A Cold and Frosty Morning

I always love the first good frosts of the year. They transform the garden into something magical, giving everything a crystalline coating that sparkles in the sunshine. Last year we hardly had any decent frosts, but this week November’s wintery breath has dressed our garden in delicate white lace. Winter is coming!

The thermometer registered that it had dropped to -4.7C in the garden last night, so I went out this morning armed with multiple layers of clothing and a thick woolly bobble hat. The trail camera had been foolishly left out overnight and was not only frosted, but the tripod was frozen solid to the ground. After a brief but strenuous battle I managed to wrest it from the garden’s icy grip, so that I could use the tripod for my frosty photos.


I’d gone out into the garden hoping for spiders’ webs glistening with icy beads, or red berries frosted on the bushes, or icicles dripping from a branch. Of course I couldn’t find any of these things, but what I did find was just as good.

We have a small flimsy porch type thing around our back door with single layers of glass. These were covered in beautiful “fern frost”. Window frost like this used to be much more common before the advent of double glazing. Double glazing restricts the contrasting temperatures needed either side of the glass for the formation of this type of frost. Our tatty little porch is not normally a thing of beauty, but this morning Jack Frost had transformed it with these feathery fractal patterns.


A wooden garden chair had also been left out last night and was now covered in hoar frost. Hoar frost forms white crystals of ice that coat everything with a sugar-like dusting. The frost on the chair was really quite thick – up to a centimetre in places, looking like icy white fur.



I loved the way on one side of the chair the frost had started to melt and sparkled like golden glitter, while on the other side it was still silvery white.


The grass was lovely and crunchy under foot; it seemed a shame almost to trample it as I snooped around the garden. Leaves everywhere were of course covered in the ice crystals, looking like they’d been dipped in some frenzied attempt to candy coat the whole garden.



The presence of the mistletoe (visible again now the leaves have fallen off the apple tree), made it feel quite Christmassy (reminding me that I need to go in and give the Christmas cake another good soaking of brandy!).


I found a poppy seed head, which looked great from the side, but even better from above – like a tiny diamond encrusted crown.



I can never resist taking a photo of the teasels. The frost on them actually looked more like snow, being much finer for some reason than that around the rest of the garden.


There were a few splashes of colour amongst the wintery white. We have one patch of lavender that had still been flowering, long after the rest in the garden had finished. I suspect the frost will have put an end to that though.


The Verbena bonariensis that I grow in the hope of attracting butterflies (with little success) was clearly a frost magnet. Chunky little crystals were stacked up all over the old flower heads.


Possibly my favourite snap of the day was of this brave little flower, still glowing yellow in the morning sun despite its diamond coating.


I thought it would only take me a few minutes this morning to photograph the frost, but when I came back in I found I’d been out there for an hour. It was just so beautiful and peaceful, I hadn’t noticed the time go by.

I did have a moment of panic while I was downloading the photos, when I realised there were absolutely no birds to be seen in the garden. We normally have hoards of them, especially as I’d topped up the bird feeders while I was out there. I had this sudden irrational fear that the frost had killed them all off! (I know it made no sense, as there’d be no birds anywhere if one frost could kill them that easily!) Very quickly though they reappeared – they’d probably all just been traumatised by the sight of me and my bobble hat so early in the morning and taken a few minutes to get their nerves back!!




Stumpy the Magpie

It’s grey and a bit dreary weather-wise here in Malvern at the moment. The hedgehogs are hibernating (probably our bats too), insects are few and far between and the moth trap’s been empty the last couple of times I’ve put it out.  We’ve not even had any frosts to provide sparkly, wintery photo ops. Fortunately the birds in our garden are plentiful and greedy, so the bird feeders have provided the main interest this month. Last week we had the excitement of the woodpecker on the peanuts.


This week we’ve turned out attentions and the trail camera towards the bird table. The bird table attracts a different set of birds to the hanging feeders, although the sparrows of course are the commonest on both. We have quite a large group of sparrows who use our garden (possibly as many as twenty, but they’re hard to count in the bushes) and at least half a dozen were using the bird table at any one time this weekend.


Back in October we had a pair of magpies that were regular visitors to the garden. One I nicknamed Stumpy because he had none of the long tail feathers he (or she) should have had. Here’s Stumpy on the bird table about a month ago.

I’ve no idea what happened to his tail, but you can clearly see the difference between Stumpy’s rear end and a “normal” magpie in the next video. These two often appear at the table together – perhaps mates, or parent and offspring, or siblings?

