The Garden Diary 2008


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1 February - After yesterday's wet and very windy end to January, February has started with an almost perfect day of (nearly) Spring sunshine. The temperature didn't get up to 7C, but it felt warmer than that.

Song Thrush with raisin (cctv image)It was lucky that I started recording the cctv image of under the Hawthorn as soon as I came downstairs this morning as it captured the only visit today (as far as I can tell) by the elusive Song Thrush at about 8.15am.

It took just one raisin from the tray before flying off straight away even though the recording suggested that there were on other birds there to disturb it.

It didn't appear again on the recordings made during the day.

I'm going to set the recorder to start earlier tomorrow to see what happens before I make it downstairs.

Long-tailed Tits at fatball


I was out for much of the day and it wasn't until around 3pm that I had time to look out - just in time to see a a trio of Long-tailed Tits turn up to visit the fat balls.

By then the fat balls were in deep shade so the pictures I managed to grab are pretty 'grainy'.

As it happened, one of my reasons for going out was to buy a new supply of fatballs, and I had not had a chance to replenish the holders before the birds arrived.


Long-tailed Tit in Hawthorn



I really like the colouring of the Long-tailed Tit's plumage, although the small, pink colouring above the eye usually extends around much more of the eye's rim.




2 February - A frost to start the day - just about, with the temperature getting down to freezing first thing this morning. There was a touch of ice on the birdbath and the ponds, but nothing worth photographing. Afterwards, the day day was largely sunny, with a high of just below 6C.

I slept a bit late this morning, but the cctv image was being recorded from before dawn in hopes of recording the Song Thrush's visit.

Male Blackbird (cctv image)



The first bird to appear, and not until just before 8am, was this male Blackbird which took a couple of raisins before leaving.


Wood Pigeon (cctv image)


Ten minutes later and I was surprised by an early appearance of a Wood Pigeon which wasted no time in devouring all the Sunflower kernels in one corner of the tray. Once they had all gone it spent the next few minutes wandering all round the tray without taking anything else from it.



Starling pair (cctv image)

The pigeon was still about when this pair of Starlings arrived, probably from the boxes at the side of the house. These were only interested in the mealworms (re-hydrated dried mealworms).

These Starlings always come down as a pair, and based on what I saw during last year's nesting, I believe the one on the right may be the female. Her plumage is very slightly lighter (and less iridescent?) with larger white flecks - something to be confirmed later in the year.


It wasn't long before the Starlings were disturbed by the arrival of a second Wood Pigeon which flew right down to the dish and immediately devoured all the light coloured suet bits in the tray - strange how the first pigeon (still around) hadn't touched these.

Dunnock (cctv image)


The next bird to arrive was a welcome sight - a Dunnock, the first I've seen for several weeks, and I saw it again in the late morning, that time in the buddleia bush.



Robin (cctv image)


A few minutes later, the Dunnock's rival in the garden arrived. I was surprised not to see the Robin earlier. As it was there were no mealworms left for it at this visit. It, and its partner were back later on after I had put new supplies in the tray.


Female Blackbird (cctv image)



One other bird made up the early morning recording, a female Blackbird.



Song Thrush (cctv image)


I had stopped the recording at 9.30am to check it for the Thrush but as it hadn't appeared  I restarted the monitoring as quickly as possible. That was fortunate because just before 10am the Song Thrush made its appearance, confirming that is is becoming a regular visitor.

Perhaps I'll set up a camera on a tripod to try for some better quality images of it.


This afternoon, while I was chopping some wood I saw what I think were a pair of thrush type birds flying past and calling as they headed towards the Brickfields park.

Coal Tit on feeder table


I neither saw not heard the Long-tailed Tits today, but in their absence is was nice to see numerous visits to the table (after chopped peanuts) by at least this Coal Tit - no sign of a second one.


Blue Tit on feeder table



And finally, one of the five Blue Tits that I watched coming to feed this afternoon while the Coal Tit was in the garden.




