The Wildlife Garden in January

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Throughout January the weather was rather inconsistent here in South Shropshire, ranging between mild spells, very heavy overnight frosts and the occasional windy period. This variable weather meant that the wildlife in the garden was different every day although there were some constants – in particular the numbers of fieldfares feasting on the fallen apples. At the beginning of the month there were usually around twenty of these noisy thrushes here while twittering goldfinches and chirping house sparrows meant that it was pretty busy bird-wise.  Large numbers of chaffinches fed under the feeders and a few greenfinches came to the sunflower hearts daily. Once again a tawny owl flew across the garden at dusk, again perching in our ash tree for some time, and a red kite touched down in the garden one afternoon, apparently to pick up some small item of prey.

The weather became colder and brighter as we moved into the second week of the month with clear skies and very heavy frosts overnight. Siskins – possibly my absolute favourite UK bird (although I say that about several different species!) started to visit the bird feeders in some numbers this week with a count of 20 on the 14th. Their favourite spot to perch and twitter was the tall hazel outside my kitchen door, which is close to a couple of feeders, and the noise siskinblogjanwhen I opened the door in the early mornings was quite extraordinary.   As the weather continued to be cold numbers of other bird species built up, especially finches and thrushes including redwings and a single lesser redpoll – a favourite bird – visited the feeders every day. No mammals were seen in the garden this month with the exception of grey squirrels and the constant evidence of the local moles.

The cold weather persisted and bird numbers continued to rise. A small flock of starlings, quite an unusual bird here, visited the garden on the 21st.  For the next four days I was on Anglesey where the wildlife, as ever, was rather different from my garden in Shropshire.  Red squirrels were very obliging where photography was concerned and birds such as curlew, shelduck, redshank and pintail were highlights.  The local golf course provided a feeding ground for a great many song thrushes and mistle thrushes and both species were at times, singing from the nearby tree tops.

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On returning home numbers of birds in the garden had dropped but snow at the end of the month brought a few beautiful bramblings and I counted 183 fieldfares in the garden one morning!  Siskin numbers continued to rise and could only be estimated – probably between forty and fifty – the males all twittering beautifully in the cold sunshine, and a single redpoll was a regular visitor to the nyjer seed. The weather became a little milder at the end of the month and hopefully this trend will continue into February and we will start to see birds investigating the garden nest boxes as spring arrives.

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The Wildlife Garden in December

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December began as a very wet and windy month here in South Shropshire as the tail end of a westerly storm came through. This weather did bring quite a lot of birds, sheltering from the wind and rain, to the garden feeders,  including twenty six goldfinches. These birds were also feeding on the lavender seeds around the garden as well as on nyger and sunflower hearts in the feeders. Other species were also feeding on the lavender seeds including blue tits, chaffinches and dunnocks.

House sparrows are a rare sight in this garden and it is always good to see them here. A couple feeding at the beginning of the month soon became a small flock of up to sixteen which was lovely to see.  However common they may be in some people’s gardens I amblogsparrows always pleased to see them here. We are fortunate to have some bird species that other people rarely see in their gardens – in particular tree creeper and marsh tit are regular visitors, so I mind a little less that we don’t see some of the commoner garden birds.

The first week of December continued with quite frosty weather at times but there were damp and misty conditions on other days. There were no mammals around except grey squirrels. Strangely we now have at least three grey squirrels with very short tails – perhaps only a quarter or a third as long as ‘normal’ squirrels’ tails. I am still mystified by this and can find no reference to it anywhere!

As the month continued goldfinches still dominated the feeders in wild and windy weather. On several nights foxes were heard courting in the field nexblogbfincht door, an eerie, screaming sound that never fails to make my blood run cold.  Large numbers of fieldfares were soon feeding in the orchard on fallen apples, making a lot of noise with their ‘chacking’ calls. I spent the third week of the month not at home but in the Cotswolds. Here the weather was very cold and frosty and there were enormous flocks of fieldfares around in the countryside, plus redwings and bullfinches were feeding on the berries of Pyracantha in the garden where I was staying.

