The Wildlife Garden in December

Frosty Wild Carrot Seed Heads

As we moved into December and the end of the year, the impact of the weather dominated my exposed garden. Temperatures were dropping and it was very cold at times, plus conditions were windy as we moved towards the end of the year. There was a very heavy frost on the morning of the 2nd but it was wonderful to see that the hazel catkins outside the kitchen window were already formed and developing in spite of the cold! There was some snow on the Long Mynd at the start of this week which is always a lovely sight, even though I am not very fond of cold weather!  A single resident male blackbird was still vigorously defending ‘his’ berries on the Cotoneaster in the garden at the back of the house and many blue tits, almost too many to count, were flocking to the bird feeders.  Two great spotted woodpeckers were seen around the garden regularly and the bluetit numbers continued to increase with twenty six counted using the feeders one day – the whole the garden seemed to be alive with birds. Blackbirds continued to congregate under the orchard trees to take advantage of the fallen apples and I was surprised to note that they were all males. I counted ten or twelve most days. I was pleased to see that a single marsh tit and two coal tits were feeding daily – two of my favourite species.  The week continued with snow on the Mynd every day and at times the weather was very windy.  By the end of the week the blackbird numbers were up to twenty individuals but only a single fieldfare was seen.

Early Hazel Catkins

The second week of December began with more very windy weather and more snow on the surrounding hills. Again large numbers of bluetits were counted in the garden plus a good flock of goldfinches.  There were still very few fieldfares in the orchard compared to previous years in spite of plenty of apples there.  Pheasants, mostly females, that had escaped the local shoot were seen around the garden, eating the dropped seed under the feeders and anything else they could find, which deprives our native bird species of food and therefore is not very desirable!  Sadly there is little that can be done and these non-native birds are tolerated.  Blue tits and goldfinches were still with us in large numbers at end of week plus the marsh and two coal tits.  Few mammals were seen in the garden except for a couple of rabbits, some grey squirrels and the usual bank voles.  The weather continued to be very cold and dank.

Bank Vole

The third week of December was mild, especially at the beginning of the week, and all the usual birds were around with good numbers of blue tits and goldfinches.  However there were no redwings and only a couple of fieldfares, so it has been an unusual year in the respect.  The local kites were seen less often over the garden but buzzards were around every day and a single jay was seen feeding in the orchard. We had fewer pheasants as some managed to work out that they could actually fly over the hedge into the adjacent field!  On the 15th a large number of kites gathered in our little valley – at least twenty were seen soaring above us with a few buzzards, in what was now mild, still and dry weather. Just two fieldfares continued to feed in the in orchard – quite a difference to the large numbers we usually see at this time of year and more than 20 blue tits were again counted, mostly using one of the window feeders. On the 19th a male sparrowhawk was seen grabbing a blue tit from the feeder outside my office and flying off with it.

Red Kites and Buzzards over the Garden

The last week of the year was generally overcast and very cool and we were still looking at mainly tits feeding in large numbers on the bird feeders.  No bramblings or siskins were seen at all which was disappointing, but chaffinches fed in some numbers under the feeders. Few mammals were seen around the garden with the exception of one rabbit plus the usual bank voles that were still enjoying their home under the patio.  With no snow now and very little frost, the year ended quietly with the wildlife in our garden enjoying the mild conditions.  No doubt the New Year will bring us something more wintery.

Male Chaffinch

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The Wildlife Garden in November

Blackbird eating Hawthorn berries

There was a decidedly coldish start to the month of November here in South Shropshire, and we experienced the first frost of the winter on the third of the month. Good numbers of redwings were seen in the vegetable garden in the big hawthorn there, but there was no sign of fieldfares which seem to be late everywhere this year. There were no bramblings either although they seem to be abundant in other places.  We had a bright, cold day on the 3rd of the month and the resident marsh tit was still visiting the bird feeder outside my office window every day from about 3pm onwards and caching sunflower hearts in the nearby hedge. On the 5th a flock of around 200 redwings appeared in the garden and were soon feeding in the hawthorns in my little woodland area on the garden boundary. Large numbers of chaffinches were cleaning up the dropped berries on the grassy path below.  On the afternoon of the 7th twenty six fieldfares were seen in the garden mostly in the copse, with just one feeding on the Ellisons Orange apples in the orchard. There were still at least two rabbits in the garden – thankfully not in the vegetable garden though!

Goldfinch feeding on Lavender seed

At the start of the second week there were no fieldfares around at all but lots of redwings were still here, now feeding on the berries on the big holly tree at the far end of the garden.  A single male blackbird was eating all the hawthorn berries in the large tree in the back garden and aggressively defending ‘his’ cache from allcomers, plus a few goldfinches were feeding on groundsel seeds in the long garden meadow. The weather was quite overcast and cloudy but now not so cold. There were very misty conditions on the 10th and the local red kites were very active with two flying low over the garden on the 13th.  Goldfinches began to eat the lavender seeds in the back garden and on the 13th a single fieldfare returned and was sunning itself on the long hedge for some time. More fieldfares returned to the orchard the next day but so far not as many as in previous years, and redwings were still in the holly every day. Bank voles were feeding daily on the patio at the back of the house and several field mice were caught on the camera trap one night. Birds regularly using the feeders were rather sparse and there was no sign of the marsh tit for a couple of days.

