The Wildlife Garden and Beyond…

Chough

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

Sea Holly

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

Worms Head, Gower

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

Male Kestrel

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

                                                                                                               

Speckled Wood
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The Wildlife Garden in August

Wall Brown

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

Peacock Butterfly feeding on Echinops

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

Chiffchaff feeding on invertebrates in the Buddleia

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

A Wandering Juvenile Moorhen

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

Our Swallows Preparing to Leave

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The Wildlife Garden in July

The Big Meadow

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

Linnets feeding in the meadow areas

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

Ringlet butterfly in the Big Meadow

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

Juvenile Marsh Tit

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

Weasel

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The Wildlife Garden in June

The Back Garden Orchids

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

Holly Blue

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

Pied Wagtail

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

Blue Tit Nest Box

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

Juvenile Redstart on the Garden Gate
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The Wildlife Garden in May

Blackcap singing in the Hawthorn Hedge

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

Male Bullfinch feeding on Dandelion Seeds

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

Bluebells and Wild Garlic in Dormouse Wood

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

The Big Meadow

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

Beautiful Demoiselle

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The Wildlife Garden in April

Male Siskin

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

Local Ploughing with Rooks following

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

Cowslip Meadow

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

Orange Tip butterfly feeding on Honesty

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

The Swallows return

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The Wildlife Garden in March

Lesser Redpoll

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

Bank Vole

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

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

Moorhen

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

Local Linnets

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The Wildlife Garden in February

Primroses flowering in the February snow

As you might expect as we approached the end of winter, the weather was cold and overcast in the South Shropshire Hills at the beginning of February.  It was very windy here at times too and yet more snow was forecast for the coming days.  However, there was a little very welcome sunshine too, and in spite of the very cold conditions this week a song thrush began to sing his beautiful repetitive song every morning from the woodland next to my garden. Later in the week a mistle thrush was also heard singing from the copse of trees on the other side of our tiny valley, and along with the sweet chatter of the huge local flock of linnets, there seemed to be a lot of bird activity all around us.  Fewer birds were feeding in the garden this week however, although the siskins were a daily, noisy presence.  On the 4th of the month the eerie sound of a fox screaming was heard in the garden at dusk, and a tawny owl was hooting most nights. The female sparrowhawk that has been a regular visitor this winter returned on the 4th and sat on top of the bird feeder pole for some time before flying off, swift and low, over the adjacent fields. The single marsh tit continued to feed in the garden every day, especially from a small tray on the garden table.

Grey Heron at the frozen pond

The second week of the month continued with cold, snowy weather and at times temperatures were sub-zero even at mid-day.  There were still only a few siskins feeding in the garden which was slightly disappointing after the large numbers we had here last winter, but the males were singing beautifully in the hazel outside the back door and also in the big holly tree at the end of the garden.  On the 9th I noticed that there were daffodil buds showing in the border in the long garden and a small clump of primroses was in flower in the snow in the shelter of one of the hedges. As temperatures continued to be below zero the big pond was, not surprisingly, completely frozen and on the 9th a grey heron visited for the first time in ages, walking about on the frozen surface.  The weather remained very cold this week and the fallow field next to the garden was absolutely full of birds including fieldfares, redwings, linnets and starlings, all in huge numbers, with a few song thrushes for good measure. Our hedges had been recently cut, something we do every January after all berries have gone.  This keeps them very thick and healthy and means they provide excellent nesting places for several bird species here including yellowhammers. The heron returned on the 14th and again spent some time just standing on the frozen surface of the pond.  The local linnet flock visited the garden daily, often alighting in our large ash tree or in the field maple at the end of the long garden.  A rough count of around seventy birds was made.  At the very end of the week the weather warmed a little and a bedraggled buzzard was seen in the garden sitting on the barn owl post, drying itself in the weak sunshine.  The weather forecast for the week ahead was, thankfully, for milder conditions.

The third week of February began with the promised milder weather but it was dull and overcast.   There were no large numbers of birds in the garden or on the hedges now, just the usual species in usual numbers.  There was no sign of redpolls here yet – one of my favourite birds – although plenty were being recorded around Shropshire, and there was also no sign of frogspawn.  Later in the week a single frog was seen in the marshy pond during a slight tidy up of the edges to make access easier, so fingers were crossed for our usual large quantities of frogspawn in this warm, shallow little pond hat the frogs seem to prefer. All the usual early spring bird species were with now including a small flock of siskins, one of my favourite winter visitors, and the males were singing beautifully and looking particularly bright in the sunshine!  A single male mallard appeared on the pond this week and continued to come to roost overnight.  There was rain and sleet for a couple of days but the sunny spells in between the cooler more wintery weather meant there was a hint of spring in the air.  Plenty of bird species continued to sing around the garden in this slightly warmer weather especially robins, dunnocks and great tits, plus a single song thrush performed beautifully from our little copse of trees every morning.