The fieldfares were mainly feeding on hawthorn berries or finding invertebrates on the local grassy sports field.  Back home in Shropshire all our hawthorn berries had been eaten by the end of November, but there were still plenty to be found in Gloucestershire where these lovely thrushes were finding lots to feed on.  On returning to South Shropshire the garden was rather quiet as all the food in the bird feeders had been eaten. Fieldfares and chaffinches were still in some abundance though as there wasbloggoldie plenty of natural food in the garden for them, especially apples for the fieldfares and a few redwings. Once the bird feeders were restocked, goldfinches were back in abundance along with several siskins – one of my favourite birds. As the weather turned a little milder there seemed to be almost a hint of spring in the air, and a song thrush singing from the woodland next door on the 1st of January , made me remember that spring really wasn’t very far away.

 

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The Wildlife Garden in November

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November’s weather was as expected – cold, clear and frosty especially first thing most mornings. Once again the garden was dominated by the birds using it and rather than the feeders being the main source of interest many of the visiting birds were taking advantage of the natural food here.  We are fortunate to have several large, ancient hawthorns on one of our boundaries and the fieldfares were making a meal of the berries.  This argumentative species is always attracted to our apple orchard, planted when we first arrived here thirteen years ago, but if there is a choice the hawthorn berries will always be taken first while the fallen apples provide food through the winter until February if there has been a good crop. We do of course pick some of the apples for ourselves but with forty trees here, there is plenty for everybody!  Blackbirds were also feeding on the hawthorn berries but being bolder than fieldfares and redwings, they are more inclined to come into the garden at the back of the house where we have more hawthorns and three more apple trees so I am able to get close-up views of them feeding.  As the week continued a couple of siskins, perhaps my absolute favourite winter visitor, came to the nyger feeder and at the end of the week I counted eighty-two wood pigeons eating the hawthorn berries on our garden boundary!  The fieldfares were not prepared to fight for the berries so started work on the fallen apples instead. Temperatures increased a little towards the end of the week and goldfinch numbers in the garden went up to twenty seven as the weather became milder.

The second week of the month continued to be dry and more bird species visited us including four house sparrows, an unusual bird here. A single jay buried acorns in the lawns and we were still seeing our regular treecreeper every day.  With so many blogsparrowhbirds around the garden it was not a surprise to see a female sparrowhawk early on the morning of the 10th, preening and watching the bird activity from the ash tree in the front garden.  Also on that day a female reed bunting was seen on one of our hedges – a lovely bird that we see very rarely here.  A single bank vole, the first small mammal for quite some time, was seen on the 15th .

As the month continued birds dominated all areas of the garden, on the feeders and on natural seeds left in the borders and wilder areas. Lavender is a favourite of many finches especially goldfinches, but dunnock and chaffinch were also taking advantage of these seeds along with those of viper’s bugloss in one of the borders, plus the large seeds of the plant Phlomis fruticosa were also popular.  As the hawthorn berries goldiephlomisdisappeared, the fallen apples became a popular food choice for the fieldfares plus five or six male blackbirds, and a lot of squabbling went on under the apple trees.  Chaffinches too took advantage of the fruit under the trees while tits foraged for small invertebrates in the orchard branches.  The month drew to a close with slightly warmer weather which was at times very windy and damp. On the 25th a single female brambling joined the chaffinches and house sparrows on one of the feeders – a reminder that winter was on its way in spite of the unseasonal mild weather.

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The Wildlife Garden in October

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The month of October is always an interesting one in my garden as there is very much the feeling of change here, especially in terms of the wildlife that is around. Migrant birds are already arriving from the Continent and I look forward to the first fieldfares and redwings squabbling over the apples in my orchard.

Early in the month though, it blogstsquirrelwas warm enough to see a dragonfly hunting for small insects around the garden while a single comma butterfly, several bumblebees and lots of honey bees were also seen on sunny days.

