The Garden Diary 2007

January - Part 2

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22 January - I'm afraid that the period of diary neglect is continuing as we try to make progress in our lounge - unfortunately I'm spending a lot more time taking breaks than actually doing things. 

Since the last entry, the temperature has been falling. Until yesterday, the winds had been from the west-southwest, but today it swung round to the north-northeast, and the highest temperature reached during the day was just over 4C after dipping to under 3C last night.

That could not have been good for the hedgehog which made another appearance at just after 10pm - tonight we may be in for a frost.


Our garden under the first snow of the year24 January - The first snow of the year! We awoke around 6am this morning to an orange-white view out of the bedroom window as the street lighting reflected off low cloud to light up a coat of snow over everything.

By the time it was light enough to take some photographs, the snow was already melting, disappearing completely by the early afternoon. The pathway had been completely covered before dawn

Fortunately, we had taken advantage of a relatively calm (if cold) conditions yesterday to put the new tarpaulin on the caravan shelter, although the fixings are only temporary - I had intended to finish the job today, but a combination of the snow and tiredness put paid to that plan.


We didn't have the anticipated frost the night before last, but last night the temperature did dip below zero, rising back to around 1C by 8am.

Snow on the small Willow


Yesterday's breeze must have subsided completely before the snow fell, judging by the way every surface, however thin, had a mound of snow on it. This is the small Willow that grows next to the big pond,


Snow over Brickfields Country Park


and this is the view towards the Brickfields Country Park - just about every branch seems to be topped with a line of snow.


Snow on the Ivy



Even the bunches of Ivy berries were crowned by snow. Many of the berries are now turning dark, and yesterday I saw a female Blackbird taking one of them, the first bird that I have seen feeding at the Ivy this season.



While most of our usual birds were here to feed first thing this morning, the Goldfinches (usually amongst the first to feed) and the Robin were much later than the rest.

Male Sparrowhawk on the Hawthorn tree


We also had this Sparrowhawk come to visit. It is usually a female that I see here, but this is a male, with its blue-grey wings and the rufous coloured barred underside.

It landed first on the far side of the Hawthorn, but after an unsuccessful chase into a neighbour's garden it returned and perched long enough for me to grab a few shots.


Male Sparrowhawk leaves the Hawthorn tree


I hoped to catch the moment that it flew off, but I'm afraid that a combination of poor light (= too slow shutter speed), and its rapid acceleration, too fast for both my camera and me, meant that I got just this rather shaky shot.




25 January - It didn't freeze last night, but the temperature did dip below zero during the morning. We also had a short snow shower, but in the sunshine that followed the snow only hung on in the deepest shadows until the temperature crept up to just over 3C in the afternoon.

Male Blackbird taking a Pyracantha berry


For much of the day I was doing work in the house, but I did grab this image of a Blackbird feeding on a Pyracantha berry. Look carefully at the large image and you will see the Blackbird's tongue.

At one stage there were four Blackbirds in the garden, two males and two females. It was interesting to see what I shall call 'our' male Blackbird chasing off the other male, and 'our' female chasing away the other female.



27 January - A bright and sunny morning with the temperature of 6C at 10.45am. After a very brief cold spell the temperatures are on their way up again. Yesterday we had a high of just under 7C, and a low of 4C at around 8am this morning.

Female Blackbird taking a Pyracantha berry


This morning I had the chance to take a few photographs as 'our' female Blackbird tucked into the Pyracantha berries. The male has been more interested in feeding on the ground so far today.

There is no sign of 'extra' Blackbirds so far today, and before I forget, I saw four Long-tailed Tits in the garden yesterday.


Also yesterday, a female Sparrowhawk made a brief appearance at the far end of the garden. It was a quiet approach, landing on my neighbour's apple tree to look towards the Hawthorn. However, it was one of those times when the Sparrows were elsewhere, and she soon headed off over the conifers.

The Big Garden Birdwatch, organised by the RSPB takes place this weekend. It will be a good excuse to sit and do nothing but watch the garden for a couple of hours, something I have done very little of these last few weeks!

After lunch it turned cloudy, but the dullness was interrupted by a fleeting glimpse of a Goldcrest in our Birch tree, a rare sight these days.