Song Thrush

The third week of November began with a cold, dank day on the 15th. No redwings were seen at all and a walk to the end of the garden revealed that all the holly berries have gone! There were still very few fieldfares – at times just one in the orchard. A queen bumblebee was seen in the bottom of one of our hedges on the 18th – not that surprising as the weather was overcast but still very mild.  All around the garden the autumn colours were fantastic with lots of yellow and orange leaves especially in the field maples and hazels.  On the 18th I had a great view of a stoat in the garden.  Blackbirds – all males – began fighting over the remaining hawthorn berries in the tree outside my kitchen window and twice a song thrush was seen attempting to grab a few berries but the blackbirds frightened it off.  A single long tailed tit was around for a few days – a bird we haven’t seen here for a while.  The weather became clear and bright but quite cold but on the 24th a red admiral butterfly was seen – maybe disturbed from its hibernation spot. Large numbers of pheasants began to appear in the garden from the local shoot, sometimes as many as twenty at a time which was frustrating as they eat the small invertebrates in the meadow grass and the discarded sunflower hearts under the feeders.   By the 24th of the month all the redwings had left us and just one fieldfare remained in the orchard. This happens every autumn and it is tempting to believe that it is this same bird that spends the winter here every year! The song thrush returned briefly as on the 26th the weather became very cold and was able to find food in the form of Viburnum berries which the blackbirds were ignoring in favour of hawthorn. At the end of the week the gale force winds of storm Arwen arrived overnight and we were left without power for many hours but luckily there was little damage in the garden although friends reported fallen trees locally.  As the month came to a conclusion, cold damp conditions prevailed with snow on the Long Mynd on the 29th and cold drizzly rain until the 30th. The usual birds continued to feed with us, and the bank voles appeared every day on the patio for their sunflower hearts. A sparrowhawk visited briefly, the kites continued to display over the garden and my thoughts were very much on next month and the approaching equinox.  I am looking forward to hearing the wonderful songs of mistle thrush and song thrush here at the beginning of the new year.

Snow on the Long Mynd

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The Wildlife Garden in October

Marsh Tit

The first day of October was bright and sunny here in South Shropshire but there were still very few birds around the garden after our holiday in Wales. There was no sign of any siskins at all but nuthatches were still here and taking away and caching large numbers of sunflower hearts. In general though birds at the feeders were quite sparse. Pheasants were released in the field next door for the local shoot but thankfully there were fewer than usual. This field has been sown with winter wheat this year rather than left fallow which means there could be quite different wildlife using it this winter. In the garden the odd butterfly was still around especially red admiral on the Verbena bonariensis in the vegetable garden, although green veined white was also seen feeding there. I had great views of a male blackcap feeding on the berries of alder buckthorn outside my office window on the 4th and a male sparrowhawk visited the garden several times in the first week of this month. Apart from these species birds were rather few, no doubt as a result of two weeks without the bird feeders being topped up. A couple of rabbits were still looking very much at home in the garden although mammals were rather scarce this week except for a wood mouse that was seen a few times and the resident bank voles that live under the patio at the back of the house. However, two very vocal local red kites were making a lot of noise every day!

Sparrowhawk

In the second week of October the local kites continued to be very noisy. The long hedge between our garden and the field next door was carefully cut by a local farmer – this hedge is very meticulously maintained by him and is always thick and dense and full of berries, and the flat top soon attracted a variety of birds, especially jays, of which there were quite a few around. On the 8th a rather special mammal was seen in the garden – a polecat! This is only the second time we have seen one here and they are far too quick and nervous for me to get a photograph. Also this day a little red-legged partridge was seen in the Long Garden – one of my favourite garden visitors. A male sparrowhawk continued to be seen every day and he soon found that it was quite convenient to sit on top of the bird feeder pole outside my office.  A few comma and red admiral butterflies were still feeding around the garden, largely on Verbena bonariensis, and a lovely little marsh tit began to visit the feeders daily.  Large flocks of wood pigeons, typical of this time of year, flew over and sometimes into the garden – 26 were counted in the meadow one day.  On the 13th a snipe visited the garden. Sadly I disturbed it while walking near the pond but it was nevertheless a great view!  On the 14th a small flock of redwings arrived. This is one of my favourite autumn and winter visitors and I was pleased to see around 15 alight in the large hawthorns at the far side of my garden.  They didn’t stay long but their appearance bodes well for winter thrushes here as the hawthorn crop and the apples in the orchard are abundant this year.

