The Garden Diary 2006

January - Part 2

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18 January - Yet another grey day, although the sun did try to appear during the morning. It's mild (over 11C at 1pm) and just about dry.

One of the brighter periods brought a bit of long overdue activity at the feeders, and in addition to the Blue Tits (included our one-legged friend) we had Great Tits, Coal Tits and a couple of Long-tailed Tits.

These acrobatic little birds have a very distinctive plumage, and seen to twitter continuously as they move about.



This shot gave me a chance to look at a wing which is usually moving too fast.

To give you an idea of scale, the fat ball holder measures about 6cm across.



As I was sorting these pictures out the male Blackcap reappeared briefly, but didn't return while I had my camera ready.


19 January - It 11C again at 1pm as the blanket of dull grey clouds continue to plague us. Yesterday evening we actually had a brief glimpse of red along the horizon as the sun set, but the cloud cover is complete again today.

This morning I spent a bit of time clearing vegetation at the shallow end of the big pond in preparation for the frogs' mass arrival and spawning - I need to do a little bit more to finish the preparations. I also took the opportunity to re-site the log into which a Southern Hawker dragonfly laid its eggs back on 19  August last year, while the log was under the Hawthorn tree. The log had been put into the area that I have now cleared, so I have moved it to the other end of the pond where it will become a permanent feature..

On the bird front, I haven't seen the Long-tailed Tits or the Blackcap return so far today, but in addition to the usual Blackbirds, Sparrows, Starlings, Collared Doves Blue Tits and a Robin I have seen the Great Tits, Coal Tits, two Goldfinches, and a Song Thrush which appeared at the far end of the garden.

This Coal Tit is in the usual stance taken when dealing with a peanut or sunflower kernel, with the nut grasped tightly by the feet as the bird pecks at it.

The Blue Tits adopt the same technique and I had a chance to watch the one-legged BT trying to eat this way. Although it looked very stable as it picked a nut from the table, once it perched on a branch it managed just a few pecks before the nut was dislodged and fell to the ground. It then went back to feeding at a fat ball.


Yesterday I forgot to mention that I spotted a Wood Mouse by the Hawthorn, although it stayed to well hidden to get a photograph.


21 January - A bright and sunny morning after after similar blue skies yesterday -what a change from the dull start to the month. It has meant that daytime temperatures have dropped a few degrees, but it was still only down to just below 4C overnight. At going on for 11am it is 7C.

Yesterday, I spent some time completing the job of clearing the shallow end of the pond ready for the frogs to spawn. I also set up the pond diary, so that bit of the garden will now have its own commentary until the ponds become quiet again later in the year.

While I was working on the pond a single bumblebee flew past, but didn't land here, and a small flock of Long-tailed Tits spent a bit of time in the garden, flitting between the trees and shrubs and with their constant twittering. The Goldfinches (2) came again, as did the Coal Tit pair.


Despite the sunshine, this morning has been very quiet on the bird front with only the Blue Tits representing the Tit family and no other visitors.

The Dunnocks haven't been visiting since the beginning of the week, so the Robin has had the lower branches of the Hawthorn more or less to itself.

This morning it was (unusually) relaxed enough for me to grab a few images for the first time for ages.



I hadn't seen the hedgehog(s) for several nights, but I know that the food dish has been visited. Then, last night, this is the sight that greeted me as I went outside at 11pm.

In the dish was some soggy bread, spread with peanut butter and topped with chopped peanuts.




It's always interesting to see where my visitors come from, and last week's records have had me scrambling for my atlas with what I think must my most remote visitor so far (if you read this, I'd be interested to hear from you!), from the Heard and McDonald Islands in the Southern Ocean. Not the friendliest of climates, but it must be a heck of an experience to visit. 

It's a strictly protected nature reserve, uninhabited, apart from visiting scientists, and a dramatic bit of the planet, which couldn't be more different to mybitoftheplanet.


24 January - Over the last few days the temperature has been dropping gradually. The night before last saw the temperature dropping below zero only briefly, and after only just getting above 2C during the day, last night saw a low of around -2.5C.

Today it struggled to get above zero for only a short period around the middle of the day, although there was enough hazy sunshine to clear the frost on South-facing surfaces, like the roof of the caravan shelter.

Tonight it is likely to get down to -4C.



Bird activity has continued to be very quiet. The food supplies are being eaten slowly, although I have seen the Coal Tits and a Single Goldfinch here today (yesterday I saw three Goldfinches). I had to warm water onto the birdbath twice, and it was used by the Sparrows and the Starlings for bathing. It's strange that the blackbirds don't make use of it while their usual pond bathing spot is frozen.


25 January - Last night's low temperatures didn't materialise and it only dropped to -2.7C briefly in the middle of the night. There was a bit of a frost this morning, but that soon disappeared and, despite a few glimpses of the sun, it was another dull day, with a high of just over 5C. That was warm enough to melt much of the water on  the ponds and allow the Blackbird to bathe again!


