Big Garden Birdwatch 2019

It’s that time of year again – the Big Garden Birdwatch. I think every year I write a similar post about that mixture of anticipation and frustration that this fantastic bit of Citizen Science brings. The usual feeling of “where have all my regular birds gone” followed by the joy a pair of blue tits bring when they appear in the nick of time to make the cut. The red kites last week were undoubtedly magnificent, but when you’ve been sitting freezing your proverbial off for an hour, the sight of a pair of blue tits can be just as rewarding.

I did our garden count on Sunday, an unfortunately blustery day, which I presume is what put a lot of our birds off; rather than just sheer wilfulness to avoid being counted. In the end I only recorded 27 birds of 7 species – way below our garden norm and less even than I can see just glancing out now.  But data is data, so I hope our paltry count will still be of use. So all I saw was:

  • 14 sparrows – there may actually have been double that but, they were in the bushes and impossible to count more for certain.
  • 2 collared doves
  • 1 wood pigeon
  • 2 magpies
  • 1 blackbird
  • 5 jackdaws
  • 2 blue tits

I did try to take photos of those that landed on the bird table, but our overgrown teasels were flapping about in the wind in my line of sight, so I only managed one of the jackdaws.

The blue tits were a bit easier as they were feeding in the apple tree closer to the house.

While, I watched a mainly empty garden, Chris took himself off to his workplace and did the Birdwatch there. Bird envy is a terrible thing, so I tried to be pleased for him when he came back with these photos of a Grey Wagtail and Chaffinch.

So that’s it over for another year. Apparently this year was the 40th anniversary of the Big Garden Birdwatch. It started as a survey just for children to do, but thankfully us adults are allowed to join in now too. Our garden birds often seem to make themselves scarce during this annual count, but it still gives me an enormous sense of satisfaction to know that we’re contributing to a really useful bit of science. And sitting just quietly watching the wildlife in your garden for an hour, with no interruptions or distractions is no bad thing either!

 

Barcud Coch & Cwm Elan – A Welsh Day Trip

Barcud Coch & Cwm Elan – well I hope I spelled them right (now I’m also worrying that I’ve spelled “spelled” wrong – should it have been spelt?) – or in English, red kites and the Elan Valley for a fantastic day out. We headed over to the Elan Valley first as several friends had recommended it as being well worth a visit. We somewhat underestimated how much was there and only had time to drive around about half of it, but the half we did see was amazing. The Elan & Claerwen valleys have been dammed in 6 places and the result is beautiful reservoirs set in even more beautiful countryside.

Our visit was on a bit of a dreary day weather-wise, but it had the advantage of giving everything a beautiful misty (bordering on foggy) atmosphere.

There was snow on some of the highest peaks, but nothing to hamper our exploration. In places the road was lined by avenues of tall trees, but elsewhere the views were pretty breath taking.

None of the dams were actually flowing on our visit, but hopefully next time we go back they might be. We found a well-kept (and surprisingly empty) bird hide, from which we could just about make out some ducks in the distance – too far away to get decent photos, but just close enough to identify them as a male (bottom) and female (top) goldeneye.

After the dams, we headed back through the small town of Rhayader to go to the Red Kite Feeding Station at Gigrin Farm. We’d pre-booked spaces in their photographic hide and had to be there by 2pm for the feeding. Gigrin Farm have been feeding red kites since the early 1990s. Having started with just a few pairs, they now regularly have over 300 red kites coming to the feeding station. So we were expecting a lot of kites, but have honestly never seen anything quite like it.

As we approached the hides, we spotted a huge white bird in the distance across the field.  Turned out it was a leucistic red kite; leucistic birds are not the same as albinos as they still have pigment in their eyes. Apparently up to 1% of the Welsh red kites are actually white or partially white.

As 2pm drew closer we could see more birds amassing in the surrounding trees. They clearly all knew what time the food was due.

2pm on the dot and a tractor appeared to dish out the meat for the birds. Within seconds the sky was full of swirling kites – literally hundreds of them. Chris took a video just with his phone which gives some idea of the sheer number of birds filling the sky.

I then tried to film them as they swooped down to pick up the meat. They are so fast it looks as if the film has been speeded up, which it hasn’t.

