The Garden Diary 2012
March (part 1)
3 March - This morning we had 'proper' rain for the first time in a while, although it barely lasted for more than a couple of hours before the clouds moved on and we had sunshine for the rest of the day. The first three days of March have seen daily temperatures in double figures : 13C (1st), 11C (2nd) and 14C today. Yesterday morning started very misty.
The rain was very welcome, although it barely made any difference to the depth of water in the water butt that is supplied by the roof of the caravan shelter. That butt is almost empty as its contents have been used to top up the level of the big pond. Tomorrow's forecast is for prolonged heavy rain - it will be interesting to see how much rain actually makes it into the Butts.
Frog activity in the ponds has remained at a low level. Over the last few days I have been able to count no more than twelve frogs at any one time although they were a bit noisier in this afternoon's sunshine.
While we wait for the trees to spring into life I see that in the Brickfields Nature Reserve the mature Oak tree that dominates the corner nearest to us ( about 50 metres away) is already a site of Spring activity.
Some years ago a pair of Crows built a nest high in the tree's canopy. In this picture you can see it as a dark patch in the top-left of the canopy.
The crows used the nest several times,
but this year it seems that squatters have moved in. Over the last two days I have seen Magpies in my neighbour's Silver Birch tree, a sure sign that nest building is under way, and this morning I was able to confirm that a pair had moved into the crows' nest and are busy renovating it.
Here, one of them is delivering a twig. There was a stiff south-westerly breeze today, so the combination of swaying tree, long twig and long tail didn't make for an easy delivery!
I hoped to get a clear picture of the pair at the nest, but although the camera was set up for several hours this shot, taken moments after the previous picture is the nearest I could get to showing the two birds.
The arrow points to a dark area which is actually the tail of the second bird, presumably the female. Her partner left as soon as the twig was delivered and the female was always alone when she departed.
Watching the movement of the tail suggested that the female was busy 'shuffling' as she fashioned the nest cup.
I'm no longer seeing, or hearing any signs of the Jays, but at least one of the Magpies has become a regular visitor to our birdbath. This morning there was an amusing encounter when a Wood Pigeon and a Magpie came face to face across the birdbath as they turned up for a drink. It was the very nervous pigeon that finally retired to the ground while the Magpie drank.
On Thursday (1st) we had the pleasure of our eldest grand-daughter during the morning, and while she was having lunch she was treated to the sight of a Sparrowhawk flying a loop that brought it under the veranda canopy before disappearing again. We dashed upstairs in time for her to see it perched on the roof of the caravan shelter before it flew off once more - another 'waw' moment!
Finally, there's lots of bathing going on now, with Blackbirds, Starlings, Blue and Great Tits, Dunnocks (one shown here) as well as Sparrows using the big pond rather than the bird bath.
The Sparrows are also having dust baths using the soil and sand between the stepping stones that lead down the garden.
Today as I waited for action up in the Oak tree I pruned the large Buddleia bush nest to the feeder (another long overdue job) and also removed some low branches of the hawthorn where they cross over my neighbour's fence - one less thing to deal with when the new fence is finally installed.
4 March - RAIN - As promised, rain fell today. It started before dawn, remaining quite light during the most of the morning before getting heavier around noon. The temperature was 8C at breakfast time but fell to 5C as the heavy rain arrived and the wind swung round from southerly to north-westerly. It dropped further to bottom out at 1C as snow fell with the rain for a while during the mid-afternoon.
Once the snow ceased the light rain continued until around 5pm. The temperature rose to around 4C, and as the afternoon ended the cloud cleared. Tonight the sky is clear once more.
The water butt that was empty yesterday is now full, as are the set of three small butts used to fill the small pond and both ponds have been filled to overflowing - the pond levels should now be good for this Spring's spawning. However, we are going to need days like today quite regularly if we're going to avoid problems later in the year.
10 March - A bright, sunny and mild day, with a high of 15C after the temperature remained above 9C overnight. Prior to today, since the previous entry we had mainly cloudy daytime weather but with just a little more rain, in the form of drizzle on the 7th.
I was beginning to wonder if there was going to be a problem with our frog population as I had been seeing only a few frogs each day - last night I counted just six before I headed for bed. However, the mild conditions during the night must have been enough to trigger the frogs' mating instincts, and this morning activity in the pond was clear to see from the moment that I opened the curtains.