Red Admiral Butterfly feeding on Verbena bonariensis

The third week began with very mild weather and still no rain. A few plants were continuing to flower in the nectar borders including Japanese anemone and the long lasting Verbena bonariensis.  On the 16th of the month we had excellent views of a stoat in the garden. This very active mammal was seen three or four times, firstly running across the garden just outside the glass door of my office, then in the back garden and lastly exploring the big meadow.  It was fantastic to have such good views of it.  Over the next few days the weather cooled and there were misty and damp conditions but no actual rain. The marsh tit continued to visit the feeders daily and pheasants began to come into the garden in some numbers, but thankfully most then left us again for the adjacent field. The single bank vole was seen feeding at the back of the house every day and the occasional redwing was still enjoying the hawthorn berries.

Redwing

At the beginning of the last week of October I was treated, early one morning, to the sight of two foxes chasing and play fighting in the field next door. The weather became brighter and colder and the numbers of birds using the feeders – especially goldfinches – increased. Redwings continued to return to the garden for the berries in the large hawthorn in the vegetable garden which is a more secluded spot, and soon there was a small flock of these lovely thrushes in the garden every day. On the 27th two red legged partridges arrived in the garden. They didn’t stay for long sadly which was a shame as I do like these little birds even though they are not native. The weather became cooler and more windy as we moved towards the end of the last week of the month, the male sparrowhawk continued to visit us daily and the tall holly bush at the end of the garden was being visited by a male blackbird and a song thrush so the berries were disappearing fast.  There was still no sign of any fieldfares though. However the marsh tit continued to come to the bird feeder outside my office every day, continually dashing off with sunflower hearts which were being cached in various locations around the garden. The month ended with mostly cloudy and overcast weather although there were moments of bright cold sunshine. However in spite of the brightness, there was definitely a hint of much cooler weather in the air. Winter – my least favourite season – is approaching!

Male Blackcap feeding on Alder Buckthorn Berries

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The Wildlife Garden and Beyond…

Chough

September was a rather beautiful, mild month with quite a lot of warm sunny weather here in South Shropshire.  There were several chiffchaffs here at the beginning of the first week, feeding around the garden in the warm sunny weather, and I assumed that some were juveniles and that chiffchaffs had bred in the garden as they have in previous years. The moorhens, which had been resident here for many months appeared to have gone, but the single female mallard that has been with us for some time was still in the garden and feeding on fallen fruit under our apple trees.  Goldfinches were coming together in a small, mixed adult and juvenile flock while a few butterflies, including a lovely wall brown and a very dark speckled wood, were seen in the garden daily.  Huge numbers of swallows and martins were flying and feeding over the garden every day, taking advantage of all the small invertebrates that breed in the meadows, borders and hedges here.  Our own swallows were doing well with the second brood now out of the nest and feeding around the garden, but still spending some time in the shelter of the nest cup in the porch at the front of the house.  They returned to the porch to roost every night. Harvesting began in the field next door to the garden on the 7th and the small insects that this activity inevitably produces were snapped up by the swallows and house martins.

Sea Holly

The second week of the month was warm but very breezy. Bank voles were still feeding daily at the back of the house but on the 8th we noticed that no swallows were roosting in the porch, so they have left us for another year after two successful broods. The weather continued to be warm but slowly became more overcast and rather wet.  A pair of greenfinches was around the feeders on a daily basis and a single yellowhammer was seen feeding on the driveway on the 9th taking advantage of the seeds of a teasel plant that had seeded into the driveway. Also this day a sedge warbler was seen around the big pond – the second time we have had this species around the garden.  At the end of the week a kingfisher was also see around the big pond!  This has only happened once before and this time it did not stay for long, but I did have a great view of it perched on a bullrush and then flying into the alder tree on the pond edge.

Worms Head, Gower

September is our annual holiday month – a time when the garden can be left to its own devises – and the last two weeks of September were spent on the Gower Peninsula in South Wales, close to Oxwich Beach.  We were very fortunate with the weather which was excellent for the whole of the first week with bright warm sunshine every day.  Morning walks on the beach revealed plenty of sea urchins, while black headed gulls searched for food and a group of beautiful ringed plovers was seen every day. Other daily walks took us further afield to especially to Rhossili and the stunningly beautiful area of Worms Head – a place I first visited more than forty years ago! We had very good views of the choughs there and also saw daily a pair of kestrels, stonechats and wheatears.  Plants in the Oxwich dunes included the lovely sea holly but the choughs were the highlight of the holiday.

