Spring Is In The Air (and in the Pond)

It is now a couple of weeks since the official start of spring, but it’s felt like it’s been a bit slow actually happening. But having looked at some of the animals we’ve seen in the last few weeks, maybe spring is slowly, tentatively, making itself known after all.

So first up, one of my all time favourites and the first bee of the year – the Hairy Footed Flower Bee. As is so often the case with these, I heard it before I saw it – a male buzzing energetically around the primroses. No sign of any females yet, I think they emerge slightly later.

March also sees the start of the annual Garden Moth Scheme. It’s been a particularly cold and wet start so I’ve not had a huge variety, but numbers are slowly picking up. Here’s a nice trio of the Orthosia genus – a Common Quaker, Clouded Drab & Twin-spotted Quaker.

The moths may be trickling in, but the butterflies have been very slow – not seen a single one in the garden yet this year. But we went for a walk in nearby Priory Gardens a week or so ago and spotted quite a few. A bright yellow Brimstone (way too fast to get a photo), several Commas and at least half a dozen Small Tortoiseshells – all basking in the sunshine.

One thing I’ve been particularly looking forward to is the arrival of frog spawn in our allotment pond. We put the pond in too late last year to get spawn laid, but this year we were good to go and the frogs didn’t disappoint. Here’s a quick video using the new GoPro camera. More froggy updates to follow in the next blog post as the tadpoles develop.

Frog Spawn

 

We didn’t see any frog spawn in the ponds at Priory Gardens, but there was plenty of bird activity. A couple of moorhens and lots of ducks, including this splendid looking mallard. There’s something about watching ducks on a pond in the sunshine that is not only really relaxing, but feels very spring-like to me.

The previous blog post was all about the peregrines up on the hill, but they weren’t the only birds we saw that day. This male bullfinch looked to be enjoying the spring sunshine sitting on a wild cherry tree (cherry blossom buds being one of their favourite foods apparently).

We also spotted jackdaws that had found some crevices in the rock face to nest in. The hole didn’t look that big, but they were taking quite sizeable twigs in there, so perhaps it opened out inside.

I don’t know if this dunnock was sensing spring or just feeling a bit odd, but it was behaving very strangely. It spent about 10 minutes sitting on top of the hedgehog house (not a safe spot since the neighbour’s cat often sits there), fluffing up its feathers repeatedly and shuffling about. It looked almost as if it was incubating eggs but there was no nest there (I did check it hadn’t laid anything). It stretched its neck out a few times and gaped its beak as well. I know dunnocks have some weird mating habits, but there didn’t seem to be another dunnock around for it to impress with the behaviour. Whatever it was doing it got fed up eventually and flew off into the bushes quite normally. If anyone can shed any light on the behaviour, it would be very much appreciated.

The dunnock may have been behaving strangely, but it was perfectly obvious what this blue tit was up to – gathering nest material. I saw someone suggest recently that you could provide nesting material by tying two hanging basket frames together to form a rough ball and filling them with moss and the like. Apologies to whoever’s idea it was, as I can’t remember where I saw it to be able to credit them properly – but it was a great idea, thank you. We had some old hanging baskets kicking around the garage and the “lawn” is full of moss,  so this was an easy idea to achieve. And the blue tits seem to appreciate it as almost immediately they started taking great beakfuls of moss and flying off with it.

Once it had got a beak’s worth of moss it would then stop on a twig to rearrange the moss a bit more tidily (presumably so it could see where it was flying), before taking off.

Blue Tit gathering nesting material

If only these blue tits had taken the moss back to the lovely nesting box with camera in that we’ve now had up for 2 years in exactly the spot where they used to nest! But no, they must be nesting elsewhere and all we’ve got on the nestcam is a spider’s web! Still at least we know they are nesting somewhere and that we’ve helped a little bit.

And finally spring must surely be on its way because our hedgehog is back! Whether it is Fat Sam from last year emerged from hibernation or a completely different hog, I have no idea. But it looks big and healthy and has a good appetite.

First hedgehog of 2018

None of these signs of spring maybe big newsworthy events,  but sometimes it’s spotting the small things in life that gives the most pleasure. And we’re certainly very happy that spring is finally on its way to Malvern.

 

Spring Cleaning

There’s been a lot in the press and on social media lately about the importance of cleaning your bird feeders. This is something we all probably know we should do, but don’t get around to as often as we should – I know we are definitely guilty of this. So with the first day of spring last week, what better time to have a spring clean for our feathered friends. Armed with a bucket, rubber gloves, scrubbing and bottle brushes I set to work.

