The Garden Diary 2014
1 February - Yesterday's thoroughly wet afternoon and evening brought January to a welcome end, with temperatures actually rising after dark! Up until the late afternoon the temperature has only made it to 6C, despite a southerly breeze all day. As the rain continued to fall, by 10pmthe temperature had risen by a further two degrees.
Today, with the skies starting clear, the temperature had dropped to just 1C by 7am before rising to 7C during the morning. Disappointingly, we moved into the afternoon, a stiff south-westerly breeze started to bring in clouds.
However, before these brought the first shower of the day, the sunshine triggered the first of our Snowdrop flowers to open, just two days later than last year, despite that January being colder, with snow.
On the other hand, the slightly milder conditions of January 2012 meant that they started flowering on the 19th, thirteen days earlier than this year.
Interestingly, with Snowdrops now appearing in numerous places in the garden it is this same group that is the first to flower.
2 February - A largely bright, sunny day with the temperature reaching 9C briefly around lunchtime.
After discussing last year's low frog numbers with my neighbour back in January, this afternoon I raised a couple of the fence panels near the pond to create a gap of about an inch. This will provide plenty of clearance for even the largest frogs to move between our gardens.
It was probably a total coincidence that this evening I spotted my first frog of the year. Unfortunately there is no photographic record, but my little grandson was delighted to confirm the sighting before dashing indoors to announce its presence to grandma and dad!
The frog's appearance does mean that I need to get on with clearing at least some of the pond this week, whatever the weather.
3 February - Another dry day with a high of 7C, but with a brisk south-easterly breeze that made it feel much colder.
We spent much of the morning at a 'soft-play' centre, great fun for grandson, grand-daughter and me!. On our return home, as we got out of our car a chorus of bird panic calls from our garden had me heading down our shared driveway with my grandson in my arms. We got to the garden gate in time to see a Sparrowhawk launch itself from my neighbour's pear tree and fly two laps around our Hawthorn while sparrows and a Jay made clear their feelings from within. We had a great view of the hawk's attack before it flew off with nothing to show for its efforts!
After lunch, as our grandson slept I headed out into the garden and made a long overdue start on the pond clearing. As it turned out I got quite a bit done, removing enough vegetation to fill one of those collapsible garden waste containers (the type with a springy side). While I need another session to tidy things up, at least the major part of that job is now done.
This evening, at dusk, our little guest headed out into the garden with 'his' torch on a frog hunt, and this time he managed to spot one before I did (and I've just got new specs!!), which pleased him no end.
Tonight, after he had been put to bed I went back out and found five, all hidden under vegetation around the sides of the pond.
Unfortunately, I have to assume that some of them were hibernating individuals disturbed by me this afternoon. Hopefully the sighting of the single frog yesterday means that the timing of my actions will have been close to the timing of their normal emergence, minimizing any adverse effects that I may have caused. I must try to check the pond daily from now on in order to see if this really is the start of the frog season, and not just a false start.
And before I forget, I've also got to get the small pond cleared, although this isn't such an urgent task as the frogs have never spawned in there. They tend to use it after spawning is completed in the big pond.
9 February - A blustery day although dry, mainly sunny, and with a high of around 8C. Since my previous entry the South and West of England have continued to receive a succession of deep low pressure systems, with a few of our familiar spots in Cornwall being well and truly battered - and there will be more to come before the Jet Stream decides to carry the storms further north once more. No sign of snow as yet......
I'm afraid that over the last five days I've been rendered out of action thanks to a violently unpleasant tummy bug. It seems to have knocked me for six, and while the worst of the symtoms were over after around twelve hours I'm taking longer than I would have hoped to get back into the mood for food, or much of anything else! As a result I have only just set foot briefly into the garden. There is no sign of any frogs this afternoon, but all being well (for me and the weather) I'll take another look after dusk.
The short walk down the path did give me the opportunity to record two of our regular early flowering plants, a Primrose and some Crocuses.
in the case of the Primrose, the two flowers (one very fresh) suggest that the first flower opened within the last two days. I can see no other Primrose flowers near to open anywhere else in the garden.
The only Crocus buds to appear so far were not open at lunchtime today, although as you can see, one bud had started to peel apart. However, by the middle of the afternoon that bud was tightly closed once more. I'll look again tomorrow.
10 February - A partly cloudy day with some sunshine but also a couple of showers. While the temperature reached a high of 9C in one of those sunny periods, for most of the time it remained below 7C, feeling decidedly colder as the breeze swung round from the South-east to the West.
