The Wildlife Garden in November

DSCN1368dAs we moved into November the weather began to turn frosty and cold, making this month yet another good one for birds in my garden in South Shropshire. An influx of pheasants at the very start of the month signalled the beginning of the local pheasant shoot as the oak woodland on my boundary is managed to provide shelter for them and, inadvertently, for lots of our local wildlife too. The pheasants seem to know there is safety in my garden and numbers can build up to fifteen or so, feeding under the bird feeders and the apple trees in the orchard.

Fieldfares and redwings were numerous throughout November with about forty fieldfares and sixteen redwings feeding around the garden at the beginning of the month, although the majority of the redwings moved on as soon as they had devoured all the holly berries. The fieldfares, charismatic and argumentative birds, spent their time between the orchard trees and a large Bramley apple tree at the back of the house, although they also scoured the short grass around the garden for invertebrates from time to time.  One bird in particular remained when the flock flew off to feed elsewhereDSCN0734 and fought off all-comers of any species in the usual aggressive manner of this large thrush.  Elsewhere the bird feeders were extremely busy as goldfinches, chaffinches, tits, nuthatches and woodpeckers took advantage of a regular and reliable food supply.  However neither marsh tit nor willow tit was seen at all this month although coal tits were numerous. A single mistle thrush was recorded on the 2nd – the first for many months.

Goldfinch numbers continued to build up as the month progressed with a maximum of sixteen on most days. There were regular visits from the local female sparrowhawk and a surprise male house sparrow, a species last recorded here in early July, fed beneath the feeders outside my office on two days.

A week away from home meant that the garden was almost devoid of birds when I returned, with the exception of those species that rely on natural food – mainly the thrushes and blackbirds but also wrens which are always abundant in the garden. A DSCN1345cflock of sixteen long-tailed tits used the fat blocks frequently, and there was a surprise visit from a small flock of starlings, another bird we hardly ever see here, which was a highlight at the end of the month. Red kites soared above the garden in all weathers while our usual buzzards were less obvious.

There were very few sightings of mammals here in November but tracks through longer grass areas showed that a fox was a regular visitor. Grey squirrels were seen daily including one individual with the majority of its tail missing!  How the rest of the tail disappeared is anyone’s guess. He is though, easily identifiable, and it will be interesting to see how he uses the garden and where we see him over the next few months.

We are now in the midst of very wintery weather but even in November there were signs of the seasons ahead. Catkins were beginning to fill out on our hedgerow hazels with the promise of spring and better weather to look forward to.

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The Wildlife Garden in October

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October began in my South Shropshire garden with large numbers of birds returning to the bird feeders as night time temperatures dropped. Long-tailed tits, goldfinches, nuthatches and woodpeckers joined the regular chaffinches, blue tits and great tits to feed on sunflower hearts, nyjer seed and peanuts.  Around the garden jays visited daily, usually clutching an acorn from the oak woodland next door, which was promptly buried in the lawn somewhere.  A single chiff chaff was seen on the 1st of the month.

Daytime temperatures were good during the first week of the month and several red admirals were still feeding in the borders and around the vegetable garden, where Verbena bonariensis and cosmos were continuing to flower. Single-flowered dahliasDSCN0512wp were also attracting butterflies and bumblebees, the latter also visiting late flowering borage.

As we moved into the second week of the month there was little change in the mild temperatures. A treecreeper was seen several times foraging on the bark of our oldest apple tree which has deeply fissured bark covered with lichens, and several coal tits joined the other species at the bird feeders. The orchard, planted when we moved here twelve years ago, has matured quickly and many of the trees have a huge crop this year.  Plenty are left for the birds especially the winter thrushes and blue tits were already feeding on the soft early varieties such as Discovery.DSCN0654wp

One new moth species was recorded for the garden in the moth trap this month – the stunning Merveille du Jour – one of my favourite species. Five individuals of this species were caught on the night of the 12th/ 13th. One was ‘rescued’ from a hungry wren!