The the local grey squirrels continued their never ending task of burying hazelnuts for the cold weather ahead as temperatures continued to drop. We now have several squirrels around the garden with very short tails – I have yet to find an explanation for this aberration!  A fox visited the garden on several evenings, triggering an outside light as he wandered past the house and as the weather began to feel more autumnal and leaves started to change colour, smaller birds started to flock to the garden feeders for a reliable source of food. Long tailed tits, nuthatches, chaffinches and a single marsh tit were regular visitors to the feeders. Several tawny owls were heard calling as the nights drew in.  The birds began to dominate my ‘garden watching’ as a large mixed flock of tits came through the garden on a daily basis, generally around lunchtime. Amongst them008tw every day was a treecreeper – a lovely species that always seems to find plenty to eat on the bark of the Bramley apple tree right outside my window, giving me lots of opportunities to watch it feeding. Their characteristic behaviour is to fly to the bottom of a branch or tree trunk and then to work their way methodically to the top, returning then to the base of the next branch, thus very effectively covering as much of the bark surface area as possible.

As we moved towards the end of the month the weather cooled considerably and the first redwings and fieldfares arrived – the latter in enormous flocks over the garden. Wood pigeons too were very abundant in the fields round about, almost darkening the sky at times as there were so many, and plenty came into the garden to forage on the short grass between the meadows.  Soon we were having overnight frosts alongside bright days, and one morning a stoat spent some time in the garden, running between flower borders and in and out of mole runs, giving me plenty of opportunity to see it well. As the month ended more than 30 fieldfares were feeding on the apples in the orchard and goldfinch numbers on the nyger seed began to build up. The garden seemed to be alive with birds as many species took advantage of both the natural food here and the reliable source of food in our feeders.

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The Wildlife Garden in September

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After such a hot summer it was a surprise to have cool and damp weather but September began with just that. On the first day of the new month a snipe visited the garden and spent some time feeding in damp grass around the big pond, probing its long beak again and again and clearly finding plenty of food. The mallard that bred here this summer were down to just one adult and three juveniles – some had moved to the pond in the field next to the house and in some ways it was a relief as they have been rather dominating the garden!

The change in the weather brought many migrating swallows and house martins to the area. A few rested on wires overhead but the vast majority simply swirled around above the garden and ponds, clearly finding plenty to feed on as they started their long blogswallowmigration south.  This happens here every late summer as we appear to be on a regular migration route for these birds.  The garden clearly provides plenty of small invertebrates for these species, largely due I suspect to the fact that everything has been managed organically here for many years. It is always an amazing sight and I am always sorry to see them go!

Autumn was clearly very much in the air as our local grey squirrels began to collect hazel nuts and bury them around the garden. This regular activity provides us with plenty of small hazel saplings every spring to plant in any gaps in our hedges as the majority of these buried treasures are never found again! The month continued with more damp and overcast days and the orchard started to attract many small birds, especially tits, which were clearly finding plenty in the way of food in this area of the garden.  The apple crop looks as though it is going to be especially good this year so I am looking forward to large numbers of fieldfares and redwings here in the winter!

As usual I spent the last two weeks of September in West Cornwall. The gardens in thisblogwb part of the country are always a joy and the good weather we experienced there meant that there were plenty of late summer butterflies around including wall brown and small copper at Trewidden, feeding on late summer flowers especially Helenium and Verbena. Clouded yellow was also seen a couple of times and red admirals and painted ladies were abundant on sunny days.

Returning to South Shropshire at the end of the month, the garden seemed empty and still. Filling the bird feeders immediately had a huge effect and we were soon back to our usual numbers of regular garden birds including a heron in the big pond daily and a little flock of long-tailed tits on the feeders.

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The Wildlife Garden in August

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Few of us can complain that the weather was poor in August – warm, dry conditions continued in South Shropshire which as far as I was concerned was perfect for the garden wildlife here, especially the butterflies and bumblebees. There were good numbers of the larger butterfly species on the Buddleia and purple loosestrife in particular, and we frequently saw young warblers feeding in the Buddleia too – scooping up the large numbers of invertebrates feeding on the flowers in the warm dry conditions.  We continued to see the very yellow willow warbler that appeared in July Wrenblogalong with several juvenile chiff chaffs and the garden was full of young wrens.  Red admiral, comma, peacock, painted lady and large white were joined by a silver-washed fritillary – a new species for the garden, bringing the total number of butterflies recorded in the garden here to twenty six. On the 4th a single wall brown appeared feeding on lavender, and several common blues continued to patrol the mini-meadows.

