The Wildlife Garden in September

September began with some sunny spells at the start of the month but temperatures in South Shropshire were low. A few of the young mallard ducks that bred on our wildlife pond were still with us but trying out their wings and doing a lot of flapping without actually going anywhere!  Two rabbits appeared in the garden but as most of the vegetables are finished now there is little damage that they do.  There were good numbers of tits and finches around including the occasional adult siskin and several greenfinches which were really nice to see. However there had been no great spotted woodpeckers for several weeks which was unusual here – this species is usually a daily visitor.  Our young swallows were last seen in the porch on the 1st of the month and quite quickly there were no swallows or martins around the garden at all. On the 4th a new duck appeared bringing the total on the pond to 8!  The weather continued to be quite cold and damp with just the usual wildlife around and very few butterflies.  The ducks continued to stretch their wings and all but one were flying by the end of the week, but they were still using the garden ponds with no sign of them leaving. The two rabbits continued to appear in the garden every evening and by the end of the week the weather improved – the brighter, sunny weather was very welcome.

As we moved into the second week of September the rabbits and mallard were still with us but some of the ducks were now flying well and leaving the garden at dusk to roost elsewhere. The meadows continued to be cut and raked but some areas were left long to provide a refuge for overwintering invertebrates.  To my delight, two juvenile siskins, a favourite species, appeared on the 9th, feeding on a small tray outside my window, giving me great views of this beautiful little finch plus a favourite mammal, a stoat, was seen in the garden on the 14th. There were a few more butterflies around in sunnier weather including speckled wood, red admiral, peacock and a few whites, all mostly feeing on wild marjoram and Verbena bonariensis.  The first speckled woods were seen especially in garden ‘corners’ where there is the dappled shade that they prefer. Red admirals and small tortoiseshells were also around in the vegetable garden where a single plant of Verbena bonariensis has self-seeded in a sunny spot. Towards the end of the week the weather became more autumnal with misty, damp mornings and there were lots of sparkling spiders webs all around, especially in the longer grass in the meadows. Warm days with a slight breeze continued and lots of birds were using one of the mini ponds close to the house to drink and bathe, especially wrens, tits, nuthatches and finches.  Overnight on the 16th the moth trap produced lots of colourful autumnal species including centre-barred sallow, pink barred sallow and September thorn.

Slightly warmer weather continued and there were two or three of the mallard around every day – one of which was a very inexpert flyer.  A female blackcap was seen in the back garden in the Buddleia on the 16th and a few butterflies were still feeding on warmer days, especially small tortoiseshell and speckled wood.  A large flock of linnets flew over the garden on several occasions and a heron was also seen flying over the garden a couple of times.  There were both buzzards and red kites overhead frequently plus on the 20th – a warm sunny day – a large number of house martins and swallows fed over the garden, especially over the big pond. The weather continued to be warm and sunny towards the end of the week but it was quieter in the garden with the exception of increasing numbers of birds using the feeders and some large dragonflies still around the pond, including several southern hawkers.

The weather changed yet again in the last week of the month, becoming cooler, damper and a lot windier!  A single jay seen on the 23rd burying acorns in the grassy areas, but this was yet another month without a single great spotted woodpecker in the garden, and numbers of birds around the feeders were slightly lower than usual.  By the end of the month the mallard ducks were down to just three, two of which regularly left the garden in the late afternoon to roost elsewhere, leaving behind only the one that doesn’t yet fly well. Southern hawker dragonflies were still abundant, hunting around the garden on good days, and all around our boundaries the mature hawthorns were displaying their wonderful fruits, the bright red colour of the haws showing up well against the still dark green leaves.  Other garden trees displaying their berries included the rowans but the berries on those – a favourite food of several bird species – disappeared within a few days especially into the beaks of the local blackbirds.  Nuthatches were still plentiful after a good breeding year here and tits were returning to the feeders as the weather cooled.  The very small rabbit that had been seen in the garden copse earlier was found dead and partially eaten at the very end of the month, most likely by a fox, although the sighting of a stoat earlier in the month did lead me to wonder if this little mammal was still around.

The weather improved as we approached October and a single butterfly was seen – a small white.  I am hoping that the cooler weather brings redpolls and more siskins!