Around 3pm I went outside to try and record a Dunnock that was calling from the heart of the Hawthorn, but was interrupted by a clatter from our gate as a Sparrowhawk landed, just feet away from me! It thought twice about staying there and flew off to perch on a neighbour's fence.

Other than the Dunnock, there were five Blue and two Great Tits in the tree, and I was able to record their reactions to the hawk's appearance. I assume that the Great Tit making the calls was the male, and he continued making the call even as the  other Great Tit was hunting again within the safety of the Hawthorn.

Click here to listen to a bit of the recording. The chattering calls are by the Blue Tits, the Great Tit produced the sharp and loud double chirps. The recording can also be found in the sounds section of the website.

Female Sparrowhawk watches garden from top of conifer trees


When things had quietened down I went back inside moments before the Sparrowhawk reappeared - this time it's a female, larger and much more brown than the male photographed a few days ago.

It flew into the garden right by the house, but straight away headed for a high perch on the conifers where it did a bit of preening and then waited and watched the garden, and I headed for our bedroom to get a better view.


Female Sparrowhawk on Hawthorn


It was there for about four minutes, until a Sparrow flew out from the safety of the Ivy. The hawk swooped, but the Sparrow had too good a start, headed into our driveway  and I assume made it to the safety of a nestbox as the hawk reappeared almost immediately to perch on the Hawthorn.

It made no attempt to get at the few birds that were in amongst the branches below it and after a short pause it returned to its perch on the conifers.


Female Sparrowhawk with prey(hidden) on conifer


It must have stayed there another three minutes. Then it suddenly swooped down, disappearing below me to snatch something from the ground, and straight away head back up to another conifer, the saw-off trunk providing a convenient place to pluck the victim.

I should have waited and taken more photographs from the bedroom, but as its prey was hidden from view I instead tried unsuccessfully to find a better view from the garden.


Now I need to take a 'roll call' of the birds of special interest (nesting candidates). I don't think the victim was as big as a Blackbird - as I write this I can see the female (eating berries again!), and I don't think it was as dark as a male Blackbird. As for the Great Tits, I'll probably have to wait until tomorrow morning to confirm that they are safe as they tend to disappear in the late afternoon. It was too big for a Blue Tit.


28 January - A sunny morning, turning grey in the afternoon, but staying dry. The temperature didn't get below 4C last night, and peaked at just over 8C at the middle of the day.

Female Sparrowhawk on HawthornI was out for much of the morning and when I returned I need ed to spend some time sorting out a dripping tap in our bathroom. With Sparrow nestboxes just above the bathroom window we are used to seeing the shapes of the sparrows as they fly to and from the boxes, but this time the bird was much bigger. A dash into our bedroom confirmed another visit from the female Sparrowhawk.

Obviously unsuccessful in her attack, this time she simply perched on top of the Hawthorn long enough for me to go to get my camera, and flying off over the conifers after allowing me to take several shots.


Male and female Sparrowhawks compared


I thought it might be a good ideal to put photographs of the male and female birds together for the sake of comparison.

Although it may look as though the male is the larger bird, it isn't possible to compare their sizes in this picture as they  perched on different parts of the Hawthorn that didn't overlap in the two photographs, for which I used different lenses.


On a positive note after yesterday's attack, I have seen both male and female Blackbirds today, as well as two Great Tits. Also, for the first time this year I saw two Robins that seemed to be a pair, following each other around with no sign of aggression. In fact, I saw one of them pick up some food from the ground and disappear behind the trunk of the hawthorn, to where the other bird had already gone - a promising sign!


29 January - The temperatures continue to rise again. From a low of 7C at around 8am it reached 9C in the early afternoon, under grey skies, although no rain fell - I will need to top up the big pond in the next day or so. A neighbour mowed his lawn during the morning, and I heard another mower in use later on!

No pictures today, but a few things need recording. Having seen what appeared to be courtship behaviour between the two Robins yesterday, I heard a male Robin singing loudly for the first time (this year) this morning. The Ivy berries are obviously close to ripening now as a pair of Wood Pigeons sampled them around breakfast time, although they had disappeared by the time I collected my camera.

The first Snowdrops opened today, and I've spotted a solitary Red Campion flower in bloom on the far side of the big pond.

Click on images to see larger versions

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