The Garden Diary 2007

February (part 1)

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1 February - A dull, dry and very mild start to February. Last night the temperature only dropped to 7C, and at 1pm it is now over 11C (and I have just spotted a tiny bit of blue sky!)

Snowdrops under the Hawthorn


The Snowdrops are open now - these groups are under the Hawthorn, on the bank at the side of the small pond.



Male Greenfinch in Hawthorn


The morning got off to a good start with our usual birds being supplemented by some visitors. Amongst the first feeders were a trio of Long-tailed Tits, and this male Greenfinch.

At the far end of the garden a pair of Chaffinches spent time in the Birch and the Ivy, and the male took time to call loudly from the top of a conifer (must get some Chaffinch recordings).


Goldfinch on Hawthorn branch


Goldfinch activity is relatively quiet at the moment, but we still regularly see up to four coming to feed.

Much more active this morning have been a pair of Coal Tits. They are visiting the bird table frequently (although just one at a time). I have seen one of them displaying by flicking its wings, and I watched one bathing in the big pond.



While they are about, I'm not seeing much Blue Tit activity today, and noticeable by their absence are the Sparrowhawks. Not see since 28 January, I guess they have now moved to another part of their territory for a while. We have as many Sparrow, Starlings etc as usual here, so I wonder if its a case of moving to an area where the birds have 'relaxed' their alertness??

Wood Pigeon eats Ivy berries


The Blackbirds and the Wood Pigeons have been tucking into Ivy berries this morning. I may have to spend time up in the hide to get some close-up photographs.

I wonder if we will get any of the Winter visitors, such at the Redwings or the Fieldfares, to share the feast this Winter.




This afternoon I took my minidisc recorder down the garden and was treated to an interesting few minutes as I watched the interaction between two male Blackbirds. They were in the conifers, with one seemingly chasing the other, or at least, following each other from branch to branch but with no real signs of aggression being shown. As I watched, the 'chase' stopped with them about two feet apart, and the lead bird began to sing a complex series of mainly quiet calls. It faced away from the other bird and continuously dipped its head very low as it sang.

Click here to listen to about 25 seconds of the recording (file size 394KB).

I recorded for several minutes, although some of the recording was spoilt by the noise of a Chinook helicopter as it made its final approach (almost directly over us) to the local RAF base, as well as some noisy cars passing along our road.

Once the singing ended, the chase resumed in a very relaxed sort of way, with the lead bird making single, low chirps as it hopped between branches - heard in this recording, between the chattering of a nearby Magpie

Click here to listen to about 11 seconds of the recording (file size 176KB).

Both recordings can also be found in the Sounds section of the website.

I've never seen this behaviour before. Usually a second male is chased off with great energy and loud, aggressive calls, so I don't really understand what was going on.


3 February - Last night the temperature dipped down enough to produce a frost this morning and a thin layer of ice on the birdbath. It was a bright and sunny day, but compared with my last entry the garden was very quiet. After my last entry, the last two days have seen much less bird activity, with only our regulars making appearances - the Coal Tit came just once, and no Sparrowhawks, Long-tailed Tits, Chaffinches or Greenfinches in sight.

I did very little today, with no pictures taken, but I did take a few minutes to make a new recording of a Robin that was singing quietly in the Hawthorn. It does this very often and I had tried to record it yesterday but was defeated by too many cars and planes going past, and a dog barking. The Robin sang for over ten minutes today -

Click here to listen to just under 2 minutes of the recording which I have reduced to around 28 seconds by cutting out the pauses between calls, which sometimes lasted well over ten seconds. As usual, the recording can also be accessed from the Sounds section of the website.

6 February - I'm afraid that the last three days have been a bit 'upside-down' for me and I have paid little attention to the garden - twinges in the wrong places, and problems staying awake enough to do anything! For the time being I have had to postpone the completion of the repairs to the caravan shelter, and we are having to call in reinforcements to help with the redecorating work!

Fortunately, in the garden there has been little new to report beyond the appearance of Crocus flower buds.

The weather has remained largely dry (we did have drizzle for a short time late yesterday evening) and cold over these three days, with a high of just 4C and a couple of early morning frosts. We may be getting snow again in the next couple of days.

The Sparrows have started having their quarrelsome periods in the Hawthorn, with males displaying and squabbling as they chase females. The Dunnocks are regulars under the Hawthorn now, and have to put up with the constant attention of the Robin that will frequently interrupt his singing to chase a Dunnock around the tree briefly before each gets back to its own affairs.

