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!).

 

Finchy Firsts

Yesterday there was a real feeling that spring was in the air. I know it’s technically still winter, but the day felt hopeful. The sun even made a (brief) appearance after what seems like weeks of grey skies here in Malvern. The primroses and crocuses were all out bringing a little cheer to the garden.

primroses

crocus

I had hoped there might be a few bees out and about, but was very happy instead to see my first hoverfly of the year. Eristalis tenax (also known rather unkindly as the Common Dronefly) was rather obligingly sunning itself on some large leaves. I’m very much a novice when it comes to hoverflies, but a very helpful man on Facebook ID’d it for me, with the top hoverfly tip that it is the only one like this that has enlarged hind tibia – which is probably the equivalent of fat calves on its back legs!

hoverfly-eristalis-tenax

I have been missing taking macro shots over the winter, so it was really nice to see at least one insect. I’ve tried the moth trap a few times over the last few weeks, but it has been completely empty each time – I need a mothy fix soon! The Garden Moth Scheme starts again in a few weeks, so I hope things pick up before then.

There may not have been many insects about lately, but there are always plenty of birds in the garden. Chris was (very unusually) up and about early and spotted a first for our garden – a lovely chaffinch. Despite the abundance of food I put out, this is the first time we can remember seeing one and definitely the first time either of us has got a half decent photo of one in the garden. Of course only he got to see it.

chaffinch

While he was still flushed with the success of the chaffinch – another first – a gorgeous male bullfinch arrived too! A few weeks ago I’d thought I’d picked up a fuzzy shot of a bullfinch on the trail camera, but it had been too far away and way too blurred to be sure. So it was great to get a proper shot of it; not only that, but it was actually in the same bush as the fuzzy trail cam image, so it sort of confirms the first one. Needless to say I missed the bullfinch as well as the chaffinch!

bullfinch

Determined to see at least some kind of finchy activity, I then spent an hour sitting behind a camouflage net in the garage peering through at the niger seed feeder. I was rewarded with a very brief glimpse and one dark and grainy shot of a goldfinch. Not a first as we get them regularly, but at least Chris missed this one!

goldfinch

Just need a greenfinch now!

Yesterday was also the first real chance to appreciate this in the sunshine – a present from my friends Helen & John.  Perfect thing for the Too Lazy garden.

wind-vane

Seeing the wind vane (I think that’s what it’s called?) made me dig out the camera to take a few pics of some other presents I’ve been lucky enough to get which reference the Too Lazy blog. Last month my friend Mhairi gave me this amazing embroidery that she’d made for me – it has everything – a butterfly, a moth, a spider and even a beetle.

embroidery

embroidered-beetle

Then there are the “moth balls” that my friend Bette gave me. In reality needle-felted balls with an Elephant Hawkmoth and a Moth Fly that she made herself using a couple of our photos for the designs.

moth-ball-1

moth-ball-2

And finally a knitted hedgehog from my mother-in-law bought for us for Xmas.

knitted-hedgehog

It’s great to get gifts like this that are so personal and relate to things we love. And it also means they must have been reading the blog – bonus!

 

 

A Teasel’s Life

Bee

I don’t know how we originally came to have teasels – none of the immediate neighbours grow these giants, but the seeds must have blown in from somewhere (and we may not be popular as they blow out again each year!). They have become a bit of a fixture in our garden and a very welcome one for all sorts of wildlife.

They start off as fairly non-descript plants, forming low growing rosettes that look like they might turn into at most a thistle type of thing. They only flower in their second year, so I’m hoping the ones below, that I think overwintered, will flower this summer.

Baby Teasels

When they do put on their growth spurt, they are easily taller than me (I only manage a mere 5 foot 1 on a good day!) Their flowers are irresistible to the bees in the garden, which is the main reason we let them grow every year. These ones below are full grown ones from previous years

Bees on Teasels

Bees on Teasels 2

The stems and leaves provide homes for lots of other insects too, with water tending to collect at the base of each leaf.

We always leave them once they’ve finished flowering, as they still provide benefit right through the winter. For us humans they provide structure and interest in the garden.

Frosty teasel 2

The teasels themselves are packed with seeds that the birds love. Goldfinches are well-known teasel fans, but we’ve seen several other species such as this Coal Tit making the most of them too.

Goldfinch 1

Coal Tit on Teasel

Of course we do eventually have to chop them down, if only to provide space for next year’s crop. This year we decided to save some of the hollow stems and turn them into something useful – a Bug Hotel. The RSPB are running a “Give Nature a Home” campaign, so a pile of teasel stems and an empty squash bottle later and we have hopefully made one small home. With a bit of luck we’ll be able to post photos later in the year of some new residents.

Teasel canes

Bee Hotel

So that’s the life of the teasels in our garden – the plant that keeps on giving to wildlife – even when it’s chopped up into pieces!

 

 

Golden Afternoon

I’ve been waiting for the winter to bring cold, crisp mornings to get some nice frosty shots of the garden. No such luck. The damp December has given way to a cold but dull January – the garden bathed in grey mist not sparkly white frost.  So it was a welcome relief when something eventually flew into the garden worth photographing. A flash of gold this afternoon as a lone goldfinch finally decided that the giant teasels I had so lovingly grown were worthy of his attention.

Goldfinch 3I’d grown the teasels (or more accurately just left them to grow and do their own thing) specifically for goldfinches as they’re supposed to be one of their favourites. But despite them being munched on by other birds this is the first time they’ve attracted their target audience – result!

Unfortunately the grey day (and lack of stealth on my part) prevented me getting any really good shots. But the birds still looked stunning and were a very welcome flash of colour on a dreary January day.

Goldfinch 2 Goldfinch 1