Male Kestrel

At the end of the second week of September we returned to South Shropshire and the garden was very quiet, as expected, with a very autumnal feel here. Fox scats revealed that there had been a regular visitor around the garden and a couple of rabbits were still around the meadow areas. However the resident bank voles were completely absent!  Numbers of the usual bird species for the time of year including lots of your goldfinches, slowly built up but the siskins that have been with us since last winter had disappeared!  Two very persistent nuthatches were caching food and a single marsh tit was visiting the feeders daily. Grey squirrels were collecting hazelnuts, several jays were burying acorns and all the signs of autumn were here,

                                                                                                               

Speckled Wood
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The Wildlife Garden in August

Wall Brown

The first day of August was hot and sunny here in my wildlife garden in Shropshire and the swallows that were nesting in our front porch were very active and preparing for their second brood.  The garden was full of butterflies of several species, many of which were feeding on the smaller of our two Buddleias in the Long Garden, which has now grown to a good height and was flowering well. Small tortoiseshell, peacock, red admiral and comma were abundant and other species feeding included gatekeepers and a beautiful wall brown.  The juvenile marsh tit continued to visit the bird feeder outside my office window at the start of the week, together with lots of young nuthatches. Two bullfinches were feeding on the seeds of Herb Robert around the garden and I also had a fantastic view of a stoat in the meadow early in the week.  There seemed to be fewer rabbits around the next day but it might have been my imagination! A buzzard sat around in our little area of woodland and a brown hawker dragonfly was seen flying around the pond with the more common species.  There were still very good numbers of butterflies of several species feeding all around the garden at the end of the week.

Peacock Butterfly feeding on Echinops

In the second week of August large numbers of peacock butterflies were dominating the buddleias but the weather quickly cooled and became rather variable – it was at times quite cold and wet. However plenty of gatekeepers continued to feed around the borders and in the Big Meadow, especially on the wild marjoram, plus a few second brood brimstones, including a lovely male, were feeding on purple loosestrife around the marshy pond. There were also still lots of red admirals and peacock butterflies feeding on the Echinops in the long borders but fewer meadow browns and ringlets were seen. Goldfinches were taking advantage of the seeds of knapweed but the small flock was also feeding on meadowsweet seeds which I hadn’t seen here before. A chiffchaff was seen searching for insects on the largest of our Buddleias in the nectar garden several times and a few commas were also around plus several silver Y moths. On the 11th there was a single wall brown again in the meadow grass by the big pond and at least three chiffchaffs were feeding in the biggest of our plum trees in the orchard.

Chiffchaff feeding on invertebrates in the Buddleia

The third week of August began with dry but cool and windy weather – most unlike mid-summer!  Six siskins continued to feed around the garden and several chiffchaffs were now finding food amongst the Buddleia flowers. Large numbers of house martins and swallows began to feed over the big pond and the juvenile moorhens wandered around the garden several times every day, often picking up food from under the bird feeders or spending time sitting under the car in the drive!  They seemed quite at home wandering about and were rarely seen on the pond. Only one bank vole was noted daily and there were fewer rabbits in the garden than of late.  The cutting of our wildflower meadows started this week – a big job involving a lot of raking of hay piles after cutting. The piles were then removed to various compost heaps around the garden.  This week the commonest butterfly around was the gatekeeper, with good numbers feeding on marjoram in the borders and the meadows.  A wall brown butterfly was seen again on the 19th , this time feeding on scabious in one of the borders. Purple loosestrife was still well in flower and attracting several brimstones, but towards the end of the week the knapweed was pretty much over with only a few goldfinches now feeding on the seeds. The weather became very overcast and quite cold but moving the hay from the meadows kept me warm!  A few bank voles and a single large frog were found amongst the hay piles but no smaller frogs which is very unusual.

A Wandering Juvenile Moorhen

The last week of the month began with yet more cool, overcast weather with just a little sunshine in the afternoon of the 22nd. Squirrels were seen collecting and carrying off hazelnuts, and there seems to be a good crop for them this year.  On the 23rd a fox was seen very well in the fruit garden which might explain why the rabbit population appears to be reducing.  The fox was later seen in our small woodland area and judging by the noise was clearly being mobbed by jays.  The next few days were warmer and I counted ten red admiral butterflies feeding on the big buddleia again and quite a lot of peacock butterflies too. On the same day a meadow pipit was seen on one of the wires over the back garden – only the second time this bird has appeared here.  The weather then cooled again for the last week of the month, but many house martins and swallows were feeding over the pond and meadow daily and collecting on the house roof and overhead wires, already planning their departure. There were fewer butterflies around now and the month ended with cool and overcast conditions but I am hoping there is a burst of late summer sunshine on it’s way!

Our Swallows Preparing to Leave

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The Wildlife Garden in July

The Big Meadow

The month of July began with very poor weather in South Shropshire at the start of the first week, but at least there were plenty of birds around the garden to compensate, especially large numbers of juvenile blue and great tits from our boxes and from the local woodland.  The common spotted orchids in the garden meadows were still in flower but they were starting to go over and lose their colour as the seeds set.   The big pond was looking wonderful and very natural in terms of the vegetation in and around its banks, but again there were very few dragonflies or damselflies after the mallard invasion of recent years!  The resident moorhens were very active with four or five babies running about, accompanying the adults around the garden, and there were several great spotted woodpeckers feeding including a few juveniles.  Along with our regular bird species, two linnets were seen in the big meadow feeding on grass seeds. There were very few butterflies seen this week – only one common blue and one meadow brown were noted. On the 7th of the month the weather was briefly sunny and warm and several ringlet butterflies appeared around the meadows.

