Big Garden Birdwatch 2018

Last weekend was the annual Big Garden Birdwatch – one of my favourite bits of citizen science to participate in. Unfortunately it was one of those dull, grey January days where the sun just doesn’t come out – and nor did many of the birds. Coupled with that, my camera was in for repairs so I couldn’t even take photos of the ones that did appear. I persevered though as it would have been a shame to miss out on it this year, having done it for the last few years.

So I spent an hour crouched behind my camouflage netting hoping neither the birds nor the neighbours could see me (neighbours think we’re mad enough as it is without seeing the camouflage!). As always seems to be the case, the birds which moments before had seemed so plentiful, all disappeared as soon as I got my notepad out. But my masterplan worked as I’d topped up all the bird feeders just before and they couldn’t resist indefinitely.

The sparrows were abundant as usual. I’ve no idea how many we really have visiting the garden, but I’m sure it’s much more than the 13 I managed to count in one go. I suspect we have closer to 25 or even 30, but they’re impossible to count all together, so I stuck with the 13 definite that I could see at once.  Next largest presence was the jackdaws – 5 of whom put in an appearance on the bird table. These are at least big enough and obvious enough to be much easier to count.

The rest of the birds came in just ones and twos: blue tits, robin, blackbird, goldfinches, starlings, woodpigeons, crow, dunnock, blackcap (female) and magpie. A total of 32 birds of 12 species. As usual I had several no shows – birds that have graced our garden in the days before and days after the count. These include the wren, great tits, coal tits, long-tailed tits and chaffinch – all of whom I’ve seen today.

The RSPB give you a nice little pie chart when you upload your results. It only shows 10 species, so misses out the crow and the blackcap, but at least represents 30 out of the 32 birds I saw.

You can also get a similar representation of the national results so far. So as of this afternoon, sparrows were leading the way nationally, as they were in our garden. But there was no sign of our second most abundant bird, the jackdaw, in the nation’s top 10. Perhaps we are just in a hotspot for jackdaws, or they particularly like the selection of bird food we put out here?

This year’s results for our garden were very similar to last year’s (https://toolazytoweed.uk/2017/01/28/big-garden-birdwatch-2017/). So it’s good to know there are no dreadful declines here at least – keep putting out the bird food and they will come!

While I was skulking around the garden, Chris went for a walk near his work in Malvern. He didn’t do a bird count as he was moving around too much, but he did see a few more interesting birds than I did.

Jackdaws we do of course have in the garden, but I liked this fluffed up one.

Although Chris did at least have a working camera, unlike me, he was still plagued by the same dull grey light that made taking decent photos a bit difficult. So apologies that these next 3 photos aren’t exactly fabulous, but the birds themselves were. A great spotted woodpecker, a kestrel and a tiny goldcrest. Not a bad trio to spot on one walk.

And as if seeing all of those wasn’t good enough, he even managed to come home with some decent photos of a wren. It’s obviously not the same wren that torments me daily in our garden (I swear it danced in front of the window today knowing I still have no camera), but it’s great to get any decent wren photos. I couldn’t decide which one I liked best, so here are my favourite 4 photos.

So a bit of birdy citizen science for one of us and a bit of bird photography for the other. A weekend well spent I reckon.

The Adventures of Tiny Tim the Hedgehog

I’ve been meaning to do an update on our garden hedgehogs for a while now, so today is finally the day. Although we haven’t seen a hedgehog in the garden since December 17th, we now have a resident foster hog – here’s his story. In my last hedgehoggy blog post, way back at the end of October, I mentioned that we had a large and a small hedgehog visiting the garden.

The two often appeared together, although they tended to arrive separately. The little one (Tiny Tim) generally seemed quite interested in the bigger one (Fat Sam as I’ve been calling him), but Fat Sam didn’t seem quite so impressed!

Adult & juvenile hedgehog

They would sometimes even go into the feeding station together. On one occasion the Tiny Tim got trapped in there for a few minutes when Fat Sam decided to plonk himself down just outside the entrance – effectively blocking the Tim in. The video below is a compilation of several short trail cam clips taken over a few minutes while he was trapped! Eventually Sam got bored and wandered off, freeing the youngster.

