The Garden Diary 2006


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1 February - A thoroughly dull start to the month, with the temperature not getting above 1C all day, although there has been no sign of ice on the ponds or the birdbath. Even though it is colder today, it hasn't felt so bad outside because the easterly wind has disappeared.

Last night, one of the hedgehogs turned up around 10pm when the outside temperature was only around 1C.


I had hoped to see the Snowdrops in flower by now, but this is the most advanced group and these are still not open tonight.

Last year, the same group was well and truly in flower by 20 January.


We had a couple of Long-tailed Tits come to feed today, the Coal Tits reappeared, and I heard, and then saw the first Greenfinches of the year, although they weren't in the garden, but at the tops of a couple of the conifers beyond the end of the garden.

Today I bought the plywood I need to make the Swift boxes - the forecast for continuing dry weather should mean I can get a couple made by the end of the week, when I'm not putting together some shelves for Sheila's wool!


3 February - As the grey skies continue to blanket us, the temperature has struggled to get above 0C these last two days, and it remains dry. Looking out of the window this morning there was no sign of frost, despite it being -2C at the time. As I write this at 10.30am, against the darkness of the underside of the caravan shelter I can see just the slightest hint of very fine snow in the air.

It seems that we have just had the driest January of at least a decade, and yesterday I watched a group of Sparrows having a dust bath, something I usually expect to see during a hot, dry summer.

The ice on the big pond must still be very thin as the male Blackbird has just managed to break through it in order to bathe. This is the mature male that seems to be the 'boss' in the garden.

Even at this distance (just over 12m away) he is still sensitive to any movement I make by the window so I had to catch the moment when his back was turned to grab this shot, taken through a gap in the lower branches of the Hawthorn. I wonder how he doesn't end up covered with duckweed.


Another male came briefly to feed. This one had the brownish colouring of an immature male, and was chased off by the all black, dominant bird.

The pair of Coal Tits have been here frequently this morning, more often than the Blue Tits, and a pair of Long-tailed tits paid us one visit. At the moment a Wood Pigeon and three Collared Doves are busy 'hoovering up' the chopped peanuts that are scattered under the Hawthorn. I haven't seen a Goldfinch so far today.

The shelves are fixed, and full, as Sheila organises the supply of yarns for her knitting machines, and I cut out the main  pieces for the Swift boxes. I may get to do more of that job this afternoon, although I'm not sure how well the adhesive will work at the low temperature outside - I may need to resort to the dining room table!

Well, this afternoon I spent a short time getting the rest of the pieces cut for the nestbox, and just as I was finishing, had one of those frustrating moments. Something startled the Sparrows in the Hawthorn. I looked up, and sitting on top of the tree was a single Waxwing. I moved back to the house very slowly but by the time I got to our bedroom window with my camera there was no sign of it. Looking back in my diary, I note that it was on 4 February last year that I saw Waxwings here for the very first time. Then it was a flock of 50+ birds, so I will be watching out for Waxwings very carefully over the days to come.


5 February - Yesterday was cancelled! At least, it was for me as I managed to pull a muscle (or something) in my neck the day before yesterday. Having been unable to sleep that night, yesterday I spent nearly all day looking straight ahead, much to Sheila's amusement. That seems to have done the trick, and today it has been a lot more comfortable - thank goodness!

Today has turned out to be bright, and spring-like, so much so that a near neighbour got out his mower and cut his lawn, and I heard the whine of a strimmer coming from another garden!! By the middle of the afternoon the temperature had reached an almost balmy 7C.

I took advantage of the conditions to get the Swift nestbox construction finished. Now it needs a coat of paint, a job I plan to do tomorrow as the fine weather is due to continue at least another day.

Eventually I'll put more details of the box into the garden section of the site, but in the meantime, the double box measures about 18.5ins (47cm) high x 17ins (43cm) wide x 9ins (23cm) deep. The two front panels pivot open for inspections to take place. The dark lines on the lower panel are groves to act as a ladder below the top entrance. If you click on the image you will see a couple more photographs that show the entrances and the interiors of the two compartments.

The design and dimensions are based roughly on the various commercially available boxes.

I have not yet decided whether or not to install a cctv camera in one of the compartments. Once it is painted I'll be covering the top with roofing felt. I won't be putting it up for at least a few days - I'll be waiting until my neck is back to normal! Anyway, the Swifts will not be appearing until May, so there's no rush.

Back to garden matters -

Disappointingly, there have been no more Waxwing sightings from the garden, but we did have a male Blackcap visit several times during the morning, and for the first time he visited the bird table where I put sunflower kernels and chopped peanuts. The Coal Tit pair were frequent visitors and two Long-tailed Tits came to the fatballs - at least one was long-tailed, but the other seems to have lost its tail feathers (moulting?), although it seemed as agile as ever. A Sparrowhawk made a brief but unsuccessful sortie in to the Hawthorn  before heading off to hunt elsewhere. We seem to have lost our Goldfinches again. They seem to vanish each time we have a cold spell.


6 February - Yesterday was too good to be true, and this morning the grey clouds have taken over again. At 9am it is dull, dry, and 5C outside.


So far it's only the House Sparrows, Blue Tits and this Blackcap that have come to feed.

