonight I found one in the house for the very first time - it had landed on the screen of my laptop (which I was using to watch NASA TV - great images of the Space Shuttle as it arrived at the International Space Station). It has been 'captured' and if I have time I will take some pictures in the morning before I release it outside again.


15 December - The frost mentioned in the previous entry hasn't been repeated. In fact, over the last three days the lowest temperature has been just above 9C for a brief time last night. We had some sunshine yesterday, but today has been largely dull, with occasional drizzle, and at going on for 11pm it is just under 11C outside.

It's not surprising that as well as the warmest ever July (mean temp 19.7C); warmest ever September (16.8C); warmest ever April to October (mean of 14.6C); and the warmest ever Autumn (mean of 12.6C), it seems that we are on track for the warmest ever year on record.

As if to emphasise the point, my neighbour John came to the house this evening with a moth that he had just caught in his bedroom. It turns out to be a Hummingbird Hawkmoth  (Macroglossum stellatarum).

An immigrant species from Mediterranean countries, it now makes appearances all over the UK during the summer months and has started to over-winter here as well. This individual must have been tempted back out of hibernation by the mild conditions.



While I was taking that first picture, it took off and gave me a chance to get a few in-flight shots as it flew around the low-energy (and not too hot) light bulb.


As the forecast is for lower temperatures over the next week, on the advice of Tim Norriss (Moth recorder for Hampshire) I will put it into one of our sheds. before I head to bed.


I had been looking out unsuccessfully for a Hummingbird Hawkmoth all through the summer, so it has been quite a surprise to see this one now.


17 December - Having commented about the mild, dull weather, we had a touch of frost this morning (although not cold enough to produce any ice on the birdbath)  after the temperature dropped, giving a high of 6C yesterday and 7C today under blue skies. The Hawkmoth is now in one of my sheds, in an egg box retreat within a cardboard box, able to leave when it gets warm again.

I'm afraid that I've been rather distracted from garden matters lately, and yesterday's pictures were the only ones I've taken in the last week. The garden has been very quiet with just the usual birds here to feed (must get new supplies tomorrow).

Click on the images to see larger versions -

2006 Garden Diary Index............... ...Last Month.................... December (part 2)

September trip to Cornwall