The Garden Diary 2006

March (part 2)

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16 March - After yesterday's bright, Spring-like weather, it's disappointing to report a return to grey skies this morning.

There is still no sign of the Blackcap, but we have had two Dunnocks here (usually these days we see just one).

This one came nearest to the house and, as often happens, it was challenged by the male Robin. Unusually, instead of retreating, it turned on the Robin, causing it to withdraw and then carried on feeding. I wonder if this has anything to do with the fact that its partner was nearby?

Despite the appearance in the photograph, the Dunnock does have two feet.

Our one-legged Blue Tit continues to thrive since I first saw it in mid-January, spending quite a bit of time here during the morning.

The photograph shows it tackling a piece of peanut. It has to find a perch that allows it to literally sit down as it uses its one foot to hold the peanut (or sunflower kernel) as it pecks at it. I put up fresh apples before breakfast and it has terrible trouble finding a way to perch and eat them. It attempts to hover as it pecks and then retires to a branch to deal with the bit it has succeeded in obtaining.


It continues to appear in good condition, but I can't imaging how it manages to preen. It has a hard enough problem balancing when it tries to drink, let alone bathe itself.

There were no nestbox visits today.


17 March - Another grey start this morning, with the temperature around 2C at 8.30am.

As I write this I see that the local Magpies have started their nest building. I've just seen one taking part in what is an annual event, visiting my neighbour's Silver Birch to break off and carry away thin branches - on the wrong side for a photograph this time.


Last night, around 10.30pm I spotted a hedgehog in the garden for the first time since mid-January.

Not the sharpest of images, but I only took one for the record before leaving it in peace.


There was an interesting five minute period around noon, when I saw the Robin feed its partner with a mealworm in the Birch tree. A minute later, a Goldcrest appeared by the big pond - I shall have to watch out for it there, as it's the second time I have seen it visit the same spot. Then, again out of reach of the camera, I caught sight of a Wren perch momentarily in the Birch as it headed towards the Ivy tree.


I waited with the camera ready in case the Wren came closer (In the past I have often seen them hunt amongst the Irises in the small pond).

It didn't appear, but this lone male Siskin appeared instead, and  perched obligingly in the Hawthorn before heading to the Niger seed feeder.



While I was still by the window the Dunnock pair arrived, and although I included a Dunnock picture yesterday, I couldn't resist this shot when one of them perched for a few seconds right in front of me.



During the morning we've had a couple of showers of extremely fine snow, Sheila said it was as though someone was shaking talcum powder over the place. Needless to say it disappeared on contact with the ground. This afternoon the skies remain grey - how miserable, although the temperature seem to have crept up to nearly 6C. The North-easterly breeze makes it feel colder.

If you should read this tonight, I have set up a cctv camera pointing at some chopped peanuts in case the Hedgehog returns. The camera is connected to the webcam and will stay in place until tomorrow morning. In addition to the hedgehog, it's possible that a mouse may also turn up - I'll be recording for eight hours tonight to see what happens.


18 March - The grey skies are still with us, and at 8.30am it's 2.5C outside and we are being dusted with a bit more of the 'talcum powder' snow.


Last night's session with the cctv camera brought us a bit of late entertainment when this mouse arrived first at the peanuts, before 11pm.

It returned several times over a fifteen minute period before disappearing.


It was another quarter of an hour before the hedgehog arrived to devour nearly all the remaining peanuts.

I haven't looked through all the night's video recordings, but it passed by again at around 1.30am.


There has been no sign of the Blackcap again this morning, so perhaps it really has moved on now.

The Goldfinches seem to think it's nearing nesting time. One in particular was quite aggressive to another individual, and I saw what looked like a bit of courtship between a pair in the Hawthorn.

There have been no more visitors to the nest boxes since the 15th, and while both Robins come down to the Hawthorn, I haven't seen any more mutual feeding.




19 March - What a surprise - we awoke this morning to blue skies and bright sunshine. At just before noon there isn't a cloud in the sky and the temperature in the shade is 9C.

There was another surprise first thing. I caught a glimpse of this female Blackcap down beyond the Hawthorn feeding on grated cheese, amongst other bits.

Unfortunately, just after I took this picture she was disturbed by some Starlings and I haven't see her since.

The brown objects are raisins, soaked overnight and scattered for the Blackbirds.


I'm taking advantage of the conditions (and the fact that the nestboxes are still quiet) to do some work down the West Wing (the patio area at the western end of the garden!). The large bamboo plants there have been growing in large pots so needed watering in dry weather during the summer. With the the prospect of a hosepipe ban a reality this year I'm putting them into the ground.

We ate lunch outside for the first time this year.


