The Garden Diary 2006

February(part 2)

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15 February - A blustery day dry (after some rain during the night), with some sunny periods, and mild again - it's 10.5C at 12.30am.

First of all, a bit of catching up to do - at the end of last week tree surgeon son Simon brought me a section from a rotten tree root.

It's now in place between the Hawthorn and the veranda, and is already being used as a low perch by the Robin(s). It will stay there for the time being, although I may move it to a more prominent spot in the future.

The Snowdrops are now just about all in flower, and a few have popped up in other places in the garden where they were definitely not planted by me.

I haven't taken a picture of them, but we also have several groups of Primroses in flower now. There are lots of Bluebell plants popping up, but they are nowhere near flowering yet.


Once again there has been no sign of the Blackcap this morning. I wonder if it has moved on now.

In contrast, a pair of Long-tailed Tits spent a lot of time here during the morning, visiting the fatballs, hunting amongst the branches of the Hawthorn, as in this picture, and the shrubs down the side of the garden. They also disappeared into the Ivy tree for a while.

The picture isn't the best, but it shows nicely the pink plumage above the wings.



Here, the Robin was perched at the top of the Hawthorn, his back to the sun, and calling loudly. Unfortunately I missed the moments when his beak was open!




16 February - A bright day with some showers, with the temperature down a few degrees from yesterday.

Just one photograph to share with you today,  captured when the Long-tailed Tits came again this morning. This one carried on feeding with me just over 6ft from it.

I've cropped the image to concentrate on the head, with the small beak and the orange rim around the top half of the eye. For some reason I always think that feature gives this Tit a sad look.


 A great Tit pair made a brief visit, and the Coal Tits were absent today. Yesterday I did notice that they were being chased by one of the Blue Tits (presumably the male) so perhaps they are now being regarded as trespassers in the Blue Tit territory. There have been no further sightings of the Blackcap.

I'm still not seeing any inspections of the Blue Tit box. Nevertheless, I've spent some of today reorganising the cctv arrangements for that, and the Robin nestbox, which does show signs of something having been in it recently. I am now able to watch both boxes simultaneously on small televisions while sitting by the computer.

Noticeable by their absence during this mild spell are the hedgehogs, after their numerous appearances during January. Perhaps they visit after we have gone to bed, but I'm not seeing any droppings that would indicate that they had been here, and peanuts on the ground are left untouched overnight.


17 February - A bright, and increasingly sunny day, with the temperature over 9C before 1pm.


The first Crocus of the year has opened this morning, a fortnight later than on the two previous years.

I notice that in my 2005 diary I for the 2nd February, I also mentioned that there were lots of well developed Lesser Cellandine leaves to be seen in the border. Well, today the leaves are there, but they are all still very small, so obviously they are also developing later this Spring.


Having thought we had seen the last of it, the Blackcap turned up again this morning, but still no Coal Tits. Three Goldfinches appeared and the one-legged Blue Tit is still visiting and looks pretty healthy.

A correction at 5pm - When I went outside at around 4pm I could hear and see a Greenfinch singing from one of the trees in the Brickfields Country Park so I went back into the house to get my microphone. Needless to say, the Greenfinch had gone by the time I returned, but while I wandered around the garden the Coal Tits turned up and flew past me into the Hawthorn to feed. It was a very noisy time of day, with lots of vehicles driving past, but I managed to get a short recording of one of the Coal Tits calling while the other fed. There were Sparrows chirping in the tree, but you can also hear the higher pitched two-tone call of the Coal Tit repeated several times -  Click here to hear the recording (it is in mp3 format and is 245KB in length).

You may notice that there is now another button on the left of the screen. In an air of optimism, I've decided to create a page dedicated to sound recordings that I make from now on.


18 February - A dry, fairly bright but mainly cloudy day which started off misty. A low of less than 2C last night, followed by today's high of 7C meant that it was colder than for most of the last week, and I see that the Met Office forecast suggests a snowflake or two by the middle of the next week!