Hurricane Ophelia hit us with a vengeance on the 16th but fortunately there was no damage to the garden or to local trees. Temperatures continued to be mild but variable through the third week and there was a little rain at times.  The local willow tit returned to the feeders this week after a two week absence and was seen daily.  With so much bird activity in the garden it was inevitable that a sparrowhawk would become a regular visitor.  This large female began to make frequent visits, often perching on the bird feeders outside my office.  Towards the end of the month small flocks of redwings and fieldfares began to visit the garden, firstly to feast on the holly berries in the hedge which quickly disappeared, and then for the large quantities of apples in the orchard, both in the trees and on the ground. The mature hawthorn trees on our garden boundary also provided these birds with food and as usual they were noisy and quarrelsome. Frosty nights at the end of the month brought even more of these thrushes, plus one mistle thrush – not seen here since the spring.

DSCN0913wpSigns of mammals in the garden this month included hedgehog droppings in the cut meadow and fox tracks through the long grass in the orchard. A weasel was seen briefly running past the French doors of my office and towards the end of the month a wood mouse was watched every evening, feeding on a small bird feeding tray outside the kitchen door which is on the second floor. This means that to reach the food on the tray the wood mouse has to climb up wooden cladding and then the stems of a Clematis in order to reach the food! Once there it was oblivious of the outside light and us watching!

The month ended with a very heavy frost overnight on the 29th/30th but daytime temperatures were still high enough to tempt a red admiral to sunbathe on the house wall.

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The Wildlife Garden in September

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As usual the weather dominates my thoughts as I think about September, and it was a month of two halves in that respect. The first half was spent in wet and windy Shropshire and the second half – my usual holiday time – was enjoyed in the very west of Cornwall.  It is always difficult to leave a large garden for any length of time, especially when that garden is managed specifically for wildlife. Bird feeders need to be kept topped up of course but more importantly what am I going to miss?  Will there be a new bird or dragonfly species to add to the garden list? I have to put aside this obsessional attitude and think ahead to the different plants and animals I am going to see in a different and very beautiful location.  It is always good to see other gardens too, even visit large gardens that are not managed specifically for wildlife, as sometimes it is there that I will encounter wildlife that I don’t see in my own garden.

Back in Shropshire the first two weeks of the month were rather cold for most of the time with only the odd sunny day. On those sunny days though the vegetable garden especially was full of late summer butterflies, especially the red admirals that hSeptblogbeeave dominated the garden this summer, but also there were commas, small tortoiseshells and speckled woods continuing to feed there. As well as nectaring on Verbena bonariensis, these butterflies, along with several bumblebee species, were taking nectar from the single flowered dahlias I grow between the veggies, and several dragonfly species also took advantages of this warm and sheltered area, often sunning themselves on a wooden seat in a sheltered corner.

Around the bird feeders all our regular species were joined by long-tailed tits and goldfinches as they returned to the garden and the local willow tit continued to visit daily, whereas marsh tits were not seen at all. Buzzards are very common birds around us here and one was seen several times sitting in one of our apples trees. A pipistrelle bat, which roosts in our roof, continued to be seen every evening and a fox was a regular nocturnal visitor to the meadows and long grass areas.

Copper underwing4On dry nights the moth trap revealed good catches of the common species we usually see here at this time of year including one of my favourites, the copper underling, but no new species were added to the garden list.

In Cornwall things were a little different. We were fortunate to have excellent weather most days and took advantage of it! On the coast path ivy flowers swarmed with bees of many species, including the attractive, striped, ivy bee which I had not seen before.  Red admirals were common. Wheatears lined the rocky shores and stonechats were also abundant on the coast along with jackdaws and turnstones. septblogchoughVisits to a couple of local gardens were notable for good views of goldcrests, rarely seen in my garden here.