Initially we thought this was great and we were going to get loads of amazing photos as they were all so close. Then we discovered the problem – there were so many and they moved so fast, it was impossible to focus on just one and get a nice sharp photo. We can now understand why small birds flock together in large numbers to confuse predators; this massive flock of kites had the same effect confusing us photographers. So although we took over 750 photos between us, I don’t think a single one is as crisp and clear as we would have liked. In our defence we weren’t helped by the dull overcast weather and it may have been better on a sunny day.

Having said all of that, it was still an absolutely stunning spectacle. Once we stopped worrying about the photos and just stood back and watched, it was just incredible. We have seen red kites before of course, but never so close up. I hadn’t realised how huge they are; their wingspan is pushing 2 metres!

The numbers swooping down at any one time were incredible.

This next photo looks like it is a composite shot of 4 birds, but is actually 4 in a row, all swooping down and off again one after another.

When viewed in the sky they almost formed an abstract pattern silhouetted against the sky, wings pointing in every conceivable direction.

Their aerial acrobatics were phenomenal, twisting and turning as they dived. They’d scoop up a piece of meat in their talons, then bend over to transfer the prize to their mouths to eat.

Here are a few more photos of them for no other reason other than they are really photogenic birds.

The white kite that we’d seen as we arrived put in several appearances, easy to spot amongst the more usual coloured ones. He/she appeared to have a number tag on his wing, so may be part of some study.

Red kites of course weren’t the only birds of prey making the most of the meaty picnic. We saw several buzzards watching from the trees. Perhaps because they are slightly smaller than the red kites, they are content to wait their turn.

We didn’t see any come down while we were there (although to be honest there may have been some amongst the melee of red kites), but we did see this one glide beautifully into the tree, displaying its gorgeous fan shaped tail.

And of course there were large members of the crow family making the most of the opportunity too. Initially we thought they were all carrion crows, but I think there were a few rooks lurking in there too – distinguishable by their paler beaks and pointier looking heads.

Final treat of the day – a heron flew lazily (in comparison to the kites at least) across the field and landed in a tree.

Hopefully we can go back to see the kites again in the summer when the light should be better and we can perhaps get crisper photos. But in the meantime we’ve got the memories of one of the most amazing wildlife spectacles we’ve ever seen.

 

 

2018 – Some Highs, Some Lows

Every January I tend to do a review of our previous wildlife year, so here goes. 2018 was a mixed year for us to say the least, with some difficult family issues and the loss of our beautiful Norwegian Forest Cat – Puddle. It’s been 9 months and I miss her every day. Family problems have meant we haven’t managed to get out and about as much as normal and consequently the blog posts have been a bit thin on the ground. Hopefully 2019 will bring happier times. I can’t think of any better therapy than getting out and enjoying the wildlife both in our garden and beyond, so hopefully 2019 will bring more of that.

Having said all that, there were a lot of positives too. 2018 started well with some birdy highlights. We saw our first ever Hawfinches at Bewdley and also a pair of Peregrine falcons up on the Malverns less than a mile from our house. Hopefully the peregrines will return this year and we’ll get some better photos. We “rented a nest” through Worcestershire Wildlife Trusts scheme at Knapp & Papermill and “our” nest box was found to have blue tits with 8 chicks hatched in the spring.

The Beast from the East weather front blew in during March, bringing the most snow I can remember for a good few years. It may have been cold but we had the bonus of fieldfares and redwings in the garden, which was great. We also had another day in a photography hide, this time overlooking a reed bed full of buntings and warblers and the occasional lightning flash of a kingfisher.

 

There was delight in spring, when the pond which we’d put in at the allotment the previous year had its first clumps of frog spawn. With the help of our new GoPro camera we watched the spawn turn to tadpoles and then to mini frogs. Hopefully at least some of these will have survived and will return to their ancestral pond to mate this year.

At the end of May we headed to the Isle of Wight for a long weekend. Our main aim (other than to sample the local hospitality) was to see 2 more species of butterfly – the Glanville Fritillary and the Adonis Blue. Thankfully despite an unpromising foggy start, we managed both of these, plus a few precious glimpses of some red squirrels.  During the year we also managed to see a Large Heath and some Clouded Yellow butterflies, taking our tally of British butterflies to 47.