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The Wildlife Garden in August

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The weather during the first week of August was again variable here in South Shropshire, but cold and windy seemed to be the norm! In spite of the poor weather there was plenty going on around the garden, especially in terms of the house martins and swallows that we frequently see feeding here, over the big meadow and the pond. Both species were frequent visitors in large numbers – sometimes between thirty and forty house martins were swooping around the garden. Other bird species were much in evidence, especially greenfinches and the occasional bullfinch, and a female bullfinch, feeding regularly from the bird feeder outside my office window, was a welcome sight. Mammals were few and far between with only bank voles seen frequently, although a small rabbit took up residence in the back garden.  It was caught in a live trap, unable to resist the huge pile of lettuce to encourage him in, and was relocated to the grassy field next door.  The common redstart that we have been seeing on several occasions was still around and the swallows in the porch were now feeding their second brood.   Butterfly numbers of many species were high, and the carder bee nest which we found in the garden a couple of weeks ago was very active and continued to grow quickly as they added dried grass to the structure on a daily basis.  As the knapweed continued to set seed, goldfinch numbers increased, especially juveniles, which learned quickly how to extract the seeds.

At the start of the second week of August the weather was delightfully warm and sunny! Some of the smaller wildflower meadows were cut as flowers went over and seeds were shed. This activity brought many swallows and house martins to feed on the insects emerging from the long grass. Some of the house martins rested on the house roof and over 40 were counted on one occasion.  On the 10th of the month a spotted flycatcher was seen feeding from the hawthorn trees on our boundary – as this is one of my absolutebloggkaug favourite birds, I was rather pleased! As the weather warmed up, huge thunderous clouds gathered over the garden and this brought more swallows and martins to feed.  The first speckled wood butterflies appeared this week, and gatekeeper butterflies were abundant. We then began to experience huge lightning storms in the skies all around us, but thankfully they were centred a little further to the west and rain was minimal. However the weather continued to be hot and very humid but a breeze made the temperature acceptable.

The third week of the month was once again dominated by the weather which alternated between heavy rain, thunderstorms, high winds and the odd glimpse of sunshine. This didn’t deter the local birds from visiting the garden and a total of 22 species was recorded in the garden. This was higher than the previous week but the actual numbers of birds was lower, and it did seem quieter.  There were fewer butterflies around too in the windy weather, but a good number of different species were seen, especially feeding on the Buddleias and the blogaugraJapanese anemones.  We continued to cut some of the smaller meadows when the wind wasn’t blowing too much, but flowery areas around the ponds where purple loosestrife and meadowsweet were still in flower, were left and these plants were swarming with bees of many species. Careful cutting of the meadows also revealed several large frogs sheltering the in long grass and these were carefully moved to safety. Bumblebees especially were plentiful at this time and the carder bee nest in the ‘wild carrot’ meadow in the back garden grew daily! As the week progressed sunny spells became fewer but dunnocks, finches and tits continued to bathe and drink from the barrel pond outside my window. A single male siskin was seen on the bird feeders on the 21st but in general birds began to be scarcer than of late as they went into moult.

As we moved towards the end of the month the second brood of swallows fledged from the nest in the porch. The weather was in general rather wet and windy this week but the young swallows seemed to cope with the adverse conditions and were soon flying expertly around the house and feeding themselves, although frequently returning to the covered porch for shelter.  Flocks of goldfinches and greenfinches, together with the odd chaffinch, fed on the ground under the feeders, and elsewhere around the garden other young birds were plentiful.  Overnight on the 25th/26th a very fierce storm swept through the west of the UK – named as Storm Francis.  Thankfully, there was no damage to our mature trees but the garden was littered with twigs and branches as a result of the high winds. There were very few butterflies about after this wild weather but as we moved towards the end of the month numbers of young goldfinches feeding increased again, much to the interest of the local female sparrowhawk.  The month ended with slightly better weather, but with the garden still dominated by the young mallards which have yet to discover that they can fly, and there were blackcaps feeding in the hedges and shrubs, especially on the alder buckthorn berries. In all August was not a very summery month, but the numbers of birds and butterflies in the garden made up for the poor weather.

blogbcaug

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The Wildlife Garden in July

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July began with cool, cloudy weather and it was wet at times – most un-summer like!  The only thing that brightened my week was a stoat in the garden – very good views were had as it ran in and out of the mole runs in the Long Garden.  Good news was that the meadows were looking wonderful and knapweed, meadowsweet and lady’s bedstraw were in full flower.  White clover was also flowering well in the paths and shorter grass areas which meant that bumblebees were feeding well, although there were fewer than is usual at this time of year. Plenty of young birds, especially tits and finches continued to use the feeders and a pair of siskins was seen most days. The pond continued to be used by the wild mallard and her brood (now down to 7) and they constantly foraged around the garden for food.  The moorhens too were still with us.  On the 4th of the month a juvenile redstart appeared on the garden gate.  It continued to use the garden all week, usually at the front of the house but also once feeding on an area of recently cut meadow grass where presumably there were plenty of insects for this wonderful bird.