There were Long-tailed Tits here again yesterday, and I also saw a Starling carry off a dead bamboo leaf, probably to pad out its roost (the Swift box is in constant use by Starlings, so I cannot make the changes that I had hoped to make to the entrances before the Swifts' arrival this year).


Ice on the windscreen7 February - Winter has arrived again! This morning at 8am the sky was clear, and the outside thermometer was registering -4C, and it reached a maximum of just +2C during the day.

This first picture is of ice patterns on the windscreen of our Discovery,


Ice on the Buddleia



and this second image is of leaves on the Buddleia.

Although there was a frost, but although there was a white covering on all exposed plants, there weren't any really good ice formations.


Starling basks in sunshine


During the late morning I spent a short while at our bedroom window, watching the birds.

The Starlings were much in evidence, sometimes perching at the top of the Hawthorn to bask in the sunshine.



Things could be very interesting tomorrow morning. As I write this a weather forecaster is giving dire warning about heavy snow that is expected here in the morning.


Snow covers the garden at dawn8 February - Well, the snow arrived as promised - most of it well before dawn, and amounting to a few centimetres depth (less than I thought it would be).

Night time temperatures had stayed above freezing so ther was no frost, and the snow was already slushy under foot at 7.30am. Nevertheless, it was a pretty sight to start the day.

By the middle of the afternoon, the temperature of over 4C, and several rain showers had cleared much of the snow away and by 3pm it was only covering shaded areas of ground, with just about all foliage being clear again.

Crocus in the snow



The snow helped to highlight the Crocus flower bubs that have been appearing almost un-noticed around the small pond.





10 February - The last two days have been quite miserable, with rain showers replacing the snow, and the temperature creeping up. After the night of the 8th dipping to -1C, last night the lowest temperature was 4C, and this evening, at nearly 9pm it it just under 9C.

Sparrowhawk hides in Birch tree


Today has seen the return of the female Sparrowhawk. This afternoon I spotted her as she swooped on the Hawthorn. The Sparrows were a bit too quick for her, and she flew up into our neighbour's Birch.

While the Sparrows in the tree kept still, and quiet, She stayed in the Birch for the next five minutes, blending in very well with the colours of the tree until a couple Sparrows, unaware of her presence, arrived in the garden.


Sparrowhawk visiting HawthornAs they landed in the Hawthorn she launched herself from the Birch and landed on the Hawthorn. She gave me a cursory stare before looking down into the tree.

Then she made a brief attempt to startle the Sparrows from above (bottom-left image). When this failed she flew down to the lower part of the tree to look up instead.

The Sparrows stayed put and she soon gave up and headed off over the conifers.


Aphids and hoverfly larva


For the first time for a couple of weeks I checked out the bamboo plants today. Clearly, the aphids have continued to thrive despite the snow.

This pair are at rest right next to a hoverfly larva which feeds on Aphids, although they look a bit too big for this individual.



Adult Barkfly on underside of bamboo leafWhile I couldn't find and Barkflies on the large bamboo next to my workshop, there were several under the lower leaves of the row of bamboo plants at the side of the parking area.

As usual, it is easy to spot when they are present because the area of leaf around them is 'peppered' with their droppings, stuck to the mesh of silk that the Barkflies produce. With the insect rsiding on the underside of the leaf, it would be easy to allow the frass to simply drop to the ground/vegetation below (as does the honeydew produced by the aphids), so I wonder if there is a reason for it being retained.



Not only are there adult Barkflies about, but there are also nymphs to be found. This picture shows three of a group of six very young nymphs.


Barkfly nymph and aphid on underside of bamboo leaf



Here is a nymph in a later stage of development, with partly developed wings.




11 February - The temperature rise seems to have stalled now. Last night it 'peaked(!) at nearly 10C before dipping back to 6C by breakfast time, although it is now (at 12.30pm) back up over 9C again. It's a brighter morning, with sunny spells, but with the constant threat of rain. There was a lot of rain during the night, and this morning I'm aiming to replace the guttering on the caravan shelter so that the next downpour can replenish the water butt.

Sparrowhawk on peanut feederIt's another Sparrowhawk morning, with the female visiting at least twice. The first, brief visit was around 8.45am, but she was back for a prolonged, and what looked like a more desperate session.

This time she didn't satisfy herself with an attack on the Hawthorn. She also turned her attention to the Ivy tree and a couple of the lower shrubs at the side of the garden, perching a couple of times on the tall peanut feeder, and also the log in the big pond.