By breakfast it was possible to see the first frogspawn of 2012 - one day earlier than in 2011 when conditions had been a lot colder prior to spawning.
By the time my grand-daughters joined us in the mid-morning it was possible to count at least sixty frogs, and I guess that the frog chorus emanating form the big pond would have been audible a couple of gardens away!
The Snowdrops have all but gone now, and the Daffodils have past their prime. Since the first Lesser Celandines opened on 26 Feb, there have been more and more clumps of their foliage appearing, but so far the 'flower count' is up to just twelve. Following in their footsteps, the Snake's Head Fritillaries now have flower buds, although I would guess that a couple more weeks may pass before they bloom.
Having said that, the first Dandelion is in flower, a full two weeks earlier than in 2011!
Another flower appearing for the first time today is (I think) the Hairy Bitter Cress that is growing at the side of the small pond.
Also in this picture you can see a hoverfly, another first for 2012, and the only one that I spotted today.
There have been bumblebee queens about for the last two weeks (although I didn't see any today), but this is the first wasp queen that I've seen this Spring. It returned top the same fern several times during the morning.
On the bird front, the nest building Magpies have become garden regulars, looking for food on the ground under the Hawthorn, drinking from the birdbath, and today one of them left a piece of bread crust in the water to soften for the best part of an hour before taking it away. On the 7th there were quite strong winds for part of the day and the pair spent at least half an hour sheltering in the Hawthorn, along with some of our resident Sparrows.
While wouldn't say that the Sparrows are well and truly into nesting as yet, some were taking advantage of today's sunshine to collect small quantities of straw.
I have still to connect up a monitor in the house so that I can see what may (or may not) be going on in the Blue/Great Tit box.
Finally, another one of those frustrating photographs. yesterday morning I opened the dining room curtain at around 8.30am to reveal a Nuthatch on our bird table, the first time I've ever seen one feeding here, and only the second time I've seen one in the garden.
By the time I swung my camera around on its tripod the bird had moved to the sunflower feeder and I had just enough time to grab this one shot before it left. Bleary-eyed as I was, I didn't focus quickly (using a manual focus lens) enough to get a sharp image. At least I have a record of that moment.
This morning I was better prepared, but there was no repeat of yesterday's visit.
11 March - A bright start with somewhat milky blue skies after a cooler night (low of 7C). Clouds rolled in for a while before clearing, leaving the rest of the day bright and sunny, with a high of 16C.
The cooler start meant that the frogs weren't particularly active to start with, but as this picture, taken from the dining room shows, by 8.10am they were gathering for another busy day!
While the appearance of several clumps of spawn yesterday confirmed that mating was taking place, there was no sign of the mass 'scrums' that are a feature of the mating season. For much of today the frogs once again seemed to spend most of their time spread out across the pond, making a great deal of noise with no more than a couple of pairs in a loose amplexus.
However, there was a period in the late afternoon when a scrum did form, only this time it was not in the water but on the small island in the middle of the pond.
With frogs continuously joining and leaving the group it was impossible to establish how many individuals were involved, and I could not decide which frog was the female.
Still no sign of the Nuthatch returning, but I did catch a glimpse of a Wren in the garden, and the Magpies arrived to eat and drink as usual.
Rather than another 'whole bird' Magpie picture of I thought that I'd include a close-up of just a leg to show it's suit of armour appearance.
There were two more first flowerings today, both adjacent to the shallow end of the big pond.
The first is our pink Primrose. Over the last five years this has flowered on the 6th, 15th, 10th, 26th and 21st March, so it is more or less on time this year.
The second plant in flower is a Ground Ivy - I didn't record its first flowering last year, but in 2010 it was mid-April before I spotted one in flower.
After a Sunday morning trip to the local car-boot sale I spent all afternoon pruning plants along the fence line. That job is nearly complete now, and tomorrow I will be buying some lattice panels to start reconstructing the top end of the garden where I removed all the Ivy.
12 March - A misty, chilly start to the day (4C at 7am) and it wasn't until the early afternoon that the sun came out, lifted the temperature into double figures and giving a high of 13C. This evening clear skies helped bring the temperature back down to 3C by 9pm.
