Thursday, 29 March 2012

Invisible Birdwatching! (Sorry no photos!)

Andy went for a walk across the fields yesterday.  He had just left when a small bird caught my eye ... some sort of flycatcher ... pale with a small straight bill.  I kept an eye on it whilst I ran down the garden to call Andy back.  He couldn't hear me.  The bird flew into the tree directly above my head and stayed there. I ran after Andy and yelled at him to come back.  It only took us a couple of minutes to return but the bird had gone.  I was really upset .... was it a very early flycatcher .... or a Chiffchaff?! .... I will never know!

A few hours later I heard a very distinctive pig-like noise and looked up to see two Common Buzzards being mobbed by three very large black birds (one was definitely bigger than the Buzzards) ... RAVENS! Again I yelled "Andy!"  He was in the house ... I ran to the door shouting for him while I watched the birds ... no answer.  I yelled at the windows ...he wasn't in the study or the lounge ... I had to go inside before I found him in the kitchen.  I yelled again from the doorway .... the birds were still there ... but he was listening to his i-pod and couldn't hear me!  By the time I got him outside the Buzzards were still in sight but the Ravens had gone.

The Greater Spotted Woodpecker returned today.  It looked lovely as it sat amongst the blossoms in the plum tree.  Andy was standing in the garden.
"Woodpecker," I said.
"What?" he asked.
"Woodpecker!" I repeated a little louder and scared the bird!  It had gone when he turned round!

He thinks I have discovered a new hobby ... Invisible Birdwatching.  Tomorrow I think I will see a Bee-eater ....   

Sunday, 25 March 2012

All Change

Three weeks ago I dug up the boring paving slabs, wrecked the lawn and my finger nails.  I turned this ...

..... in to this!

And this ..... to this!

I planted two new Cherry trees, a Magnolia and a Castor Oil Plant (Fatsia Japonica); Bearded Iris, Oriental Poppies; Lupins; Fuschia; Foxgloves and Aquilega. To look at my nails you might think I don't own a spade! By the time my hands recover I will have Sunflower and Nasturtiums seedlings appearing under the trellis to join the Honeysuckle and Clematis. 

We added Tree Sparrow, Blackcap and Chiffchaff to the garden list today.  I spotted a Small Tortoiseshell butterfly and this beautiful Peacock:

Peacock butterfly

The birds and the bees were very active in the warmth ... and the Ladybirds joined in!  They seemed to be every where .... It might be a good job as our UK Ladybirds are under threat from the Harlequin Ladybird, the most invasive Ladybird on earth!  It arrived in Britain in 2004 and its impact is being monitored very closely.  Here is the website if you want more information - UK Ladybird Survey.

Two 7-spot Ladybirds on Parsley

The sun makes everything glow.




Grape Hyacinth



Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Ground Force are faster!

There are piles of earth where the lawn used to be; a trip to the garage requires wellingtons and Andy wants to know why the garden make-over isn't finished yet!  "Ground Force did this while some woman nipped out to the shops!" he quipped.  True, but they knew what they were doing!  Progress is slow but I am having fun ...  the new path is almost complete, some plants have been placed ... the more I do the more ideas I have for the next bit.  I thought it would take me a week to complete but the project keeps growing.

Spending time away from the garden tends to slow things down too!  Yesterday we went to Norfolk.  We went to Stanton Downham (Dad's Army terrain) hoping to see Brambling feeding on the Beech mast.  Unfortunately the birds had flown.  It was very quiet so we moved on. 

At Olly's Farm in Thetford Forest we found 30+ Brambling, not on the ground where we expected to see them, but feasting at the top of the pine trees.  Lovely sight.  They were originally called Bramble Finches.  They are very similar in appearance to Chaffinches (which were originally called Chaff Finches) but Brambling don't breed here so they will be gone in the next few weeks. According to Wikipedia they can form flocks of up to a million birds in some parts of Europe ... that would be a sight to see!