But the highlight was to see six Cornish choughs at Porthgwarra.  This is a favourite bird that I regularly see on Anglesey at South Stack, but seeing them in Cornwall, where they are now breeding successfully, was a huge pleasure. I returned to Shropshire to the local jays burying acorns in the lawns and a few remaining dragonflies, bumblebees, red admirals and commas taking advantage of the sheltered sunny spots in the vegetable garden.

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Wheatear on the Cornish coast

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The Wildlife Garden in August

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As the summer progressed here in South Shropshire there was sadly little change in the miserable weather. We were blessed with the very occasional warm and sunny day, but between these wonderful little windows of summer, cold, wet and even very windy weather prevailed.  These episodes affected the wildlife in the garden as well as the garden itself and borders were battered and leaves blew from the trees as though autumn had already arrived.

In spite of the miserable conditions wildlife was, as always, abundant, especially the birds feeding in the garden. Several families of birds, especially yellowhammers and bullfinches fed around the garden regularly.  The bullfinches in particular – a pair with two juveniles – fed daily on a variety of seeds especially those of the native selfheal (Prunella vulgaris) which grows in abundance in our lawns, and is left uncut for this very purpose.  The yellowhammer family was watched ‘anting’ on the driveway on a couple of occasions.  Other birds were plentiful, especially young tits, and it was really good to see a willow tit visiting the bird feeders.  DSCN9511blogThis species appears in the garden during the winter months and has not been seen since last March.  A single bird visited almost daily from the 2nd of August and is still with us as I write on the 6th of September.  The photograph here was taken from my back door. This little tray is a favourite feeding place for smaller birds, especially tits and finches.

On the odd warm and sunny afternoon late summer butterflies, especially red admirals were still abundant. Verbena bonariensis was the favoured nectar source while gatekeepers continued to feed on water mint and marjoram. Other butterflies seen included brimstone, peacock and a single wall brown on the 24th also feeding on Verbena. DSCN9022blog2

This lovely species breeds in roughly the same spot in the garden every year, but this year only two individuals have been seen.  Hopefully this butterfly will continue to hang on here.

The moth trap was brought into use on a few dry nights. Mostly the catch was of species we have recorded in the garden here over the last twelve years, but the rather gorgeous gold spot was new for the garden as was pale prominent, plus a few unfamiliar species are still awaiting identification. It was good to see an abundance of garden tigers and hawk-moths. Larger dragonfly species were rather few around the ponds, but smaller species such as common and red darter were quite abundant.

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Mammals were rather few and far between last month although a stoat was seen briefly pursuing a bank vole! Fox scats were only noticed once in the garden.  Amphibians too were quite scarce although with meadow cutting approaching frogs in particular, which tend to spend their summers in the long meadow vegetation, will soon be seen regularly.  One large toad was discovered amongst the vegetables – a favourite haunt of this garden dweller. A really exciting resident was seen well though – a very large male slow worm.  We know these reptiles live in the garden but we rarely see them, so a good sighting of a well grown adult was quite special.  Photographing it though was quite difficult!

As we move into September there is no improvement in our weather and I think I may have to be content with wildlife watching from my office window as autumn approaches and bird numbers build up at the feeders.

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The Wildlife Garden in July

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While some areas of the country, especially the south and east, were basking in high temperatures in July, the west was having rather a different set of weather conditions.  There were hot sunny days but these were interspersed with windy, wet and cold weather and by and large the poor weather seemed to be the norm. The garden here really took a hit in terms of the wind – wildflower meadows do not stand up well to those sorts of conditions – but by and large the meadows, and to a lesser extent the Pollinator Borders, managed well with only a few areas where plants blew down and didn’t recover.  The Big Meadow in particular though suffered badly and this year will be cut earlier than usual as a result.  The smaller meadows or ‘pop-up’ meadows as I tend to call them, as they are only left uncut for a few weeks, and then are mown before being allowed to pop up again, did well with plenty of small wildflowers, including birds foot trefoil, clover and selfheal flowering well and attracting lots of invertebrates.

