The Garden Diary 2006

March (part 1)

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1 March - St David's Day for those of us who herald from Wales - A brilliantly sunny, if cold day with just half a dozen or so snowflakes from a passing cloud. The ponds and birdbath were frozen over this morning for the first time since 12 February, and some of the ice stayed in place all day.

No photographs today, but at about 8.10am I went outside to scatter some mealworms and there was a 'teacher-teacher' call from a tree a few gardens away. I grabbed the MD and microphone from indoors and recorded a bit of the song before it stopped. shortly afterwards the 'singer' swooped into the garden with its partner, landed in the Hawthorn - it was a Great Tit. A was standing just a couple of yards away and as soon as it saw me it repeated a much more abrupt call several times before both birds flew off. Both calls are now in the Sounds page for you to share.

I spent some time trying to 'tidy up' the sound links on that page, but failed miserably. At one stage, accessing the page resulted in all the sound sample being played at the same time in a sort of 'dawn chorus'!

2 March - A brilliantly sunny morning followed a cold night when the temperature dropped to -3C first thing, although at 12.30pm it's now just over 4C.


Yesterday evening we had another sprinkling of snow which fell before concrete areas were cold enough for it to stick. It remained overnight on the rest of the garden, but has now vanished, even in the shaded areas.

This crocus shows how thin the covering was.



3 March - Much like yesterday, although last night's low was only around -1C, and there was no frost and less ice this morning.

Last night, after dark, I made some changes in the Robin nestbox, replacing a large glass panel that was in front of the camera, with a plywood one that has a small 'porthole' for the camera lens and two white LEDs that run on 12v and give a diffused light. There have been no more visits to the box in the last two days.

It seems that I've most likely got another week to wait before the Canon camera is returned. I was under the impression that Canon had forwarded it to another repairer to speed things up, but it seems that there was a gap of four days before it appeared on their repair waiting list (or whatever they call their in-tray!). Needless to say, I'm a bit frustrated by that information.

In the meantime, just one photograph today, of the male House Sparrow making good use of the birthbath.

The slow shutter speed (1/80sec) means that the sparrow is blurred, but I think it gives a reasonable impression of the effort the sparrow was obviously putting into its ablutions.

Before I forget, the Goldfinch count has crept up to five at the feeder today, a Dunnock made several appearances, but the Coal Tits came just once.


4 March - Another brilliantly sunny morning after a cold night which saw the temperature dropping below -3C.

No photographs so far today, but I should have had a camera with me when I went down to the big pond to watch the frogs under the ice. As I stood there, a Goldcrest flew into the garden and perched on the log in the middle of the pond, and less than four feet from me. It flew down to forage amongst the frozen moss and I crept back to the house to get a camera - it had left by the time I returned. It was the 7th March last year when I last spotted a Goldcrest in the garden.

When I looked back in my diary for that sighting, it reminded me that at this time last year we had a Song Thrush visiting the garden. Other than a brief sighting in late January I haven't seen one come to feed here so far this year, although I could hear a Thrush singing nearby this morning.

Other than the small swarm of gnats circling around in the sunshine above the bamboos, the only insects I've caught sight of today have been two flea beetles on plants by the sunny side of the big pond.

One leapt to safety as soon as it detected my presence, but this second one was less fortunate as it had obviously stumbled, or jumped into a web in the undergrowth. In the time that I watched no spider appeared to claim a meal.


5 March - After a night which saw the temperature only drop down to around zero, it has been the warmest day so far this month, with a high during the morning of nearly 7C, although cloud cover and a stronger northerly breeze this afternoon made it feel quite cold outside.


Just one picture for today, another bathtime, and in this case it is a pair of Starlings that are responsible for the storm effects!

Afterwards they usually fly either to the top of the Hawthorn or the conifers to dry and preen before heading for food once again.


We have had Great, Blue, Coal and Long-tailed Tits here today, and just one visit by the Blackcap. I didn't see the Goldcrest, although I should mention that it did return yesterday, in the late afternoon. We had five Goldfinches here again this morning.

