The Wildlife Garden in May

The weather was rather dull and overcast at the start of the first week of the May here in South Shropshire, but thankfully some brighter sunny weather came along. However it was all change again on the 9th – overcast, cool and windy with some rain forecast although this will be welcome as the garden is very dry indeed. Siskins were still with us and blackcap and chiffchaff were both singing well around the garden and from the woodland next door, plus a whitethroat sang daily from the field maple at the end of the garden. A song thrush too was singing every day and a distant mistle thrush was also heard regularly.  The moorhens were still using the big pond and male and female brimstone butterflies were recorded in the garden, plus a single holly blue was also seen. A wrens’ nest in the back garden at the base of our big hawthorn was very busy, with an adult obviously feeding young and a blackbird nest near the potting shed was constantly being visited by a male with food. Bluebells and stitchwort were beautifully in flower in our little piece of woodland and robins were seen taking food to a nest somewhere in the orchard.

Bluebells in the garden!

Chiffchaff

The second week of the month started with a few lovely warm, dry days. Several brimstone butterflies were still around the garden and bugle was flowering well in the damp areas close to the big pond, plus cow parsley was looking lovely I some of the shadier meadows. The weather became very cool on the 12th but the brimstones were still flying and orange tips were abundant in spite of the variable weather conditions. Blue tits were now feeding a brood in a nest box on the side of the potting shed and great tits were using a box on the side of the house. The Big Meadow was growing fast – a mixture of mainly Phleum and Holcus grasses plus lots of buttercups this year so quite a different mix of species from previous years. The swallows with the nest in the porch at the front of the house were very active but I was not sure if they were laying. The Big Pond was quiet but the moorhens were laying again as their nest was predated by crows. Three dunnocks were very busy in the garden and a kestrel was seen hovering over the Big Meadow on the 14th.

Young Moorhen waiting to be fed

The third week of May saw plenty of orange tips and brimstones still around the garden. All our usual birds including siskins were still with us and a single bank vole was seen most days underneath the bird feeder outside my window. A pair of bluetits was busy taking food to the nest box on the potting shed and finding plenty of food around the garden for the chicks. At the back of the house the garden was full of cow parsley which looked wonderful. On the 16th a single comma butterfly was seen but in general butterflies were still rather scarce.  The song thrush was singing again and a pair of red-legged partridges arrived in the garden on the 17th and a whitethroat singing and seen in the long garden. Blackcap, chiffchaff and whitethroat were singing every day which was wonderful and a male house sparrow appeared in the garden on the 18th which is always a pleasure here!  Around the big pond there were several beautiful demoiselles but no other dragonflies were seen.

Comma Butterfly

The last week of May saw cool and overcast weather. On the morning of the 23rd an adult treecreeper, with recently fledged young, was seen in the big hawthorn tree on the border of my vegetable garden – a wonderful thing to witness as they had obviously just left the nest. The first swifts of the summer were seen over the garden on the 23rd and later a good number of house martins.  Even more were seen the following day.  On the 26th the first common spotted orchid was seen in flower and a speckled wood butterfly roamed the fruit garden, plus a male brimstone fluttered around the alder buckthorn.  A few damsel flies began to appear around the big pond and a mallard with several ducklings also appeared as if from nowhere! Thankfully they exited the garden via a hole in the fence to occupy the luxury of the large pond in the field next door, rather than occupying more cramped conditions in my garden! The month ended a little much needed rain but certainly not as much as we need.

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The Wildlife Garden in April

The First Swallow

The first week of April was wonderfully bright and sunny but very cold here in South Shropshire. Overnight the snow that was covering the Long Mynd, the Shropshire Hill that I can see from my office window, had melted, and everything felt more spring-like with primroses beautifully in flower in the garden, and cowslips well on the way in spite of the cool temperatures. Amongst other birds a single long-tailed tit was seen in the garden – the first of these sweet little characters for many weeks – but there was still no chiffchaff singing. However a variety of finches were using the bird feeders, including the now resident siskins, and a single colourful jay was seen on several occasions.  The 5th of the month was very cold and windy but then the weather warmed a little and there were plenty of birds around the garden but no mammals, not even our resident bank voles were seen.  A pair of greenfinches were welcome visitors in light of their current decline, but still no marsh tit which I fear we may have lost from the area.  Elsewhere in the garden the big pond was getting visits from a mallard pair, although they were also using the large pond in the field next door and hopefully will choose that as their nest site as there is less disturbance there.

A rare garden visitor – House Sparrow!