We found a sunny spot and scanned the sky for Goshawks.  We saw plenty of Crossbills, Siskins, Redpolls and Yellowhammers before spotting a dot on the horizon .... a female Goshawk gliding our way.  Unfortunately she was a long way off and she didn't come close enough for great views but it was still good to see her.

We had five Buzzards, a Green Woodpecker and we heard Woodlark whilst we were there.  On the way back to the car we came across a white Roe Deer (tried for a photo but got a blur as it ran away) and a Muntjack (got a terrible photo of it through tall grass!).  A lovely day.

From the garden today we could hear a Skylark singing so Andy went to find it as it is a 'first for the year' for the garden.  It only took him a couple of minutes and he added a Pied Wagtail too.  Makes you wonder what you're missing when you're not watching!

Later on I saw a solitary Starling (another garden tick for the year).  I remember eighteen years ago I was amused by watching a neighbour running around each evening scaring a flock of Starlings away from his hedge.  There were so many of them they caused holes if they roosted there.  A very sad decline in numbers.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Garden Party

Harvest Mouse
I knew someone was living in the greenhouse when I found an opening to a small tunnel under the floor.  The cat snoozes in there so I decided this must be a very brave or a very stupid creature.  Well, she introduced herself today.  I was busy resting on the spade when I noticed her foraging amongst the Forget-me-nots.  I thought she would spot me and run away but she didn't.  Perhaps she is a little blind creature ... she stayed in open view for ages.  I was able to get within inches of her as she scurried round searching for food.  We store the bird food in the greenhouse so she couldn't have been that hungry. Harvest Mice only live about eighteen months but they breed three times a year and can have up to seven young each time.  At that rate my greenhouse will be over-run with Harvest Mice ... good job the cat does snooze in there!

A few other new creatures turned up today.  There are at least seventeen frogs croaking away in the pond and piles of frogspawn keep appearing.  I am amazed at the numbers ... I counted two in there yesterday morning; seven yesterday evening but seventeen today must be a record.  It's only a small pond.  It can't sustain seventeen adults and all those taddies once they hatch.  I'm imagining a writhing jelly bath as all the water is displaced.  Do frogs return to their birth pool to breed?  I think we need a bigger cat! In fact, I think we will GET a bigger cat!

There were eight female Pheasants in the field this morning and two Red-legged Partridges yesterday (a new species for the house list this year) and Andy heard a Blackcap singing today.


The country lanes are full of Coltsfoot at the moment.  I think it is a beautiful flower.  I would leave it to bloom if it grew in my garden but take care to dispose of the flower before it went to seed.  It is a very invasive plant and difficult to control.  One plant produces 1,500 to 3,500 seeds and they can disperse up to four kilometres away.  That is why it is classed as a weed.

Common Field Speedwell

Another pretty plant is covering the field across the lane. Common Field Speedwell (Veronica persica).  This is the commonest Speedwell in England yet it only arrived here in 1825.  It doesn't rely on seeds alone to propagate,  just one small piece of stem can grow into a full plant.  Strangely, its petals drop off within minutes of the flower being picked. 

Made good headway on the new path today.  Still lots of work to do but it is enjoyable when you can see it coming together. 


Sunday, 11 March 2012

Spring Forward

Mute Swan

What a difference four weeks makes ... the snow has melted and sunshine has warmed the soil since my last visit.  Today the sky was filled with Black-headed Gulls and the water was teaming with Wigeon; Tufties and Coots but best of all was the Great-crested Grebes dancing together.  I am always amazed and delighted to see their choreographed ritual.

Great Crested Grebe

A Little Egret was fishing near the bank.  It made a beautiful composition against the dark green reeds with a perfect reflection on the water.  I must have taken twenty shots with my new camera ... all blurred!  Perhaps I should have left it on Automatic instead of trying to conquer the F-stop!

We were treated to a Sparrowhawk fly-by and we had brilliant views of Lapwings ... such a beautiful bird. 

The walk began and ended with a Kestrel.  We saw it in flight as we arrived.  Three hours later it was perched on a hedge, beautifully ginger in the sun.  

All together we saw fifty-five species - a record for this walk. 