DSCN7573cOn the positive side, much of our usual garden wildlife was plentiful with birds in particular doing well.  At times the feeders seemed almost overrun with young blue tits and great tits and other bird species were plentiful too.  Yellowhammers visited daily, often to pick up the bird food beneath the feeders, and at least four young great spotted woodpeckers continued to argue over the peanuts.  All the bird activity naturally encouraged the local sparrowhawks, plus a pair of bullfinches were regular visitors, but were more often heard than seen.

 

July was an exceptional month here for butterflies. The Buddleia ‘Lochinch’ in the DSCN7604Nectar Garden was covered with red admirals, peacocks, commas and small tortoiseshells from the start of the month, and later gatekeepers plus small and green-veined whites visited the purple loosestrife, viper’s bugloss and marjoram.  Other plants attracting pollinators, especially bumblebees, honey bees and hoverflies, were Verbena bonariensis and Japanese anemone.  In the long Pollinator Borders teasels, Heliopsis, Centaurea and Eupatorium, were favoured by butterflies while the small foxglove species, especially the small green foxglove Digitalis viridis and the rusty foxglove Digitalis ferruginea, buzzed with bumblebees.  A single, perfect male brimstone butterfly appeared at the end of the month, feeding on greater knapweed and hummingbird hawk-moths visited on several warm days, feeding from Buddleia, lavender and jasmine.

Burnet moths were quite abundant in the Big Meadow and the moth trap yielded just one new species for the garden in July – a stunning cloaked carpet moth.

Around the wildlife ponds, especially the smaller Marshy Pond, the native water mint attracted a lot of attention from hoverflies and gatekeeper and meadow brown butterflies. The Big Pond was a battle ground for southern hawker dragonflies, but smaller dragonfly species were rather few.

Bank voles were common all month as usual and a fox visited from time to time but the highlight of the month (other than the cloaked carpet moth pictured below) was a willow tit visiting the feeders – not recorded in the garden since April. The biggest surprise of the month though was a large hedgehog. This was only the second we have either seen or had evidence of here, in twelve years. As we move into August I am hoping for an improvement in the weather!

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Cloaked Carpet

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The Wildlife Garden in June

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June is one of my favourite months of the whole year in my wildlife garden – and not just because the middle of summer is so wonderful with its light evenings and masses of birds, butterflies and other wildlife in every corner. My birthday is in June and as a present fourteen years ago my husband made me a Skinner moth trap.  Moths had always been an interest of mine since I was a child (especially their caterpillars which are easier to find and identify) but after a friend brought a light trap to my wildlife garden back in Oxfordshire and opened my eyes to many fantastic species that I had only seen illustrated in the available books at that time, I was determined to take their identification more seriously.  Those first few sessions back in Oxfordshire revealed a wealth of stunning species in and around my local area – a garden on the edge of a village where the sandy soil supported a range of interesting potential larval food plants including Scots pine, and amongst the wonderful species we caught on those first sessions were the huge Pine Hawk-moth and the stunning Green Silver-lines.  An obsession was born.

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Here in South Shropshire I am in a much more rural environment, surrounded by agricultural land but with oak and ash woodland next door. The garden has been planted with a large range of native shrubs especially as hedging, plus we have a tiny copse of native trees including wild cherry. The native planting around the garden, plus the woodland nearby, means that we get a good range of moth species, including those whose larvae feed on oak. The long grass areas in the wildflower meadows and wilder areas are also great for moth larvae so my moth ID journey continues. So far in this garden I have attracted over 200 species but there are photographs of many more that I work my way through when I have spare time, which is almost never! The most recent trapping event brought several garden tigers, poplar hawkmoth and a favourite of mine, the scalloped oak, along with a wealth of other species photographed and awaiting identification. Hopefully when I have worked my way through the ID of the unfamiliar species, there will be something new and exciting to add to the list. Green Silver Lines3256b

Overall in the garden the weather in June was, like much of the rest of the country, both poor at times and glorious at others. A sad event was that our spotted flycatcher nest was predated after the young hatched on the 11th, possibly by woodpeckers which have had a very successful breeding season around us. We saw several juvenile woodpeckers in the garden daily throughout June. The adult flycatchers moved on and have not been since.  We hope they will try again next year and plan to make their regular nest site more secure next year.  As the month progressed plenty of dragonflies and damselflies began to appear around the Big Pond, especially common blue damsels and broad-bodied chasers.