Pictured here during a rest break, the Blackcap has made several visits to the table and as I write this it is tucking into one of the apples that hang from the Hawthorn.

The first Blackbird (a female) has arrived now, at 9.10am.


The Blackcap has continued to feed here throughout the morning. I haven't sighted any Waxwings, and I had been wondering what I could put out to tempt any that fly by. Then I read in Birdforum that they enjoy bananas! I just happened to have a very ripe one, so I've wound some thick garden wire into a spiral, popped the peeled banana into it and hung it on an upper branch of the Rowan.

As is typical of these moments, as I'm perched at the top of the step-ladder a Sparrowhawk turned up and perched on top of a post by the house. We looked at each other and it flew off without bothering with the Sparrows in the hawthorn.



This afternoon the one-legged Blue Tit was here and I captured this image as it did its acrobatics under the fatball holder.




The Swift box has now had a couple of coats of paint and should be completely finished by the end of the day.


8 February - A bright, sunny morning has brought the very welcome opening of the first Snowdrops.

After a couple of mild nights, last night the temperature dropped to around 2C and there was a short rain shower in the early hours. Today the temperature got up to 8C but the forecast is for a frost tonight.

The Blackcap continues to visit, and we had two Goldfinches here first thing this morning. Yesterday I saw enthusiastic courtship between the Blue Tit pair, with much vibrating of wings, and which culminated in an attempt to mate.


Also yesterday, I covered the top of the Swift box with roofing felt. Today I have been having a look at how best to install a black & white cctv camera in one of the nest chambers, probably the top one.


9 February - a Bright, sunny morning, but cold (3C at 11am), thanks to a chilly northerly breeze. The Snowdrops are only just starting to open up as the sun peeps between the branches of the Hawthorn. There wasn't a frost after all last night - the temperature dropped quickly to around 2C and stayed at that until this morning.


The male Blackcap continues to feed, especially on the apples that hang from the Hawthorn, and a couple of Long-tailed Tits have made several visits to the fatballs.

This picture shows the broad white band at the top of the tit's head.



As well as these welcome visitors, it's also good to see the continued visits by the Coal Tit pair, and the renewed use of the Niger feeder, even if it is only by one or two Goldfinches.

This one must have spent more than twenty minutes feeding here this morning. Just after lunchtime we had three at the feeders.



Just after the Goldfinches left, this Coal Tit took a piece of chopped peanut back to eat in the Hawthorn. which it usually proceeds to do hidden away amongst the branches.

This was one of those rare times when it stayed in almost clear view, enough to record how it uses its feet to secure the nut as it feeds.



10 February - A minimum of nearly -2C left the ponds and the birdbath frozen this morning, but bright sunshine has made for a very pleasant day.

This morning there was a particularly busy few minutes around the feeders, and it was one of those very rare occasions when we had Blue, Great, Coal and Long-tailed Tits here at the same time, as well as the Blackcap, three Goldfinches, numerous Sparrows, four Starlings and the dominant Blackbird pair. The Robin, a couple of Wood Pigeons and a single Collared Dove turned up just afterwards. We are still missing the Dunnock(s) - I wonder where they have got to?

The conifers beyond the bottom of the garden have just had a 'haircut'. Fortunately, it looks as though they are being left quite tall, although a couple of favourite perches have gone

Last night was the first time this year that I have heard the Robin calling loudly from the Birch tree. I recorded it on a Minidisc recorder, using a telescopic microphone. As an experiment you should be able to hear it by clicking here (it is in mp3 format and is 373KB in length). To fit more calls into the clip, I have shortened the intervals between each call from 5-6sec down to about 2 seconds. Please let me know if you have any problems with the recording. If this works I will add more recordings during the year.


11 February - Another cold start to the day after a low of -2C in the night, but with the temperature up to 7C at 1pm, with it bright and dry. It seems that it will now become less cold again with the prospect of some much needed rain (perhaps) in the next few days.

This morning I spotted a Sparrow enthusiastically tugging at some dead leaf matter, and when I returned from a trip out I saw another one heading into a nestbox with a beak full of 'soft stuff'. Was this just bedding for the roost?

An e-mail I received yesterday reminded me of a study I'd read about the decline of House Sparrows, which suggests that while it may not be the main problem, the decline of insect friendly gardens in urban areas may be causing problems for the Sparrows. It seems that they may not be able to find sufficient insects to feed their chicks at a time when a supply of protein is essential for growth. Here, while the Sparrows ignore the mealworms at other times of the year, they certainly appreciate the ones that I scatter on the ground during the nesting season. A report about the study can be found on the RSPB website.

A Dunnock made a welcome appearance this morning, and we have had a pair of Robins down under the Hawthorn.


13 February - After a welcome, wet day yesterday, today has been dull but dry and mild with a high of around 10C in the garden. It seems that we will be getting more rain tonight.

The Goldfinches are slowly finding us again, and we had four here this morning, at the same time as a pair of Long-tailed Tits. The Robin pair were here frequently, and the male displayed to his partner. Both birds bathed in the big pond within a minute or two of each other. I saw a Blue Tit displaying to its partner again. There is still no sign of them visiting the nest box.


14 February - St Valentine's Day - A mild (max 10C), showery day which was very quiet in the garden.

There was no sign of the Blackcap today, for the first time for over a week.

Click on the images to see larger versions -

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