The Garden Diary 2011

March (part 3) 

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 15 March - An other sunny, Spring day, with the temperature already 8C by 7.30am and approaching 14C by late morning

Great Tits inspect nest box, 15 MarchAt around 8.30am there has been another inspection of the Great Tit box. This time the male arrived first and spent a minute or so in the box looking around and calling before his partner arrived at the entrance.

He carried on his calling and displayed a little before leaving. The female didn't enter, but remained at the entrance for a couple of minutes before departing.

I didn't get around to changing the glass last night. I must get that job done today, and also switch on the daytime LEDs, albeit at a low level to start with.



Sparrow activity started with an inspection of SW-lo at 6.30am, although the occupant of the Martin box (M-1) didn't leave until 6.45am.

Starlings in adjacent nest boxes this morning, 15 MarchAt 7.20am my alterations to box SW-ri were easily overcome by a Starling, and over the next hour or so there were several visits by individuals to both SW-le and SW-ri, culminating just before 9am with both boxes occupied for a short time!

Here I've rotated the images to their correct relative orientation, with just the thin plywood partition between them.

A Starling inspects box SW-ri, 15 March
While the bird on the left did very little of note, the Starling on the right gave that box a thorough inspection, culminating in a shuffle before leaving.

I waited a couple of hours before getting the ladder out again. I've resisted completely blocking the holes and instead I have lowered the openings once more. They are now just 31mm tall (but are of course much wider).

I guess that it will be tomorrow before I see if this latest adjustment will work.



16 March - A grey start to the day, and apart from a tough of mist it is dry. The lack of sunshine is noticeable, with the temperature just 8C at 10am. Last night when I went to change the glass in the Great Tit nest box at around 10pm there were rain drops falling, but it came to nothing and the ground is dry this morning.

I also took the opportunity to switch on the time that controls the daytime lighting in that box. This morning a bird spent a minute or so at the entrance but didn't enter, hopefully it wasn't put of by the increased light levels. Since then I've dimmed the LEDs some more.

Sparrow pair in SW-up, 16 March

This morning the dull conditions also seem to have slowed down activity around the boxes. Up to 10am there have been no visits by the Great Tit and the Sparrows have only visited SW-up and SW-lo a couple of times.

Having said that, for a couple of minutes this pair looked very settled before a bit of a squabble followed and they left.

It looks possible that I may need to block the openings into SW-le and SW-ri after all. Despite having made the opening smaller again yesterday a Starling managed to squeeze into (and out of) the right-hand box once again this morning.

Mind you, looking through the morning's recording it appears that while it was obvious that birds approached the entrances of the two boxes several times following that visit, it was the only time a bird entered. This does look more promising, and I won't rush to get the ladder out again today, but instead wait to see what happens tomorrow. The plugs used last year are ready for action should they be needed.....

Well, it has stayed grey all day, but with the water temperature at 8C in the big pond and the air above it at 12C the frogs have no excuse for their inactivity, unless spawning is over! I spent several hours outside today and at no time did I see or hear a frog, not even a ripple on the water as I walked past the ponds.

I don't think any more spawn has been added since the 13th, leaving us with what may be the smallest amount since the early days of the pond. At its height, spawning in the big pond involved over a hundred frogs, with less than a third of that number this year.



17 March - Another glum, grey morning!

Starling in box SW-ri, 17 March

8am brought another Starling visits to SW-ri, although this time wasn't without its problems. Before it managed to get in there had been numerous attempts to get into both boxes, and once in it was very nervous.

As the pictures show, it did perform a shuffle, but then struggled to get back out of the box. There were no attempts to re-enter either box over the next hour or so.




The pond is quiet again this morning. I did see a few frogs after dark last night, but this morning there is no new spawn, and no frogs in the shallow area. At 9.30am the temperature is 6C both in the water and in the air above the pond.

18 March - Rain! The forecasters got it right - although it wasn't particularly heavy, and it didn't arrive until a bit after breakfast.

In the time before the rain started there was only a bit of activity in the boxes, and that involving only Sparrows. In SW-up we had a taster of typical Sparrow pair behaviour.

Sparrow pair - sequence, 18 March This sequence begins with the female busy working in what is going to be the nest cup as her partner waits at the far end. She then steps out of the cup and the male immediately rushes in to take her place and continue the work.