The second week of July saw continuing cool weather here in South Shropshire, plus it was often wet and windy.  A small house mouse took up residence in my downstairs office and had to be coaxed into a live trap with a chocolate biscuit.  It was relocated to bloggvwjulyan outside shed. Bird-wise the garden was lively with all the usual species plus two male siskins in bright, breeding plumage.  Large numbers of young swallows perched on the wires over the field next door on the 11th and an unexpected warm sunny day saw huge numbers of large and green-veined whites in the garden feeding mainly on the flowering knapweed  – 75 were counted before I gave up!  The young redstart continued to visit to different areas around the garden and two chiffchaffs fed on the insects in the large Buddleia at the back of the house.

After a warm weekend the weather became cool and windy again with only the occasional sunny spell.  There were still plenty of young tits and finches around plus the mallard ducklings, which were growing quickly, continued to roam all areas of the garden searching for food. During sunny periods, a lovely sulphur yellow male brimstone butterfly was feeding around the borders, and the occasional dragonfly was seen although numbers are very low this blogscbluematingyear.  The local greenfinches continued to visit the feeders with juveniles in tow and a female blackcap fed daily from the berries of the alder buckthorn shrub outside my office window. Later this week she was seen with two juvenile blackcaps in tow, feeding them frequently and giving me great opportunities to photograph them.  Sunnier weather at the end of the week saw red admiral, comma, peacock, meadow brown and small tortoiseshell on the Buddleia although the weather became cool and windy once again.

The last week of the July saw no improvement in the weather here in South Shropshire although a few warmer periods between the colder, windy times made it bearable!  The young blackcaps were seen frequently as were the juvenile greenfinches which was pleasing as this species has declined in my area over the last few years.  Goldfinches, including juveniles were taking advantage of the knapweed seeds in the meadows and a female sparrowhawk swooped through the garden regularly.  The month ended with the emergence of gatekeeper butterflies in the Big Meadow and a pair of common blues were seen mating on birds foot trefoil, their caterpillar food plant.  In all the month was dominated by poor weather, but the good numbers of butterflies and young birds around made up for it!

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The Wildlife Garden in June

blomeadowjune

The beginning of June was very warm and sunny in South Shropshire and swallows, swifts and martins were feeding around the house and over the garden every day.   Juvenile great tits appeared in the garden on the 3rd, just as the weather took a turn for the worse and sadly it became cool and damp again.  The colder weather continued and at times it was very windy and not at all summery!  Lots of young blue tits were feeding around the orchard, suggesting that they had fledged from the nest boxes on our apple trees there. Banded demoiselles were still abundant all around the garden but especially close to our boundary with the field next door, which has a small natural pond. There was no evidence of the nuthatches still being fed in the nest box so I assumed that they had fledged – we soon began to see them around the garden and on the feeders.  Chiffchaffs were seen daily and a male siskin made good use of the bird feeder outside my office window. Later in theblogsiskinjune week both a male and female siskin were seen feeding together. As the weather warmed a little at the end of the week, common blue and large skipper butterflies joined the small tortoiseshells around the garden meadows, feeding mainly on birds’ foot trefoil.  Other abundant butterflies were small whites and green-veined whites.  I kept a watchful eye on the swallows nesting in our porch and it soon became obvious that the eggs had hatched and four small beaks were seen begging for food.  Thankfully, the weather was good enough for the diligent parents to be returning to the nest constantly with food for them.

On the 7th of the month the weather became cooler again. A beautiful little pygmy shrew was seen in the back garden, not a species we see frequently – common shrew is more usual here. The weather continued to be cool and often damp, but there was little in the way of actual rain.  There were still large numbers of young blue tits all around the garden and on the 10th more recently fledged great tits found food around the orchard trees.  Young coal tits too were being fed by parents  and the siskinsblogshrewsmall were seen daily.

Grey squirrels seemed to have had a good breeding season and six were counted under one of the bird feeders outside my office door!  The moorhens continued to feed around the pond, and a single bank vole could be seen outside the back door most days. The cooler weather continued with a little sun now and again, but after the very warm weather of the previous few weeks it felt like quite a change!  A blackcap sang in the orchard and around the vegetable garden daily and brimstone, small tortoiseshell, comma and red admiral butterflies were regular visitors, while green-veined white and small white were appearing in excellent numbers.  Other birds around the garden this week included pied wagtails, linnets and a single jay along with all our usual species.