The second week of the month brought some cooler weather with a couple of welcome heavy downpours. On the 14th I discovered that our very active red-tailed bumblebee nest had been completely dug up and most of the contents devoured.  Only a few adultStoat5857blog bees remained.  In our previous garden in Oxfordshire badgers were the culprits when this occurred, but here the garden is fenced to exclude rabbits, which also, technically, prevents the local badgers from visiting us, although we see plenty of signs of them outside the garden.  The only conclusion is that badgers do come into the garden at night but this is the first positive evidence we have had for some time!  There were few signs of small mammals in the garden this month with no bank voles seen at all, but excellent views were had of a large stoat hunting close to the house on the 13th.  Sadly my camera was not to hand so the photo is of a previous visit to the garden – September seems to be the month when we see stoats most frequently so I will continue to watch out for this beautiful mammal.

The moth trap was only out overnight on one occasion this month and no new species for the garden were caught.  However some of my favourites turned up including gold spot, pebble prominent, blood vein and Chinese character, pictured below.

DucklingblogThe mallard ducklings continued to grow and try their wings but still showed no signs of leaving the garden! We are hopeful that they will soon leave us for the countryside round about as they have caused a great deal of disturbance around both the large pond and the marshy pond, possibly affecting the dragonfly populations here as they feed on the larvae of aquatic insects as well as vegetable matter. Later in the month a hobby was seen over the garden, flying north-west, and as we moved towards the end of the month large numbers of house martins and swallows started, as usual, to feed over the garden especially in the late afternoons. Juvenile tits swarmed around the feeders, and a heron was a regular visitor to the ponds.  After some cool weather there was a brief return to warm sunny conditions but a hint of autumn was most certainly in the air as September approached.

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The Wildlife Garden in July

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July in my wildlife garden continued with the same warm, sunny weather we had experienced at the end of June without a cloud in the sky. All over the country hot, dry conditions were the norm and this inevitably had an effect on the wildlife in the garden here in South Shropshire. Many young birds from second broods came to feed in the garden, especially robins, blue tits, coal tits and great tits, plus young chaffinches and goldfinches were also plentiful.  Down at the wildlife pond the mallard ducklings continued to grow.

After a slow start earlier in the summer, butterflies were especially plentiful here throughout July with good numbers of a wide range of species. Green-veined whites were very common and there were plenty of other butterflies including comma, small tortoiseshell, peacock, red admiral, painted lady and for a while a single dark green fritillary.  Smaller species such as common blue and large and small skipper also began to appear in the mini-meadows, while meadow brown and ringlet were seen flitting over the long grasses in the orchard and the wildflower meadows. A single male brimstone was also observed feeding around the garden, especially on the purple loosestrife flowers around the big pond and in the bog garden.   Meadowsweet, lady’s bedstraw and wild carrot were in full, glorious, flower.brimstonewp  Towards the end of the second week a male blackcap began to sing again from a variety of spots on our boundaries but there was still no sign of either chiffchaff or willow warbler. Two young song thrushes visited the garden on the 15th and two mistle thrushes were also seen this week but

where larger bird species were concerned this month the garden was dominated by a family of magpies that had bred nearby, plus the usual wood pigeons were happily producing another brood.  A male yellowhammer sang daily from the top of the beech tree at the back of the house.

As we moved into the third week of July butterflies were still plentiful with fifteen species recorded this week, including several commas and painted ladies. Swifts, swallows and house martins swooped over the garden, taking the small invertebrates that were emerging from the big pond and the meadows, and a tawny owl was heard in the orchard on the evening of the 20th.  Bullfinches were frequently heard, but not often seen, in our little copse of trees.

