Spring in the garden

The Spring Equinox has been and gone already and I’ve been gathering video clips for weeks now with signs of spring. I blogged about the allotment last week, so this time it’s the turn of the Too Lazy garden proper. I’ve had the cameras out all over the garden and got so many videos it’s taken a while to sort through them; but here are some highlights from the last few weeks.

Our first hedgehog woke from hibernation and appeared on the trail camera at the end of February – quite early, but given the mild winter we’ve had, maybe not too surprising.

 

It wasn’t long before one became two and a second larger hedgehog appeared in the same part of the garden. This second one didn’t seem too keen to share the food with the smaller one and there were a few tussles the first night. I had hoped One-eyed Tim, one of last year’s hedgehogs, might have appeared by now, but neither of these are optically challenged, so I hope he’s just late coming out of hibernation.

 

The garden birds, in particular the blue tits, seem to be feeling the spring in the air too. Blue tits used to nest in our garden, but for the last few years, they seem to have turned their noses (or beaks) up at it and although regular visitors, they must be nesting elsewhere. I did get hopeful when the old nest box we’d stuck on the apple tree seemed to be getting a bit of attention:

 

Unfortunately despite repeated visits to check it out, they seem to have found it lacking in some way. They may not be favouring our garden for their nest, but they’re not averse to making use of the nesting material we’ve put out for them. I’d filled an old hanging basket with hay and moss raked up from the lawn and the blue tits wasted no time helping themselves to it.

 

In the absence of nest box footage, I thought I’d make the most of the hay/moss collection and try and get some different shots of this activity instead. First I tried putting the GoPro on a branch above the basket, which worked reasonably well.

 

I then had a go putting the camera inside the basket cage itself. The blue tits weren’t bothered by it at all, so I got some half decent shots of them tugging at the moss to get the best bits.

 

Last month I succumbed to the urge to get yet another camera for the garden – this time one trained exclusively on a feeder. We can live feed it to the living room, which is great, although most of the time we end up just watching peanuts swinging in the breeze. But I did eventually manage to get a brief clip of the blue tits – once again happy to avail themselves of anything on offer in the garden (except the nest boxes).

 

The blackbirds made an early start gathering nesting material at the end of February – or at least the female in this video clip did, the male seemed more interested in making sure we got his best side on film!

 

The squirrel wasn’t doing anything particularly spring-like, other than checking whether the hedgehogs had left anything worthwhile; but I can never resist the squirrels, so here’s his few seconds of fame too.

 

The water bath seems to have been coming into its own again now spring’s here too. This blackbird was making the obvious use of it by bathing and of course lots of birds just drink from it.

 

But one magpie in particular has been using it for something a bit different. He or she has been eating bits of the cat food that I leave out for the hedgehogs. Most of it is eaten straight down, but some pieces are perhaps too hard, so it has been dropping them in the bird bath, presumably to soften them up a bit.

 

So there’s plenty of activity in the garden already this year and that’s without even discussing the insects that are all starting to appear too (I’ll save them for the next blog post). I love this time of year when everything is optimistic with the promise of the summer to come; perhaps the wildlife in the garden feels the same?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Nest Box Week

It’s National Nest Box Week again (14th to 21st February), so no prizes for guessing what today’s blog post is about. The idea of Nest Box Week is to encourage people to put up more nest boxes for their garden birds. It’s coming up to the time of year when birds start thinking about finding a mate and then looking for a suitable nest site. So by putting up the nest boxes now, the new couples will hopefully have plenty of choice come the spring.

We did have an open fronted nest box on the fence last year, but had to take it down when the fence was replaced. So this weekend seemed the perfect time to put it back up again. Open fronted nest boxes are suitable for robins and wrens, both of which we get in the garden, so fingers crossed they fancy the new location.

We also had an old and slightly tatty nest box more suited to blue tits; it had seen better days, but we’ve stuck it up anyway on the apple tree in case our birds aren’t too picky!