The third week of June brought a slight improvement in weather with many swallows, swifts and house martins feeding over the garden daily. This more pleasant weather did not last though, with storms all around the country and here there were views of some wonderful if slightly alarming cloud formations over the Long Mynd!  Young birds continued to come to the garden for food including juvenile coal tits and lots of house sparrows – a quite unusual species here. The light evenings revealed a visit from a barn owl one evening and the next evening two of these beautiful birds were quartering the big meadow in search of voles.  Chiffchaff and blackcap sang daily but sadly there was no sign of the whitethroat.  Four yellowhammers were seen in one of our hedges on the 17th suggesting that breeding here had been successful  and on the 17th one of my absolute favourite birds, a garden warbler, was heard singing from our boundary hedge, and it was seen a few days later in the same spot.

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At the beginning of the last week of June the changeable weather improved for a while.  The garden was still full of young  tits, house sparrows and nuthatches plus juvenile great-spotted woodpeckers were frequenting the peanut feeders. Our swallows were feeding over the garden and fields around us and the wildflower meadows in the garden were looking wonderful – to my delight meadow butterflies began to appear, especially ringlet and meadow brown.  We had very few of these two species last year so hopefully they will have a better breeding season here this summer.  Half way through the week a female mallard and 8 newly hatched ducklings appeared on the pond!  I was suspicious that she had a nest somewhere but it was still a surprise after the loss of her previous brood. A couple of days later there were young moorhens on the pond too.  The month ended with better weather and the garden seemed to be brimming over with life, especially butterflies, bumblebees and young birds.

myndweather

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The Wildlife Garden in May

blogbrimstonejune

In the first week of May the weather in South Shropshire was warm and sunny and the whole garden looked green and vibrant.  The long borders were growing well although they were becoming overcrowded in some areas and a few plants needed to be moved. Hawthorn was in flower all around our boundaries and looking wonderful – there was much more blossom this year than last. Our common spotted orchids were also growing well,  although their numbers appear not to have increased on last year, possibly due to the extremely wet weather we had in the winter.  The swallows were happily settled into the porch where they bred last year, and sometimes a third bird joined the pair. They were feeding over the garden and the field next door to the house, which this year has sheep grazing.  Sadly all the mallard ducklings on our pond were predated and the adult pair moved to the pond next door, where no doubt they will try again.  The moorhens however were sitting on their nest and repelling all-comers with great ferocity!  A pair of yellowhammers were still around the garden and a single whitethroat, a bird I am especially fond of, was seen on one of our hedges.  This warbler has bred twice in the garden in the past but there has been no sign of this species for the last two summers. I am hopeful that they might breed here again this year.  There were several butterfly species around especially brimstones, and a single comma was seen on the 6th.

After a lovely warm start it was suddenly cold here again in the second week of May.  The moorhens were now fiercely defending their hatched chicks from all-comers including a grey heron.  The single tiny green-winged orchid appeared again on the pond bank but was no bigger than last year! House martins began to feed over the garden in some blogbullfinchjunenumbers and our swallows were seen courtship feeding.  On the 12th a cuckoo was heard close to the garden – the first time for several years – and the wonderful sound echoed around our little valley. At the end of the week we saw good numbers of swifts feeding over the garden too, but the weather then became cooler again and at times, quite windy.

The third week of May was still cool but brightened towards the end of the week.  Our dandelions were in full seed with their lovely feathery seed head ‘clocks’ everywhere in the grassy paths which were left un-mown.  Bullfinches, greenfinches and house sparrows were soon feeding avidly but there were no linnets this year which was quite unusual.  A male linnet was heard singing in our copse of trees though, so they were definitely around.  The nuthatches were still feeding their young in the nest box close to the vegetable garden, the fledglings now being large enough to poke their heads out of the entrance!  A male blackcap was seen repeatedly visiting a shady area of nettles closeblognuthatchjune2 to one of the wildlife ponds, suggesting a nest.  However, sad news was that local crows predated the young moorhens, but we were hopeful they would try again.  All around the garden cow parsley was flowering abundantly and attracting many hoverflies to the tiny white flowers. There were plenty of butterflies around too, especially green-veined whites and brimstones which were seen daily.  The swallows continued to visit the nest in the porch and from their behaviour we are confident that there are eggs now.  On the 21st a male whitethroat was heard singing in the vegetable garden hedge and from the wires over the garden, so I am really hopeful that they are breeding here after an absence of two years.