21 March - The first day of Spring? Somehow I managed to miss the Spring Equinox yesterday, both in the diary and in my calendar!. It was a dull, cold day, not at all Spring-like,  on which I completed the task of sorting out the bamboo plants, and the female Black cap made an early morning appearance.

I haven't seen her this morning (which is also cloudy) but we have seen another visit to the nestbox by a Great Tit. I didn't mange to capture an image (not prepared!) but she went into the Blue Tit box twice before 9am - I beginning to be optimistic....

An article on the BBC news website reinforces the fact that this 'late' Spring is not late at all, but rather a return to normal from the mild winters that we have had during the last decade.


22 March - A bright, sunny morning, cold (just under 2C at 8am), with ice on the birdbath.

A promising start to the day, with a male Blackcap under the Hawthorn when I opened the curtains at 7am.

Half an hour later and a Great Tit was inspecting the Robin box. These are rather poor images. I need to make urgent adjustments to both the camera focusing and the lighting later today.

I wondered whether it would also visit the Tit box, but it didn't on this occasion.


However, it did do so at just before noon, appeared briefly at the entrance first, and then entering a few minutes later, staying inside for over two minutes.

I think we are reaching the point where I'm tempted to start up the nestbox diary to cover whatever happens in these two boxes and then the Martin nests. I shall start assembling the necessary files and folders this evening.

4.30pm and job done, so they'd better nest here now! Anyway, the diary is now ready for all nesting that takes place through the year (with just a couple of bits to tidy up later on).

As for the rest of the garden it has been rather quiet through the day. The sunshine didn't last, but it has stayed quite bright - it is 7C in the late afternoon.

I've only seen pairs of Goldfinches visit today, and no Siskins. The two Coal Tits were here once during the morning. A Sparrowhawk suddenly appeared at around 9.30am, made one half-hearted, and unsuccessful attempt to scare some Sparrows out of the Hawthorn and then left. A few days ago I mentioned that the Magpies had started taking twigs from my neighbour's Birch tree. There was another such visit this morning. I waited with my camera at the ready, but it didn't come back for more.

Just before the Sparrowhawk visit I was amused by a pair of Dunnocks racing in spirals up and down through the branches of the Hawthorn. I didn't see any displays so I guess that it may have been more of a territorial dispute. Eventually the chase ended and they headed for the ground to feed within a couple of feet of each other.


23 March - Another sunny day, with the temperature passing 12C by 2pm.

The day got off to a good start when I opened the curtains at just before 7am - the only bird in sight was this Song Thrush. I haven't seen it back since then, so I shall have to watch out for it again tomorrow morning.

The next couple of hours saw a very promising step in the birdbox, with the Great Tit doing a shuffle, which is usually a prelude to nesting - see the nestbox diary.



The morning also brought back what I think is an old friend. When I went outside to put out some bird food, this Robin was perched on our garden gate and as soon as it saw me with mealworms it flew across to perch close to me. It returned again a short while later and was greeted very aggressively by one of our resident Robins. 

Its reaction to me, along with the small white feather on its head makes me certain that it is the Robin that I used to feed regularly. I must search back through my diary, but in the meantime there are picture I took of it on 28 April 2004.



Sadly, it's not all good news for this Robin. As this second picture shows, its right eye is clouded over. It behaves as though it still has a bit of vision with the eye.

I shall have to keep some mealworms to one side for its future visits.



Another sighting this morning was our first Bumble Bee of the year, visiting the Snowdrops. Unfortunately it had disappeared by the time I got outside, so I could not identify it.


24 March - Overnight rain (not as much as expected) had all but stopped by 8am this morning, when the outside temperature was 8C. During the day the high reached was around 13C! It stayed cloudy with just a bit of dampness in the air.

Two days ago I omitted to mention that our resident Blackbird male has started his daily singing from his favourite perch high in one of the conifers ( that run past the bottom of our garden) that have not been lopped.

On that first day, he sang only for a short time at the end of the afternoon. Yesterday, he sang on and off for several hours late in the day, and then today he seemed to be singing for most of the day, continuing until it was dark this evening.

I've recorded a short sample which I hope to add to the Sounds page tonight.


Over the last couple of weeks I've been neglecting the plants in the garden. Since the Bluebells and Crocuses opened things have been quiet. The Crocuses are now well past their best, the Snowdrops are still going with some flowers still looking good.


At the far end of the garden, several groups of Primroses have been in flower for a while, and their leaves and flowers show signs of attention from predators.




Yesterday the first Cowslips (or are they Oxlips? I must check!) opened on the far side of the big pond.




I've read about Daffodil Festivals around the country have suffered from a lack of open blooms this year. Well, yesterday the first flowers opened in our garden, next to the water butt.