We’ve still got the two blue tit nest boxes up on the garage wall, one with a camera fitted. So far the blue tits have refused to use these the last few years, despite using one previously in exactly the same location! We remain ever hopeful that this year will be the year we get footage of a nest!

Even if you don’t have a suitable space to put up your own nest box, you can still help by sponsoring one. Many wildlife organisations have schemes whereby you can sponsor or “rent” a nest box, giving the charities much needed funds to support their chosen species. Our local Worcestershire Wildlife Trust runs just such a scheme, so we’ve sponsored Nest Box Number 15 again this year. We supported the same nest box last year and got a lovely letter saying a family of blue tits had used it – result! Fingers crossed for more of the same this year.

National Nest Box Week may be aimed primarily at birds, but if you can, why not consider providing a home for other animals. Hedgehogs can benefit from extra places to hibernate, but they also need places to sleep during the day for the rest of the year. So although it may be too late for hibernation this year, a hedgehog house put out now could be used through the spring and summer as a day nest.

 

 

Nest Box No. 15

Way back in February, we took up Worcestershire Wildlife Trust’s Rent-a-Nest scheme. Having failed spectacularly to get anything to nest in our boxes at home, we figured we could at least support one at one of our favourite local nature reserves. So we chose a Knapp & Papermill nest box and were allocated Box No. 15. As part of the lease, we were to get a guided tour of “our” nest box in the spring. So skip forward a few months and a week or so ago, we met up with Garth from Worcestershire WT who led us on a very entertaining and informative walk to see Nest Box No. 15. Amazingly the sun shone down even though it was a bank holiday weekend and the public were out in force enjoying the nature reserve. It was great having Garth point out things on the walk that we would never have known were there – such as a Mandarin duck nesting quite high up in an old tree trunk!

We reached Nest Box No. 15, tucked away from sight and Garth cautiously peered in and confirmed that our box was occupied by a blue tit. I had a very quick look in and could just see a little blue head. Obviously we couldn’t take a photo of the blue tit inside the box as we didn’t want to terrify it with the flash, so all I can offer is a photo of the box itself. The entrance has been reinforced with metal to prevent larger birds getting in to predate the chicks.

We left Garth to carry on his walk and his butterfly count (part of a regular count he does for Butterfly Conservation) and pottered around the reserve on our own for a bit. We’d last been to Knapp & Papermill in the winter when everything was green and white with snow drops. Now, in spring, we had the same colour scheme, but it was wild garlic that carpeted the slopes amongst the trees. The scent was unmistakable, but fortunately we like garlic!

Butterflies were out in good numbers – lots of Orange Tips that were too fast to photograph, but also a few lovely fresh Green-Veined Whites who were a bit easier to track.

The reserve is one of the best sites we know of to see demoiselles, but it was still a bit early for these. But the pond near the reserve entrance provided our first damselfly of the year – a Large Red Damselfly.

So all in all a lovely way to spend a few hours on a bank holiday weekend. There are nest boxes (and bat boxes) all over the reserve, but apparently only about 25% are sponsored. Hopefully we can continue to sponsor a box in years to come. The money helps with the costs of maintaining the reserve and we get the pleasure of seeing a nest box that actually gets used – if only the Knapp blue tits could pass the word on to our own blue tits and get them to use our garden box too!

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.

A Bird in the Box

As the old saying goes (with just a minor adjustment) a bird in the box is worth two in the hand (although I’d be delighted if one landed on my hand too). So after blogging last Saturday about how excited I was that something had pooped in our new bird box, things got even better. I kept checking the box camera for more evidence of use, but didn’t really expect any more excitement. But at about 5pm, just as it got dark, the blue tit returned. I thought he or she was just going to check out the box again then leave, but it settled down in the corner and basically went to sleep!

I didn’t realise until I watched it just how much they fluff themselves up when they sleep. It looked like a totally different bird – just a small ball of fluff – it almost looked like a small mammal rather than a bird.

blue-tit-in-box

blue-tit-fluffed-up

It was still there when I went to bed, so I made a point of getting up early (on a Sunday!) the next day to check on our new lodger. It was still there so I sat with my finger poised over the record button ready to get a shot of it leaving. At about 07:30 as it was starting to get light, the blue tit started fidgeting and stretching its wings and then with little further ado, it was off.

