The Wildlife Garden in August

The Long Mynd, Shropshire

August began with some very cool weather but the house martins, which are now using the garden regularly, were in and out of the nest cups on the wall and seemed to be investigating the possibility of using them, although it is rather late in the season.  Several swallows were also feeding around and over the garden, presumably the family from the nest in the front porch which was really successful this year with two good broods of six each time.  There were still very few butterflies around the garden with only the occasional green-veined white or red admiral, although the gatekeepers were still fairly abundant. Later in the week I saw one painted lady and one comma feeding on the late flowers of Buddleia.  Lots of young blue tits continued to feed around the garden and to use the bird feeders and the resident female mallard plus a small juvenile mallard were on the pond daily. No bank voles seen at all this week.  As the week progressed huge numbers of house martins began to feed around the garden, especially over the Big Pond.  This happens to some extent every year but this was the most we had seen here for several years. On the 5th of the month, house martins were seen again going into the nest cups and it looked as though they might be feeding a late brood.  If so this would be the first time house martins have nested here in 17 years!

Comma on Verbena bonariensis

As we moved into the second week of the month temperatures increased and the weather was warmer with clear blue skies. Although this was pleasant I was keen to see some rain as we had had none for many weeks. There was still a lack of the usual butterfly species around although a single common blue was seen on the 11th plus one painted lady, but little else except for the still abundant gatekeepers and a few second brood meadow browns in the longer grass areas. Bird numbers too were low in general but swallows were still using the nests at the front of the house and house martins were now seen to be taking food into the nest cups at the back of the house.  It’s been a long wait but worth it!!  Two greenfinches were around the feeders for a while and a single juvenile was also seen.  The weather slowly warmed to become very hot and sunny and on the 5th of the month young house martins were seen looking out of the nest cups.  The swallows were also  very cramped in the nest at the front of the house but left on the 14th although they were still actively being fed by the adult birds. In all there was lots of activity from hirundines all around the garden!

Bullfinch feeding on Scabious seeds

At the start of the third week of August the young swallows were still very active in the front porch and were often sitting in the climbing rose there, although some preferred to continue to sit on the porch shelf.  All six youngsters left the nest at the beginning of the week although they continued to roost overnight there for some time. The weather was mainly overcast with a cool wind this week and also a little rain which was much needed in the garden. In general though the garden was quiet with very little wildlife about although two bullfinches were heard from time to time. A small flock of goldfinches came together in the garden, feeding on the knapweed seeds in the big meadow and several large dragonflies were busy around the big pond. The swallows and martins were feeding over the pond every day although the weather continued to be overcast with a little drizzly rain. Young tits were still using the feeders daily, especially blue tits which seem to have had a good breeding year here.  Around the garden borders many of the wildlife friendly flowering plants were going over very early as the weather became cool, damp and overcast.  On the 22nd of the month a very beautiful female roe deer spent some time wandering in the garden before disappearing into the adjacent woodland.

Red Admiral Butterfly

As the end of the month approached there were still a large number of young tits using the feeders and the house martins continued to visit the nest cups to feed the young.  On the 23rd we had our last glimpse of a spotted flycatcher on the wires over the back garden. And at last there were very few butterflies around!  It was also nice to see a single red admiral on the 26th and on the 26th I encountered the first sparrowhawk in the garden for ages as it whistled past me at head height in the big meadow! The weather continued to be damp but sunny at times and the month ended with few butterflies about and an empty porch until next year. A family party of long tailed tits was seen at the very end of the month and we entered September with hopefully a late brood of house martins on the way!

A visit from a Roe Deer!
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The Wildlife Garden in July

Spotted Flycatcher with Small White Butterfly

July is always a lovely month in my wildlife garden and this year was no different with spotted flycatchers nesting here this summer. I was able to watch these wonderful, charismatic little birds around the garden every day with one permanently on the nest and the second of the pair feeding, although I never witnessed a changeover.  All around the garden lots of wildflower species were in flower but meadow cranesbill in particular was still much in evidence, creating a huge swathe of blue in one area of the garden right outside my office window which was wonderful to look out on! Oxeye daisies were also flowering well – especially right outside the house back door – again a beautiful sight.  Elsewhere, there were large areas of hogweed in full flower These are left where they are as the flowers attract huge numbers of small invertebrates, which in turn provide food for chiffchaffs in the garden. A Juvenile great spotted woodpecker was seen on the 5th which was the first seen here for a while. As the week ended one of the flycatchers was always on the nest while the second bird could usually be seen in an oak tree nearby.

Meadow Cranesbill in full flower

In the second week of the month St John’s wort was flowering prolifically around the garden especially on the pond bank and in some of the nectar borders. Lady’s bedstraw and common knapweed were also both flowering well and attracting a wide range of invertebrates.  The common spotted orchids though were now over and setting seed.  However the long herbaceous borders were coming into flower and it seems they are going to make a good show this summer! The yellow flowered Centaurea is very tall as is the Echinops – both wonderful for summer butterflies.  Elsewhere in the garden more wildflowers were in bloom especially meadowsweet which has seeded and is flowering all around the garden now – in fact July seemed to be a good month for many of the wildflowers around the garden.  Lots of young goldfinches were seen feeding on the seeds of the sow thistle and both flycatchers were seen daily this week including one on the 15th with a white butterfly in its beak!