The second week of the month saw the arrival of chiffchaffs with two singing from our tiny woodland area, and blackcaps too arrived at the same time, and these two species really heralded the arrival of spring!  The big pond, without the mallards around, soon attracted a pair of moorhens – our previous breeding pair I would like to think as they seemed very familiar with the garden.  We saw a single male house sparrow this week – a very unusual bird for us – and he made brief visits to the sparrow nest boxes under the eaves.   Butterflies around the garden were just three species – orange tip in abundance, brimstone which breeds on the alder buckthorn outside my office window, and a single peacock.  Orange tip is always seen in my vegetable garden where we have flowering forget-me-not which the orange tip loves to feed on.  One disappointment this week was the lack of life in the Big Pond.  Tadpoles were growing quickly in the Marshy Pond but only a few great-crested newts were seen in the larger one.  Around the garden boundaries and in Dormouse Wood though, greater stitchwort was everywhere amongst the bluebells, and masses of stitchwort and red campion was flowering on our local roadside verges.  There was no sign of ‘our’ swallows but half a mile away our neighbours’ pair had returned on the 14th – a couple of weeks earlier than usual. The warm spring weather continued to the end of the week.

The third week of the month saw the moorhen pair starting to build their nest amongst the reeds in the big pond, in the exact same spot they used last year. All the usual bird species were seen around the garden and a single grey squirrel was a frequent visitor– the first for some time. There were good numbers of chaffinches in the garden, the males colouring up beautifully.  Several dunnocks were seen in the garden daily and two coal tits used the feeders frequently.  On the 19th one of our swallows returned, flying up to the nest site in the front porch!  The next day he was sitting on the wires over the back garden in his usual spot!  A second appeared the next day in the late afternoon and joined the first on ‘their’ wire over the back garden. There was then a little investigation of the nest site and the male then perched on the apex of the house in his usual spot, singing beautifully.

Moorhens’ nest in the usual spot

On the 22nd of the month there were several eggs in the moorhen nest.  Chiffchaff and blackcap were still singing all around the garden and the pair of swallows, sometimes with a third, were seen around the house daily and feeding over the farmland around us. One of our bank voles reappeared which pleased me!  I see them and feed them every day and I would hate to think that they had left us!  On the 24th there were 10 house martins feeding over the garden and three greenfinches using the feeders. Sadly at the end of the week the moorhens’ nest, which was quite close to the pond bank, was predated, possibly by the local carrion crows.  However they immediately moved to the middle of large pond in the field next door which will give them much better protection as there are overhanging willow trees there and less easy access to predators. 

Brimstone butterfly egg laying on Alder Buckthorn.

The month ended with the cowslip meadow in the back garden in full flower and common spotted orchid leaves showing in all the grassy areas of the garden. It certainly looks like the garden will be very colourful in the early summer here!

The Cowslip Meadow

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The Wildlife Garden in March

Singing Siskin

March began with calmer, warmer weather than we had recently experienced, which was very welcome after the fierce storms of previous month and the weather was quite spring like on a few days at the beginning of the month!  The flowering currant bush in the garden at the back of the house was well in covered with scented pink flowers but initially there were no bumblebees visiting.  Several siskins were now feeding around the garden with two bright yellow males singing beautifully. There was still no sign of any frogspawn hatching in the small pond in spite of the spring like weather.  The local wild mallard pair visited the big pond on several occasions but showed no signs of being settled here. Through the first week of the month some essential work on our little copse of trees was completed.  This area was planted as a tree nursery before we acquired the house and garden and the saplings, all native species, had outgrown the area and were shading other more open parts of the garden.  The coppicing work was done with great care and the wood was stacked in various parts of the garden to create wildlife friendly log piles. All of the wild cherries were left as their blossom attracts a variety of insects in early spring plus a single young oak on one corner was left untouched, but other trees were coppiced to let in light to the ground beneath. It will be good to see the ground flora regenerate.  On the 6th of the month our local male moorhen returned to the big pond for the third year but there was no sign of the female this week. 

Peacock Butterfly nectaring on Primrose Flowers

 The second week of March began with quite cool and windy weather. For the first time in several weeks a sparrowhawk came through the garden – a very handsome individual with a very white breast.  The weather continued to be cool and windy and a male bullfinch was seen in the garden on the 10th  plus and a single red kite floated over the garden most days.  The 11th was a miserable, wet and windy day but there were large numbers of bluetits using the feeders and many chaffinches feeding on the ground beneath.  At lunchtime on the 11th the female moorhen appeared so we now have a pair here as we did last year. Hopefully they will breed successfully again!  Both birds trotted through the garden together and jumped into the big pond.  looking very contented and familiar with their surroundings!  On the 12th two pairs of beautiful siskins were still feeding in the garden but the moorhens had moved to the larger pond in the field next door.  A little flock of long-tailed tits visited every day and on the 14th of the month two queen bumblebees were seen in the nectar garden feeding on the flowering currant bush.