Linnets feeding in the meadow areas

The second week of the month saw slowly warming weather and soon temperatures were in the high teens and early twenties! The local farmer was cutting his hay fields which provided plenty of food for our swallows and house martins. The four juvenile swallows from the nest in the porch boldly ventured out but were returning every night to the safety of the nest. Meadow brown, ringlet, small tortoiseshell and large skipper butterflies were now quite numerous around the meadows and borders as temperatures increased, and the weather became very sunny and hot.  There were still fewer dragonflies and damselflies than we would normally have at this time of year but at least a few species were using the pond.   The largest of our meadows began to look amazing with knapweed, meadow vetchling, lady’s bedstraw and meadowsweet in full flower.  A smaller meadow area – known as the Geranium meadow, as meadow cranesbill flourishes there, was also in full flower with even more plants than last year. The fact that its seeds are ‘explosive’ does a lot to ensure that it spreads well here! There were few signs of mammals around the garden except for the usual handful of rabbits and plenty of bank voles.  Skylarks were singing daily over the garden as the weather improved.

Ringlet butterfly in the Big Meadow

Temperatures continued to rise at the start of the third week of July.  Butterfly numbers, especially peacocks, were good and species were roughly the same of as the previous week.  The orchids were now over and setting seed but other wildflowers in the meadows continued to provide plenty of colour. Juvenile siskins began to appear on the feeders with two adults and there was still a huge number of young blue tits around. On the 18th a single marsh tit was seen on one of the bird feeders – the first I had seen in the garden since April. My impression was that it was a juvenile bird and this was confirmed by an expert friend as I didn’t trust my own judgment!  This same bird continued to be seen daily until the end of the month.  The weather remained hot and sunny all week with temperatures rising to the high 20s.  The warmer weather meant that butterflies were more plentiful now, with ten species seen around the garden although actual numbers of each species were fairly small with the exception of meadow brown and ringlet which were abundant. The young moorhens were now boldly picking up food from under the bird feeder outside my office and at the end of the week a fox was seen in the garden – not something we see often in spite of our rural location.

Juvenile Marsh Tit

The last week of July continued with warm sunny conditions but on the 28th we had rain which was much needed in the vegetable garden. There were still large numbers of juvenile birds around especially blue tits, but also now a few young goldfinches joined the siskins and a pair of linnets was photographed feeding on seeds in one of the meadows.  As the month ended several gatekeeper butterflies appeared in their usual spot on the marjoram in the small meadow at the back of the house and their extraordinary territorial nature saw them chasing off other larger species including a comma! Numbers of bumblebees in the long nectar borders continued to increase as the weather warmed up. On the very last day of the month I was treated to the spectacle of a family of weasels in our little copse of trees – an adult with several youngsters racing about and popping in and out of the various log piles there before exploring the rest of the garden- a brilliant end to the month!    

Weasel

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The Wildlife Garden in June

The Back Garden Orchids

The first week of June brought plenty of juvenile birds to the garden and one particular blue tit, nesting in a hole in the old hawthorn behind the pond, was seen catching damselflies and taking them back to the chicks!  A blue tit was also seen feeding chicks in the bird box on the end of my potting shed – a box that hasn’t been used for a while.  A whitethroat – the first seen or heard this year – sang from the top of the tall trees in the copse and was very visible and lovely to hear, and both song thrush and blackbird were also singing daily – the blackbird in the early morning on top of the house roof which became slightly annoying as he woke me at about 4.30 every morning! The moorhens, having lost their first brood to crows, were on a second less accessible nest at the back of the pond and had five or six eggs. Several birds were again attempting to take the eggs but the female was managing to see them off in a rather ferocious way.  The weather this week was initially warm and sunny but then cloud and rain became the norm.  The whitethroat was singing again at the end of the week though and was also seen briefly on the wires over the back garden.  Blackcap and chiffchaff were still singing daily and a few butterflies were seen around the garden including holly blue and a single comma. 

Holly Blue

The second week of June was variable weather-wise. There was a little sun but the skies were also very overcast at times.  However all the wildflower meadows in the garden were looking amazing with an excellent selection of meadow plant species including meadow cranesbill and yellow rattle – both in profusion.  A single brimstone was seen along with a few other butterfly species.  Less positive was the sighting of baby rabbit in the vegetable garden which is technically fenced to keep rabbits out, so extra protection was needed! The little rabbit (which was very cute) thankfully ran out while the fencing work was going on.  However rabbits were the least of my problems as it seems to be an extraordinary year for slugs and I suspect the worst for growing vegetables that I have ever known. However a beautiful slow worm was found in the garden on the 10th so at least something was benefitting from the slugs!  As the week went on the garden seemed to be slowly filling up with young blue tits and great tits as the fledglings left the nest boxes.  A further nest was noticed in a small box in the fruit garden which hasn’t been used before, which meant that at least four boxes around the garden were being used and several others which are inaccessible to us at this time of year also seemed to be occupied.  The biggest success in the garden this year however was the proliferation of the common spotted orchids which were everywhere – over 400 were counted in just one small meadow area close to the house and there were many others all around the garden.  Oxeye daisies were also flowering in abundance and bird’s foot trefoil was also flowering profusely.  Butterflies though were rather sparse this week with just a few small tortoiseshells and one painted lady seen on the 14th.