I hadn’t really noticed how many bird feeders we’d actually got, until I came to have to clean them! It seemed best to do them in 2 lots, not only because there were quite a few, but so that the birds still had something out there left to eat while I slaved over the bucket. All washed, the two batches got hung out to dry in a rare spot of sunshine.

The bird baths got a good scrub too, since the  birds seem to use them for all manner of bodily functions, not just drinking and washing! It might just be a coincidence, but having cleaned the birdbaths, I’ve seen goldfinches using them for the first time – they must be fussier than the other birds!

I was a bit concerned that the birds might have been put off by me interfering with their feeders, but I needn’t have worried. They were back on them in no time. I must have hung the suet balls in a slightly different position, as the starlings could now reach them from below rather than balancing from above.

The blue tits were equally happy with a nice fresh supply of peanuts.

There are plenty of vantage points to reach the suet logs, but for some reason our female blackcap preferred to contort at this odd angle to reach a particular bit.

The male blackcap took a much more standard approach.

The goldfinches have been regular visitors to the niger seeds for a few weeks now, but the siskins’ visits are much more intermittent. So it was great today when this male siskin turned up and stayed long enough for me to grab the camera and sneak out the patio doors to get some photos. I had hoped it would sit facing the goldfinch so I could get profile shots of them both, but you can’t have everything!

So the feeders are all clean and the birds seem happy with my efforts. I’ve made a note on the calendar to try and clean them a bit more regularly from now on.

Although I was happy with the bird feeder cleaning, last week was actually a very sad one for us. We had to say goodbye to our beautiful Norwegian Forest Cat, Puddle. She’d been with us for the last 13 years, since she was a kitten and we are devastated to lose her – far too soon. Although an indoor cat, she loved sitting watching the birds with me from the comfort of the sofa. She was the sweetest natured cat I think I’ve ever known, and I will miss her for ever.

 

Birdy Benefits of the Beast from the East

Well if February was freezing, March so far has been all about the snow. The so called Beast from the East weather front certainly dumped a whole lot of snow on us in Malvern. I couldn’t get to work on Thursday or Friday due to the drifting snow, so have spent much of the last few days birdwatching in the garden. The upside of all this snow is that it has brought lots of birds in from the fields looking for food. In particular, the Beast from the East has brought us fieldfares and redwings – lots of them!

But first surprise was to find a very large gull on the bird table. We see them flying overhead quite a bit, but this was the first time I’d seen one actually land in the garden. I’ve nothing against gulls, but I don’t think I can afford the seed bill if they start regularly hoovering up the bird food!

When the snow arrived at the end of last week, I was hopeful we might get a fieldfare or two, but there was a whole flock of them. Of course being wilful, they seemed to sense that I was the one on the street desperate for a photo, so stayed mainly just out of photo range in the neighbours’ gardens. But eventually a couple graciously honoured our garden. This first one looked distinctly unimpressed by the weather though and sat hunched in the bush with snow settling on him.

He did however discover some berries we’d got left so I could get a few more attractive photos, although unfortunately these had to be taken through our grubby windows so aren’t as sharp as I would have liked, but better than nothing.

Having bagged a few fieldfare photos, I then started to wish there were some redwings around as well. Right on cue a small flock of these turned up too. (Maybe I should have wished for a Golden Eagle or a hummingbird?) Again it took me and Chris a few attempts stalking around the garden to get some half decent shots, but persistence paid off in the end.

Chris took my favourite photo of the whole weekend – this grumpy, fluffed up redwing on the fence.

Not to be outshone by his bigger and showier cousins, our resident song thrush was a frequent visitor this weekend too. Counting the blackbirds too, that’s 4 members of the thrush family in one weekend. Not bad.

I would have been quite happy with all of the above, but the goldfinches decided finally that they would like to spend some quality time in our garden. There were 4 in total, although I never managed to get more than 2 in one shot. Absolutely beautiful birds, I’ve always loved goldfinches.

I read on Twitter that goldcrests sometimes come into gardens when it’s snowy and again much to my amazement one appeared in the buddleia bush. Only the second time we’ve seen one on our garden. Sadly I was too slow to get a shot of it, he was just too quick. But Chris came back from a walk in the local wood with this beautiful photo of a goldcrest in the snow – a perfect Christmas card shot!

So March has come in like a lion, let’s hope it goes out like a lamb. All this snow and birdlife has been lovely, but I’m starting to long for butterflies and bees and moths – roll on spring!