First, a note about yesterday's Coal Tit recording. This morning I decided to reduce the level of the backround noise by treating the sample with a high-pass filter (removes some of the lower sound frequencies), and the original sample has now been replaced. I think the change has made the call clearer.

Another bird made its first appearance of the year while we were having breakfast - a Wren flew in and spent a short time hunting amongst the young Iris plants that grow at one end of the small pond. This area really does seen a favourite hunting spot for any Wren that visits us.

Both the Blackcap and the Coal Tits have been in evidence today, along with a trio of Goldfinches, and a couple of Great Tits spent an extended time here, mostly at the bottom of the garden. At one stage I wondered if they were about to inspect the birdbox, but they didn't.

Here, the Blackcap is foraging under the Hawthorn, having already visited one of the apples hanging from the tree.


I've set up my small hide at the bottom of the garden to get a better view of birds that choose to bathe in the shallow end of the big pond.

I only spent a short time in it today as light conditions weren't brilliant for photography without flash,  but I did manage to get a few shots of the grey-feathered female Blackbird.



She kept her back to me most of the time she was in the water and was constantly watching the bird activity in and around the Hawthorn.




Bath time over, she perched on one of the rotting logs at the side of the pond and did some of her initial preening there, concentrating on the wings and tail.

Here you can see her as she runs her wing feathers through her beak. She headed up into the conifers to complete the job.



19 February - A dark, dismal day with light rain all day, good for the garden bad for the spirit! The temperature didn't drop below 4C last night and hasn't reached much past 5C today.

It means that I've hardly stepped outside today so the birds and frogs have had it much to themselves. All the usuals have been feeding, including the Robin pair, two Goldfinches and the Blackcap. The Coal Tits only appeared once, during the early morning, and as I write this at 4.20pm a Great Tit has made its first appearance of the day.

The Wren hasn't returned, but a Dunnock has been here several times, just a brief forage each time.

On this occasion it spent ages in the lower branches of the Hawthorn and I decided to gamble on it heading for Simon's root (see top of page). Luck was on my side and I was able to capture this image as it landed momentarily on its way down to the ground.



20 February - Another thoroughly glum day - not wet (except for the odd bit of dampness), but dull and with a stiff North-Easterly breeze that made it feel colder than the 6C it managed at lunchtime.

Even the birds must have taken shelter, because it has been very quiet in the garden.

On the weekend just past, I found a problem with my Canon 20D, so that has been posted off to the service centre for repair, and today I have been searching out the various bits and pieces that go with the Olympus 2100UZ that I retired in favour of the Canon. Thanks to Canon's technicians being at the Winter Olympics I may be without the Canon for two weeks or more, so photographic coverage in the diaries may be a bit restricted for a while.

Just one photograph for today then, of one of the Wood Pigeons blundering its way between the clumps of Snowdrops.

It's one a a pair which come down regularly. It's amusing to watch them. One minute they are both foraging happily, and the next moment one is chasing the other away, usually to run rather than fly along one side of the big pond. A minute or so later they are both back on the same patch feeding, and then the chasing happens again. The whole process can be repeated several times before they finally fly off.


22 February - The last two days have been extremely dull following a brighter period during yesterday morning. Since then, when the temperature peaked at 5C, it has remained between 2 and 3C both last night and today.


Around lunchtime yesterday the skies turned really dark and we had a brief snow shower - granular snow (see pic) which disappeared almost straight away on contact with the ground.

Today we have only seen the occasional light rain.




A couple of bird observations to note -  The Blackcap is really on the Robin's hit list now, and has to sneak down for food when it isn't being chased around the Hawthorn, much as I expect the Dunnock to be treated. Also, the male (I assume) Blue Tit is now very aggressive towards both the Coal Tits and the Long-tailed Tits that come to feed. There is still no sign of visitors to the BT or Robin boxes.

