The Garden Diary 2009

February (part 3)

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21 February - Spring-like again today, and this time the blue skies have stayed with us into the afternoon.

It's a week since I decided that it was safe to 'straighten' the Ivy tree, having checked for Robin activity around it. Since then I've been wondering whether or not to get the job finished now rather than wait until the Summer. Well, my decision has been made for me - by the Robins!

At just after noon I went down the garden with the intention of taking some frog pictures but was distracted by the Robin pair. It wasn't long before I saw them going back and forth to the same bit of the Ivy tree, so I set myself up to watch them from across the garden, behind an improvised hide.

The Ivy tree with nestbox entrance indicated


When the old conifer that became the basis of the Ivy tree died. As well as planting Ivy to grow up it I also attached a ready-made nest box to it. Over the years this became hidden by the Ivy and has been used several times (including once by a Wren).

Pulling the tree upright has once again exposed the box just a little bit, and you can see the entrance in this picture. Originally this had a wooden insert which made it Blue-Tit sized, although it was never used by these.



Robin female visits nestbox in Ivy tree


Anyway, it seems that the Robins have moved in. This is the female as she made some of the twenty or so visits that I saw over a half-hour period. The male was always perched nearby and on one occasion he actually looked into the box while his partner was inside.

It may be feasible to up a cctv camera to monitor the box entrance - possibly tomorrow. If I do that I will probably make future entries about the Robins in the nest box diaries.

Any plans I had for the Ivy tree are now definitely on hold until the Summer!


A frustrating few moments came while I was watching the nest box when  Coal Tit perched on a branch almost directly above me and spent a minute or two calling loudly - one of those times when I needed the microphone with me!

After that welcome distraction, the frogs have escaped me for today as they are at the stage when most of them dive at the slightest movement around the pond. However, there are two developments that I must note -

Crocus in flower next to big pond



First of all, over the last couple of days the Crocuses have been emerging and today's sunshine has persuaded several to open.


Reedmace sheds its seeds




Today's breeze is encouraging the solitary Reedmace to  start shedding its seeds. This process may have been prompted in part by the actions of a House Sparrow that I saw pecking at it this morning.




The Long-tailed Tits seem to becoming almost residents rather than visitors at the moment, at least between our and my neighbour's garden. There are at least four of them, and they have been back and forth to the fat balls and coconut all day, and I spent a while watching a couple of them taking a lot of interest in the shrubs just over the fence from us.

Way back in April 2004 a pair of Long-tailed Tits looked as though they were very close to nesting in this same spot, and I had some great views of the male displaying. I wonder if we'll see this behaviour happening this Spring.

Looking back at last night's veranda recording, there was just one healthy fox that visited at around 4am. Prior to that a mouse visited the dish at 11pm, a rat dashed across the garden just once at 1.23am, and a half-expected hedgehog turned up at 3.28am. The only cat didn't appear until 7.23am.



22 February - A dry although largely cloudy day, and rather quiet in the garden. The Siskins are still with us, and the Long-tailed Tits continue to entertain, but I haven't seen a Song Thrush these last two days.

Last night there were no foxes in the garden, but a hedgehog did appear on the veranda at 1.30am and fed for about ten minutes.

Cctv image of Ivy tree nest boxAfter seeing the Robins' activity yesterday I watched this morning and saw them around the Ivy tree again. When I saw things go quiet in the afternoon I set up a cctv camera to watch the nest box from about 3.5m away across the garden and giving this view.

I didn't see or hear the Robins as I set the camera up. Also, there was no activity at the end of the afternoon, which was a bit disappointing, but the camera will now monitor this view continuously every day.



23 February - An almost uniformly grey day with the temperature not quite making it to 10C after an overnight low of 7C.

The male Sparrowhawk was here again this morning. I missed it with the camera and it missed the birds, again.

Greenfinches visit the feeders today


The garden was rather quiet for a while afterwards, but when the Goldfinches and Siskins returned they brought with them some big cousins in the form of at least four Greenfinches - I couldn't be sure as they kept coming and going!

My last sighting of adult Greenfinches here was on 22 March last year.



Cctv image of Robin and Ivy tree nest boxI have yet to go through the day's recording, but I can confirm that the Robin did visit the Ivy tree next box today. It went in several times in the early afternoon, around 1.10pm and again at 2.28pm. The  time given centre-left in the band across the top of each image gives the elapsed time since the recording started at 6am.