The last week of the month was warm and sunny.  The nuthatches were still feeding their young and several brimstone butterflies were still around the garden every day.  A tiny comma butterfly larva was found on wych elm in one of our hedges and large and green veined white butterflies were still plentiful.  The first of the damsel and dragonflies were seen around the big pond and oxeye daisies burst into flower on the pond bank and in some of the smaller meadow areas.  On the 26th a single moorhen chick – now quite well grown – was seen on the pond edge, apparently having escaped the crows and heron!  As the warm weather continued our common spotted orchids opened and young blue tits began to emerge from several of the nest boxes around the orchard while large numbers of house martins and some swifts fed over the ponds and meadows. In all it was a good start to the summer.

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The Wildlife Garden in April

blogaprilyhammer

At the beginning of April the weather was a little brighter than it had been in the last week of March  and all our ‘usual’ bird species were around the garden with the exception of siskins. A heron was still visiting the big pond early every morning or was sometimes seen flying low over the garden to visit the pond in the field next door, and our local song thrush continued to sing beautifully every morning and evening from our large hawthorns – a very accomplished bird with a great repertoire of phrases. Both chiffchaff and blackcap were present, especially in the orchard and a single female mallard was using the pond in the mornings.  The presence of a pair of yellowhammers in one of our hedges close to where they nested last year was a promising sighting and I have my fingers crossed that they will use this location again. Another pair of slightly unusual birds for us were seen this week – two pied wagtails which seem to have taken up residence in the damp field next door.

In the second week of April the weather was in general rather lovely! Sunny days with cold frosty nights became the norm and I enjoyed getting out into the garden in quite warm weather! The cowslips in one of our smaller meadows have spread abundantly and were putting on quite a spectacular show while the presence of primroses in the same part of the garden meant that there were several hybrids between these two species – known as false oxlips.  Our first butterflies were seen this week – all of themblogpeacockapril slightly battered peacocks which fed on the white blossom of the plum trees in our little orchard. Later a pair of brimstones were also seen as the weather continued to be warm and sunny. On the 11th the female brimstone was seen egg laying on the alder buckthorn outside my office – always exciting to watch.  As the week continued it was obvious that a pair of nuthatches were using one of our nest boxes – a first for us here. Nuthatch is a common bird with us but this is the first time I have seen evidence of breeding in the garden. Breeding nuthatches make a lot of noise!!  Towards the end of the week a male redstart appeared in the hedge in the vegetable garden, but unlike previous years he did not hang around for long – normally we see a male here at this time for a couple of days.

The third week of the month saw our now resident moorhen continuing to dominate the big pond – running quickly into the shelter of long vegetation if we happened to surprise her, and by the end of the week she had eight eggs in her reedy nest.  The very obvious dunnocks nest in the pendulous sedge had four eggs and female was now incubating – blogmhennestnot leaving the nest if we walked past.  No new butterfly species were seen this week but orange tips were abundant. Song thrush, blackbird and blackcap sang daily and at least three house sparrows, an unusual bird for us, sat around on the ‘yellowhammer hedge’ or under the feeders.  This week yellowhammer numbers increased with a small flock of about 12 feeding daily in the field next door which had been recently ploughed and sown, and they congregated on the top of the hedge from time to time or flew into the alder at the far end of the garden. Several of our tit boxes were being used by blue tits or great tits but there was no sign of the swallows in their usual nesting place in the front porch.

In the last week of April the weather was especially warm and sunny for several days.  Robins were nesting in a wall shrub in the back garden and two red-legged partridges spent some time here wandering around the borders. On the 24th our swallows returned!  This was a wonderful moment and seeing them arrive and head straight into the front porch where they nested last year made me really appreciate the journey they had taken to return to this exact spot. They continued to fly around the house and garden whilst feeding on the abundant insects and spent the night roosting on ‘their’ ledge close to the front door.  On the 30th a third swallow joined them – possibly a youngster from last year. That same day nine mallard ducklings appeared on the big pond – we had been completely unaware of there being a nest!  The month ended with very good weather, birds of many species using the garden, bumblebees in good numbers and an abundance of wildflowers all around.

