The Garden Diary 2009
1 February - The month started with a sharp frost overnight as the temperature dropped to nearly -2C. However, by breakfast there was no sign of that as the temperature climbed back up to +1C under cloudy skies. It stayed that way for the rest of the day as easterly winds blew in from the Continent, and a couple of times I saw flurries of snow falling. If the forecast is correct there could be a lot more falling tonight and tomorrow.
It may have been cold last night, but it didn't stop a hedgehog from coming to feed at 10.28pm (the temperature was already below zero by then) and again at 10.50pm.
The first fox didn't appear until 1.03am, and while it ate raisins for a while it didn't come to the veranda. Twenty minutes later it was the turn of the injured fox which did come to the veranda.
At 2.23am the raisins were again visited by a healthy fox which followed that up with a drink at the small pond (there must have been a thin covering of ice by then) before disappearing back down the garden. The final visit of the night came at 3.41am when a fox came down the path and headed towards the hedgehog food. However, it was the nervous one, and didn't make it to the dish before it ran away. It approached again and although it got closer to the dish it ran off again, this time disappearing without having eaten anything. I've seen this nervous fox several times now, and its behaviour suggests to me that we may have two similarly sized individuals coming to the garden, which would mean that there are at least four individuals that visit us.
Anyway, with snow forecast, in addition to topping up the bird feeders, and half-emptying the birdbath, I've put extra rations of both raisins and hedgehog food out ready for tonight.
The cold winds seen to have encouraged the Goldfinches to stay close today and there have been some at the feeders just about every time I've looked out. And the two Siskins have teamed up with them, perching with the Goldfinches in my neighbour's Birch tree and coming to feed with them.
I also saw this pair of Long-tailed Tits here a number of times during the day - they seem to have found the coconut shell fat feeders.
This afternoon when I stepped outside to bring in some logs for the fire I noticed what I thought must be a different bird at the far side of my neighbour's garden, especially with what appeared to be a white ring around its eye
By the time I dashed in to get my camera it had moved onto the roof of their extension, and I realised it was a very looking scruffy Blackbird.
No sooner had I got back inside than it came down into the garden, first perching on the bird bath before heading for the raisins.
I have to admit that I'm a bit confused. It's yellow beak indicates that it's a male, so could it be a juvenile in the process of moulting? If so, I've never seen one this scruffy before.
I've see flecks of white on older males in the past, do juveniles get these?
It's worth comparing it with the male and female Blackbirds that were here soon afterwards.
An update at 9.30pm - The snow has arrived, and as you can see the garden has turned white. The forecast indicates that there may be quite a bit more before dawn, and with the temperature staying below zero it won't disappear before breakfast!
It's the sort of day that every child should experience at least once, and a whole generation of children have missed out since the last day like this!
It's difficult to judge just how much snow fell during the night, but by breakfast time the birdbath and the log I use for chopping wood had columns of snow on top that had a height of over 11 inches.
One of my first tasks was to clear the snow from the birdbath and fill it.
The feeders also needed some attention!
And I also provided an extra tray of food on the veranda to cope with the queue of birds waiting to feed.
As I sorted out these things it was interesting to see how tolerant the Blackbirds were, especially the resident male. He remained on the table with me in full view less than a metre from him.
The scruffy individual was here repeatedly. Here, he managed to perch on the thin rods of the anti-cat device below the feeders while he waited for another Blackbird to leave the table.
His white flecks seem well suited to these conditions!
Despite being chased off by the male Blackbird, the Song Thrush made several visits to the bird table today feasting on the raisins I put on it.
The Long-tailed Tits didn't appear this morning, but the lone Coal Tit came to the fat feeders quite often,
and the Siskins arrived once again with the Goldfinches.
One of the two Robins is in sight around the feeding area most of the time,
and today they seemed to ignore the presence of a Dunnock which ignored the feeders, choosing instead to hunt in the shrubs around them.
There was a real treat at lunchtime when I spotted this Warbler preening. I could only just position the camera to get these shots around the pole of the Sparrow feeder.
Preening over, it flew across the veranda and spent over twenty minutes hunting amongst the foliage of a bamboo plant. Much of the time it was hidden by a lattice panel, and when it did appear it was usually too close to focus on, but I did manage to grab this one image.
I think it is a Willow Warbler, but I'm open to correction on this.
Looking back at last night's video recording I wasn't surprised to see that no hedgehogs appeared, but I half expected to see more than one fox during the night.