The first frogspawn in the marshy pond

The last week of the month had very variable weather with sun, showers, heavy rain and wind but when the sun shone it really felt like spring!  On the 22nd the first frog spawn appeared in the marshy pond with no sign of any in the other ponds.  A large amount had been laid and the churring of the males was loud and very noticeable in the morning and I went to check for spawn on what seemed like a suitable morning.  The weather continued to be variable but obviously the increase in temperature was enough to get the frogs performing!  All the usual birds were still using the garden, especially the siskins whose numbers were increasing daily, plus the local flock of linnets visited every day, perching either in the ask tree or on top of the long hedge.  The song thrush continued to sing from the copse and two thrushes were seen feeding on the cut grass in the big meadow and on the lawn in the long borders later in the week, giving me hope that they may nest in the garden again this year.  On the morning of the 25th there were seven wild mallard on the pond but they didn’t stay for long. The garden became progressively noisier towards the end of the week with siskins, goldfinches, song thrushes, dunnocks, great tits and robins singing from our trees and hedges and a single blackbird was also heard. Male chaffinches also began their explosive song and without doubt, there was more than a hint of spring was in the air.

Robin in full song

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The Wildlife Garden in January

Blackbird feeding on fallen apples

The beginning of the new year was very cold here in South Shropshire and snowy but intermittently bright weather persisted for the whole of the first week.  The local female sparrowhawk, now a very regular visitor, was seen daily, either sitting in the large apple tree at the back of my house or outside my office windows in the alder buckthorn shrub – quite oblivious to movement by me but obviously keeping her eye on the bird feeders for her next meal. There was still plenty of snow on the Long Mynd, visible as a white blanket like icing on a cake.  The pair of local red kites continued to soar and dive at each other over the fields round about us, and they were sometimes joined by a buzzard which was making regular forays to the largest of the oak trees in the damp woodland at the end of my garden.  This tree is a favourite spot for carrion crows to nest and last year they won the battle with the local buzzards, for possession of this hotly contested nesting place. The weather continued to be very cold which brought large numbers of smaller birds to feed, especially tits and finches, and it was also good to see a treecreeper every day in the largest of our apple trees, searching for small invertebrates, branch by branch, in their entertaining, methodical way. Also a pair of robins was seen several times in the hedge outside my office this week, and at times their melancholy, rather wistful song could be heard.

The frosty woodland next door.

The weather became much colder in the second week of the month and the garden was full of sparkling frost on the morning of the 7th.  A single fieldfare and a redwing were seen outside on that day, birds that had not been around for a while.  In general this has been a bad winter for fieldfares, and our orchard, with the ample food it provides for this species, has been largely devoid of winter thrushes since Christmas.  The whole garden however was glittering first thing, and Crawl Wood, on our boundary looked especially beautiful with frost coating every branch and twig.  A single house sparrow appeared in the garden on the 7th and six magpies congregated in the field maple at the end of the long borders.  This tree is always in demand by nesting corvids and the magpies usually win this particular battle, reusing the existing nest, but adding a few more large twigs each year.  A female kestrel also flew into this field maple on the 8th and returned a couple of times that week.  On the 9th the same tree was full of starlings and 68 were counted.  There was a little more snow this week but nothing that really persisted for long, and wet and windy weather soon returned although there was a little welcome sunshine sometimes in the afternoons. Temperatures increased at the end of the week but there were still no redwings or fieldfares in the garden at all. A single, welcome lesser celandine was seen in flower in the vegetable garden on the 13th and on the 14th the mass of snowdrops on the verge outside the garden was showing  hints of white as the flowers began to reveal their delicate snowy bells.  There was no sight or sound of a mistle or song thrush this week, but the robins were still singing at the end of the week, and a bullfinch was heard softly hooting in the orchard.  The kites continued their acrobatic display over the garden and two wood mice were seen in the potting shed!

Female Kestrel in the field maple

The third week of January began with bright, cold weather with even more birds using the bird feeders, especially tits and finches. Siskin numbers were slowly increasing but there were still only four or five, far fewer than in previous years here. Locally a huge flock of linnets was feeding on a nearby field – something we see here most winters, and they seen flying through the garden on the 17th – estimated at around 200 birds, amazing to both see and to hear!  The weather became slightly milder and sunny at times but as usual there were warnings of gales and snow arriving from the west. There was indeed snow late on the evening of the 20th which continued overnight but it did not persist for long.  However it was followed by icy winds and torrential rain. A few fieldfares returned to the fallen apples in the orchard, but there were hints of spring, as at last a song thrush was heard singing in the early mornings from the woodland next door – one of the most beautiful sounds I know!  On the 21st the female sparrowhawk returned, sitting in her usual place outside my office and a female brambling returned to feed from the seeds under the bird feeders.