As we approached the end of the July there was still no sign of rain. Bumblebee numbers, which had been very low in spring and early summer, increased noticeably, with a variety of species feeding on the plants in the nectar borders, especially on Echinops and small flowered foxgloves such as Digitalis ferruginea.  A nest of red-tailed bumblebeesbbwp was very active in its usual spot in the ground at the back of the house.  At the very end of the month a juvenile willow warbler was seen feeding on the tiny insects attracted to our buddleia – the first willow warbler seen or heard here for several years.  This bird was soon joined by two juvenile chiffchaffs and as the month ended, the buddleia became the focus of my wildlife watching with warblers, bumblebees, honeybees and eight regular butterfly species feeding from the flowers. With warm weather continuing I am hoping to see even more species, hopefully including hummingbird hawk-moth, feeding on the flowers of this wonderful shrub.

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The Wildlife Garden in June

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June was an exceptional month all over the UK in terms of the weather, and even the counties further west, including my own of Shropshire, experienced amazingly warm, sunny conditions. This affected the garden here quite profoundly – initially in a positive way as many wildflowers burst into bloom in the meadows and around the ponds, and meadow butterflies were seen in good numbers, but as the hot weather continued the meadow grasses quickly went to seed and there was a much more ‘late-summer’ feel to the whole garden even though it was only the middle of the year.

Throughout the whole month the garden was full of hundreds of common spotted orchids – in the meadows, the shorter lawn grass and also now in the borders. All these orchids have spread and established from a single sowing of 0.1 of a gram of seed inDSCN0107 2006!  They tend to make mowing the grassy areas that we keep short quite a challenge! In the spring many new plants are moved from the shorter mown grass areas and transplanted into the meadows where they continue to flower and spread extremely rapidly.

Dragonflies and damselflies of many different species began to appear around the big pond early in the month and the whole garden was soon alive with young birds, especially juveniles of tits and finches, making everything seem very busy. House sparrows are a rarity in this garden yet suddenly we had a small flock including six or seven youngsters.  Young blue tits, great tits and coal tits crowded around the feeders and the local woodpeckers continued to visit with the first juveniles appearing on the 10th of the month.  Yellowhammers continued to sing from the hedges and trees around the garden and a skylark also sang overhead every day as the clear warm weather continued.  The occasional red kite flew high over the garden, sometimes calling with its characteristic high pitched whistle.

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A pair of spotted flycatchers appeared for a few days, but after hunting for insects from their usual spots in the vegetable garden, inspecting the nest box, rearranging the nest material a little and laying one egg, they decided to move on which was a great shame.  Last year the spotted flycatcher nest was predated, possibly by woodpeckers, so it was no great surprise that they decided not to use this location again, but it was still a great disappointment as this is one of my favourite birds.

The warm weather continued into the last week of the month with the promise of even hotter temperatures to come. Oxeye daisies, meadow cranesbill, wild carrot, tufted vetch and lady’s bedstraw filled the orchard and other long grass areas, meadow brown and ringlet butterflies continued to be seen in good quantities and the lavender in the garden DSCN0307wparound the house attracted small tortoiseshell, painted lady, peacock, comma and red admiral butterflies, while our ‘mini-meadow’ areas had common blue and large skipper feeding on white clover.  As we moved towards July the garden seemed alive with wildlife. However the lack of bumblebees has been very obvious with only three nests in the garden so far – possibly as a result of the very cold,snowy weather here in February and March.  Hopefully bumblebee numbers will pick up in the next few weeks.

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The Wildlife Garden in May

 

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May was a very interesting month for wildlife in my garden but also inside my house!  A wood mouse found its way into a cupboard at the beginning of the month and returned twice after being caught and removed back in to the garden!  Eventually it was caught again and released a little further away in a nearby woodland, and is hopefully still living happily in its new environment.  Plenty of birds were seen around the garden including a pair of marsh tits, one of my favourite birds, plus a regular pair of yellowhammers and a male whitethroat which was singing daily over the vegetable garden and disappearing behind the rhubarb, where it is possible that a nest was located .