Freezing February Birds

It’s February and it’s freezing and being a bit of a fair weather nature watcher I’ve not been out much – other than to constantly top up the bird feeders and defrost the bird baths of course! So it’s been a month mainly of bird watching through the window or via the cameras in the garden. Our array of camera gadgets is slowly growing. Trouble is with each one you get, you tend to want more; or at least that’s how it seems in our house. No matter where we’ve got cameras pointed, there always seems to be something more interesting happening elsewhere in the garden!

Anyway like much of the country we’ve had snow yesterday and today – not a huge amount, but it’s never really got above freezing here.  So it was a nice surprise to download the trail cam in the afternoon and find a pair of goldfinches had visited our new niger seed feeder. Sorry the video is a bit dark, but it was snowing!

Goldfinches in snow

Inspired by our intrepid goldfinches, I got round to sorting through some videos we’d taken in the garden in the last week or so, to see what else I could find.

We’ve got a new GoPro camera which can be remotely activated using a phone. Perfect on a cold day for sitting on the sofa hitting record whenever something interesting appears. I’ve been trying out different angles and distances to see what works best. This video was shot with the camera only about a foot away from the action.

Garden birds

This next video compilation was the GoPro again, but this time filmed from a greater distance looking down. The greater distance does of course give a wider field of view and I think  the GoPro lens may be a wide-angle one too. You can still see lumps of ice in the bird bath although I had already taken two kettle loads of warm water out to defrost it.  Lots of different species of birds have been using the bird bath in this cold weather though, so it’s well worth thawing it out.

Bird bath birds

This next little compilation was filmed with the GoPro strapped to a branch next to some of the feeders. The GoPro has the advantage here over the old trail camera in that it is much smaller, making it easier to position closer to things. You can strap it to twigs that would be too thin to support the trail cam.

Peanut feeder

But I have not abandoned my old faithful Bushnell trail cam. I had it pointed at the same feeders, but from a different angle. I was really chuffed that it filmed a couple of the siskins that we’d been so excited to see the previous week. It also picked  up the female blackcap, although the male still eludes us. It was nice too, that between the two cameras, there was footage of 3 of the 4 species of tit we get in our garden – blue, great and coal. The long tailed tits as usual refused to perform for either camera.

20180227-205811

One final surprise the cameras threw up was a visit from our squirrel – trying (but failing) to get into the peanut feeder.  I suspect he managed to get some of the other food out of shot.

Most of our regular bird species show up on one or other of the remote cameras but not all. So sometimes I just need to get off the sofa and sit in the garden with a “proper” camera. These jackdaws are regular visitors to the bird table and are particularly keen on the suet pellets. It does look slightly oddly like the one on the right is taking suet to the table rather than taking it away?

The wren of course seldom deigns to feature on the trail cam/GoPro videos. But this week he/she was more obliging than usual and did allow me to get a few shots. None perfect, but recognisable at least.

It even sat for a while preening itself, hence the next sequence of three “rumpled” looking photos.

So although it’s bloomin’ freezing, there’s plenty to watch in the garden. The bird feeders are busier than ever, so hopefully our garden birds will make it through this cold spell.

One final photo – a bullfinch, just because they are such gorgeous birds. Not actually taken in our garden but about a mile away near Chris’ work. He was feeding on wild cherry blossom buds at the weekend and he’s just too beautiful not to include in the blog (the male bullfinch I mean, not Chris!).

 

National Nest Box Week

Apparently it is National Nest Box Week, so it seemed only right to review our nest box endeavours in the garden and beyond. Not that our efforts to provide suitable des res’ in the garden have been entirely successful over the years, but we do try.  We had one old bird box on the garage wall for a few years and blue tits started nesting in it about 2014. Although we got photos and videos of the adults coming and going, we never managed to catch any of them fledging.

So last year we decided to replace the old bird box with a new one with integral camera. With hindsight perhaps we should have stuck with the old adage “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it”, because needless to say nothing nested in it.

We did get very excited when a blue tit roosted in it for a night within a week or putting the box up, but nothing else has used it since (apart from a spider which covered the camera with web!).

Anyway we’re living in hope that this year will be our year and we can have our very own Springwatch experience, but of course we may have to resort to just watching the real Springwatch again (no great hardship).

We also put up a wren/robin box last year, which also remained vacant. This open fronted box is on our fence, hidden by bushes and ivy. The ivy is starting to grow over the box, but we may well have to move this one anyway as the neighbours want to replace the fence this year.