New Log Store

The third week of March began with a gorgeous male brimstone butterfly flying around the alder buckthorn shrub – their larval food plant, just outside my office window and then flying off across the Big Meadow.  One of the male siskins, singing beautifully from the top of the big hazel, was sometimes joined by the second and several females were around the garden this week.  The weather continued to be mild and sunny at times and primroses and violets were beautifully in flower down the lane outside my house. However there was still no sign of chiffchaff or blackcap around the garden and no chiffchaffs were heard down my lane or in the local woodland.  A blackbird though was singing most days and there was a wonderful skylark singing over the garden every day, usually visible in the clear blue sky. Under foot the garden, especially the big meadow, was very wet even though we have had no rain for some time.

Chiffchaff

The last week of the month continued to be warm, bright and very sunny and it was possible to believe that spring had arrived early.  Several butterflies were seen in the garden this week, especially speckled wood, and a peacock was seen nectaring on primroses in the copse. The mallard pair was still on the pond next door but sometimes visited our pond in the early mornings. All the usual birds were seen around the garden and bank voles were observed running from the back garden border into the cowslip meadow. There was still no sign of tadpoles though and I began to wonder if they had been eaten by great crested newts in the small pond or even by the moorhens.  As the week progressed the primroses in Dormouse Wood burst into flower and cowslips began to show in the cowslip meadow. On the 26th the first chiffchaff was heard and two were seen on the edge of Dormouse Wood plus a third was singing in the old hawthorn by the vegetable garden. A pair of robins was seen courtship feeding towards the end of the month, one taking food from the border I was tidying and daintily feeding the other on the other side of the nectar garden.

The month ended with a single bright jay in the garden plus a lovely male orange tip in the vegetable garden. feeding on wild forget-me-not flowers.  It certainly felt as though spring had arrived but as is likely in the South Shropshire Hills, possibly not for very long!

The First Brimstone of the Spring
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The Wildlife Garden in February

More Snow on the Mynd

At the start of the month the early catkins were still in flower all around us – we are fortunate to have formerly coppiced hazel woodland all around the garden and at this time of year the garden is full of these lovely ‘lambs tails’ as my country born and bred mother called them!  On the 2nd of the month there were two wild mallard on the Big Pond but they didn’t hang around.  Having them breeding with us creates huge challenges for us as they completely dominate the garden and there is no way for the ducklings to get out except onto the adjacent road.  Thankfully this pair flew out of the garden and into the large pond in the field next door – a much more suitable habitat for them! There was no sign of a sparrowhawk which was rather unusual – we tend to see a large female here very regularly – but the now seemingly resident pair of carrion crows was around constantly and there were several long tailed tits feeding in the garden every day.  Numbers of blue tits continued to increase and there were twelve using the bird feeder on the 4th of the month.  As the week came to an end our lovely snowdrops all burst into flower and the ones that have now escaped onto the roadside verge put on a magnificent show.  The weather continued to be cold but very sunny.

Greenfinch

The second week of February was overcast and cool but spring continued to creep up on us and there were celandines in flower along our roadsides and a single bright dandelion was in full flower in the garden.  Large numbers of birds were still using the feeders including one marsh and one coal tit.  There were also six greenfinches feeding in the garden – a real pleasure to see as numbers have been low through the winter.  A single frog was splashing about in the marshy pond on the 8th and frog spawn appeared on the ninth with more on the 10th, in all about 7 large lumps!  A song thrush was seen feeding the Big Meadow on the morning of the 10th.  The weather was very mild towards the end of this week but in spite of having a thrush around, no song was heard.  A single colourful jay visited the garden from time to time and more celandines and snowdrops burst into flower.

Lots of Frogspawn!

At beginning of the third week of the month a bullfinch was around most mornings, eating the new buds of hawthorn. Two wild mallards appeared in the pond again one morning but again flew off to the big pond next door.  A marsh tit continued to visit the feeders daily but we only had one siskin visiting the garden daily and no bramblings at all, in stark contrast to this time last year. The weather continued to be quite mild, but windy and wet weather set in on the 16th.  Overnight very windy weather arrived here and the forecast was for more of the same over the next few days. More spawn appeared in the pond on the 17th and we were now up to 9 blobs – a good amount for quite a small pond!  On the 18th fiercely windy, stormy weather again hit us and yet again on the 18th causing disruption over the whole country.  Many trees were damaged over the UK but miraculously all ours survived. Overnight of the 19th/20th Storm Eunice arrived with winds of up to 60-70 mph – the worst of the storms coming through from the west. There was snow on the Long Mynd and the   garden and the lane outside our house were badly flooded with the ditch full and overflowing and unable to take away the floodwater quickly enough. Thankfully my office remained dry as we were able to divert some of the water that was overwhelming the garden. And then, amidst all the terrible weather and chaos, a song thrush began to sing in the little copse of trees in the garden – a complete joy! Further North the River Severn burst its banks and many areas of Shrewsbury were badly flooded.  Two more slightly smaller storms followed and more torrential rain arrived with yet more floods, but on the 21st the sun shone!