blogswallowapril

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The Wildlife Garden in March

aprilblogkite

The weather was yet again very variable and unseasonal at the start of the month of March, but in general it was cold and bright here in South Shropshire which was a pleasant change after the storms of February. Trips further afield from my Shropshire home at the start of the month gave me views of blackthorn and other Prunus species in full flower and also great views of a barn owl hunting, the first I have seen for some time. Back home in Shropshire a pair of local red kites continued to display over the fields surrounding my garden, at times they were low and very vocal. Lots of birds were feeding around the garden especially tits and finches and at least one of our tit boxes was occupied with a pair. This particular box is always the first to be used in spring. Two other tit boxes saw some interest, both from blue tits, and the pair of house sparrows we now have here were also checking out several potential nest locations! The front porch as usual wasaprilblogwren being investigated by a pair of wrens, although there was some robin activity there too plus a lovely flock of about 20 linnets was seen in our little copse of trees. Wet weather returned later in the first week of March though and more frog spawn appeared in two of our ponds, plus two new visitors – a pair of moorhens – took possession of the big pond at the end of the week. I am hopeful that they will stay around and breed here this spring.
The return of very wet and windy weather in the second week of the month was rather a disappointment and again parts of the garden were flooded but a few daffodils and primroses came into flower and brightened everything up. Both robins and wrens were still visiting the porch at the front of the house, so a robin nest box was placed in the hedge close by and roosting pockets, which wrens have used for breeding here in the past, were also placed strategically around the house. The porch is the one place where there is daily disturbance so my main task is to encourage these two species to nest a little further away where there is more chance of success. Lots of smaller birds including siskins were still feeding daily at the feeders and on the 13th a third moorhen appeared! The local red kites continued to display over the garden and surrounding fields and the house sparrows appeared to be checking out a variety of potential nest sites. Notable by their absence were bank voles, usually abundant in the garden here, but the saturated ground suggested that they had moved to drier locations further from the house.
The third week of March saw the moorhens well and truly settled in and one or more was seen every day, generally running rapidly around the garden like clockwork toys. Two local wild mallard also visited the ponds most days but conflict with the moorhens meant that they more aprilblogspadgeoften spent time on the pond in the field next door. On the 16th the weather was beautifully bright and sunny but the ground was still far too wet to attempt any gardening. The pair of house sparrows continued to sit on the hedges and were also seen investigating the house martins’ nest boxes under the eaves. Another bird seen frequently was the nuthatch, in fact a pair spent time on the feeders and they were also seen courtship feeding and visiting a nest box – the first time I have seen this here and a very positive sign for them breeding with us this year.  This month was very much dominated by the birds around – mammals were few and far between and it was only at the very end of the month that the first butterflies were seen – two peacocks initially and later a small tortoiseshell but no sign of brimstone which breeds in the garden on our alder buckthorn, planted especially for that purpose. Queen bumblebees however were plentiful and there were more than we would usually see, flying low all around the grassy areas looking for potential nest sites. In spite of a mainly very wet and windy March though, the last few days of the month brought a glimpse of spring as the first cowslips came in to flower. A heron, and on one occasion two herons, visited the pond every morning for the whole week and our hawthorn hedges bursting into leaf meant a haze of bright green appeared all around our boundaries and trees. With much anxiety all around us at present, the garden and it’s wildlife continued the be a refuge and a great source of solace in these difficult times.aprilblogcslips

 

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The Wildlife Garden in February