We had a pleasant surprise when I opened the curtains before breakfast -there was a female Great Spotted Woodpecker finishing off the last of the fat balls that hung in our Hawthorn. This was the first sighting of a Woodpecker in 2014, but I'm suspicious that it may have not been the first such visit this last week. Before I was taken ill last week there were three mostly intact fat balls in the holder, having been there since the New Year (with very little interest taken in them). However, when I put out some other bird food yesterday I noticed that there was less than half of one left. The best explanation for this rapid disappearance had to be a 'new' visitor.
After breakfast I filled up the holder with four new fat balls, set up a camera indoors and waited, and waited, and waited. Apart from the occasional House Sparrow, nothing went to the fat balls. At least the camera is now set up ready for tomorrow morning.
In the meantime, the Jays continued to make their daily visits. I saw the pair several times during the morning, although I didn't get an opportunity to photograph them as a pair.
There were no open Crocus flowers to photograph today.
22 February - Today we have experienced a very welcome dress rehearsal for Spring, with lots of sunny periods and scattered clouds. The bright conditions this morning even had a few of the Sparrows engaging in a bit of Springtime activity for the first time. This included tugging at dried grass between the ponds and pecking off chunks of Buddleia leaves to take back up to their nest boxes.
The improvement in the weather is very welcome after what has been the wettest Winter in the UK since record began in 1910. Here in the South-east the previous record, set in 1914-15, was broken by 11 February. While it seems that the Jet Stream has now relented somewhat, making things calmer my two tree surgeon sons are still finding themselves in demand to sort out problems left by the combination of storms along with already saturated soil conditions.
In the garden today the sunshine has brought us the first Lesser Celandine flower, this one in a sunny spot next to a large water butt. It opened in the morning but was closed again by 4pm.
Adjacent to it, in the same sheltered, sunny conditions a cluster of small Daffodils also started flowering today, although in their case I had to wait until this afternoon to see the first open flowers.
And before I forget, the Crocus that I photographed on the 9th had to wait at least five more days before it received the sunshine that it needed to trigger its opening, and now there are numerous flowers at various stages around the ponds.
On 25 January I recorded the state of the male catkins on one of our Hazels. The they were tightly closed and around 2cm in length. They have now grown to around 8cm, opening up to expose the male flowers and over the last few days they have started to shed their yellow pollen.
The lateral bud nearest the top of the picture is well out of focus, but you may be able to see that it has a bright red tip, unlike the two nearer buds.
This is because that bud contains female flowers. These are hidden inside the bud, apart from their short, red styles that protrude no more than 1-2mm. In this case the combined length of bud and Styles is 7mm.
This morning I could find fifteen of these female catkins on the only Hazel that also has male flowers and just one on the second Hazel.
Given the fact that there were more female catkins in the process of opening up along with a shortage of the male catkins, after taking these photographs I used a polythene bag to collect some pollen and then used a soft brush to attempt to pollinate those female catkins that appeared fully developed. Tomorrow, weather permitting, I'll repeat the process for any more that have developed.
Also on January 25 I photographed a Birch Catkin Bug on the Hazel. This morning there was again one on, or rather, tucked into one of the Hazel catkins, its body providing a convenient dark background to show up a dusting of pollen.
On the bird front things have continued to be very quiet since my previous entry. There has been just one 'new' sighting for 2014 in the form of a single Long-tailed Tit that visited the fat balls a few days ago. There's been no sign of the Woodpecker returning, and the Jays are only appearing occasionally at the moment.
23 February - After yesterday's optimism, opening the curtains this morning revealed a dull day with uniformly grey skies with some dampness and a strong, gusty breeze from the south. It is 10C at 10.30am, the same as yesterday's afternoon high.
28 February - The month is coming to an end in the same manner as much of the rest of the Winter, with more rain this evening.
After some early dampness it was sunny by 9am, bright enough to encourage 'our' fox to appear on the roof of our metal shed for a short time until the sun once again disappeared behind a cloud. From a distance it appeared to be a quite healthy individual.
Over the last few weeks we have heard the calls of foxes several times during the night, but this is my first sighting of one in the garden for quite a while. It was a pity that our grandson wasn't here to share the sight.
Bird activity continues to be rather slow, although today I saw a Dunnock here for the first time since last year. Also, three days ago when I took some bits out to our recycling bin I disturbed a female Blackbird with some lengths of straw in her beak. Since then I have been watching out for her but haven't seen her collecting anything else in the garden, other than food.
I have yet to even think about sorting out the cctv cameras - I must get switched on the one that monitors the Blackbird nest site even if I decide not to use the Blue Tit cameras.
In the pond, frog activity is increasing very slowly. During the week I could count no more than six at any one time.
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