Hedgehogs

Although it was great to see the two together, I was worried  that Tiny Tim might not be big enough to get through the winter. The only way to be sure was to catch him and weigh him – hedgehogs need to be an absolute minimum of 450g to have enough fat reserves for hibernation.

Unfortunately our diminutive visitor didn’t come at a regular time, so the only way to catch him or her was to sit out and wait. After a couple of fruitless nights (my commitment to sitting outside in the dark didn’t extend beyond a few hours at a time) and a few false alarms (Fat Sam got himself weighed too – a very respectable 800g), I eventually got lucky at the beginning of November.  Fortunately he turned up at the feeding station at about 8:30pm and was no doubt a bit surprised to find me lurking nearby with a set of kitchen scales. The little guy only weighed about 400g so wouldn’t have made it through the winter without some help. So into the cat basket he went and along to Viv at Malvern Hedgehog Rescue.

Viv checked him over and found he had a cough, so he was treated for lungworm; a potentially fatal condition, so another good reason to rescue him besides his size. Viv was also able to confirm Tim was indeed a he!

A couple of months later and Tiny Tim is not so tiny any more – a very healthy 1100g, plenty big enough to survive hibernation now. So he’s come back to our garden to stay in the hutch until the Spring. I’ve not taken a photo of him, as I wanted to let him settle in and don’t want to disturb him any more than I have to. I will try and get the trail cam pointed at the hutch, to see if I can get any footage of him moving around at night. Hopefully though he’ll settle down and hibernate, but if not he’s got a des-res with food and water until it’s time to let him go. Many thanks to Viv (http://www.malvernhedgehogrescue.co.uk/) for getting him through the winter.

Tiny Tim may have spent most of the winter in the lap of luxury, but Fat Sam had to take his chances in our neighbourhood gardens. Fortunately  several of the neighbours like hedgehogs too and don’t mind having gaps in their fences so that the hogs can roam freely between the gardens at night. This footage shows Fat Sam squeezing himself under our fence and into next door’s garden.

Hedgehog under fence

We’ve put a couple of hedgehog houses out in the garden in hope of tempting Fat Sam to hibernate. I got my hopes up for a few days when the trail cam spotted him checking out one of the houses,

Fat Sam hedgehog in box

Unfortunately it didn’t impress him enough for him to make a nest in it. Hopefully he found somewhere more to his liking elsewhere in our garden or in one of the neighbours’ gardens. There are certainly plenty of wild untidy bits in ours that would hopefully make good nesting sites.

Fat Sam may not have made it his home, but the hedgehog house did attract some other visitors. This mouse appeared several times, clambering up the old clematis stems to sit on the box.

And this large fluffy cat (one of the neighbours’ not ours) also seemed to like sitting on top – perhaps knowing there were mice nearby?

Hopefully I’ll be able to post some videos of Tim in his hutch at night, but failing that I’ll post an update on Tiny Tim and Fat Sam in the spring when they come out of hibernation. Fingers crossed for a successful hibernation for hedgehogs everywhere.

 

2017 – The Year of the Hedgehog

It’s taken me a couple of weeks to get this written, mainly because 2017 was such an eventful year for us. I started compiling it and couldn’t believe how much we saw and did in one year; but it was lovely going through the old blog posts to refresh my memory.

First of all the successes and failures of last year’s New Year’s Resolutions. I think these definitely come under the “could do better” category, but we did at least try with most of our wildlife ones, which is more than can be said for my Cut Down on the Prosecco plan. So here’s the progress on our 7 resolutions for 2017.

1.  Build new pond. Well I did achieve this, just not in the place I expected to. The plan was to put a new pond in the garden. That didn’t happen, but I did get an allotment (with my sister) and first job we did was put in a small pond. Within months we’d had frogs, newts and dragonflies, so well worth the effort.