Pied Wagtail

The third week of the month saw the meadow areas continuing to flourish with common spotted orchids everywhere and many were much larger than they have been in previous years.  They were popping up everywhere including in some of the flower borders and even in pots with other plants. More good news was that swallows nesting in our porch clearly had eggs and one bird was constantly on the nest, only flying out to feed or to avoid shopping deliveries!  A pair of pied wagtails was seen frequently on the house roof and around the garden and a single large toad was found on the 16th. The moorhens now clearly now had chicks in the nest and the adults were very aggressive towards any passing visitor of any size, including other birds and people. Several larger dragonflies were seen around the pond but not in the numbers we were used to before the local mallard moved in – this year the moorhens won the battle for occupation of the pond and the aquatic invertebrates seem to be more abundant as a result.  Common blue damselfly in particular was seen in some numbers.  House martins continued to feed over the garden every evening and on one occasion several flew up to the eaves of the house and clung there for a while, but there is still no sign of them using the nest cups we have provided.

Blue Tit Nest Box

During the fourth week of June the weather was still rather variable here in South Shropshire and at times actually quite cold! There were however still plenty of young birds around the garden, especially tits from the boxes, and many were learning to use the bird feeders.  The young birds also included siskins which have clearly bred locally again and possibly in the garden. There were also plenty of young robins, as usual sheltering under the car while waiting to be fed! There were still very few butterflies for the time of year but meadow browns and a single male brimstone were notable this week.  Blackcap and chiffchaff continued to sing and the meadows were full of oxeye daisies, common spotted orchids and meadowsweet. The bank voles that live around our patio area were seen every day and a single tiny youngster accompanied one of the larger voles on several days.  Towards the end of the week the weather improved and a few ringlets joined the meadow brown butterflies.  Common knapweed and meadow cranesbill were both in full flower and white clover in the shorter meadow areas attracted plenty of bumblebees.  On the last day of the month a juvenile redstart appeared on the garden gate – last year this happened four days later.  There is clearly something about our gate that they like!  It was only seen once but hopefully there might be more sightings next month.

Juvenile Redstart on the Garden Gate
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The Wildlife Garden in May

Blackcap singing in the Hawthorn Hedge

 At the beginning of May, South Shropshire experienced what was a very miserable May Day holiday with pouring rain and blustery high winds for the whole of the day, and the wet and windy weather continued on and off throughout the next week plus, on the 2nd of the month, there was a very hard frost overnight!  Spring felt a long way off.  However, the local buzzards and kites were really enjoying the windy conditions and a kestrel was seen hunting over the garden on a few occasions.  Unfortunately, my greenhouse was damaged by fierce overnight winds but thankfully it was repairable.  The siskins that are still with us continued to use the feeders plus a song thrush was recorded in the garden on several occasions and two blackbirds were seen carrying nest material into one of our hedges.  The pair of swallows was around from time to time, often visiting the house porch, but there was daily conflict with a wren which was taking moss into the swallow nest cup. The swallows however won the battle and a wren was seen nestbuilding in one of the large twig piles in the copse – hopefully the displaced individual!   A male blackcap was singing beautifully and at times was very visible and there was a single pied wagtail – rather an unusual bird for us – in the garden on the 7th. The resident moorhens were nest building and the swallows continued to swoop around the house, feeding over the garden and the field next door. Late in the afternoon on the 7th a small group of swifts was seen over the garden and the song thrush was seen visiting one of the garden hedges on several occasions. 

Male Bullfinch feeding on Dandelion Seeds

At the beginning of the second week of May the weather was still unseasonably cold!  The resident moorhens began to lay but sadly the eggs were predated, possibly by a local magpie.  The swallow pair was now around the garden constantly – in and out of the porch and also sitting on the wires over the back garden and on the house roof.  Six wild mallard arrived on the wildlife pond but did not stay long and a grey heron also visited, plus a female bullfinch was seen frequently using the bird bath. All over the garden the dandelions in the smaller meadows began to seed and four bullfinches, together with several greenfinches, goldfinches and a single linnet, soon became frequent visitors, spending a lot of time enjoying the seeds.  The weather became rather cool again and overcast mid-week, but the finches were visiting daily to enjoy the bounty of the dandelion seeds, especially in the Long Garden.  At the end of the week a very scruffy peacock butterfly was seen feeding on dandelion flowers and orange tips were still numerous – some were seen egg-laying on honesty flowers in one of the borders – and a single green-veined white butterfly was also seen this week in the Big Meadow. At the end of the week we had another visit from the kestrel.