After a short time the female crosses back towards her partner. At the last moment he dashes past her and she resumes her position in the corner.

After another pause by the entrance the male returns, having first picked up a length of straw which he seems to show to his partner, and moments later they swop positions once more.

This behaviour carried on for five minutes or so before they seemed to have a disagreement and then left!

the only other behaviour worth noting took place in SW-le where another male Sparrow has taken to spending time calling loudly while looking out of the entrance. Every-so-often he would hop back away from the opening and pause, still facing it, as though waiting for another bird to enter.

Once the rain arrived all activity ceased, and the boxes remained empty for the rest of the day, apart from the rooster returning to Martin box 1 at around 5.15pm.


The only moment of note from the Great Tit box today came at just after 5.35pm. Once the day was more or less over the rain moved away and we had some evening sunshine that lit up the timber inside the front of the east-facing box.

Great Tit nest box-reflected sunshine at sunset, 18 March
However, rather than the light entering through a hole at the back of the box, the moment was due to a curious alignment.

The evening sunlight was being reflected off our west facing bedroom window, through the box entrance, and then off the glass panel at the back of the box and finally onto the timber.

Look carefully at the image and you will see that there are actually two overlapping discs of brightness - the camera was almost directly in line with the spots of light on both the glass and the timber.



19 March - What a contrast! This morning is starting with cloudless skies, and a frost! By 11am the temperature was back up into double figures, reaching 12C soon after mid-day. Thin high cloud in the early afternoon caused it to drop back down to around 6C very quickly. At 9pm it is still above 5C but with clear skies I would expect it to drop further tonight.

Despite the good weather the nest boxes were surprisingly quiet. There were no visits by the Great Tits, not even to the garden today, let alone the nest box. The House Sparrows did visit a few times, but there was no repeat of yesterday's behaviour. As far as I can tell no Starling attempted to enter any of the Swift boxes.

Male Chaffinch at feeder, 19 March

Although I haven't mentioned the Siskins recently, there are still two coming to the feeders every morning, and this week we have a new visitor - a male Chaffinch.

We see Chaffinches, both male and female, in the garden occasionally, but usually they keep to the bottom end of the garden.  However, this male has been visiting the sunflower feeder over the last five mornings, making just one or two visits each day. I have yet to spot a female.

It looks as though we may be about to lose an old friend. My neighbour and his son appear to be in the process of taking down their Birch tree. That will be a sad loss as it has been a feature of the border between our gardens since we came to live here in 1975.

The moon at 8.24pm, 19 March

Tonight marks the Moon's nearest approach to Earth for eighteen years.

I had to wait until it had just risen over the houses across our road before I captured this image at 8.24pm. It was fortunate that I took the picture then because an hour later the sky around it was quite hazy.

20 March - The Spring Equinox. Spring has started with a bright day, if marred by high cloud permitting only hazy sunshine. There was no frost, and a temperature of around 5C before breakfast rose gradually to around 12C by mid-afternoon.

Again, there was only very limited nest box activity by the Sparrows today, and no Great Tit box visits. I saw just one Great Tit (the female, I think) visiting the feeders just once today, and I'm beginning to wonder if something untoward may have happened to the male - I spent several hours out in the garden this afternoon and didn't hear its call even once.

Blackbird collects moss from side of pond, 20 March

While we wait for the first nesting activity to start in the boxes, it is clear that the Blackbirds have started.

During the late morning the female visited the near end of the big pond several times to collect beaks full of moss which she carried away either to the Ivy tree or somewhere behind it.



Backbird bathes in pond, 20 March

Once that building session was finished she headed to the shallow end of the pond to bathe before heading off out of the garden.

I didn't see her again today.

Male Chaffinch at side of bird bath, 20 March

The male Chaffinch was here again today, and this time he returned several times during the morning and again during the afternoon.

From a photographic point of view he usually has the unfortunate habit of perching on the hidden side of the sunflower feeder, but on just one occasion he flew down to the bird bath and stayed just long enough for me to catch a couple of shots. There is still no sign of a female.

While I was outside a female Sparrowhawk turned up and perched atop the Hawthorn. She spotted me straight away and left without any attempt to dislodge any of the Sparrows sheltering below her.