The frogs mirrored the low temperatures with very little activity this morning, some frantic, noisy action this afternoon (enjoyed by the grand-daughters!) and a quiet pond with not a frog in sight during the late evening when I was outside to gaze at the skies.
At the moment there is a very obvious apparent coming together of two planets, Venus and Jupiter. Over the last few weeks the pair have been getting closer in the sky, although in reality they are actually very far apart. While actually much smaller than Jupiter, Venus looks larger by virtue of it being much, much closer.
This picture was taken at 7.38pm with the pair low in the western sky, with Venus about to move behind our Birch tree.
As Venus and Jupiter sink towards the western horizon (setting soon after 10pm), to the east, Mars has been rising. This picture, taken at 8.38pm, shows Mars soon after it rose above our house. The camera was pointing roughly south-east and you can see Mars just below the centre of the image.
I'm afraid that its red tinge is lost thanks to the street lighting. Below Mars, the light plume is smoke from our log fire - its density somewhat exaggerated thanks to the long exposure used for the photograph.
To put the position of Mars into some context I needed to resort to Google Sky, an exercise that revealed that tonight Mars at the lower edge of the constellation Leo.
As it turned out, the photograph missed out the star that marks the top of the lion's head!
As I write this at 10.30pm I note that Saturn has now risen, although it is still very low in the sky, and with a mist now forming there is no chance of me seeing it before I head for bed. That will be a treat for a little while into the future, and a challenge - will I be able to photograph its rings?
15 March - The first half of the month is coming to a quiet end with the dry weather continuing, apart from morning mists accompanying colder temperatures, until today. The 13th saw grey skies persist, giving a daytime high of just 10C after the overnight temperature had dropped to 5C. Yesterday peaked at 11C around 4pm after a short period of afternoon sunshine and after the night-time temperature had dipped to 4C. Last night the temperature remained at 3C or below for several hours. During the morning the mist gradually gave way to sunshine and the temperature was back up to 10C by noon and 16C by 2pm. It didn't start dropping again until after 4pm and this evening cloud cover has meant that at 9pm it was still above 9C outside.
The dip in night-time temperatures certainly had an effect on the frogs, with very little activity on the 13th and hardly a frog in sight yesterday. I began to think that spawning had come to an end, but I may have a bit premature. As the temperature rose today so did the frogs and by the middle of the afternoon the pond was again a noisy place with around fifty frogs in sight, although I cannot see any new spawn this evening.
Over the last few days bird activity has also been reduced. Not even the Magpies have been seen here since the 13th, although they are still active in the area.
Having had my eyes drawn skyward by the planets this week I thought I'd attempt another challenge, that of finding a comet called Garradd, or more correctly Comet Garradd (C/2009 P1). While I have only just become aware of it, Garradd was discovered in 2009, and at the moment is following a path across our northerly sky that should make it (just) visible.
With the help of a chart published by skyandtelescope.com , and clear skies (apart from the ghostly glow of Aldershot, to the north of us), last night I set out to at least pinpoint its position.
This was in theory going to be an easy task. First, I needed to be able to see The Plough, which conveniently rose above my neighbour's roof soon after 7pm (picture taken at 7.15pm). Next I needed to find the tail-end of the Dragon (the constellation Draco). This was a bit more troublesome because of the light pollution, but taking a photograph and dashing inside to check it on the computer soon confirmed that the camera was pointing the right way.
Finally it was a case of changing to a longer lens to take a closer look.
However, with numerous photographs taken with various long exposures, I failed miserably, with nothing appearing that didn't look like a star - do a Google image search to see what Garradd looks like through a decent telescope with dark skies.
I've checked and double checked that I was looking at the correct bit of sky, so it may be down to a combination of dim comet and the light pollution....
Anyway, I haven't given up, and I hoped to try again tonight. At least I could obtain another set of images of the same bit of sky so that I can compare them to see if anything moves relative to the stars. Tonight's cloud cover and then baby-sitting tomorrow night mean that it will be Saturday before I get another photo opportunity (weather permitting).
The cloud cover also means that at 11pm the temperature outside is still around 9C!
Click on images to see larger versions