As we moved through June the meadows came into their own. The recent proliferation of meadow cranesbill continues and it has now happily seeded into the orchard area (where it looks very beautiful with the meadowsweet I have planted there) plus the Big Meadow, although almost completely devoid of yellow rattle this year on account of the mild winter, turned purple with the usual mass of knapweed.  Ringlet and meadow brown were more abundant than last year plus commas, peacocks, red admirals and small tortoiseshells appeared as the month moved on. Our little ‘pop-up’ meadows around the garden filled with white clover, buttercups and selfheal as they were left uncut and were soon attracting masses of bumblebees. Mammals seen were our friendly bank voles, especially at their dedicated feeding station outside the back door, a fox, several wood mice, the usual grey squirrels and two yellow-necked mice.

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The total number of bird species in the garden in June was thirty two with many juvenile birds, especially tits, feeding at the bird feeders. A highlight at the end of the month was a small flock of eight mistle thrushes in the copse. Ten butterfly species were recorded in June with large skipper appearing at the end of the month.

 

 

 

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The Garden Wildlife in May

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With yet more variable weather in the South Shropshire Hills, the garden here was alternately hot and sunny and cool and windy throughout May, with conditions changing rapidly. Orange tips were the most abundant butterflies both in the garden and in the lanes around our house, where one of their food plants, Alliaria petiolata, grows in abundance. In the garden this butterfly breeds on honesty which seeds itself around our borders and it is also used as a nectar source by these stunning little butterflies.  Other butterfly species recorded in the garden in May were brimstone (egg laying on the alder buckthorn) peacock, comma, small, green-veined, and large white, red admiral, small tortoiseshell, painted lady and a single holly blue feeding on yellow archangel.

An abundance of bank voles in May led to frequent visits from foxes and buzzards. The voles have their own seed feeder which enables me, technically, to estimate the numbers feeding outside our back door.  Photographing them can sometimes help with identification as some have ragged ears – presumably a lot of fighting goes on! DSCN9560c

Where garden birds were concerned May was an excellent month with 39 species in total recorded in the garden, including redstart, yellowhammer, siskin and whitethroat, plus bullfinches and linnets fed on the dandelion seeds in the lawns. Most exciting though was the return of our spotted flycatchers, the first being seen on May 7th, two weeks earlier than last year. As the month progressed a second individual appeared and they immediately took possession of their scruffy old nest box on the front of my potting shed, in spite of the fact that two brand new (and more suitable) boxes had been made for them.  The spotted flycatcher is without doubt my favourite bird so the prospect of seeing them daily, as I did last year, was very rewarding – clearly the garden we have made here is ideal for them.  The nest was reconstructed to a much higher standard than last year’s and by the end of the month five eggs had been laid and incubation began.

There is no doubt that gardening organically benefits birds of many different species. On warm sunny days the garden was seething with small winged invertebrates giving the flycatchers plenty of opportunity to find food. As the month progressed a little quiet watching revealed that six of our nest boxes, as well as the flycatchers’ box, were in use and young were being fed. Five were occupied by blue tits and the sixth by great tits and by the end of the month some of these youngsters were visiting the feeders with parent birds encouraging them. Robins, song thrushes, greenfinches, chaffinches and blackbirds were all nesting in the garden’s native hedges while dunnocks preferred the thick border vegetation, especially the plant pendulous sedge which seems ideal for them.

On the 26th of May we were fortunate to hear a cuckoo close by, which later flew over the house – only the third we have seen or heard here in 12 years. Red Kites were around in abundance together with up to thirty buzzards after the field next to our garden was ploughed and then re-sown after a crop failure. Both species seemed to be finding plenty of food.