Not pictured today, but of course present in the garden every day, are the House Sparrows, Collared Doves, Goldfinches and the Great Tits.

So far this year I've really been ignoring the vegetation in the garden. Before I forget again, yesterday I spotted the first Oxlips in flower on the far side of the big pond.


3 February - Last night was less cold again, with a low of around 4C before a high of just 6C today on a dry and largely bright day.

I recorded the cctv image again this morning, until mid-day this time, and while the other birds that were 'captured' yesterday visited the tray again, neither the Thrush nor the Dunnock appeared.

Robin pair (cctv image)


There was one moment worth capturing from the recording - when the Robin pair appeared briefly in the same frame.

They spent quite a bit of time around the Hawthorn today, although I didn't see them get close to courtship feeding.




I had set up my SLR camera in the hope of getting some better images of the Thrush, but when that didn't appear I aimed at the Robin(s) instead.

They never got quite close enough to get both in one image, but this is the one that spent most time on the ground (the male, I think). Most of the Snowdrops in the background are still to open.



5 February - A wet night, but dry by morning, which was fortunate as it allowed me to spend  much of the morning and early afternoon sorting out the Starling nestboxes (see nestbox diary).

Lesser Celandine - first flowerAs a result I didn't take much notice of the garden today. However, on a visit to my shed I spotted the first of our Lesser Celandines to flower, in the same spot, next to the big pond, as the first to appear last year, although that was ten days later, on the 15th.

There are a lot more of these plants around the garden, they do not appear to be near to flowering.

While I had my camera with me I decided to record some of the other flowers that have appeared so far this new year.



First is the Oxlip - I'll check when I have time) which appeared on 1 February.



Snowdrops and Primroses



Then the Snowdrops and the Primroses. The first of the Snowdrops opened on 20 January, but it is only now that the majority are opening. I didn't record the first Primrose to open, but they were flowering, and being eaten by slugs and caterpillars by the last week of January.


Slug on Primroses




The slugs are or course easy to spot,





Noctuid moth caterpillar

but the caterpillars that are about at this time of the year do not glisten in torchlight, and can easily be mistaken for dead plant materials if you don't look carefully.

I haven't positively identified these, but I understand that they are probably the caterpillar of one of the noctuid moths (eg the Large Yellow Underwing moth, the adult of which is very common in the garden during the summer). These caterpillars hide in the soil during the day, coming out to feed after dark.



7 February - A largely overcast day, with a bit of dampness in the air during the morning. After a cold night, with the temperature dipping to 1C, today the temperature got up to 10C, and it is still 8C at 8.30pm.

I have been paying attention to the nest boxes and other jobs over the last two days, so I have little to report from the garden. However, one observation has to be recorded (also mentioned in the nestbox diary). I happened to look out of our bedroom window art the moment a trio of Long-tailed Tits were visiting, pecking at the peanuts in the tall feeder by the Rowan. At the same time, a Coal Tit was visiting the bird table, and I could also see several Blue Tits and the pair of Great Tits, one of whom went on to visit the nest box. I cannot recall ever before seeing four species of Tits in the garden at the same time.

It's interesting to read reports about how the generally mild conditions are encouraging hedgehogs to come out of hibernation. After seeing hedgehogs in the garden quite often this time last year, beyond the one sighting on 25 January, I'm still not seeing any signs of them being in the garden - which should be a good thing, of course!


8 February - A cloudless day with a high of 12C after a chilly but frost-free morning.

We were out for much of the day, so the garden didn't get much of my attention, but as we were getting into the car a bumble bee flew between us - the first that we have seen this year. When we called in to see one of our sons (who lives a half mile or so from us) he told us that he had seen a Buzzard flying over this morning. I would have been able to see it from our garden if I had been there.



9 February - After a cold start (2C at 8am) it quickly turned into what can only be described as a perfect Spring day, with cloudless skies and a high temperature of over 13C (perhaps >14C).

The first daffodil opens




To reinforce the feeling, the first of our Daffodils came into flower,




Plants in flower


and the other plants already in flower seemed to put an effort into opening wide!