The trail camera was of course out almost full time during the year and with it, we were really excited to get our first glimpse of a fox in the garden. Hedgehogs of course featured heavily, with both feeding the wild ones and fostering a few rehabilitating ones. We were really worried in the summer when our neighbours announced they were replacing the fence. Thankfully they are lovely neighbours and readily agreed to have 3 gaps put in their new fence specifically for hedgehogs to come and go. The hedgehogs soon found the new gaps and as can be seen in the video clip below have been making good use of them.

 

As well as trying to bag as many butterfly species as possible, the moth trap has also been put to good use; one of the few things I’ve managed to keep going throughout the year for the Garden Moth Scheme. This year alone we have recorded 220 moth species in the garden. Overall since I began moth trapping I’ve found 331 species – not bad for a fairly regular (albeit scruffy) suburban garden. This year’s moth haul has included a couple of beauties I’ve been dying to find for a long time – a Rosy Footman and a Chinese Character.

As well as the regular moth trapping, we had a go with pheromone lures, managing to attract Currant Clearwings to the garden and the fabulous Emperor Moth on Hartlebury Common.

And that’s pretty much a summary of the year – very quiet in the latter half, but some really nice wildlife moments in the first half.

So of last year’s New Year’s Resolutions, I think the only one we managed to fully achieve was to see 3 new butterfly species – we actually managed 4! Of the remainder:

  1. Video the blue tits fledging in the garden – well they didn’t use the nest box with the camera, so that drew a blank. But we did support a family of blue tits at Knapp & Papermill reserve through the rent-a-nest scheme, so that is something at least.
  2. Visit 5 new nature reserves – I don’t think we managed any locally, but we did do some on the Isle of Wight and we revisited a few of our favourite ones around here instead.
  3. The pond – well the pond in the garden hasn’t progressed at all, but the one on the allotment is doing great, so that’s sort of a result.
  4. Make a hoverfly lagoon and monitor it – well I inadvertently made one by leaving a large tub of garden cuttings out by accident. It filled with rainwater and is now probably ideal hoverfly larval habitat. I didn’t do any monitoring on it, but maybe that’s something I can do in the spring.
  5. A moth tattoo – still not managed that, but a new tattoo parlour has opened up in Malvern, so my chances of getting it done have improved.

So that brings me to 2019’s resolutions, hopefully I’ll have a bit more success with these ones than last year.

  1. Photograph 3 new British butterfly species – this would bring our total to 50 out of the 58 or 59 candidates.  We’ll probably have to travel some distance for this – the perfect excuse for a holiday.
  2. Visit 5 new local nature reserves – we’ve bought Worcestershire Wildlife Trust’s book with all their reserves in, so no excuse not to achieve this one.
  3. Go and see the red kites in Wales – I’ve been wanting to go and see the red kites near Rhayader for years, so 2019 is going to be it!
  4. A trip to the seaside to find some rockpools and try out the GoPro camera in them – fingers crossed for some hermit crab action!
  5. Finally sort out the garden pond.
  6. That moth tattoo!

Happy New Year everyone!!

 

The Large Heath – Butterfly No. 46!

We headed off again on Saturday in search of our next butterfly species – the Large Heath. Whixall Moss is a peat bog on the English/Welsh border and the only place anywhere near us where we might see this increasingly rare butterfly. The bog has the beautiful Llangollen canal running along one side of it. We had to stop and wait for the bridge over the canal to be hand-winched back down as a narrow boat passed through.

We’d seen reports a mere 4 days before of sightings of upwards of 30 Large Heaths at Whixall Moss, so we’d set off with high hopes of nailing this one easily. These hopes were slightly dampened almost as soon as we left the carpark when we met an exhausted looking lady (carrying her even more exhausted little dog) who’d been searching in the scorching heat for 5 hours and not seen a single one. Undeterred (while slightly deterred to be honest) we carried on, following the walk described in the Butterflies of the West Midlands book.

We’d been walking for about an hour and a half and it was starting to look as if we’d draw a blank, although we had seen lots of other lovely wildlife. But then finally, just as we were about to head back, I spotted a butterfly dancing about the path. Initially I wasn’t sure what it was as it didn’t look like I’d expected. Turns out the Large Heath would struggle to pass the trade description law – it is actually really small! It was a raggedy little specimen and it insisted on hiding behind bits of grass, but at least we’d found one. It proved to be the only one we saw that day, but after a 2 hour drive and an hour and a half walk, we were grateful just to have found one. So here it is – our one and only Large Heath.