Just before lunchtime I saw one of the female Blackbirds tearing at moss at the side of the big pond. It looked as though she was collecting it so I spent an hour or so in the hide at the bottom of the garden in the hope of getting a photograph. Although she did return to the garden there was no repeat of that behaviour, so I wonder if she was just looking for food rather than gathering material for a nest. I shall watch out for any signs of nest building tomorrow, as she had already started building her first nest by now last year.

On the plant front, the Elder has comfortably won the race to first bud burst - it must have happened in the last two days. The Rowan has long, narrow, red buds, more developed than those on the Birch, and the Hawthorn's buds are only just appearing.

6 March - Only the slightest touch of frost to start the day, and in bright sunshine the temperature topped 8C during the morning. Once again, it clouded over by the middle of the afternoon and felt chilly again.

Yesterday I decided to install a camera in one of the House Martin nestboxes, and this morning I put the idea into practice.

I've drilled a hole down from our loft into the left-hand nest. The other two boxes are inaccessible from the loft.

The hole is just wide enough to accept the lens of the cctv camera and the main picture shows the first image obtained - it reaches from the back of the box on the right to the lowest part of the entrance on the left.

It's interesting to observe that although this box was used last year, there is almost nothing in there - the small length of wood centre-right was dropped in there by me and has been removed.

The nestboxes face east so light levels inside are good in the mornings, and although it gets very dark as the afternoon progresses I will not consider adding any lighting. While I will make some camera adjustments to cope with the varying illumination, I only expect to get images up to mid-afternoon at best. Despite that limitation, it will be a great opportunity to get to see the chicks developing rather that having to wait until they appear at the entrance much later.

While I had the ladder out I decided to put the Swift nestbox into place. As you can see, it's just around the corner from the Martin boxes - it is on the North-facing wall.

It's installation didn't go without problems. It seems to have been distorted slightly so that the doors do not close properly. I decided to leave dealing with that until another day.

While I was up the ladder, a peacock butterfly fluttered past me - the first of the year, and it has been recorded for the Springwatch survey.

There was a bit of very welcome news about Goldfinches on the radio this morning. It seems that after farming methods caused their numbers to decline drastically in the 1970's, their numbers are now getting back to what they used to be, thanks to garden feeders providing things like Sunflower kernels and Niger seed. You can read a report about it at the BTO website.

7 March - A dull, wet day, but the sun shines inside as the 20D arrived back this morning with a new hot-shoe bracket!

As if to tease me, as I started to unpack the camera, a trio of Siskins appeared at the feeders.

Fortunately, they stayed long enough for me to sort out the batteries, lens and flash and get a few rushed shots of them, two of which I've paired up here to give a comparison of the female (on the left) and the male. If you look at the larger image, there is a second pair of images to show the crown of the head of each bird.

Two Siskins returned briefly in the afternoon, raising the hope that we will see more of them, and at the same time a Greenfinch paid a brief visit to the Hawthorn, although it didn't make it to the food. In contrast, I haven't seen the Blackcap today.

8 March - Just a short note today. The weather has been wet and mild (more details in pond diary)

As well as our regular Goldfinches, we have had a couple of Siskins visit several times today but there has been no sign of the Blackcap - perhaps it has moved on?

Generally, it has been very quiet around the feeders today, but the one-legged Blue Tit needs a mention. During these last two, wet days it has spent quite long periods sheltering under the cover of the bird table, even eating there rather than in the Hawthorn. It still looks healthy and even when chased away by one of the other BTs it returns quickly to continue feeding.

The female Blackbird definitely took a beakful of plant materials away from between the ponds this morning. Again, I only saw this happen once, but there was no doubt this time - I wonder where she is building a nest.


9 March - A brighter morning, with periods of hazy sunshine, and a temperature of just under 11C at 10.30am.

I've just seen confirmation that the Blackbird is nest building. Here she is, gathering moss from the banks of the big pond, and as I write this she is there again for more.

There has been an interesting change in her behaviour to record. All through the winter, even with ice on the ponds, the Blackbirds had never used the birdbath to bathe, but for the last three days she has done just that - perhaps put off by the amount of frog activity in the pond!