Song Thrush

However it was still very windy for the next few days but I was cheered up by the sound of a wren in full song on the 23rd.  As the month came to an end there was still windy weather but it was bright and more spring-like. Many of the smaller bird species returned to the garden feeders, especially female chaffinches, and blue tits were cleaning out one of the bird boxes.  Spring will soon be with us.

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The Wildlife Garden in January

Misty Shropshire Weather

As is always the case at the beginning of a new year, the weather here in Shropshire during January was initially very cold!  However it was also very clear and dry and there was no sign of snow, except a little on the Long Mynd. Temperatures dropped even more overnight of the 3rd/4th and the following morning saw large numbers of tits and chaffinches feeding in the garden, but there was no sign of any bramblings, even though elsewhere in the county large flocks of these beautiful finches were being reported. A lone fieldfare was still with us in the apple orchard plus our ‘resident’ marsh tit and a single coal tit both came to the feeders daily.  A pair of carrion crows continued to feed on any remaining fallen apples in the orchard and as the week progressed very large numbers of blue tits and great tits were feeding around the garden, at one point more than twenty blue tits were counted.  A second coal tit appeared from time to time but no mammals were seen around the garden except the bank voles and the local grey squirrels.  On the 7th of the month the weather briefly changed. There was a little snow on the Long Mynd and there were bitterly cold winds from the west.  Large numbers of goldfinches came to the feeders, and some were also seen feeding on the seeds of knapweed in parts of the big meadow that are left uncut through the winter months.

Large Numbers of Blue Tits in the Hawthorn Hedges

In the second week of January the weather again dominated the garden and determined what wildlife I could expect to see. This week it was milder and damper than last and neither rain nor snow put in an appearance.  The large numbers of blue tits and great tits continued to use the feeders, especially in late afternoon as the light began to fade. The orchard was now home to three fieldfares arguing over the apples and they were joined by several male blackbirds, so plenty of squabbles ensued.  There were still very few mammals around the garden though, except for the bank voles, and for a few days, a single rabbit. On the 12th the weather was extremely cold but beautifully bright and I was disappointed to find there was still no sign of our snowdrops!  Several red kites and buzzards were flying around our little valley but in general it was a quieter week for birds and mammals apart from the bank voles, blue tits and a single grey squirrel which was seen in the garden daily.  However, tawny owls were heard calling from the woodland next door most evenings.  Chaffinches were observed feeding on the seeds of the plant Phlomis fruticosus in the garden at the back of the house, skilfully extracting the seeds from the seed heads.  On the tall hazel close to the house, and in Dormouse Wood, the catkins were now in glorious full flower.

Marsh Tit

The third week of January continued to be bright, cold and sunny with no rain or wind – in fact rather lovely winter conditions!  On the 15th a song thrush was seen on our long hedge – the first for many months, but no song was heard.  Large numbers of tits continued to dominate the feeders and there were good numbers of chaffinches in the garden too, but no fieldfares or redwings were around except for ‘our’ single fieldfare that has made the orchard his temporary home.  Two bank voles fed at the back of the house most mornings and one was seen making his way into the house through a small hole in the brickwork at ground level!  On the 20th a pair of siskins was seen in the big hazel outside the kitchen door – the first I have seen in the garden this winter.  After the good numbers we had here last year I have been surprised to see so few. I also saw the first yellowhammer in the garden for several months, sitting on the long hedge where they have nested in the past.

Treecreeper in the Bramley Apple Tree

The mild weather continued with almost spring-like conditions at the start of the last week of January but then conditions rapidly changed to dull and overcast. A pair of bullfinches was seen around the garden on the 24th and marsh and coal tit continued to feed with the huge numbers of blue tits and great tits every day. On the 26th – a bright sunny day – a blue tit was seen cleaning out one of the garden nest boxes – always the first box to be occupied here.  The weather continued to be cold but the garden seemed lively with so many small birds around.  By the end of the week the snowdrops at the front of the house were in bud and a handful of fieldfares returned to the orchard, although the majority of fallen apples had now been eaten by blackbirds and the local pair of carrion crows!  The month ended with two yellowhammers on the long hedge on several days, a treecreeper in the big apple tree, lots of tits around the garden but still, sadly, no bramblings.

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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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