There is at least one visit by a Goldfinch each day now. The Coal Tits were here frequently, and an absence of a couple of days, the 'one legged' Blue Tit spent a while at the fat balls this afternoon.

First noticed ten days ago, it seems to be otherwise healthy and agile, and its plumage looks preened. It always arrives on its own, unlike the other two that always turn up as a pair to feed. I haven't seen any signs of aggression between the healthy birds and this one.


26 January - Only the slightest, and short-lived touch of frost this morning. It has been a breezy day with the wind chill making it feel colder than the 4.5C maximum, and there have only been a few glimpses of the sun.

I had more chances to watch our injured Blue Tit here today. This picture shows its typical pose when perching. It certainly has to work hard at keeping its balance as it holds the stump of its leg out behind it, never trying to use it to give support. Balance was a particular problem when it visited the bird bath, and it had to flutter its wings frequently as it bent over to drink.

Nevertheless, it visited the bird table several times, taking away peanut bits to peck at on a branch, a process that needed wing flapping to help maintain its balance.


At the moment we have four Blackbirds coming to feed here, two of each sex, and inevitably there is competition between males and between females for 'ownership' of the feeding area.

This is one of the females, immediately distinguishable from the other one by the small grey/white flecks that appear all over her plumage. At the moment, both females are here a similar amount and I'm not sure which is the more dominant.


Notice the Snowdrops behind the Blackbird. We should see the first of these opening very soon now, while elsewhere other groups are only just appearing above the soil.


27 January - Another day on which north-easterly breezes made it fell colder that the 4C that it reached after a frost-free night. Some brightness this morning gave way to grey skies this afternoon but it stayed dry.

This is the other female Blackbird that feeds here. She definitely has a healthier, perhaps younger looking plumage with no sign of the greyness exhibited by yesterday's bird.

I'm not having luck with recording the two males that visit. They seem much more nervous, flying to the other end of the garden as soon as they see movement in the house.



When light shines on their plumage, the Starlings look very colourful as a result of the iridescence of their feathers.

This one was just completing its ablutions in the bird bath as I took this photograph that shows some details of its feathers. As well as the orange tips on the body feathers, and the orange edges to the flight feathers, the larger image(s) seem to show bands of iridescence on some of the flight feathers.



28 January - A bit of frost this morning, but bright spells took the temperature up to around 5C in the middle of the day.

Today and tomorrow see the 'Big Garden Birdwatch' in the UK. Organised by the RSPB, it is an annual survey that aims to find out the most common visitors to our gardens. The idea is to watch the garden for one hour and record the maximum number of each species seen to be present at the same time. My count from this morning was >24 House Sparrows, 3 Blackbirds, 3 Collared Doves, 4 Starlings, 2 Blue Tits, 2 Coal Tits, 1 Chaffinch, 1 Dunnock, 1 Robin, and 1 Goldfinch. I'll probably watch again tomorrow before submitting my results.


Just one photographic record from today - The Robin now seems to be getting a bit less nervous and didn't fly off when I stood stood by the window to take this picture.

Interestingly, just after this picture was taken, the Robin continued to feed and didn't pay any attention to a Dunnock that was making one of its rare (at the moment) visits.




30 January - The east-north-easterly breezes that we have had for the last few days have continued to make it feel cold outside, but the last two nights have seen it getting less cold, with a minimum last night of over 2C. Yesterday was sunny, but today it has been back to largely grey skies, and it continues to stay dry.

Things remain very quiet in the garden. There has been no sign of the hedgehog(s) during the colder nights, and there seemed to be only limited bird activity today. A Dunnock made just one appearance, and I only saw the Robin a few times. Three Blue Tits appeared (the pair, and the one-legged one) and a pair of Goldfinches spent a few minutes at the feeder this morning.

I think I can now say that the female Blackbird photographed on the 27th is the 'owner' of the feeding rights in the garden, having watched her chase off the grey-feathered female several times today. I have still to get photographs of the two males - one of them has a grey patch on his side.

I didn't see the Coal Tits today - their first absence for a few weeks.

Back in the latter half of December I mentioned that a couple of Wood Pigeons had started to feed on the Ivy berries (which were still very green). They continued to do this into the first couple of weeks of January. Although there are still plenty of berries left I haven't seen them there in the second half of the month.

In the last couple of days this one seems to have followed the lead of the Collared Doves and has started to venture down under the Hawthorn.

At first it was very nervous and panicked as soon as I moved near the window, but it must have decided that I wasn't a threat and virtually ignored me as I took a couple of pictures.

One problem with this heavyweight visitor is that it has trampled through the patch of leaves that the Triangular-stalked Garlic has thrown up (although that plant will not flower until April).


Click on images to see larger versions -

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