Bluebells and Wild Garlic in Dormouse Wood

As the third week of May began the bluebells in our small corner of woodland ( called Dormouse Wood – I live in hope) came into flower and as always looked amazing. The weather though was very changeable and wind and rain featured frequently! The Big Meadow continued to grow quickly with, this year, lots of Phleum pratense (Timothy Grass) showing off its flowering heads. The dominant grass in the Big Meadow changes from year to year and it’s always interesting to see what it will be! Finches continued to feed on the dandelions and one afternoon we had five species of finch feeding at the same time – bullfinch, chaffinch, linnet, greenfinch and siskin.  The local hare was seen in an adjacent field and three bank voles visited the patio at the back of the house on a daily basis, expecting their usual feast of sunflower hearts.   On the 16th a spotted flycatcher – an absolute favourite bird – was seen in our ash tree but sadly must have been just passing through as it was not seen again.   On the 20th the greenfinches were up to five individuals feeding on dandelion seeds in poor weather, along with two pairs of bullfinches.  The swallows were pretty much absent – the persistent rain and wind no doubt meant that they found somewhere with better weather to spend their time!

The Big Meadow

At the start of the last week of May the weather conditions changed a little, and the sun shone although there was still a very cool wind. The garden birds were still relying very much on the bird feeders but there were no young birds around in spite of many of our nest boxes being occupied. The Big Meadow grew rapidly and it was clear that there was going to be plenty of common knapweed again this year which is good news for finches and butterflies. Last year the lady’s bedstraw was spectacular but there seems to be less this year – such is the changeable nature of wildflower meadows. Buttercups though were putting on a wonderful show in long grass around the garden and it was obvious that this was going to be our best common spotted orchid year yet again – they increase year by year and are now all over the different areas of the garden as they seed prolifically. On the 25th two adult coal tits were seen feeding juveniles in the top of one of our trees in the and Copse and the male kestrel was again hunting over the garden later that day.  As the weather warmed a little towards the end of the month the first damselfly – a Beautiful Demoiselle – floated through the sunny garden and suddenly early summer was upon us.

Beautiful Demoiselle

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The Wildlife Garden in April

Male Siskin

The start of April was disappointingly cold and overcast and not at all spring-like, but as the week progressed things began to warm up a little.  A reminder of more wintery conditions were still with us in the form of a single lesser redpoll in the garden for a short while which was using the using the feeders at the back of the house as well as those outside my office window.  A few siskins remained with the males singing beautifully and they were using all the bird feeders around the house including a small window feeder, which gave me the opportunity to see both males and females close up. These little finches are not just beautiful but are also incredibly feisty and argumentative – constantly squabbling and fighting amongst themselves.  A mistle thrush was heard singing from the far end of the wood opposite my garden and blackcap and chiffchaff were both singing locally. ‘Our’ male blackcap returned on the 3rd of the month and began to sing from all his usual places in what by now was quite pleasant sunny weather. Both of the resident moorhen pair were around the garden every day and our cowslips were coming into bloom especially in the small ‘cowslip meadow’ in the back garden. In the big garden with the meadow however, they were much less abundant.  Leaves of our common spotted orchids were appearing all around the garden and the now yearly task of transplanting them from the grass paths into more secure areas began.  It seems like an act of vandalism to mow over them, even though we now have hundreds here, so transplanting is a yearly task!  The nights were cold this week with some heavy frosts but the warm sunshine every day meant it felt like spring was well advanced.

Local Ploughing with Rooks following

The second week of April brought much cooler weather but a little sunshine made the icy wind more bearable!  Locally, ploughing began in the field next door and several red kites and buzzards plus a large flock of rooks, were following the plough.  Yellowhammers were seen frequently on our long hedge and the local linnet flock was often seen often flying over the garden with a single pair on the hedge and in the orchard at the end of the week.  Unusually no newts were seen in the big pond and all the frog tadpoles seem to have gone, possibly eaten by the moorhens.   A single marsh tit was seen every day, usually on the bird feeders outside my office and a pair of red-legged partridges appeared in the big meadow.  A bank vole was frequently observed on the patio at the back of the house eating sunflower hearts which were left for him each morning.  The cowslip meadow put on a great show and it became obvious that there were going to be even more common spotted orchids around all the grassy areas.  Chiffchaff and blackcap continued to sing every day and the whole garden felt very springlike and alive with singing birds.

Cowslip Meadow

The third week of the month continued to be warm and the warblers continued to sing daily around the garden. Both male and female blackcap were seen bathing in the overflow water from the pond next door along with several finches and a song thrush..  At least four siskins were still around the garden and the males were singing beautifully every day – hopefully they are going to breed somewhere close by.  There was still no sign of either swallows or redstarts but robins were clearly nesting in one of our hedges and the pair of yellowhammers was seen on the long hedge every day.  The cowslip meadow continued to dazzle.  On the morning of the 19th two Canada geese arrived noisily at the big pond but after a quick look flew off (thankfully!) The female blackcap was often seen on the hedge in the vegetable garden and the male sang all around the garden, usually from one of the big hawthorns. On the morning of the 19th two Canada geese appeared by the pond!  Thankfully they didn’t stay long but as a new species recorded in the garden I was pleased to see them.  Both male and female brimstone butterflies were seen this week, as were the first orange tips and a peacock.