Sparrowhawk launches herself to attack


I managed to get this shot as she launched herself on another unsuccessful attack. It's not a sharp image, but I'm including it as the closest I've got yet to capturing her in flight.

The female can have a wing span of up to 70cm (just over 2ft).

It appeared again in the afternoon, although this time there were no attacks - it just looked down from the conifers before flying off.


13 February - Yesterday was a largely dull, overcast day with some showers, and the temperature hovering between 7 and 9C, not having dropped below 7C the previous night. Today was cloudy but dry, and last night the temperature dipped to 5C before getting back up to nearly 9C before the end of the afternoon.

The garden birds have had the place to themselves again for these two days with no sign of the Sparrowhawks. There are no new sightings to report, despite the Ivy berries ripening at the bottom of the garden.

Last week I listened to a fascinating programme about snails, presented by Brett Westwood (who visited us last year for the Shared Earth series, and now, the latest (March) edition of the BBC Wildlife magazine has a brief item about Snail species to look out for in March. 

Garlic Glass Snail (Oxychilus alliarius)



The first species illustrated was the Garlic Glass Snail (Oxychilus alliarius), so after dark last night I headed out to the bamboo to check for any active examples around our bamboo plants, and found just this one, with a shell approximately 1cm across.



Whorl Snail (Vertigo sp. ?)

As usual, far more numerous were the very small snails like this one, with shells measuring no more than 3mm in length.

Since photographing them previously I have still to identify the species, although I now think it is one of the  Whorl Snails (Vertigo sp.). It has a sinistral shell (right-handed spiral) and its apex is rounded. As you can see in this photograph, there is a very broad rim around the mouth of the shell (mantle area). I need to find an empty shell (a challenge in itself) to see if there are any 'teeth' inside the opening, and if so, then how many. This will help me to be more precise in any identification.

I checked around the garden, but although there were many small slugs about I couldn't see any other snail species - I shall have to check again over the next few nights.

As well as the snails on the fallen, and decaying bamboo leaves, there were numerous small woodlice, and several species of Springtails.



The most obvious are the globular springtails, like this  Dicyrtomina saundersi, with the Maltese cross on its abdomen and the blotchy markings.



Springtails (possibly Habitus hypogastruridae)



Much more numerous, but smaller and less obvious to spot are these springtails, possibly Habitus hypogastruridae (or similar).



Springtail (possibly Habitus Tomoceridae)


This is the third species I photographed last night, and was the only example that I saw of that species, which looks very similar to illustration of Habitus Tomoceridae on an excellent website about Springtails.

One of the authors of that site, Frans Janssens  was kind enough to check through my diaries to confirm/correct my entries about Springtails, and I not yet made the changes that are needed - I owe him an apology for that, and it is a job I must do in the next day or so.


Bamboo plants in containers

While I often take photographs of insects on the bamboo plants in front of our caravan shelter, I don't remember including a photograph of the plants themselves, so here they are.

They grow in three large containers, and form a screen and windbreak on the northern side of the garden.



After a dry day, it's raining now, so it doesn't look as though I will going outside with my camera tonight.


14 February - A happy St Valentine's Day to you all.

After last night's rain, today started, and suitably bright and sunny, although the temperature was down a couple of degrees, reaching a high of 8C only briefly late this afternoon.

Whorl Snail (and springtail)


Just a couple more pictures from the bamboo today. First of all another view of a Whorl Snail (with a shell about 2.8mm in length).

The smaller snail looks as though it could be a much younger version - alternatively, it could be a young Garlic Glass Snail.


Centipede (probably Lithobius forficatus)

This is the smaller of two centipedes that I found in a handful of dead bamboo leaves. While the larger individual, measuring close to 20mm in length wouldn't stop long enough to have its photograph taken, this one (body length about 10mm) was marginally more cooperative.

It is probably Lithobius forficatus, the UK's most abundant centipede.


Insect larva (unidentified) on decaying bamboo leafThe other creature I photographed today was this insect larva which I cannot identify.

Just  4 - 5mm in length, it was moving about the wet leaf surface apparently lapping up liquid from the surface with what looks like a large, white labium that it could withdraw completely.



On the grander scale of the garden, there is very little to report today, although the female Sparrowhawk was here briefly this morning. I did see our male Robin go into a dramatic display mode for a moment, throwing his head right back to emphasise his red breast when a third Robin appeared in the Hawthorn - it didn't stay long!

Click on images to see larger versions

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