The lack of tail feathers doesn’t seem to impede his flight or balance at all and he seems otherwise perfectly healthy. A quick google revealed that his tail feathers should grow back. I’ve had the trail camera pointed at the hanging feeders for a couple of weeks, so it’s only been this weekend that it’s been pointing back at the bird table. A couple of magpies once again appeared to see what was on offer. One had broken tail feathers that looked a bit shorter than the others.

magpieIs this Stumpy with his tail feathers partially regrown? I really hope so. Whoever it was, they weren’t put off their lunch by the arrival of a large jackdaw.


The jackdaws are usually some of the first birds to appear when I restock the bird table. They always seem intelligent, shrewd birds. The one on the right here certainly wasn’t daft – he’d crammed at least 5 mealworms into his mouth before the other had got a look in.

jackdawsWe get at least 4 of them coming down to feed, although I’ve noticed one has an injured foot. He’s still eating OK, but not sure whether it will prove to be a fatal problem for him.


The blackbirds appreciate the bird table offerings as they are not very good on the hanging feeders. Fortunately they don’t mind sharing the table with the sparrows.


The robin on the other hand gets really quite grumpy when the sparrows land. Any larger birds and he just flies off, but with the sparrows he does his best to shoo them away.



Watching the birds like this in the garden for a while now, I feel we’ve got a small insight into some of their life stories. Stumpy with his tail loss and regrowth, the jackdaw family with an injured member, the territorial robin defending his patch of the table. Without the trail camera we’d probably still see all these birds, but miss some of the dynamics of what was going on in our garden. It’s been worth every penny spent and every hour spent watching the videos!

Pumpkin Demise but Woodpecker Surprise

Having blogged excitedly about the success of our pumpkin birdfeeder last week, I came home from work the following day to find a sad little orange heap on the grass.


I suspect one of our magpies was the culprit – too heavy for the already soft flesh of the pumpkin to support the added weight. While I did feel a bit sad that the pumpkin feeder was no more (can you actually mourn a large orange member of the squash family?), at least it saved me having to decide when was the right time to take it down and send it to its final resting place (the compost heap).

So the trail camera got moved to point at some of the other feeders instead. I wasn’t expecting anything other than the usual suspects – sparrows, blue tits, the occasional robin if I was lucky. So I was very surprised when I downloaded the latest set of video clips to find a Greater Spotted Woodpecker!


She (and I’m fairly sure she is a she – no red patch on the head) has so far visited the peanuts three times this weekend. In 10 years living here, I can only remember catching a glimpse of a woodpecker once in the garden and that was years ago. So it was a huge surprise to discover we have one visiting fairly regularly at the moment. Of course we’ve still not seen our woodpecker in the flesh, but the trail camera never lies – she must just choose to come when we’re looking elsewhere. Perhaps this is reason enough to abandon any household chores and just sit staring down the garden for the rest of the day?

Anyway we now have about 20 short videos of our woodpecker. In most she is focussed on the peanuts while a few sparrows feast nearby on the suet block.

But in this one, something spooks the sparrows and the woodpecker stops feeding and lines herself up on the peanut feeder – perhaps to make herself less visible. Whatever it was couldn’t have been too scary though as she was back to the peanuts a few seconds later.

This is one of the things I love about having the trail camera in the garden now. You just never know what is going to pop up on it. Makes me wonder what else visits our garden that we just don’t see?

Pumpkin Feeder

It may have been over a week ago now, but Halloween is still featuring in our garden in the form of our pumpkin bird feeder. I got the idea from the brilliant Wildlife Gadget Man (http://wildlifegadgetman.com/) who posted this on Twitter and I shamelessly copied it.


Of course as is always the way, the wildlife didn’t appreciate it was Halloween and nothing visited it until the date was long gone. With hindsight, I think I initially hung the pumpkin too close to the house, but it wasn’t helped by the miserable foggy weather around the end of October which seemed to deter all but the hardiest of wildlife in our garden. Eventually though the squirrel appeared to check it out and I got a couple of very grainy grey videos of him, which really aren’t worth uploading so I’ve just taken this still from them.


So the pumpkin got moved to the apple tree instead and after a cautious start, the birds have now taken to it (just as the pumpkin itself is starting to show its age and look a bit green around the gills). So far we’ve had sparrows, dunnocks, robins, blue tits and great tits, as you can see from the assorted short videos below.

We left the trail camera running over night quite often. As the birds don’t always go to bed as soon as it gets dark, nor wait until it is fully light to get up, it meant that we got some footage of them feeding in the dark. The robin in particular didn’t seem to be bothered by the light levels and I love the spooky look the infrared camera gives him – maybe he’s channelling the Halloween vibe after all?