The only one to make an appearance was the injured fox, which arrived at the raisins at 2.21am. This was still before the bulk of the snow arrived, but nevertheless it had to uncover the raisins. Afterwards, it came to the veranda but didn't even approach the dish before heading back to the raisins. It left under the fence at 2.29am.
Perhaps the fact that it appeared at all is a measure of the difficulty it is experiencing finding enough food. It must have been increasingly hard work getting about as the night progressed.
The only other sighting all night was a mouse at 7.18am. I've indicated the blur that is the mouse, which is moving to the right.
You can see the track it made as it ran towards the edge of the veranda only to run into deep snow, at which point it dashed back to cover.
It doesn't look as though we will get any more snow tonight, but the forecast is suggesting that they may be more in a couple of days.
3 February - A real mixture today - The temperature dipped a few degrees below freezing overnight, but since dawn it has risen steadily to around 2C in the early afternoon in a period of bright sunshine and an almost cloudless sky. By the late afternoon clouds were rolling in again from the south.
Things became quite interesting in the late morning. From breakfast onwards there had been flurries of snow, but as it approached noon we had relatively heavy snow for a while.
I think that the best part on an inch of snow fell, although with the temperature already on the plus side of freezing it didn't last too well on already cleared areas.
Today, it somewhat quieter around the feeders, but nevertheless it has been worth keeping a camera handy.
First of all, I have to describe any Thrush photograph as being of one of the Song Thrushes - there were two here this morning. It was a pity I couldn't get both in the same photograph as it is the first time that I've seen more than one in our garden.
If you click on the picture you will also see the picture I took yesterday, which I think is of the second bird - look at the different patterns of dark flecks around their throats.
Having this increased level of competition meant that the resident Blackbird had quite a busy time as he endeavoured to chase away the Thrushes and at least three other Blackbirds.
The Long-tailed Tits may have been absent yesterday but they have been feeding here again today, visiting both the coconut fat feeder and the fat balls in the Hawthorn.
Another visitor to the coconut shell was this female Siskin.
A couple of males have been coming to the garden since 14 January, but this is my first sighting of a female this winter.
The two males were also present, although they prefer the Sunflower and Thistle seed feeders. You can see the remnants of a thistle seed case in this one's beak.
I mustn't leave out the Collared Doves from yet another day's notes.
While the pair are always following each other pretty closely, they don't often feed this close together on the bird table.
One visitor that I would have expected to see yesterday has only just turned up at 5pm this evening - the Grey Squirrel has the bird table to itself. The only birds I can see about as the light fails is the Robin pair, down on the snow under the Hawthorn.
At 3am the large fox appeared and also started its meal at the raisins. However when it came to the veranda it chose to eat from the tray of bird food and ignored the hedgehog dish completely. It stayed for about six minutes.
The final visitor of the night was a mouse
that first appeared at 4.26am, and was still making sorties to the dish up
to around 6.22am.
By the time the mouse disappeared again it had been snowing lightly for about half an hour, and by 7am the path that I cleared yesterday had a couple of centimetres of snow covering it again.
4 February - It has been bright and sunny all morning, and with the temperature up to 3C by noon a thaw is under way.
So far today it has been very quiet in the garden, with little of the activity that we saw around the feeders over the last two days. I've seen a Song Thrush just once, and just before I started writing this at 12.30pm, a single Siskin male has made an appearance with the first Goldfinches of the day, and only three of those compared with the 10+ that were here constantly on Monday and Tuesday. While the Blue Tits and the Great Tits are here occasionally the pair of Long-tailed Tits has been just once, and I have yet to see the Coal Tit or a Dunnock. Not even the Doves and Pigeons are coming to feed!
While the Great (and Blue) Tits continue to evade my camera's gaze, I managed to grab a couple of images of this very nervous female Blackbird as she foraged in snow decorated with the husks of millet seeds discarded by the House Sparrows.
The light reflecting off the snow helps to
emphasise her lighter frontal plumage and the differences between the sexes.
I photographed the male in a similar situation yesterday and I'm including
that picture again so that you can compare them when you look at the
I also took a Starling picture which I've put into the nestbox diary.
Last night was even quieter than today was, with just one visitor all night - the injured fox which turned up at 3.31am and stayed for about six minutes. There was no sign of the mouse last night!
5 February - A bit of a rude awakening this morning when our main bedroom light came on of its own accord at just after 6.30am! There had been a power cut and when the supply was restored the light, which is operated by a remote switch came on at full brightness...