The high-lights for the day has to be the butterflies (FIVE bright yellow Brimstones; a Comma; a Peacock and a Red Admiral) and hearing a Woodpecker drumming while watching two Goldcrests and a Goldfinch in the trees.

I spent a couple of hours in the garden before tea.  Happiness found for free in life's simple pleasures.

The Bird List:
Mute Swan; Canada Goose; Wigeaon; Mallard; Tufted Duck; Goosander; Little Grebe; Comorant; Grey Heron; Buzzard; Moorhen; Oystercatcher; Curlew; Common Gull; Great-Black-backed Gull; Woodpigeon; Great Spotted Woodpecker; Pied Wagtail; Dunnock; Blackbird; Redwing; Goldcrest; BlueTit; Marsh Tit; Rook; House Sparrow; Goldfinch; Reed Bunting; Greylag Goose; Shelduck; Teal; Pochard; Goldeneye; Pheasant; Great Crested Grebe; Little Egret; Sparrowhawk; Kestrel; Coot; Lapwing; Black-headed Gull; Herring Gull; Feral Pigeon; Green Woodpecker; Skylark; Wren; Robin; Fieldfare; Mistle Thrush; Long-tailed Tit; Great Tit; Magpie; Carrion Crow; Chaffinch; Yellowhammer.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

"I dreamed a thousand new paths ... I woke and walked my old one."

Spent the day digging soil and lugging stones around until my back demanded a rest.  Laid about half the path edging so should only take me a couple of days to complete and the weather forecast is fine for the weekend.  Going shopping tomorrow for the stones and plants.  I have bought two cherry trees already and I want a couple of flowering shrubs to add height.  I have planned two trellis screens to obscure parts of the garden along the path and hopefully make it interesting so I will need climbing plants too.  The ground cover is taken care of already ... I have pots of Aquilegia, Aubrieta, Foxgloves, Fushia, Bearded Iris, Lupins, Marigold, Oriental Poppies and Red-hot Pokers.  Not looking much at the moment but give it a couple of years ....  Really looking forward to getting it finished!  So is my back!

Sunday, 4 March 2012

"Good plans make elusive dreams come true ..."

The sun came out this week so I grabbed the garden fork and dug up the path and part of the lawn.

I have made a real mess!

I used garden canes to decide where the new path should go then changed my mind.  I made a number of sketches and threw them away again.  I measured the ground; I stared at the ground; I wandered round the ground.  It grew dark and I hadn't got very far so I spent the evening looking through books and websites for inspiration.

Gresgarth Hall          Vegetable garden
 This is Gresgarth Hall, home to Arabella Lennox-Boyd, a renowned landscape designer.  She opens her garden to the public once a month (next open day is 24th March).  Is this what I want ,,, a path with plants?  Or do I want something like this?

From Fine Gardening Magazine

This is Contance Hansen's garden in Oregon as featured in 'Great Gardens'.  I have a mature Japanese Cherry Tree (Prunus yedoensis) near the back gate together with a white and a purple lilac (Syringa) and a Rowan tree (sorbus aucuparia) so the top cover is in place .... its everything else that's missing!!

Here's what it looked like last summer:

Strange how your ideas change.  I was happy with it last summer!  Now I see two very short paths and too much lawn.  Well, the grass has gone so whatever plan I eventually decide on,  it won't look like this next summer!

It has been raining quite heavily today but the garden was still alive with bird song.  No-one has moved into any of the bird boxes yet and the hedgehog house remained empty all winter (was it cold enough to make them hibernate this year?).  Early days yet though.

Friendly Robin

We have two pairs of Robins fighting over their territories: one set in the back hedge and the other in the front Holly Tree.  They really are 'neighbours-from-hell'!  We have this cute perception of them from Christmas cards but a male robin seeing another male robin in his teritory really does "see red"!

There will be blood!  A robins protecting their territory.
 They have been known to fight to the death!  The collective noun for three or more crows is 'A Murder of Crows' that title should go to Robins (I think it is 'A Worm of Robins' but someone might be having me on!).

A friend shared this .... caused quite a bit of confusion and lots of requests for an explanation!