21 March - A day of hazy sunshine with the temperature getting up to 14C after dipping to 3C around 7am.

I spent quite a bit of the day outside, not gardening but sorting things out. Over the last few years my tiredness has been an excuse for allowing the garden to get into a terrible mess, and I'm trying to get some of it sorted while we are in a spell of decent weather.

My activities today clearly deterred birds from visiting the feeders. The male Robin continued with his loud song for much of the time, but once again I didn't hear the call of the male Great Tit.

First Violet of the year, 20 March

I saw a Violet flowering for the first time yesterday, a bit later than usual,

First pink Primrose of the year, 20 March

and today I spotted the first of our pink Primroses in flower. Over the last four years it flowered on the 6th, 15th, 10th and 26th March, so this year it also appears to be a bit behind.

FirstChickweeds of the year, 20 March


Another, far less impressive flower (less than 1cm across) can now be seen near the bird bath - These are chickweeds that have come into flower in the last two days.





Frog looks out of the big pond, 21 March

After a quiet few days, today's sunshine was clearly tempting some frogs back out of hiding.

This one was also croaking, although once the camera arrived just a couple of centimetres from its snout it remained silent.

Frog remains largely submerged, 21 March

There were a couple more frogs out in the open, there were more to be found if you headed into the vegetation on the north (sunny) side of the pond.

Like this one, most seemed cautious, remaining mostly submerged,

Frog amongst vegetation, 21 March

but one or two were a bit more adventurous.

However, there's no sign of any frogs hauling themselves out onto the banks of the pond to sunbathe as yet. If this weather continues as suggested by the forecast, I wouldn't be surprised to see that happening over the next couple of days.

Frogspawn coated with clay in big pond, 21 March
While the frogs are becoming active once more they are showing no interest at all in the spawn.

As a result the water in that part of the pond is remaining clear, although the spawn is still covered with a thin coating of clay particles,


Frogspawn coated with clay in big pond : close-up, 21 March

and that is making it difficult to see the developing embryos.

Frogspawn in aquarium, 21 March

Even the spawn in the tank has this problem, even though I rinsed it using rainwater before it was put into the tank a week ago.

Fortunately this embryo was less affected than most,

Close-up of frog embryo, 21 March

and I was able to get a reasonably clear picture of it. When first laid, the egg would have measured about 1.6mm in diameter. The embryo is developing inside an inner sphere within the larger sphere of albumen, which can be a centimetre or so in diameter.

Hopefully this embryo will remain 'clean' enough to record from time to time as its development continues.




22 March - Dry - another pleasant Spring day with the temperature reaching 15C.

For me it had to be largely a day off, but a few things needed recording.

Developing frogspawn, 22 March

First, just a glance at the frogspawn was enough to confirm the progress made in the last 24 hours as the brown embryos develop into more complex shapes.



developing frog embryo, 22 March

Here is the embryo that I photographed yesterday.

The banding that you can see along its side are the structures, called myotomes, that will develop into the muscles of the body.

The 'elephant's ear' structure marks the area in which the gills are developing.

Hawthorn buds start to open, 22 March

I think that I'm a day late with the next report - this afternoon I saw that a few Hawthorn buds had burst, although I suspect that the first leaves appeared yesterday.

The Blackbird female was busy nest building again this morning, and this time I was able to confirm that she is building quite high up in the conifers beyond the bottom of the garden. And while she worked the male sang almost continuously from a high perch at the top of those trees.

Late in the afternoon an event had him change his call to one of consternation, and it was easy to see the problem -  a cat that had climbed up in search of the nest. A well aimed handful of soil had it scrambling back down, but the sight of the Blackbird busy building again at 6.10pm makes me wonder if she has had to start again.

The cat problem seems to be particularly bad at the moment. It seems that a neighbour has now got a cat which was already an adult, and it comes into the garden far too frequently for my liking. While I'm used to seeing the occasional cat investigating the area around the Great Tit box, this cat has climbed on top of it at least three times in the last two days (as well as stalking the frogs!). I'm beginning to wonder it could have played a part in discouraging the Great Tits from visiting the box. It is very frustrating - there were already too many cats in the local area, before yet another one was allowed to roam freely!


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