Anyway, it had me up and looking out on another inch of snow that had fallen during the night. The paths, cleared yesterday are white again, but this time the snow is very wet. Once I regained my senses (nearer 8am by now) and was putting fresh water in the bird bath, the temperature outside was just over +1C and it was raining steadily, although that soon stopped.
No prospect of 'good' snow pictures this morning so I've confined myself to this image of the edge of the veranda, with human, cat and Blackbird footprints in what is very soggy snow.
Having commented yesterday about only seeing a single Siskin at lunchtime, this morning there were three males here at 8am. I couldn't get all three in a single frame, but these two obliged.
I had to take the shot through the slatted blinds, which created the rather banded background.
By 10am a female had joined the group.
The Siskins have continued to visit the feeders, along with the Goldfinches and the Sparrows all morning, but otherwise things have remained pretty quiet. The Blue and Great Tits have only made occasional visits but the Coal and Long-tailed Tits haven't been seen.
A single Thrush was here briefly just after 11am and I've just snapped this Wren which was hunting by the small pond - a place it has frequented quite often in the past.
This is something we see every year, although I think this is the earliest that I've recorded it. Last year I saw it for the first time on 20 February, but previously my first sightings have been in March
Unfortunately it isn't very cooperative and always carries out the task on the 'wrong side' of the birch, hence the picture of branches with the Magpie largely hidden!
A few more pictures from the early afternoon -
First a Blue Tit hunting amongst the branches of the Buddleia. For once it posed momentarily on my side of the bush, albeit in the deep shade.
The remaining snow helped to reflect a bit of light from below.
Next, another Thrush picture as it too made its way through the Buddleia, in this case as it headed for the bird table.
As I write this at 3.45pm there's a Thrush on the table again, and it turned to look straight at me - superb!
The Coal Tit stayed away yesterday, but it turned up a couple of times this afternoon, heading to the same feeder on both visits.
There's been no sign of the Long-tailed Tits today.
I'm afraid that I haven't got a recording of overnight activity in the garden to go through today - probably because of the power cut, or perhaps I forgot to start the recording last night!
6 February - A glum, overcast start, and with the temperature having stayed around 1C all night there is a steady thaw taking place.
The overnight recording was the quietest yet, with only one mouse (at 11pm),the white-nosed cat at 6.35am, and the first visitor of the day, a robin at 7.13am, soon followed by the male Blackbird.
Since then, the House Sparrows, Goldfinches Blue and Great Tits were here by 8am, a single Long-tailed Tit at 8.20am, a Coal Tit shortly after, and the first Siskins around 8.30am. A quarter of an hour later the Siskin count went up to five with the appearance of a fourth male. A Song Thrush arrived just before 9am, and as I write this it's perched in the Hawthorn. It wasn't until 9.05am that a pair (our pair?) of Starlings appeared at the bird table. I wonder where they go after they leaves the boxes in the mornings.
It may be gloomy outside but it has nevertheless been a good start to the day!
During the morning the gloom turned first to dampness, and then snow in the early afternoon, bringing the slow thaw to a temporary halt.
It's not going to produce the scenes that we had on Monday, but is enough to turn cleared areas white again, albeit with very wet snow.
7 February - A short entry today! It has been a brilliantly sunny day, with the temperature climbing from -3C at dawn to +3C by the end of the afternoon - the snow is disappearing, slowly!
I haven't had time to go through last night's recording. In fact I will probably suspend overnight recordings for the moment, to give me time to deal with other things. On that subject, I now have most of the bits needed to make my infra-red camera trap. Hopefully the final bit will arrive by the middle of next week so that I set it up for the first time. It was somewhat frustrating that a component I ordered from Bulgaria arrived quicker than a bit I ordered from someone in England!
9 February - It looks as though the latest winter weather has missed us. Today we faced the possibility of high winds, heavy rain and, perhaps, snow. As it turned out we have had just the rain - all day! However, even with the temperature getting up to 5C both yesterday and today there is still snow in the garden this evening.
The last two days have been very quiet in the garden, and I've been very grateful for that as I've needed to put my feet up quite a bit.
We are still getting visits from the Thrush(es), just a single Siskin made an appearance today, but although three were here yesterday, neither Coal nor Long-tailed Tits were seen today.
This visitor over the last two days had been absent during the snow.
As the real snow retreats, albeit slowly, the Snowdrops are once again standing out against a dark background. It is difficult to see in this picture, but several of the flowers are open now.
Click on images to see larger versions