BullfinchprunusblogI spent the first part of February on the Island of Anglesey in North Wales, an area of the country I love and try to visit a couple of times every year. As you might expect in early February, the weather was not always conducive to long walks on the coast path but none the less a lot of time was spent outside in a biting wind with my binoculars and camera while wrapped up as warmly as possible! The first priority was to see the local red squirrels there, and I was lucky to see several just a short walk from where I was staying. The gardens of this large house are well managed but that does not mean they are devoid of wildlife. Up to four bullfinches were seen every day, feeding on the buds of a Prunus in the garden and large areas of short grass attracted feeding redwings and fieldfares.  There were also plenty of song and mistle thrushes around. Outside the garden curlews were abundant, collecting together at dusk every evening in an adjacent field. Perhaps the highlight of this trip though was an amazing encounter with a very visible male snow bunting in the car park of a local pub! Sadly choughs were not seen as it was Snow bunting blogdangerously windy at South Stack where I would normally find them. Once home again in my garden in South Shropshire, the week was dominated by bitterly cold weather but there were still lots of tits and finches around the bird feeders and a male sparrowhawk and female kestrel were regular visitors, plus a buzzard sat around in our little copse of trees on a daily basis. At the end of the week a small tortoiseshell butterfly was found inside the house and carefully relocated to the shelter of the wood store in the garden.
The second week of February saw some very bad weather here with a series of severe storms, the first of which came overnight on the 9th and 10th, with howling gales and rain that caused flooding and damage in many parts of the UK. We however were lucky enough to miss the very worst of it. We had a little snow on the 10th and a small flock of twenty redwings spent some time feeding in the garden and in the field next door. On the 9th, a glimpse of movement in the smallest of our ponds heralded the Frogspawnblog2arrival of several frogs and a large amounts of spawn appeared, our earliest for many years. All the usual bird species returned to the feeders after our time away, with goldfinch numbers building up and a pair of siskins visiting daily. There were also daily visits from a blue tit with a deformed, elongated beak, but it seemed to be coping very well and feeding along with other tits and finches on the bird feeders. As the week came to an end the promise of yet another storm and the possibility of some flooding in our house threatened.  Storm Dennis took us by surprise. We were expecting very windy weather but not the amount of rain that South Shropshire and the surrounding counties received. Living on the side of a hill has its advantages but the amount of rain that fell was extraordinary, and once again the garden was flooded after torrential rain overnight of the 15th and 16th, plus my ground floor office again had problems with water finding its way in. Our small local road became a torrent and in several places the tarmac was washed away. The wet conditions however encouraged the local frogs to continue spawning and we had more spawn than we have for several years. A single female house sparrow appeared on one of our hedges on the 18th – a most unusual bird for us and a male appeared the next day. On the 20th, while the weather was still very wet and windy, the local small birds were feeding desperately on the feeders and more than 40 blue tits were counted in the garden. On the 20th the wonderful sound of a mistle thrush singing was heard – he was in our ash tree braving the weather and was a delight to listen to – reminding me that spring will eventually come!
The last week of this awful month began with yet more rain and fierce, freezing winds. On a more positive note though there were a few primrose flowers appearing around the garden, creating a slightly spring-like feel in spite of the very cold weather. Several blue tits were seen investigating the nest boxes around the garden and the pair of house sparrows looked as though they might hang around as they continued to chirp from the top of the hedge. The large rambling jasmine on one of our house walls is looking like a potential nest site for them although the male was also seen investigating the house martin nest cups under the eaves.  On the 25th a barn owl was seen flying low around the garden and one was also seen a short distance from us a few days later. The month ended with more of the same as far as the weather was concerned although the occasional bit of sunshine made a difference! February ended with a huge flock of several hundred chaffinches feeding in the field next door. A few came into the garden, the males’ pink breasts brightening up what had been a very wet, cold and windy month. I am really looking forward to more spring like conditions in March!

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The Wildlife Garden in January

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During the first week of the new year the weather in South Shropshire was mild and dry – almost spring-like at times – with catkins lengthening on the large hazel outside my back door.  A small flock of long-tailed tits fed daily at the feeders along with two nuthatches, a regular male great spotted woodpecker and all the usual birds for the time of year. Two tawny owls were heard most evenings and a male fox was also making a lot of noise from the field nextLttjanblog20 door. A house mouse was caught in a live trap in our living room one night having eaten, or taken away, a large quantity of chocolate coins wrapped in foil!! A second mouse was caught the next day. Tawny owls and foxes continued to be noisy at dusk and birds were plentiful but we had no siskins at all which was disappointing as this is one of my favourite birds.
As we moved into the second week of the month the weather was mild but quite overcast. The welcome dry weather after such a wet December continued, but only for a short while, and we had more rain overnight of the 8th/9th. Thankfully there was not as much as was forecast as the garden was still sodden and bog-like, especially the wildflower meadows and the vegetable garden. As the week progressed the garden slowly filled up with the local pheasants, mostly females, which were intent on clearing up any dropped food under the bird feeders. A treecreeper visited daily, usually roughly at the same time every day, and long tailed tits continued to use the feeders. Mammals were few and far between with no bank voles at all seen this week. The local song thrush was still singing every morning from the hawthorns on the garden boundary – a wonderful reminder that spring isn’t far away.
More rain and exceptionally windy weather came through on the 14th but thankfully there was no damage in the garden. However there were very few birds about for a day or two as a result of the fierce weather but all the usual species returned to the feeders once the wind died down.
After the wild weather calmer, freezing conditions prevailed and temperatures dropped making the nights very cold. The stars however were amazing for several nights in the clear still air – Shropshire is famed for its wonderfully clear night skies. During daylight Songthrushjanblog20hours male and female blackbirds continued to feed on any remaining berries around our hedges and shrubs, and our small window feeders were being filled up twice a day to accommodate the small birds using them, especially blue, great, coal and marsh tits. A few goldfinches and a robin also used these feeders once they got used to them. This week the hedges surrounding our garden were cut, creating thick shelter for nesting birds as spring approaches. Late in the week a buzzard was seen on the ground in the garden plus a female kestrel continued to visit us most days.
The last week of the month had variable weather, sometimes mild but mostly cold and bright with a heavy frost at dawn. The local song thrush was still singing well every morning, usually from the old hawthorns on our garden boundary, but no mistle thrushes were heard all month which was disappointing. A robin sang daily however and the hazel catkins continued to lengthen, while buds were breaking on the white flowering currant in the garden at the back of the house. Snowdrops were in full flower although the majority seem to have escaped to the roadside verge outside! The weather continued to be bright but windy, and buzzards and red kites were displaying over an adjacent field. A single raven was seen soaring and there was a feeling of spring in the air in spite of cool temperatures.
At the end of the month a trip to Anglesey beckoned where red squirrels, choughs and a selection of seabirds would hopefully be the main attractions.