Elsewhere around the garden, especially in the big wildflower meadow and other grassy areas, the common spotted orchids were coming into flower. These wonderful flowers have all originated from 0.1 of a gram of seed added to the grass and wildflower mix I put together when sowing the wildflower meadow here in 2006. Last year’s count (after I became bored and gave up!) was over 400 flowering plants, no longer just in the meadow but in lawns, borders and even on the sedum roof of our log store.  The minute, light seeds are obviously capable of distributing themselves very effectively and we spend a great deal of time digging the orchids up from grassy paths and lawns and replanting them where they can flourish.

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Common spotted orchids in the back garden lawn – no longer mow-able!

As the month came to an end and the flycatchers settled down to incubate their eggs, the weather became more stormy but we were rewarded with amazing sunsets over the Long Mynd from our west facing windows.

 

 

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The Garden Wildlife in April

dscn5488.jpgApril was a month of great contrasts in South Shropshire as we experienced the warm and bright conditions that most of the country was favoured with, but there were also high winds at times, cooler days and a little rain, although the latter was not enough to make a difference to our rather parched and hardened clay soil. Our first chiff chaff was heard on the 1st while lesser redpolls and siskins were still feeding in the garden. DSCN0487cThe siskins – once a winter visitor here – are now with us in spring and summer too. They breed somewhere nearby and bring juveniles to the feeders in June each year.

Butterflies began to appear in good numbers, especially orange tip which fed in the sunshine on honesty, bluebells and lady’s smock around the garden borders and garlic mustard, Alliaria petiolata in the hedges. This unassuming wildflower’s other common name of Jack-by-the- hedge’ is well deserved and it is worth cultivating for orange tips alone. DSCN5733

 

Other butterflies visiting the garden this month were peacock, small tortoiseshell, brimstone, comma, red admiral and green-veined white although brimstone was not seen egg laying on the alder buckthorn as it has been in other years. Bumblebees of several species were around in good numbers and the solitary bee homes were buzzing as the red mason and other solitary bee species returned to their nests with pollen from our apple trees.

April was a good month for birds with several warblers showing up especially blackcap singing in the usual places and briefly a garden warbler. As the dandelions went to seed, bullfinch, goldfinch and linnet arrived to enjoy the seemingly never ending feast.  Song thrush and blackbird continued to sing and overhead skylarks, which nest in the field next door, were heard and seen on clear days. Our first swallows were seen on the 10th but there has been no sign of them checking out their previous nest site in the house porch. Buzzards were especially active and visited the garden frequently and thirty were seen together with four red kites in the field next door during late ploughing. Thirty six bird species were recorded in April in total in the garden.

In the small pond there were tadpoles galore and the first damselfly teneral was seen at the end of the month. The big pond also has breeding frogs and toads and at the end of the month a single lonely male frog continued to croak….

In all there were thirty six bird species recorded in the garden in April with several more overhead, but perhaps the most exciting was a wonderful male redstart (above) having a bath in a puddle on the driveway. A female also appeared a few days later and a male was heard singing, so I am hopeful for a nest somewhere in the garden in May.

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March Garden Wildlife

DSCN4573Here in the South Shropshire Hills Spring can arrive rather later than in some other parts of the UK. My garden is elevated and exposed to westerly winds blowing across the Long Mynd and other Stretton Hills towards my house, and we often experience weather here that is rather different from that in the local town, down in the valley below us. The temperature difference sometimes feels like it is about 10 degrees cooler here!

So far in March though, we have experienced lots of very beautiful spring days with bright sunshine and balmy winds, with only one episode of driving snow in the middle of the month. Our local birds have definitely appreciated this warmer than usual spring weather, with many species singing this month including both siskins and goldfinches. Most exciting for me though in terms of visiting birds, has been a single male house sparrow who at the end of the month was joined by a female.  I am hoping that either our thick hedges, or a vacant nest box, will encourage them to stay around and breed this year as this hasn’t happened here for some time. The total number of bird species in the garden in March was 32, and included a treecreeper and a tawny owl but with no sign of a chiff chaff yet or in fact any migrants.