It looks a bit like a Meadow Brown but smaller and with spots like a Ringlet.

Whixall Moss is also well known for its population of White-faced dragonflies. Despite taking lots of dragonfly photos, none of them turned out to be white-faced. But we did get a new one for us – the Black Darter. Here is a male (top) and female (bottom).

There were blue and red damselflies everywhere and love seemed to be in the air for many of them, including this mating pair of Azure ones.

Aside from the whirring of insect wings in the air, there was the chirping of grasshoppers in the undergrowth. This one hopped obligingly onto the path in front of me.

The final insect of the day was a day flying moth and a new one for me – the Common Heath. As the Large Heath wasn’t particularly large, so the Common Heath didn’t seem to be particularly common, but I did manage to chase one down to get a photo.

As we’d walked along the path, something had scared up a pair of ground nesting birds. They took to the air for a few minutes until the danger had passed. We didn’t know what they were at first, but working on our usual principle of snapping anything that moves, we took some photos. Turned out they were lapwings.

A bit further on and we found more of them – this time looking a bit more relaxed, nesting by a pooled area. Lapwings have suffered major declines in the UK in recent years, so it’s always nice to go somewhere that has them.

So it was a long hot day at Whixall Moss, but the success of seeing the Large Heath and the bonus of the lapwings, made it all worthwhile. Butterfly species no. 46 ticked off the list – only another dozen or so to go!

Isle of Wight – Part 2 Thwarted By Fog

Our first full day on the Isle of Wight coincided with the first day of 30 Days Wild – the Wildlife Trusts’ annual event to get people to engage with nature.  Perfect day then to go looking for our next two species of butterfly – the Glanville Fritillary and the Adonis Blue. Unfortunately the weather had other ideas and a thick blanket of fog seemed to have covered most of the island. No self respecting butterfly was going to fly in that, so our chances of seeing them were virtually nil. We did make a short half-hearted attempt and had a bit of a wander around the chalky slopes on the southern coast. Fortunately we like all sorts of invertebrates besides butterflies and many of these are fog tolerant.

Snails of course don’t mind a bit of damp weather and we found two new (to us) species in the hedgerows. This beautifully coiled one is a Kentish Snail (Monacha cantiana).

This tiny pointy snail is in fact called a Pointed Snail (Cochlicella sp.). It was only about a centimetre long, but still managed to have at least 8 whorls on its shell.

The other group of invertebrates that braved the fog in reasonable numbers were moth caterpillars. We saw several species, but these two were particularly striking. We’ve never seen them before either in caterpillar form, nor as adult moths. The top one is the caterpillar of the Lackey Moth and the bottom one of a Dingy Flat-Body Moth (thank you to the good people of iSpot for identifying the second one for me).

The other notable invertebrate was a cricket – there were large numbers of these Dark Bush Crickets (Pholidoptera griseoaptera) in the undergrowth. We only saw immature stages such as this nymph.

After an hour of enjoyable but butterfly-less searching, we went to Plan B. Isle of Wight is also known for its thriving population of Red Squirrels. Thankfully the grey squirrels haven’t made it across the water yet, so for the time being the reds have free rein over the island. So we headed inland to Borthwood Copse, a small woodland managed to support the red squirrels. The first interesting animal we spotted when we got to the wood, was another insect. This female Scarce Chaser dragonfly (Libellula fulva) is, as its name suggests, fairly scarce, so it was a really nice find. With its yellow veining and dark tips to the wings, it was clearly different to any dragonfly we’d seen before.

The wood was full of birds, all singing their hearts out (or all shouting warnings that we were intruding possibly). We could hear, if not see, lots of species, but the only one we really managed to photograph was this male Great Spotted Woodpecker.

After a lot of dizzying staring up into trees, we eventually spotted our first red squirrel. I think we had both fondly imagined that the squirrels would come down and somehow just sit waiting to be photographed. Needless to say, they did no such thing and remained steadfastly high up in the branches. Over the course of the next hour we spotted a few (or possibly the same one taunting us over and over) and although they were a delight to watch, they never came close enough for any really good photos. But we did eventually get some recognisable red squirrel photos, so here are our best efforts. We watched this one for a while carrying a bundle of nesting material, jumping from branch to branch.