 

2. Get footage of the blue tits fledging. Well this didn’t happen, but it wasn’t for want of trying. We put up a new box with integral camera. Things were looking good when we caught a blue tit checking it out almost immediately. Unfortunately they then decided to nest elsewhere this year. You can lead a blue tit to a nest box, but you cannot make it nest!

3. Seeing new species of butterfly – we actually over-achieved on this one! We managed to bag 5 new species: Duke of Burgundy, Wall, Small Pearl Bordered Fritillary, Grizzled Skipper and Large Blue. This takes us to a grand total of 43 species of British butterfly seen and photographed. Only about 16 to go.

 

4. Try and find ivy bees at more sites. Not only did I not manage to achieve this, I didn’t see a single ivy bee at all. Chris saw a few, but only at sites where we’d seen them before.

5. Start compiling a list of hoverfly species in the garden. I did take quite a lot of hoverfly pictures, (including this lovely Chrysotoxum species) but totally forgot that I was going to start listing them. I could probably retrospectively go back through the photos and list them all – but what are the chances of that happening?

 

6. Do 30 Days Wild again. Thankfully a big YES to this one. I had a fantastic time in June doing 30 Days Wild and was really chuffed to get shortlisted again for the Wildlife Trusts’ Blogger Awards. Not only that but Worcestershire Wildlife Trust were looking for someone to write about it – so I even got a magazine article published!

7. And finally my quest to get a moth tattoo has failed once again. No surprises there.

So on to the other things we got up to last year. 2017 started with the shocking realization that I’d hit 50! To lessen the pain, Chris got us a day at some wildlife photography hides in Worcestershire. We had a fantastic bird-filled day watching kestrels, kingfishers and all sorts of other beautiful birds. Best birthday present ever!

The second big event was getting our allotment. Despite my “too lazy to weed” philosophy, I have always fancied an allotment and my sister and I now finally have one.  We are gardening it organically, feeding the birds, encouraging pollinators and of course we’ve put in our pond. Neighbouring plots even have slow worms, so we’re hoping we can attract a few of those over to ours soon too.

A big change for me in 2017 was that I swapped jobs. I now work 2 days a week at the British Hedgehog Preservation Society. We also fostered a hedgehog called Meadow last winter until his release in the spring.  We’ve rescued one poorly one found during the day and one juvenile that was too small to get through the winter and taken them to our local hedgehog carer Viv. Not only that but we had almost nightly visitations from other hedgehogs in the garden and got some great trail camera footage. So all in all 2017 has been my Year of the Hedgehog.

One of the highlights in the summer was a holiday in the beautiful Isles of Scilly. We had a fantastic week there, packed full of wildlife and wonderful scenery. Although we loved it all, probably the best thing was seeing puffins. We’d thought we might have been too late in the season, but luckily they were still there waiting for us.

Not only did we get some great photos, but the one above even won us a mug in the Scilly Isles photo competition. In fact we won 2 mugs, the other being for an old photo of me, my sister and my Dad taken on St Martin’s in 1972. 

Of course we did all our usual things in 2017 – the Big Garden Bird Survey, the Big Butterfly Count, the Garden Bioblitz, Moth night and the annual pilgrimage to see the bluebells on the Malverns. We’ve visited lots of our old favourite haunts, Wyre Forest, Trench & Grafton Wood, Prestbury Hill & Brotheridge Green etc. But we’ve also found some new favourites: Daneway Banks, Upton Warren wetlands, Wenlock Edge and more.

On the home front we have of course continued to let the weeds grow in the garden pretty much unchecked. The postman may soon need a machete to hack his way through the undergrowth to the front door, but it has brought us a wealth of insects and more. I’d thought we’d done well in 2016 when we recorded our 25th species of bee in the garden, but by the end of 2017’s summer we’d hit 31 species.

Moths continued to be my particular obsession throughout 2017. Overall it didn’t seem to be such a good year for moths in the garden – I only recorded 198 species compared to 211 in 2016. This might have been due to trapping effort, as I suffered a couple of stinking colds towards the end of the year and didn’t put the trap out for the last 2 months. Overall though we have now recorded 297 moth species in the garden – not bad for the middle of Malvern! The really exciting news though was that I recorded the first ever Box Tree Moth (Cydalima perspectalis) not only for Malvern, but for the whole of Worcestershire. This species is colonising northwards, so it was great to get the first record for our neck of the woods.