Butterflies were very apparent in the better weather, especially the orange tip which has been especially common this year. Brimstones too were around for much of the month feeding on a variety of flowers including the apple blossom in the orchard. However none were seen egg laying on our buckthorn shrubs which was unusual, as the eggs can normally be found quite easily.  Small whites, peacocks, and a single commaDSCN9662wp butterfly also began to visit the flowers in the sheltered garden at the back of the house.

As we moved through the month a chiff chaff was heard singing – a bird that is becoming scarcer here every year.   Also a couple of blackcaps, blackbirds and lots of wrens sang every day, making the garden quite a noisy place at times!  Wrens are very common in this garden generally nesting in the twig piles in our small copse of trees, but also in ‘roosting pockets’ or on a small ledge in the porch at the front of the house.

On the 15th the first dragonfly of the year was seen at the big pond.  A male broadBBchaser1788wp bodied chaser  raced around, alighting on tall reeds from time to time.  He was soon accompanied by a couple of other males and a lot of jousting went on between them as the females (right) started to emerge.   As we moved through the month more species of dragonfly and damselfly appeared at the pond, and other butterfly species including whites and small tortoiseshells began to take nectar from the flowers in the borders.

Prominent flowers in the wilder parts of the garden this month were oxeye daisies with its masses of white blossoms, plus the common spotted orchids began to flower in the bigger meadows. Several pairs of blue tits took advantage of the small insects feeding on these plants, taking them back to their growing broods in our bird boxes.

The month ended with rather more unsettled weather and spectacular thunder storms affected the whole of the southern part of the UK. Luckily our meadows were not badly affected by the torrential rain but the storms certainly kept the big pond well topped up.  June began with sunny warmer conditions with hopefully more to come.

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The Wildlife Garden in April

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After a very cold and miserable March, April began with an improvement in the weather in South Shropshire providing a few quite sunny afternoons. There were still plenty of finches using the bird feeders – goldfinches, greenfinches, siskins and a single lesser redpoll.  On the 3rd of the month a willow tit showed up – always an exciting moment here.  It was only seen feeding for a short time but gave me hope that this lovely little bird, which I hadn’t see here for several months, might still be around my garden if only from time to time. Later in the month a pair of marsh tits (picture of one above) also appeared on the feeders – the first time I have seen this species here for many months.  They have bred in the garden before and this pair was seen courtship feeding, so my hopes are high for a successful nest again.

As we moved into the second week of April our first migrant bird was heard – a blackcap singing in all the usual places, making me suspect that it is the same bird that nested here last year. Usually it is a chiff chaff that we see and hear first, but they seem few and far between around us so far this year. Our male blackcap continued to sing around the garden perimeter for the rest of the month, along with plenty of wrens, dunnocks, blackbirds and robins.

The initial good weather at the start of the month was not to last and changed yet again – back to cold and dank with no sign of the sun for several days. A pair of red-legged partridges took up residence in the garden, the male calling loudly from various locations while the female pottered about in the borders.  This species has bred in the garden several times so hopefully we might see breeding success again this year.  In the middle of the month the weather changed yet again.  It was still cool but at least it was sunny! A few butterflies DSCN9607appeared including the usual tatty peacocks and small tortoiseshells searching for nectar, although as a result of the very cold spring so far, there were few dandelions in flower for them to feed on.  The weather continued to slowly improve  and soon the cowslip meadow was in full flower, plus the marsh marigolds around the big pond also burst into bloom to brighten the garden. Oak Beauty0897

I am very fortunate to have oak woodland adjacent to my garden and it is a great source of interesting wildlife that finds its way into the garden from time to time. This month the moth trap produced a few new species including the beautiful Oak Beauty moth – a stunning moth that I have been expecting to see here, but have not caught until this year.  The month ended with a short trip to the Pembrokeshire coast where the wildlife highlights were choughs and gannets and sedge and red warblers sang in the coastal reed beds.

I returned home to find a pair of mallard in the garden with, miraculously, thirteen newly hatched youngsters!  The nest was only revealed after the ducklings had left it as it was very well camouflaged in reeds on the edge of the big pond.

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