The Lesser Celandine flower, first photographed on the 5th  is still the only example of that species to have flowered yet.

As I took these photographs I was buzzed by another bumble bee, although it didn't stop in the garden.



Barkflies on logsI spent a while checking the log store for barkflies, not having reported on them since mid-January. As it turned out, I found only a few adults.

This pair (actually on different logs) both appear to be brachypterous forms of Ectopsocus axillaris, although the rear of the abdomen is more pointed in the left-hand insect.

There were several more short-winged examples on the logs, but I couldn't see any with normal length wings.


Barkfly on log

The only different adult type that I found was this short-winged form of Ectopsocus petersi.

I also found several nymphs of Loensia variegata but no adults, although I did see one on the 6th.

There was no sign of either adults or nymphs of Peripsocus milleri. Neither did I find any sign of the bugs that I have found preying on barkfly nymphs.


Beetles, mating on logWhile looking for barkflies I came across numerous tiny wood boring beetles, an example of which I photographed back on 31 December (but not today).

Also, there are numerous of the even smaller beetles that seem to feed amongst the mildew that grows on the end-grain of the cut wood.

This picture shows the first insects that I have seen mating this year so far -Spring has obviously arrived for some inhabitants of the log pile! I shall have to watch out for more mating pairs to see if the male is always this much smaller than the female.



12 February - This morning it's misty, but unlike the previous two days it has not started off with a frost. Once the mist lifts it seems that we are in for yet another cloudless day.

The mist did lift and in slightly hazy sunshine for some of the time (mainly down to the vapour trails left by aircraft!) I spent quite a while outside doing some woodwork today, and I must have heard bumblebees at least half a dozen times. One very large individual, well over 2cm in length with a buff-coloured tip to its abdomen landed on a bamboo plant. I hurried to get my camera, but it didn't wait for me. I think it was possibly a Buff-tailed bumblebee (Bombus terrestris).


14 February - After a run of six days with virtually not a cloud in sight (ignoring the foggy start two days ago) today there was no blue to be seen - a grey, but dry day. The cloud actually rolled in last night so the temperature didn't go below 4C overnight, but also didn't get above 5C today.

Buff-tailed bumblebee (Bombus terrestris)I've been busy with other jobs to last few days so I've not had my camera at the ready, but yesterday I did manage to grab this one picture of another large bumblebee that chose to sunbathe briefly on the bamboo near to where I was continuing my woodworking.

It was very sensitive to my movement, and left in a hurry as soon as I tried to move around to get a better shot, despite my taking care not to let my shadow pass over it.

I think it's a Buff-tailed bumblebee (Bombus terrestris).



20 February - Just a short note today.

I'm afraid that over the last week I've been spending all my time doing jobs relating to the bird boxes as I try to ensure that everything is ready in plenty of time. Today, while I accessing the Starling boxes I watched as a Magpie searched my neighbour's birch tree for a suitable branch which it then took away. This is one of those events I watch for each Spring, usually in March. I also heard the drumming of a Woodpecker from the direction of the Brickfields Country Park.

Today was another cloudy day, the first since the last report, and although there was no frost this morning (it had dipped down to below zero around midnight, before the cloud arrived), the temperature didn't reach 5C all day. The past week saw sunny days, sometimes getting quite warm, but with frosty nights, so that most mornings I needed to use hot water on the birdbath. There is still no rain.

I've seen the Thrush here several times, but I'm not seeing any other winter visitors.


24 February - A perfect Spring morning that started with a very special occasion - an addition to our family tree, our first grandchild. A healthy little girl for her very happy and extremely proud parents, she was born at 8am, and in one way or another, occupied the rest of the day for the whole family! Needless to say, the garden didn't get too much attention.

The morning was gloriously sunny with temperatures of over 13C , but it turned cloudy as the afternoon progressed, with the first raindrops falling for a couple of weeks - not enough to warrant running for shelter, and soon after dark the clouds gave way to clear skies.

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