I would have blogged about this sooner, but I’ve been hoping the blue tit would honour us with his presence again, so have been checking the camera as it got dark each night. No sign though of any return visits, so I’ve decided to blog with what I’ve got so far. After a bit of practice I’ve more or less mastered the new software enough to cut and splice assorted short clips together into one film. The Oscar candidates for editing have nothing to worry about though!

Since all the footage was shot after dark the camera had switched to infrared and the video is black and white. Hopefully if we can get a blue tit in during daylight we might actually get some colour footage, which would be nice. But in the meantime, here is the star of our show.

20170201-155127

New Nest Box

With the Big Garden Birdwatch just around the corner, we’ve been reviewing what we could do to attract more birds into the garden. We already get quite a lot, but the more the merrier!  So I’ve added a few more bird feeders and have been keeping the existing ones well topped up. Spring will hopefully be here before too long, so we’ve also been looking at the nest boxes.

It may just be that we’ve been watching too much Spring/Autumn/Winterwatch, but we (well mainly I) have been longing to get footage from inside a nest box. Last year we were delighted to get shots like this of our blue tits using the old nest box.

Blue Tit on Bird Box

Of course as soon as we have a bit of success with one thing, we want more. Last year we could only film the adults coming and going, so this year we’re hoping to get the action from inside the box. So we’ve gone wild and bought a new bird box complete with fitted camera. We’ve only a limited number of places where we can put a bird box, so decided to take the old one down and replace it with the new one. We may of course regret this if the blue tits reject the new one and we get no nesting activity at all! So first job was to take down the old box. On opening it up we found last year’s nest still pretty much intact inside. It’s the first time I’ve ever really had the chance to look at a nest up close like this. It was very well made and still held together firmly. We were intrigued by the bright green stuff, which looks remarkably like the green fluff you get off a tennis ball – they certainly didn’t get that from our garden. The rest was made up of bits of grass, moss and possibly wool.

blue-tit-nest

There was still one tiny perfect intact egg inside – not even the size of a 5 pence coin.

blue-tit-egg

Slightly less attractive was a couple of tiny skeletons – presumably chicks that didn’t make it to fledging. Blue tits can lay large clutches of eggs, so we just hope that these skeletons and unhatched egg, were just the unlucky ones and most made it to adulthood last year.

blue-tit-skeleton

The new nest box is now up (still complete with wire netting to prevent next door’s cat getting an easy meal) and all ready to go. The new box has Perspex panels each side to increase the amount of light getting in for the camera. The transmitter is the black box to the right.

birdbox-system

The whole thing came pretty much set up and was all very easy to install. So we can in theory now watch all the action – assuming there is any – from the comfort of our living room. This is the current view of the empty box. Hopefully we won’t still be looking at an empty box in a few months time!

tv-view-of-birdbox

We’ve got plenty of blue tits (as well as great, coal and long-tailed tits) using the garden at the moment, so hopefully some of them are from last year’s brood and will remember what a great place our garage wall was to grow up!!

blue-tits

While searching for information on nest boxes, I discovered that the British Trust for Ornithology runs a survey called the Nest Box Challenge. They want people to submit observations on nests/nest boxes in their gardens. Since I can never resist filling in a form and a bit of citizen science, I have registered our new nest box. Fingers crossed it gets occupied and I don’t end up just submitting “empty” as my observation each time – although even that would apparently be useful data. Anyone interested in registering their own nests can find all the info at: https://www.bto.org/volunteer-surveys/nbc

Hedges and Maybe Fledges?

It’s been a mixed week with the trail cam this last week or so. We’ve either had two happy successes in the garden or one success and one disappointment and we can’t work out which.  The undecided is our baby blue tits.