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The Wildlife Garden in December

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The weather was cold, frosty and bright at the beginning of the last month of the year which meant that there were plenty of fieldfares in my orchard feasting on apples. On the second day of the month a wonderful bird visited the garden – a woodcock. This bird has been seen in our garden a couple of times before for a fleeting stop over, and is always a joy to see. As the week progressed numbers of fieldfares in the orchard increased to about fifty, all concentrating on eating as many apples as they could in the shortest possible time! They were accompanied by six male blackbirds and there was a great deal of aggravation between these two species. On the 3rd of the month our first siskin showed up. I doubt we will reach the numbers we had last winter when more than sixty of these lovely little finches were counted here, but I will keep my fingers crossed for a few more as the winter progresses. Other unusual birds for us that came to feed in the garden were a couple of house sparrows which are rarely seen here. The redwings all seem to have moved on from our area having stripped from our trees the berries that they particularly relish – hawthorn and holly.

Through the second week of December the weather became more changeable. Temperatures were milder which was good, but it was also extremely windy and still incredibly wet everywhere – the garden was like a bog with the ground completely saturated and nowhere for the excess water to go. The natural pond in the field next to my garden was dectcblogcompletely full and the overflow was unable to cope with any more water, meaning that my vegetable garden was flooded. As a result of these conditions bank voles were very active here as their runs were obviously under water. Several voles were seen collecting up and hurrying off with sunflower hearts from under the bird feeders close to the house. Overnight on the 7/8 th a very windy, violent storm swept through South Shropshire and conditions continued to be wet, windy and cold for the next week. There was still no sign of redwings with only a handful of fieldfares feeding on the apples as the weather slowly warmed up a little. A single treecreeper was seen regularly on the old apple trees at the back of the house, searching for insects in the crevices of the bark with its long curved bill. On the 14th heavy, wet snow fell in the evening and the next morning the Long Mynd was white – a beautiful sight from our windows.

The third week of December continued cold and bright. Lots of small birds were feeding frantically on the feeders and there were several male blackbirds in the meadows and around the orchard, but only a couple of females. A few chaffinches and greenfinches continued to pick up spilt food from under the feeders but sadly no bramblings were seen in spite of an influx in other areas. Both a male and a female siskin appeared on the 18th and a female sparrowhawk was seen in the garden on the 19th sitting in one of the orchard trees. Yet more rain fell towards the end of the week and garden, having dried out a little, again became completely marshy with water from the pond next door still well into the vegetable garden. Several pheasants appeared to be living permanently in the garden, feeding on the seeds falling from the bird feeders even though a slightly milder spell of weather meant that there was probably plenty of food for them in the adjacent fields.

As we approached the end of the year, and on the very day of the winter solstice, a song thrush was heard singing – only a few tiny phrases but enough to lift the spirits! Wet weather continued for a few more days and after last month’s narrow escape my office did eventually flood, as water percolated deccatkinsblogdown through the sodden fields behind us and into lower levels of the house. The office eventually dried out after the wooden floor was taken up and thankfully there was no damage to furniture, or more importantly, books!  Still, signs of the spring to come were now in the air with the local song thrush singing every morning from the oak woodland next door. A pair of red kites displayed around our local fields and over the garden during the day and we began to hear tawny owls hooting at dusk every evening. The drier weather continued to the end of the month and beyond thankfully, and milder temperatures and lengthening catkins on the hazel made me think foolishly perhaps, that winter had gone.

 

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