We followed it by eye until it disappeared with its bundle of nesting material into what looked like a denser patch of leaves. It stayed in there for ages, so we wondered whether this might have been a nest or drey? You can just about make out the denser patch in the photo below.

When it eventually emerged it no longer had the nesting material, but decided to sit nearby watching us below. I know the next picture is really dark, but you can see the squirrel staring directly at us.

 

We had a few more sightings after this. In some they were again carrying nesting material, although we lost track of them in the branches so couldn’t see if they took them back to the same place.

The final photo I know is really rubbish, but I just love the way it looks like he’s just dangling there, when obviously we just caught him mid-jump.

So Plan B worked out pretty well in the end. The fog may have stopped us seeing butterflies that day (don’t worry we got there in the end – see next blog post), but there was plenty of other wildlife to enjoy. That’s one of the things about wildlife watching I love, you are never really disappointed, as there is almost always something amazing to see if you look.

 

 

 

 

Buntings, Warblers and Fishers

Last year for my birthday we had an amazing day at some local Nature Photography Hides. As part of the deal we were entitled to a return visit to one hide this year. So a couple of weeks ago we headed over there for another lovely peaceful day – this time at their reed bed hide. This provided pretty much what it says on the tin – a hide in the middle of a reed bed.

Not knowing much about the ecology of reed beds, we weren’t sure what we would see, but as soon as we got there we could certainly hear plenty. Lots of small birds were clearly hiding in the reeds and singing their socks off. Much more visible and considerably noisier was a small flock of Canada Geese which flew in almost as soon as we got settled in the hide.

They are noisy, boisterous birds and seemed to be constantly squabbling with each other, although there seemed to be plenty of room for everyone. While they jostled for position a lone coot sailed serenely around, unfazed by their kerfuffle.

Another small water bird also emerged periodically from the reeds. We didn’t know what it was at first, but the good people of the iSpot website identified it as a Little Grebe. It was a fairly dumpy little thing, but was clearly very good at diving. Sadly it didn’t ever really come close enough for a very good photo.

Another species which arrived in a small flock was Black Headed Gulls. At least half a dozen of them would appear and hover over the water before diving for small fish. They are beautifully sleek looking gulls, with perfect delineation between their black heads and white bodies – as if the heads had just been dipped in black ink.

Several other species put in fleeting appearances. Swallows skimmed the water for insects, but were way to quick to catch on camera. Buzzards soared above us, but were too high and silhouetted against the pale sky were also too hard to photograph. A heron did flap lazily by a couple of times, flying slow enough to get recognisable shots, but sadly not landing anywhere within sight of the hide.

Aside from the distractions of the larger birds coming and going, the most common birds proved to be the buntings and warblers that we’d heard in the reeds when we first arrived. As usual we took literally hundreds of photos, which I’ve gradually whittled down to a few half decent ones. The willow warblers were singing all around us and often obliged by landing photogenically on reeds near the hides.

While scanning through the warbler photos, I found one that looked a bit different – it had more of a white stripe over its eye. Turns out this one was probably a Sedge Warbler. Shame there was only the one slightly blurred photo.

The reed buntings were as abundant as the willow warblers and also had a penchant for posing photogenically on the reeds. The males are more distinctive with a black head and white collar above a mottled brown body.

The people who run the hide site, supplied us with mealworms to attract the birds. This one is feeding from a tiny pot, camouflaged and stuck to the reeds.

The females are a bit plainer, without the black and white headgear, but beautiful nonetheless. They also seemed a bit bolder than the males, often coming onto wood near the walkway quite close to the hide.

We even got to see one of the female reed buntings gathering nest material, although we never saw a nest.

There is always the hope whenever you visit a hide near water of seeing a kingfisher. The site we were on has a dedicated kingfisher hide and last year we’d spent a very happy couple of hours with amazing views of one right in front of us (see https://toolazytoweed.uk/2017/01/16/wildlife-hides-part-2-the-king-of-fishers/ for last year’s blog post)  After a few hours in our reed bed hide though we hadn’t been so lucky. Chris decided to get up to stretch his legs and as he put his camera down said “this will probably make the kingfisher appear”. Unbelievably as he turned his back on the reeds a kingfisher did just that – flew right past the hide and way up onto the power lines above. Grabbing the camera quickly again he managed to get at least a recognizable shot.