So we may not have much luck on the home front when it comes to nest boxes, but we now have an interest slightly further afield. Worcestershire Wildlife Trust were advertising a “rent-a-nest” scheme to fund nest boxes on some of their reserves. So for Valentine’s Day last week, rather than muck about with flowers and chocolates, we sponsored a nest. You could choose between 4 of the local reserves, so we plumped for our nearest and one of our favourites – Knapp & Papermill.

Apparently we will get invited to view “our” nest box in the spring – fingers crossed something actually uses this one!

And finally, nothing really to do with nests, but we were thrilled to spot a small flock of siskins in the garden yesterday. We’ve only ever seen one in the garden once before (and then only on the trail camera, not actually “live”), so to see a whole flock was fantastic. There were at least 6 males, but we only saw one female – this could have been though because they are not as showy, so not as easy to spot. Unfortunately we were indoors and they were obviously outdoors, so photos had to be taken through our less than sparkling windows.  But a delight to see nonetheless.

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.

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!

 

 

 

From Green to White

What a difference a day makes. Since my Evergreen blog post our Malvern landscape has been transformed into a frosty white wonderland. It snowed all day on Sunday – the most snow we’ve had in years here and temperatures have barely got above zero. For the first day we couldn’t even see the Malvern Hills – the snow and fog completely blanketed them. But yesterday it cleared and our view was once again returned.

Our mistletoe, that was making me feel so festive, is now even more Christmassy with a frosting of snow.

I may not have been able to get to work, nor get the car out to go to the shops (chocolate supplies are getting dangerously low and I may have to start eating some wrapped Xmas presents!), but it has provided some great photo ops in the garden. I have spent a lot of the last few days freezing my proverbial off, sitting in the garden watching the birds. The bird feeders have needed constant topping up and the water baths have had to be defrosted regularly, but I have been rewarded with lots of bird activity.

As always I had the trail cam out in the garden. Although I didn’t get any particularly interesting footage during the day, that may have been because things were landing on it rather than in front of it!

Similarly my camouflage netting, that I hide behind to photograph the birds, got the same lack of respect from this blue tit.

Most of our regular birds came out during my snowy vigil. Starlings, sparrows and blue tits were all abundant and didn’t seem bothered by me lurking behind my camouflage.

The wren was as elusive as always and the coal and great tits only came out when I went in. The blackbirds and jackdaws made the most of the food, but I struggled to get a decent photo of black birds against a white background. There were some surprises though – the benefit of sitting outside just watching meant that I saw birds I haven’t seen for a while in the garden. So it was great to see this thrush jostling for food amongst the sparrows on the bird table.

Even better a rare glimpse of a chaffinch – we hardly ever get these in the garden, so I was delighted to get even this distant shot of him.

Of course the one bird I really wanted to get decent photos of in the snow was the robin. Fortunately we have two resident robins and one in particular is pretty brave and comes close up to me (not yet managed the holy grail of getting him to eat out of my hand yet, but I’m working on it). I took loads of photos of him – here are a few of my favourites. I think next year’s Christmas cards may be sorted!

While chasing the robin round with the camera, I noticed something larger in the bush right next to me – a redwing. We haven’t seen any of these in the garden for a few years, so I snapped away quickly before he flew off.

And then it got even better! I was keeping an eye out in case the redwing returned and spotted a group of birds in next door’s tree. Unfortunately the tree was at the far side of their garden so I crept as close to our fence as I could get, peered over and discovered it was a small mixed flock of redwings and fieldfares.

They may not have actually been in our garden, but I’m counting them as I’m sure they must have passed through it at some point!

The final star of the show yesterday, although also not technically in the garden, was this magnificent Red Kite, drifting high above. I thought at first it was just the usual buzzard; it was only when I downloaded the photos I could see it was a kite. The perfect finale to my snowy birdwatching day.

Winter Evergreens

I started to feel properly Christmassy this week and that was even before the winter wonderland of snow arrived this morning. Amongst the (many) weeds in our garden we have some lovely evergreen plants, right out of a Christmas carol – holly, ivy and mistletoe too. None have been planted deliberately, they’ve all just arrived. Feed the birds and they deposit berries around the garden, which grow and attract more birds, which deposit more berries – a birdy/evergreen circle.

The ivy must surely be one of the most useful plants in our garden. Not only do the leaves provide cover for a host of insects, the flowers provide a much needed late nectar source (particularly for my favourite Ivy Bees) and the berries provide food in winter for the birds. We are doing our best to encourage the ivy to grow over as much of the fence as possible.