The sad news for 2017 was that we had to say goodbye to Bert. He was our elderly gentleman with a big voice (the loudest miaow ever!) and a big character. He spent most of his life outdoors, but came to us for his twilight years. We still miss him terribly.

 

So New Year’s Resolutions for 2018 – we might as well aim for a few then there’s a chance we might succeed with a couple at least!

  • Butterfly species – continue on our quest to see more of the British species – hopefully another 3 this year?
  • Film Blue tits fledging – the box and camera are still all set up, so we just have to hope they deign to nest in it this year.
  • Visit 5 new local nature reserves – we have such fantastic places around here, it will be good to explore some more.
  • Sort out the garden pond.
  • Have a go at a Hoverfly Lagoon – there’s a project looking at how to promote hoverflies in your garden, so it would be nice to contribute to that.
  • Of course that moth tattoo that never seems to get done!

Happy 2018 everyone!

 

 

 

Birding in Bewdley

Since the New Year I’ve been suffering (rather pathetically even by my own low standards) from the flu, but by last Sunday I’d finally had enough of my sick bed and was keen to get out and see some wildlife. While spluttering round the house, I’d kept seeing on Twitter that there were lots of Hawfinches in the UK this year and that in particular there was a group of them in Bewdley, which isn’t far from us. People were still tweeting sightings of the Bewdley birds there on the Saturday so we set off on Sunday with fingers crossed.

Bewdley is a lovely little town, right by the river Severn. We’ve passed through it a few times on the way to the Wyre Forest, but never stopped before. So this time we parked down by the river and set off to find Jubilee Gardens where all the Hawfinches were apparently hanging around waiting for their photos to be taken. Since there’s never any guarantee of spotting your target species, we always take photos of other things as we go and the Severn was full of birds as we walked along the towpath.

There were quite a few of these small pretty gulls, several of whom seemed content to perch on the bollards. A quick check on Google when we got home later confirmed they were Black Headed Gulls – in their winter plumage though, so no actual “black heads”.

Another bird that we more commonly associate with the sea is the Cormorant, but there was at least one happily paddling up and down the Severn in Bewdley. It was totally undeterred by the Canada Geese that not only outnumbered him, but were much larger too. The Cormorant faced down at least one goose to get the resting spot he wanted near the steps.

We found Jubilee Gardens tucked away behind the riverfront houses. It is really a small park completely surrounded by the town of Bewdley, but with some large mature trees and a small pond.  There were plenty of small birds flitting around, including a small flock of the lovely long-tailed tits.

A splendid Grey Wagtail was patrolling, with tail wagging, up and down near the pond. I always have to think twice about these, not to call them Yellow Wagtails, despite their obvious yellow colouring.

We knew we’d found the right spot though, when we turned a corner and were confronted with at least a dozen birders with cameras/binoculars/telescopes all pointed up at some of the tall trees. Clearly I’m not the only one who follows the reports on Twitter! There were also a few other, slightly bemused looking, non birders trying to enjoy a Sunday stroll through the gardens and wondering what all the fuss was about.

Anyway we followed the direction all the lenses were pointed in and sure enough there were a small group of Hawfinches, high up in the trees. They may have been distant glimpses, but we had found our first ever Hawfinches. Their powerful beaks were clearly visible even from a distance and they are have to my mind quite quirky, curious faces. We spent about an hour pottering round the gardens, hoping they’d come lower down. Not surprisingly, given the large number of people staring at them, they chose to remain high up in the trees. So these were the best shots we managed, but they are at least recognisably Hawfinches.

I don’t think we’d ever have spotted them on our own, but the combination of helpful Twitter feeds (thank you @WorcsBirding) and of course a large flock of Twitchers made it possible. We just need the equivalent combination for some Waxwings now!