The power lines were a long way up, but incredibly the kingfisher could still look down and focus on the fish in the water below. We watched amazed as it dived straight down to catch them.

After a few dives the kingfisher flew off, so Chris again decided to go stretch his legs. Although my short legs would benefit from stretching, I stayed put and continued trying to get the perfect shot of a reed bunting. I was so focussed on this that I initially missed the fact that the kingfisher had landed on a perch just feet in front of me. I got so flustered when I did see it that I couldn’t focus in time, so only managed this blurred shot of it flying off. But at least it proved to a disbelieving hubby when he returned that I had indeed seen the king again!

So I guess the moral of this story is that once you’re in a hide, never lose sight of what’s in front of you, never leave your chair and never turn your back to the view!

Luring an Emperor

Having missed most of last week’s sunny spell, (due to the considerable inconvenience of having to work for a living!) we headed out on Sunday to Hartlebury Common. Almost exactly 2 years ago we’d gone to Hartlebury in search of the Emperor Moth – with zero success that time. But this time we had a secret weapon – a pheromone lure!

Male emperor moths fly during the day looking for females. The females fly at night, but during the day they sit in the undergrowth wafting irresistible pheromones out to the males. The males pick up the scent with their feathered antennae and home in on the object of their desire. You can now buy pheromone lures that will fool the poor males into thinking you are a desirable female. This does feel a  bit like cheating and a bit mean to deceive the males this way. But since it was probably the only way we were going to see this beautiful moth, I’m afraid we went for it – although making sure we didn’t leave the pheromone lure out for too long to disrupt their normal behaviour.

So we wandered about for a bit before selecting what seemed a suitable spot to put the lure down. We’d barely got set up when the first male came hurtling over the gorse. It shot over the lure and landed on a gorse bush nearby, where he then stayed. They are big moths, so you’d think they’d be easy to spot, but it was surprisingly difficult even when we knew roughly where he’d landed. When we did find him, he was hanging on a twig with his underside towards us – so here’s one of our first photos.

They are really quite furry/hairy moths with very impressive big eye spots on the wings. The males’ antennae are very large and feathery to pick up the female pheromones. Not easy to focus on, but here’s my best effort.

Almost immediately a second male came bombing in towards the lure. This one however refused to settle. It seemed (not surprisingly) confused by the lure and flew around excitedly looking for a female. This blurry image is him circling the lure.

While he hovered around the lure looking for the female, I hovered around him trying to get a decent photo. As he didn’t settle, the best I managed of him was this flying shot. Not great, but at least you can see the lovely yellow underwings and all four peacock-like eyespots.

This second male eventually gave up and disappeared back into the gorse. The original male though eventually shifted position, so that we could now see his other side. So we finally got the classic Emperor moth shots we were looking for.

Having got the photos we wanted, we packed up to leave the males in peace to pursue genuine females. The moths weren’t the only animals with love on their minds though – these bloody-nosed beetles were clearly feeling spring in the air.

Hartlebury Common is very busy with birds. Last year we’d seen a small bird that was new to us and had identified it as either a Chiffchaff or a Willow Warbler. They are only distinguishable by their song and since we didn’t know to pay attention to this until it was too late, we couldn’t identify the bird. But this year we were definitely hearing Chiffchaffs all around us, so I’m reasonably confident that this one is a Chiffchaff (and probably the previous one was too).

The most obvious animals on the common were these cows with their resplendent horns. No idea of the breed, but they were pretty impressive. They appeared to be free to roam, so were presumably used to maintain the status quo of the vegetation.

So all in all we were very happy with our latest trip to Hartlebury. The pheromone lure worked a treat and the moths were every bit as stunning as we’d hoped. I’ve also bought the pheromone for the currant clearwing moth. These moths won’t come to regular moth traps, but like the emperors, the males are attracted to pheromones. So I’m hoping in the summer to try this out around our currant bushes on the allotment. Fingers crossed.

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.

 

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.

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.

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.