Our holly “tree” is little more than a small bush, but since we didn’t plant it at all, we can’t complain. We first spotted it a few years ago when it was literally a tiny seedling with just 3 leaves on it – presumably a helpful bird had either dropped a berry, or deposited it some other way in the front garden. This was our magnificent tree back in 2013, less than a foot tall. Four years later and it is the same height as me (so approximately 5 times the size).

We first noticed mistletoe growing on our apple tree a few years ago. We now have several clumps, although no sign of any berries yet – don’t know if this is because our mistletoe is not mature enough or we’ve just got male specimens?

Mistletoe may have the romantic connotations of kissing traditions at Christmas, but the actual name may have slightly less glamorous origins. Some websites suggest the name derives from two old words – mistle meaning dung (from the way in which birds may deposit it) and ta meaning twig or stick. So it’s really just a dung twig – not so tempting to kiss under it now!

Given the meagre clumps of mistletoe in the garden, we won’t be harvesting any for festive decorations any time soon. Fortunately my Dad has a garden full of the stuff, I just need to clamber up to get a bunch. Dad has always wanted to go the Tenbury Mistletoe Auctions, so last week we finally got around to going. What an amazing thing it was, no wonder people come from all over the country to see and bid on these winter evergreens.

First up was a whole shed filled with holly wreaths – presumably intended for shops rather than individuals as they were in multiple counts per lot. The auctioneer whizzed along the rows of them, with people bidding for dozens at a time.

The main attraction for most though was the mistletoe – row upon row of berry laden bundles. It really was a very impressive sight.

Once again the auctioneer made short work of the lots – each bundle going in a matter of seconds. No sooner had each one been auctioned than it was carted off and the crowd moved on. The Tenbury Mistletoe sales usually make the local news and here is this year’s report – for those with eagle eyes, yours truly appears at about the 5 second mark – dumpy little woman right behind the auctioneer!

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/uk-england-hereford-worcester-42240007/tenbury-mistletoe-auction-draws-crowds-in-bumper-year

We probably won’t put our Christmas tree up for another week, but in the meantime it’s nice to have this midwinter greenery around the garden.

Table Manners

Our garden furniture doesn’t seem to have had much use this summer; we normally try and eat outside quite a lot, but the weather just hasn’t been tempting enough. Of course in true Too Lazy style, the garden table is still sitting out on the grass, where we left it a couple of months ago. Various things get dumped on it, including the occasional hedgehog feeding bowl, which fills up every time it rains. The sparrows had taken to using this as an impromptu bird bath, cramming themselves into the small dish with barely room to flap a wing.

Today though I looked out to see that one of the unfortunate sparrows was suffering an altogether different experience on our table – he had become lunch for our local sparrowhawk. My first thought was guilt that I’d encouraged the sparrows, only for this one to become today’s special on the sparrowhawk menu. My second thought was can I get the camera in time? And for once I did. Not the finest set of photos; there was nothing I could do about the bits of grass and weeds obscuring the view, I just had to snap away getting as close as I could before the sparrowhawk spotted me. Thankfully the window cleaner had been literally an hour before, so I could at least see out of the patio door; the photos would have been a lot blurrier otherwise.

The black tripod visible behind the table had the trail camera set up on it. Needless to say, the trailcam was pointing in the opposite direction and missed all the action!

I headed out into the garden a bit later, not really expecting much after the excitement of the sparrowhawk. It may not have been quite so dramatic, but I was chuffed to find a Common Darter resting on the table – in almost the same spot the sparrow had met his unfortunate end. I never find it very easy to get all of a dragonfly in focus, so having failed a bit on the full body angle, I tried focussing on its head and the amazing compound eyes.

The sparrows don’t actually need to be using the tiny terracotta bowl as a bird bath. Having seen them all squashed in there, I had bought them a more spacious bird bath and put it right next to the table. They don’t seem that keen on it and are a bit wary of the slippery sides. I’ve yet to see one bathing in it, although they did have a tentative paddle a few weeks ago.

Bird bath

Our robin however has taken to the new bathing facilities quite happily, maybe because he doesn’t get jostled for space by the sparrows.

Bird Bath
Bird Bath
Bird Bath

While I was gathering together these clips and photos of goings on around the table, I remembered that last year I’d videoed a wasp eating chicken on the table – not a chicken with an appetite for wasps, but a wasp tucking into some cooked chicken that we’d left out. I’d never got round to adding this to the blog before, so here are a few clips now:

Wasp eating chicken
Wasp eating chicken
Wasp eating chicken

So our garden table may not have seen much of me and Chris this year, but it’s still getting plenty of use from an assortment of winged wildlife!