The Robin didn't seem to be taking anything in, but sometimes came out with bits in its beak.


Having looked at the video recording there was an interesting pattern to the day's activities. The camera isn't able to resolve an image until shortly after 7am (I may be able to change the camera later in the week), so I may have missed early activity. By then the Starlings had left their roost and the Blackbirds are already chasing each other. The first recorded Robin visit to the box happened at 7.26am. However, after that single appearance there was nothing until lunchtime.

Then, between 12.50pm and 2.43pm the Robin (female?) made some twenty one visits. Each time she flew straight to the opening so that it wasn't possible to see if she had anything in her beak. Each time that she left she paused long enough for me to see that she wasn't taking anything out. This is the sort of behaviour that I would expect if the female was nest building but I need to see materials in her beak to be sure.

After that busy period there were no further visits to the box itself, but at 4.55pm a Robin landed next to the box and looked around before leaving again - was that the male?

A note about the overnight recording - The cats had it to themselves last night, with four individuals making six visits. Apart from that the night's recording was free of rodents, hedgehogs and foxes!


24 February - The greyness continues, with it just under 9C at 8.15am - the day had a high of nearly 11C

Why isn't it as bright and sunny as it was this day a year ago? That was a very special day, and so is today - my grand-daughter's first birthday!

Frogs in amplexusBy this time every year I'm usually well into a frog count, so I thought I'd better make a start last night. It was actually very quiet in the ponds when I looked at 10pm, with no croaking going on, but I was able to count 36 frogs and one newt. Last year I didn't count them on the 24th, but on the 22nd I could see 32, so we seem to be on schedule!

There were several pairs in a relaxed amplexus, but even these seemed to be just gazing out towards the sides of the ponds, just like all the individual frogs were.


As I write this at 8.45am there is a busy period of activity at the Robin's nestbox with the female going in at least ten times.

BY the end of the day there was no doubt about the use of the box by the Robins. There were periods of intense activity at 7.40-7.50am and 8.40-9.30am and visits throughout the day, the last one being seen at 5.08pm. From tomorrow onwards I'll be including Robin updates in the nestbox diary.



26 February - Just a short note as I have been occupied with other things over the last two days.

Yesterday the weather was grey again with a high of 9C, but there may have been a tiny bit more brightness today, and it was cooler, with a high of 7C.

I was away from home for much of the day but before I left I saw the Greenfinches back again after an absence over the last two days.


27 February - After days of greyness today was bright and largely sunny, and  a high of nearly 13C certainly made it feel like Spring.

First frog spawn of the year


That feeling was reinforced by the production of the first frog spawn of the year, two days later than last year.

I was quite surprised by this development because the frogs have been very quiet over the last few days.


There were three more reasons for thinking Spring had come in the form of three butterflies - A Large White, a small largely brown butterfly that I didn't get a good look at, and the bright yellow of a Brimstone.

Canada Geese fly past the garden



All three butterflies evaded my camera lens, but for once I was ready when a small flock of Canada Geese approached. Annoyingly, they changed course and I only managed this fleeting glimpse as two passed to the west of us.



Unfortunately I wasn't able to enjoy the rest of the daylight hours as I had to head out again for several hours. Unfortunately it looks as though the cloud will be returning for the weekend.



28 February -  A return to cloudy skies to end the month, although not as dull as it has been. The cloud cover meant that today's high was no more than 9C.

Frogs gather for spawningLast night the presence of the first frogspawn seemed to act as a catalyst for the frogs to become very active at the shallow end of the big pond, and after I had watched Wales lose to France at rugby I went out to witness a much more chaotic sort of scrum.

As usual when this happens it is very difficult to count the number of frogs involved, especially when they are constantly on the move and have churned up the mud. I assume that somewhere in the melee was a female about to spawn.

Anyway, by this morning there were three new clumps of spawn. Also, the frogs had gone quiet again. It will be interesting to see what happens tonight.

No bird pictures today, but it's worth recording that this has been our best month ever for Siskins in the garden. Today they have been as active here as on any day during the month, and were quite vocal while I was photographing the Robin for the nest box diary. I didn't see the Greenfinches today, and the Song Thrush seems to have ended it visits to us.

Another bird I should mention is the Chaffinch. I could hear a male calling for much of the time I was at the bottom of the garden. However, while I know that at least one pair come to the garden, I rarely see them anywhere near the feeders. About the only times that I see them is when they are flitting between the branches of the Birch.


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