The last week of January saw the snow persisting, but thankfully, from my perspective at least, it was gone by the 22nd. Brighter, sunnier days meant that more birds were singing around the garden now including great tit and dunnock as well as the song thrush. Numbers of all the regular smaller bird species increased and a single marsh tit was seen daily. The sparrowhawk returned to her usual spot after an absence of two weeks and one of our regular moorhens returned to the pond.

 Perhaps the most exciting visitor here in January was a willow tit which came to the feeders.  This now very scarce little bird was a regular visitor when we first created the garden here, largely due, I am sure, to the damp woodland on our boundary, but this was the first I had recorded for a couple of years – and a fitting end to my least favourite month of the year.  Hopefully a little sunnier, slightly warmer weather is on the way!

Willow Tit

With such cold frosty weather I am certainly looking forward to milder temperatures as we move into spring next month!

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The Wildlife Garden in December

A large number of goldfinches were feeding in the garden every day.

The first week of December was bright and quite cold in South Shropshire with a very heavy frost on the first of the month.  There were still plenty of goldfinches feeding around the garden and a single male house sparrow visited us on the first of the month, and again on the third – an unusual bird for this garden. A marsh tit was seen most days, generally caching sunflower hearts amongst the vegetation in one of the borders, but there was no sign of bramblings or siskins.  A couple of fieldfares continued to feed in the orchard but we have certainly not had our usual winter numbers yet and no redwings for some weeks.  Sleety snow fell on the afternoon of the third and the week continued to be generally quite cold but with no frost.  A little snow fell on the Long Mynd on the 7th creating a lovely view from my windows, but I was quite glad not to have a snowy garden! The male sparrow continued to be seen most days, usually in the hedge next to the bird feeders but on the 7th a very bold and very visible female sparrowhawk appeared, sitting quietly in one of the apple trees at the back of the house for some considerable time, which rather upset the more regular bird visitors.  She then flew to the alder buckthorn outside my office windows and I continued to see her on a daily basis.  There were plenty of other birds feeding this week and the goldfinch flock reached twenty five individuals. No mammals were seen at all though, with the exception of a few rabbits.

Very few siskins visited the garden, compared with previous winters

Between twenty and thirty goldfinches were regularly using the feeders during the second week of the month and they were often accompanied by a good number of chaffinches.   A couple of female siskins visited from time to time plus a single male this week, but unlike last winter no large numbers were recorded. On the 12th the female sparrowhawk sat for some time in a hazel tree outside my kitchen window, plus a male also appeared and she joined him as he flew off high over the garden and adjacent fields.  The weather this week was variable but generally very mild with many trees and shrubs still in full leaf, in particular the alder buckthorn.  Lots of goldfinches were using the small feeding tray outside the kitchen window as well as the nyger feeders in other parts of the garden. Just one rabbit was seen this week, trying to find its way out of the garden by wriggling under the gate! A couple of grey squirrels were around daily but did not seem very interested in the bird feeders.  Good numbers of chaffinches and greenfinches continued to visit but nothing unusual was recorded.  The single marsh tit continued to be seen daily.

A single marsh tit – a favourite bird – visited the feeders.

During the third week of December goldfinches continued to dominate the feeders –the flock now at around 40 individuals one day. The weather was still very mild for the time of year but wet at the start of the week, with both drizzly and some very heavy rain.  The pond in the field next door expanded rapidly until it overflowed into my vegetable plot and the whole garden was saturated underfoot.  No fieldfares or redwings were seen this week but there were lots of tits and finches all around. A treecreeper was seen frequently in the big apple tree and the female sparrowhawk continued to visit every day, and was once seen catching a goldfinch.  At least two tawny owls were heard most evenings and one was also seen flying up onto the roof of the house. However, the weather changed this week to wet, wild and windy bringing even more birds to the garden and a small group of four or five long-tailed tits began to use the feeders every day, mostly arriving in the late afternoon.  And a single beautiful jay was also seen most days.

Female sparrowhawk visiting daily!

The last week of the year was cold, wet and very windy at times.  All the regular birds continued to use the feeders or take advantage of the fallen fruit in the orchard, and the female sparrowhawk continued to sit in her favourite spots around the garden every day, often in the shrub outside my office window, giving me many opportunities to photograph her, or on the railings outside my kitchen!  As the month came to an end we began to see snow overnight as temperatures dropped and this colder weather continued until the very end of December. The cold snowy conditions saw the numbers of smaller birds built up again, especially the chaffinches and long tailed tits.  A single bank vole was seen under the feeders on a couple of occasions and seemed to be wisely taking away food and caching it under the patio paving!  The month ended with persistent light snow, very icy winds and a pair of red kites swooping and diving together over the garden and the surrounding fields.  It certainly looks as though we will have these magnificent birds nesting locally again next year.

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