Yesterday I added two new recordings to the sound files. I managed to capture the bubbly call of a Goldfinch coming to feed, but that recording was cut short as a group of squabbling House Sparrows crashed into the Hawthorn to create a real cacophony. I hope to record the Goldfinches again when the Sparrows are having a quiet spell!


23 February - Another miserable day, with the temperature down below 1C for most of the time, although there is no sign of ice anywhere. We had light snow for quite a while during the morning during the morning, but the snowflakes that fell disappeared immediately, and this afternoon we have drizzle instead.


However, the day became considerably brighter when we had the first visit by Siskins since late March 2004, when this pair arrived along with a trio of Goldfinches.

In this picture the top bird is a male and the lower a less yellow coloured female. If you click on the image you will see a couple more shots of the two birds.



I couldn't get a shot of a Siskin and a Goldfinch at the same time to compare them, but this pair of images of the two types at the same perch were taken within a minute or two.



The Olympus is working well for me (once a flash connection problem was sorted out), but this was the first moment this week that I really missed having the resolution of the 20D in order to capture the detail of the Siskins' feathers. I had a note from Canon this morning to say that they have passed the camera on to another repair facility in order to speed up the repair, but with no further indication as to how long it will be.

By 4pm the rain turned back to snow, which is still falling at 5.30pm. Unlike this morning's snow, this time there is enough falling to start sticking on plants and the ground, although, as the stepping stones in the lower image shows, it is still melting on contact with stone and concrete. It's not much, but it was a good excuse to go for a walk down to the corner shop!

While the temperature remains above freezing for the moment the overnight forecast give a low of -2C so it could be icy here in the morning.



24 February - Well, by the time I went to bed last night the snow had turned back to rain. This morning there was still snow on the places where it stuck last night, but the temperature hadn't dropped enough to create the icy conditions that I had expected. The birdbath had a thin layer of ice but the ponds were completely ice free. Then. sunny periods during the morning meant that all traces of the snow had melted away by lunchtime.


There was no sign of the Siskins during the morning, although the Goldfinches have made repeated visits. 

At one time we had some fourteen or fifteen Starlings here - that used to be normal but is rather unusual these days.



When it first arrived around 22 December (I'm assuming that this is the same bird), the Blackcap was a shy and very nervous bird. Now it has become 'one of the crowd' and comes to feed frequently even when the area around the Hawthorn is busy.



The Long-tailed Tits haven't been around for the last couple of days. There have been no visits by the Coal Tits (it's 3.50pm as I write this), and I only saw them once yesterday. However, the one-legged Blue Tit keeps on coming!


27 February - Just a short note today. The weather has been dull but dry, and while there have been no frosts, the daytime temperature has been dropping by half a degree each day since the last entry - today's high was under 5C.

It's been very quiet in the garden these last few days. The Blackcap is still with us, and the Coal Tits have appeared just a couple of times. Up to three Goldfinches continue to feed several times each day, but there has been no further sign of the Siskins.


Today's most significant event took place during mid-morning when a Robin briefly entered the Robin nestbox. Unfortunately I wasn't recording the camera image so there's no pictorial record.

The box is tucked behind a lattice panel under the canopy of the Ivy tree, and indicated by the arrow in this photograph.




28 February - A cold (5C max) day with bright sunshine in the morning, but clouding over this afternoon, and it is trying to snow again.

Having caught sight of the Robin in the box yesterday, at 3pm this afternoon I managed to capture images of another visit, and I'm sure that the second Robin was just outside. The bird only stayed in the entrance, but soon afterwards returned for a second look.

I know it's far too early to be confident about nesting, but after two years of looking at images of an empty box this is very encouraging indeed.



Elsewhere in the garden things continue to be very quiet. We are going through another of those spells when I have to top up the food supplies less often, when I would expect to need to do it more. Anyway, the Blackcap is still here, foraging as I write this, and the goldfinches are here frequently (four at this moment). The Coal Tits made a single appearance this morning, and I saw a Sparrow take a piece of straw up to one of the boxes, although I didn't see it come back for more.

Click on the images to see larger versions -

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