Meadowsweet

The third week of the month saw a complete change in the weather to a short heatwave! It was very hot, humid and dry. There were very few butterflies around, and no Vanessids at all – in fact it had been a very poor summer for butterflies so far with only a few browns in the meadow and the odd gatekeeper.  The flycatchers however were feeding young in the nest which was brilliant!. The wild mallard seem to have abandoned our pond and the moorhens had moved to the pond in the field next door.  Knapweed and St Johns wort continued to flower in the meadows, and the meadowsweet scented the air.  On the 18th I had a glimpse of a kingfisher by the Big Pond. 

Gatekeeper Butterfly

The last week of the month saw the weather back to ‘normal’ after the mini-heatwave. In fact by the 25th it was quite cool and windy! Two mallard reappeared on the pond -an adult female and a well grown youngster.  There was no sign of the flycatchers at the nest but on the 23rd several were seen around the garden in various places, especially by the pond and in the orchard, so presumably they had successfully fledged. The 25th of the month was quite cool and windy but lots of young tits were feeding around the garden and a pair of yellowhammers were seen on the hedge. The linnets, which appear to be nesting in the big meadow, were still with us but there was no great increase in the numbers of butterflies except for whites and no migrant species at all.  Excellent news though was that house martins seem to be investigating the nest cups we put up above the back door of the house seventeen years ago, and they are spending some time in the nest cups!  At the end of the month the weather was cooler again and by the 28th it was quite cold!.  A wren was seen again in the log pile in the copse when there had been a successful nest earlier this year, plus two juvenile greenfinches visited the feeders in the garden along with an adult male. At the front of the house the swallows were feeding a second brood (and dropping their poo sacs onto the car!) and the month ended with a lovely bright day on the 31st with lots of exciting wildlife all around the garden!

Juvenile Great Spotted Woodpecker

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The Wildlife Garden in June

June began with the moorhens eggs hatching and the small black spidery legged youngsters on the pond banks and in the water. Sadly a heron was seen to take at least one of them but the rest were soon at home and finding plenty of food.  The weather was generally cooler than it had been – overcast with light rain most days.  Lots of young birds were now fledging around the garden including the siskins but young blue tits and great tits were seen in abundance. A single bank vole continued to feed under the feeder outside my office window. Around the garden there was little in flower but in the big meadow buttercups were plentiful as was Sonchus – a creeping perennial weed but a good nectar and pollen source. Other than that the oxeye daisies started to flower promising a good show later in the month. Several great spotted woodpeckers were using the feeders and a willow warbler was singing all week – a bird not heard or seen in the garden for several years.

Young Swallows about to leave the nest

Common Spotted Orchids and Oxeye Daisies in the Meadow

In the second week of the month the weather was mainly overcast.  However our common spotted orchids were coming into flower all over the garden – possibly fewer that previous years but still a great show. Blackcap and willow warbler were both singing well at the start of the week but the young moorhens were down to just two.  There were very few butterflies in the garden but a single painted lady was seen and also silver y moth. Red admiral and brimstone were also seen later in the week. The Big Meadow was still mainly grass and buttercups, but there was the promise of lots of oxeye daisies.  The buds soon opened and by the end of the week they were flowering in profusion all around the garden as well as in the garden.  Very little was in flower in the long borders however. A single linnet was observed in the orchard on the 13thand the regular bank vole was still visiting daily to pick up discarded sunflower hearts under the bird feeder.

Bank Vole finding food under the bird feeders

The third week of June brought variable weather still but no rain.  The Big Meadow continued to grow and this year the grass was mainly Holcus – a lovely soft grass with a tinge of pink, giving the whole meadow a soft haze of colour. The Sonchus was now attracting a good number of insects as the bright yellow flowers appeared in abundance.  The non-native Fox and Cubs which has found way into the borders was flowering well in the long garden and attracting a range of small insects. Two juvenile chiffchaffs were seen around the pond in the field next door but on the 16th a spotted flycatcher was seen in the orchard. This is a lovely species that has bred in the garden here once before so I was delighted with this discovery! Further inspection from a distance with binoculars showed that it was likely to be using a using a small nest box on the front of our garden cabin. A little covert watching from a distance on the 17th revealed a flycatcher exiting the box and it was also seen around in the copse trees and especially in a large oak in the garden. Two Linnets continued to be seen daily in the long grass in the orchard.  Lots of yellow rattle began to flower around the garden – the most I have seen here for several years and by the end of the week four linnets were observed feeding daily on the seeds of the long grasses in the orchard.  By the end the week the flycatchers could be seen daily and were possibly incubating.   

Fox and Cubs

The last week of the month saw the beginning of a very hot spell of weather.  This brought a number of butterfly species to the garden but best of all, two hummingbird hawkmoths were seen feeding on the lavender in the back garden 22nd.  Also on the 22nd of the month the swallows in the front porch fledged.  A successful brood of six young was better than I expected and it was a delight to see them flying around the house and sitting on the wires over the garden at the back of the house. There were still very few butterflies around but the weather was warm and sunny which should bode well for some midsummer species.   The month ended with several young wagtails on the roof of the house, presumably from the pond in the field next door. At the very end of the month the weather became cooler and damper.  The linnets were clearly nesting in the orchard meadow and six young mallard appeared on the pond. As the weather improved the garden was full of small invertebrates which bodes well for the flycatchers when they hatch.

Spotted Flycatcher in the Apple orchard

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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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