And now, as if to confound me, she is bathing in the pond again!

The Siskins haven't turned up so far this morning, but the Blackcap has, so it's still around after all.


10 March - A colder, grey day, with strong North-Northwesterly winds and showers, and pretty quiet at the feeders.

The Blackcap has been around for much of the time, but I've seen just one Siskin (a male) come to feed. The Coal Tit pair only appeared once this morning, and there have been sveral visits by up to three Goldfinches.

I'm trying out another feeder, on a bracket next to the Niger feeders. If you have followed my diaries for some time, you may remember that I replaced my original Niger feeders because their round holes allowed too much spillage (the newer, Droll Yankee feeders have slots rather than round openings). Now I'm putting one of those older feeders back into action, filled with sunflower kernels, which can be pulled out through the holes.

The female Blackbird gathered up some dried  straw type bits this morning. Once again, I've only seen her do this once up today (up to 3.45pm). The Blue Tit box remains unvisited, and I haven't seen a Robin return to 'its' nestbox. Both Robins come to feed regularly, and there has been no sign of displaying, or mutual feeding going on, so perhaps they are not yet ready to nest.


11 March - A dull, grey morning, with the temperature at 5C at 10.30am.

About an hour ago I caught a glimpse of what I think was a Great Tit looking into the Blue Tit nestbox. Perhaps it was just hunting for insects or spiders, but I'll be hopeful that it is house-hunting! Looking back to my 2004 diaries, I see that before the Great Tits nested in the box, I first recorded one looking into the box on the 9th March, before they started nesting on the 25th.

At 11am there was another face at the box entrance. It stayed longer, and was captured on video - it looks more like a Blue Tit this time. This is a still from that recording.

I should explain a couple of things about the image. At the moment, lighting in the box is at a very low level, and I will not be switching on the timed daylight illumination until I see that the box is definitely in use. The dark semicircle around the entrance is produced by a pair of crossed polarising filters. These are in place just in front of the camera to reduce the glare produced when morning sunshine streams in through the east-facing opening.


14 March - The weather continues mainly dull, dry and cold (5C at 10.30am).

Things have been quiet in the garden, and I've seen neither the Blackcap nor the Siskins these last two days, and there hadn't been any more visits to the birdboxes, until this morning...


The Great Tits are definitely 'house-hunting'. At just after 9am one appeared at the entrance of the Robin nestbox, took a look inside, and left briefly before returning, this time spending a minute or so in there, inspecting everything, including the camera window.




About twenty minutes later, the Blue Tit box received the same treatment, only this time, the partner also appeared at the entrance.




Once that inspection was completed there was a gap of just a few minutes before one of the Great Tits returned to the Robin box to take another look, again staying for a minute or two - I wonder how many other inspections they are making this morning?


15 March - A dull start has given way to hazy sunshine by 11am.


Again, there has been no sign of the Blackcap this morning, although this pair of Siskins appeared for a short time around 8.30am, and there has been the welcome sight of a Dunnock down under the Hawthorn. The first Goldfinches didn't arrive until after 11am.

I'm only seeing occasional glimpses of the female Blackbird, so I suspect she may now have a clutch of eggs.



So far (at 11.15am), I haven't seen any birds in the nestboxes, but a Great Tit did spend nearly a minute at the entrance of the Tit box at around 10.15am.

There were no other visits to the boxes during the rest of the day.



I Have added another button at the left of the screen, providing a link to a composite webcam I have set up to follow any early progress that might occur in the nestboxes. It will be a couple of months before the Martin box has any takers, but before that happens I will be experimenting with different arrangements to (hopefully) improve the image without adding any artificial lighting. I may decide to change to a Black & white camera, but that depends on how much effect increasing natural light levels will have as we move past the Spring Equinox.

I spent some time out in the garden this afternoon, watching the frogs, so I'm afraid the birds didn't have the place to themselves. However, while I was back indoors the Coal Tit pair came to feed.

Usually, they don't perch out in the open for long, but this one stayed on this branch long enough for me to get several photographs.


Click on the images to see larger versions -

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