Orange Tip butterfly feeding on Honesty

At the beginning of the last week of April two swallows were feeding over the field opposite our garden and on the 23rd a single swallow flew over and around the house and garden and was later joined by a second – these birds were hopefully swallows that have bred here in previous years. Two pied wagtails – unusual for this garden – spent some time around the meadow areas but there was still no sign of a redstart.  The marsh tit was notable by its sudden absence – hopefully moving to a breeding area nearby and not predated by the local sparrowhawk.  In the middle of the week a single swallow, with great familiarity, visited the front porch where they have nested in the past and was also seen using several of the usual perches – on the rambling rose close to the nest site and on the wires over the garden.  As the month came to an end there were now several yellowhammers on the long hedge daily, plus the bank vole was very active and was accompanied by a very small vole on one occasion!  With swallows swooping around and visiting the nest site every day it felt as though summer was approaching!

The Swallows return

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The Wildlife Garden in March

Lesser Redpoll

The weather in South Shropshire was very damp and cool at the beginning of the first week of March and, as expected, there were lots of birds around the garden especially siskins, and two lesser redpolls were frequently in the garden using the feeders. On the third of the month several bramblings appeared including one gorgeous male – they were also feeding on the ground under the feeders. The redpolls were very bold and feisty and were soon feeding on the small tray outside my back door, fighting off all competition!  The local linnet flock was still with us every day and on the 3rd of the month two song thrushes were seen in the long garden.  The weather continued to be dry and overcast until the end of the week and a single jay visited the garden daily. There were still a few rabbits around the garden, which doesn’t bode well for my vegetables but no other mammals were seen this week.

Bank Vole

In the second week of the month the weather continued to be variable and was sometimes very windy with occasional torrential rain! Between the storms we had a little calmer sunnier weather from time to time. There were still lots of birds around the garden including the usual finches – up to twelves siskins were counted most days – and a single red legged partridge was seen and heard calling, but there was no sign of the female sparrowhawk this week and very few mammals were seen apart from the rabbits.  However a single bank vole was seen in the garden from time to time, picking up sunflower hearts from under the feeders and a weasel was also seen. The local mallard pair seemed to no longer be using our pond but were seen on the pond in the field next door – a much more suitable, less disturbed place for them to breed. Two jays started to forage for buried acorns in the garden every day and a buzzard was a regular visitor, often sitting in the orchard trees or on the long hedge. A male moorhen appeared on the pond on the 13th and I am assuming he is the bird that bred on our pond last year – I shall wait to see if his mate appears!  Bird numbers began to drop but tits and thrushes were singing well around the garden.  There was no sign of the frogspawn hatching.

During the third week of March the weather continued to improve and it was more spring like, but it was still very windy in spite of the sunshine. The single bank vole was still with us and a weasel was seen hunting around the house and big meadow. The local song thrush was now singing beautifully from several places around the garden, including from our beech tree and from the tall trees in the copse. A single large frog was found in one of the borders and was relocated to a safer spot and we began to see a few great crested newts in the big pond. Siskin numbers slowly dwindled but the marsh tit was still seen daily, carrying off sunflower hearts to a hiding place in the hedge!  A pied wagtail visited the garden on the 19th and spent some time on the roof of the house and feeding in the big meadow. 

Moorhen

 The last week of the month saw the single, now very smart looking marsh tit feeding daily and a blackbird was singing every morning from the copse and other areas in the garden. The song thrush also continued to sing from the field maple at the far end of the garden, creating a beautiful spring-like atmosphere whenever I opened the back door!  There were still several siskins feeding in the garden every day, and at least one male was often singing from the copse.  Three wood mice were caught in a live trap in my office cupboard having chewed up most things in there and in another cupboard they had eaten a whole packet of herb tea bags!  They were relocated to the garden but I expect to see them inside again sometime.  The local linnet flock was still around and they were sometimes alighting on our hedge or in the large ash tree in the garden.  Several blue tits and great tits were very active around our bird boxes and on the 28th a large number of toads were seen in the small field next door which has a natural pond, and were obviously spawning there.  The local kites soared over the garden every day and several buzzards were hunting for worms in the field next door. On the 29th of the month a chiffchaff was heard singing from the little woodland at the end of the garden plus that evening the first bat of the spring – a pipistrelle – flew from their roost in the house roof. The chiffchaff continued to sing every day and on the last day of the month several butterflies appeared in the garden – a peacock, a speckled wood and two brimstones.  Spring had really arrived.

Local Linnets

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