Today, the Cowslips were joined by a solitary Lesser Cellandine flower, a week later than last year.

The rest of the Cellandine plants have a long way to go, with leaves still very small with far less cover than this time last year.



One last plant item, before I forget again - Yesterday I bought, and planted some English native Bluebells to join some that I planted last year right next to the veranda.

I am seeing very few insects - I have yet to see a moth land on the window next to me even though I leave the curtains open in the evening in the hope that the light will attract them . Another Bumble bee appeared today, but again it disappeared before I could bet close enough to identify it.

The insect on the Cowslip looks like a type of midge, but I can't get close to identifying it.

The old Robin was here for mealworms again today, and the one-legged Blue Tit reappeared after a gap of a couple of days. We had a couple of male Siskins here this morning.


26 March - A largely dull morning, with the prospect of heavy rain this afternoon. Yesterday was much the same after a bright start. WE are really going through a mild spell now. A high of just over 12C yesterday was followed by a low of just under 10C, and at noon it was 12C again.

There has been a Bumble Bee about again this morning spotted investigating around the Tit nestbox.

A female Chaffinch has just been down to feed. It's only an occasional visitor at the moment, and although I haven't see a male for a while I have certainly heard its song several times in the last week. A solitary Long-tailed Tit stopped off at a fatball for a brief feed earlier.


The Siskins continue to visit ( up to three of them, but usually just one male) and we are getting up to four Goldfinches at the moment.

This picture, taken yesterday, was one of the rare moments when I have been able to get both species in the frame together.


As I write this (at 12.50pm) the male Blackbird is up on his high perch and singing loudly.


Some time back I mentioned how the Blue Tit with one leg sometimes shelters on our bird table when it rains. Well, it's wet this afternoon and the little survivor is here again.

You can see how its body is propped up on the stump of its right leg.



27 March - The nearest to a stormy day that we have had for ages.

Rain and strong, gusty winds meant periods when the birds were absent from the garden. When they did come, apart from the Sparrows, I think the Siskins were the most frequent visitors today with up to four here at a time, often looking very wet indeed.


At last, I had my camera to hand when the Magpies came to next door's Birch tree. Or rather, one of the pair did while the partner looked on from the conifers.

It was raining quite heavily at the time, and the tree was being battered by the wind. Whatever was the problem, the Magpie had great difficulty choosing a branch and finally left without anything in its beak.


As I write this at 6.10pm, the Blackbird in in full song. It's not raining, and the winds have subsided quite a bit now, although they are still strong enough to make his perch sway.

I had to go to the local Garden Centre for some sand and couldn't resist a block of six Cowslip plants to add to those already here. I also brought home a couple more pots of English native Bluebells to extend the area covered by those I bought a few days back. These have all been planted since the rain stopped. They had some very tempting pots of Snake's Head Fritillaries in full bloom, but I resisted. Some of ours now have flower buds developing so it won't be long before they are in flower.


28 March - A brighter day with sunny periods and only one heavy, and brief downpour in the late afternoon. The sunshine helped the temperature to pass 13C for a brief period in the afternoon before the rain.

On the bird front it was a very quiet day. While all the 'usuals' appeared, even they seemed to visit less than usual.


29 March - A bright, sunny morning, until I set up my camera and tripod to capture images of the eclipse!

As the skies were blue I got my camera organised with a sun filter attached to catch the early stages of what for us is a partial eclipse, but within a few minutes clouds rolled in from the south-west.

It didn't look very promising so I brought my camera back under shelter and took out my minidisc instead to record a bird I could hear singing in the conifers, a few gardens away. While I could hear the bird clearly, I couldn't see it until it finally popped up to the tree tops to sing its final chorus. It was a Wren in a perfect place for a photograph if my camera hadn't been set up for the eclipse! A bit of the recording will be posted on the sounds page later during the day.

At around 11.40am the cloud cover started to break up again. I set the camera up once more and managed to get this shot at about 11.50am, some fifteen minutes after the maximum cover of 20%.

It brings back memories of the total eclipse that we saw while in Cornwall in 1999. On that occasion the cloud cover was much worst, but a 'window' opened and we were amongst the few who actually saw it.



It really became close to a morning that obeyed 'Sod's Law', because while I waited for the cloud to clear a Goldcrest perched right in front of me on the Hawthorn and sang for over a minute before moving on - no sound, no camera!!!

There will be no diary entries over the next five or six days. However, the nestbox webcam will continue to run. I will not be able to record any images from it during this time, so should you see any visitors to the box before I resume the diaries I would be very appreciative if you were able to capture images and e-mail them to me.

Click on the images to see larger versions -

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