In March mammals in the garden were rather few and far between at the beginning of the month, with the exception of a number of wood mice which had made their home in my terracotta rhubarb forcer! A quick look at the end of the month revealed a nest so I guess I am not going to be eating any early rhubarb crumble for a while yet.  No foxes, weasels or stoats were seen at all, but as the weather became ever warmer the runs of bank voles became more obvious in our meadows and in the orchard grass, and plenty were seen scuttling about. The only other mammals seen were the usual gang of grey squirrels intent on destroying our bird feeders.

There were plenty of queen bumblebees around from the very start of the month, feeding mostly on a small (and very invasive) comfrey (Symphytum grandiflorum) that I have planted here. Due to its rampant nature I have relegated it the woodland garden where it can be kept under control and at this time of year, with no leaves on the trees yet, it is absolutely buzzing with queen bumblebees.

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As April approaches I will be looking out for a rather special bird here. A few years ago we were visited by a male ring ouzel on his way to uplands further north. He stayed around the garden for a time, feeding on the short grass of the orchard before moving off again, so I will be keeping my eyes open over the next few weeks for this beautiful migrant thrush.

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Swallows or Wrens?

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There is a lot of bird activity around my garden at the moment with tits and finches colouring up, plus there is plenty of territorial squabbling going on. Early mornings are now a symphony of thrushes singing, wood pigeons cooing, goldfinches twittering and chaffinches chirping, interspersed with the reedy songs of robins and dunnocks.

But loudest of all these songs is the wren’s. Last year we had four or five wrens’ nests around the garden, mostly in small woven ‘roosting pockets’ that were conveniently placed a couple of winters ago to provide warm spots for tits to spend cold frosty nights. One in the front porch of our house had been used through a few winters by a succession of great tits, so we were sure these little structures would be useful, but as spring approached a couple of years ago wrens quickly took over the porch pocket and after building their intricate mossy nest, raised five or six youngsters. This has happened for the last two springs and the garden is awash with wrens. They have a winter roost under the eaves at the back of the house and up to sixteen have been counted using this on cold evenings.

Roosting pockets in a garden Clematis on my potting shed, in a Cotoneaster against the house and under the eaves of my log cabin Teaching Room, were all occupied by nesting wrens last spring and at the end of the breeding season the garden was overflowing with them.  The Teaching Room was abandoned for a few weeks so as not to disturb the nests, but the house porch could not be out of bounds for obvious reasons.  Thankfully our sympathetic postie made his way daily to the back of the house and left the post in a dry spot, but visitors were invariably startled by a tiny brown bird flashing before their eyes as they rang the doorbell.

Wrens are one of my favourite birds but there is a dilemma with the porch nesters. Prior to their occupation of this warm, sheltered spot, the porch was a nest site for swallows, which we welcomed with open arms.  On a couple of occasions when a door was left open, a swallow made an exploratory foray into the house and up the stairs. One found his own way back out again but another, after perching on a picture frame, was gently caught and returned to the outdoors.

We considered having swallows nesting around our house a huge privilege and we miss them, as since the wrens have taken over, swallows have visited the porch and twittered a little on their ledge but then moved off, probably to the small hamlet down our lane where they nest in tumbledown brick sheds. Many house sparrows also nest under eaves in this tiny hamlet.

So this spring I have made the decision to remove the wren pocket from the front porch. There is a chance that wrens will build a nest there anyway on the swallow ledge, but I am hoping that will not be the case and that ‘our’ swallows will return. Plenty feed around us throughout the summer on the thousands of winged invertebrates that this organic, wildlife garden produces, plus they also drink from our big pond, but they no longer breed here. So I am hoping to save this little space for them – the wrens can have the rest of the garden.

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