We’ve been filming the adults going in and out for a few weeks now. They seemed to be doing a good job feeding the babies and we could hear chicks chirping. Then suddenly about 9am last Wednesday the adults started flying back to the box with caterpillars, stopping, peering in and looking confused. We’d had the trail cam on the box continuously and this was a very marked change in behaviour. For the first couple of mini video clips I thought great – because the adults were hanging around outside, clutching the food which made for much better shots. But after the 20th clip of the same thing, we started to worry. We also couldn’t hear the chicks tweeting any more. There was no evidence on any of the films of predation (next door’s cat had been a likely candidate, but couldn’t reach the box with the chicken wire over it). Could the chicks have all fledged and the camera just missed them leaving the box? Have they just died in the box – why would they, when the parents were doing a good job with the food?  Here are a couple of clips of the confused looking adults.

The adults seem to have stopped using the box now, so we could check to see if there are dead chicks in there, but while we don’t know for sure, there’s still hope that they did fledge and it’s a happy ending. The adults are still feeding in the garden and disappear into various trees, so it could be there are chicks hiding amongst the leaves. There’s a lot of general chirping in our apple tree and next door’s damson tree, so fingers crossed they made it.

The definite happy event is that our hedgehog is back! He or she may have been around for weeks, but as we’ve had the trail cam pointed up for bird activity rather than down on the grass we hadn’t realised. So the upside of the end of the bird box activity was that I tried filming downwards at night instead of up! And lo and behold the hedgehog trundled into view.  The first film is a bit blurry – wrong lens or LED setting or something technical (blame the operator!)

Second attempt is a bit sharper and I’d added a bowl of catfood as a bit of a temptation which seemed to do the trick.

Previous years we’ve had a pair of hedgehogs (but of course no trail cam to record them), so fingers crossed we have two this year too. So hopefully more hedgehog action to come.

If anyone can shed any light on the blue tit behaviour – any thoughts would be much appreciated. It will be disappointing if they’ve fledged and the camera missed it, but not as disappointing as if they didn’t make it at all. One final happy thought though – when up this morning before 5am to empty the moth trap and check the hedgehog cam, I spotted what looked like a pair of Long Tailed Tit chicks in the apple tree – so one happy little bird family in the garden at least.

 

Busy Birds

The birds are certainly busy in Malvern at the moment (as no doubt they are all across the country of course). There is a constant buzz of activity in the garden, be it gathering nesting material or just a feeding frenzy over the food we put out. The sparrows in particular have been keen on last year’s artichoke flowers for nesting material. It’s amazing how much they can stuff into their beaks, ending up with  ludicrously oversized moustaches!

Sparrow nesting material

In true Too Lazy fashion, we had left the old flowers standing thinking they would provide seeds for birds and maybe shelter for overwintering insects. We hadn’t realised they would make such good nesting material, but clearly the sparrows knew better. We’ve seen them plucking at the flowers in all weather, even when the high winds rock them about in the video below.

04250028

We already knew the blue tits had been checking out the bird box, so it was really nice to see this one taking nesting material in, although he or she did seem to be struggling a bit to get it all through the hole!

04190026

Birds of all sorts have been eating us out of house and home in the garden, hopefully building up their energy reserves for nesting. The blue tits regularly perform for the trail camera, but it was nice recently to get footage of the starlings and sparrows who have tended to be more camera shy. Being able to see the starlings close up like this you can appreciate what beautiful and colourful birds they really are – not just the plain black they can sometimes appear from a distance.

Starling on suet

04170273

The sparrows gather round the suet feeder in groups of up to about 8, although they can rarely manage to squeeze more than 3 or 4 on it at any one time.

04180391

There are still several species that have so far refused to be filmed although we see them regularly in the garden – Great Tits, Coal Tits, Goldfinches and of course the Sparrowhawk. Chris was out in the garden the other day, bent over a flower trying to get a shot of a bee, when the sparrowhawk swooped over him and grabbed a sparrow right out of the bushes. Chris carried on photographing the bee, oblivious to the action behind him! The trail camera was of course in the garden, but also pointed in the opposite direction. I could only watch frustrated from the living room, no camera within reach!