The Wildlife Garden in November

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The first frosts of the winter meant that November began with rather cold conditions in my wildlife garden, but we then had warmer, drier weather for the rest of the week. All the trees around the garden started to lose their leaves, especially the hawthorns on our sounthern boundary and the ash in the front garden, but our beech clung on to its leaves, the huge tree creating a wonderful golden dome with just a scattering of leaves on the grass beneath it in the back garden and the vegetable garden. There were plenty of fieldfares and redwings around our area with a few of each of these lovely thrush species visiting the garden every day. Most of the local hawthorn berries, their favourite food at the moment, had pretty much been eaten but a few were remaining in the garden trees. A single yellowhammer sat on the top of the now naked ash one morning and a female kestrel hunted over the garden and the field next door every day. On a couple of evenings a yellow-necked mouse visited the small bird feeding tray outside the back door, unaware of us watching it aided by an outside light. A single bank vole fed on the spilled bird food on the patio. Great views were had of a hare in an adjaBlogmtcent field in exactly the spot where I have seen hares before. I later observed this same individual in a neighbouring field and was able to get some photos of this beautiful mammal.
As the month progressed all the usual bird species were seen in the garden. Large flocks of fieldfares and redwings continued to fly over, and were eventually brave enough to come into the garden. About 40 redwings spent time in the large holly at the end of the garden and fieldfares, having now eaten all the hawthorn berries on our boundary trees, resorted to the apple orchard where we have good crops this year, which will hopefully last them for a while.
The next few days were spent in the Peak District in Derbyshire where I was able to observe and record the wildlife in a very different garden to my own. I was most excited to see large numbers of house sparrows – rarely seen in my garden – plus an adjacent churchyard, overflowing with yew trees with a great crop of berries, provided feeding opportunities for mistle and song thrush, blackbird and the occasional redwing. Tits used the garden bird feeders there and other notable bird species seen this week were raven and several goldcrests.
On my return to South Shropshire it was no surprise to see that our huge crop of holly berries had gone completely! The garden was exceptionally wet and all the usual bird species quickly returned as the feeders were replenished. Marsh tits and coal tits continued to cache food avidly. On the 22nd of the month I counted 55 fieldfares in the orchard along with tits and finches of several species. Grey squirrels were frantically collecting hazelnuts and a single bank vole was seen under one of the sunflower heart feeders, collecting up and carrying off any seeds that had fallen. Most interesting at this blogdmtime was the nocturnal activity from our local tawny owls which were very vocal – at least two were heard calling from the wood next door on several evenings.
The last week of the November was much like the rest of the month – cold and very, very wet, as was much of the country. Winter thrushes, especially a flock of 50 – 60 fieldfares, continued to visit us and the feeders hosted plenty of tits, finches, nuthatches and woodpeckers. A single treecreeper was seen on the 27th and bank voles and squirrels tidied up the bird food under the feeders. Incessant rain meant that the garden was totally sodden to the point where my downstairs office was in danger of flooding! On the 25th two tawny owls were heard calling in the garden and in spite of the cold conditions several moths were seen around the outside light, including several December moths. Less rain over the next few days did little to dry the garden out but at least my office was safe! At the very end of the month a single grey wagtail visited the wildlife ponds on two occasions, so the wet conditions did have one positive effect!

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Posted in Birds, Ecology, Gardening, Mammals, Moths, Nature, Shropshire, Uncategorized, Wildlife, Wildlife Garden, Wildlife Gardening | Leave a comment

The Wildlife Garden in October

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The weather in Shropshire became more autumnal in the first week of the October with berries now showing up well in the hedges and big hawthorn trees around my garden. There were still a few butterflies about including a single green-veined white in the ‘wild carrot meadow’ on the first of the month. Conditions became more wet and windy through the first week though, with just the odd bit of welcome sunshine. There were still plenty of tits all around the garden and on the feeders, especially blue tits, and the marsh tits were still caching food frantically. Only a single bank vole was seen but there was evidence of their runs all over the garden through the grassy areas, and on the 3rd of the month a chiff chaff was seen on the rotary washing line, drinking the water droplets that hung there, and bathing in the ‘mini-pond’ at the back of the house. Verbena bonariensis was still flowering beautifully in the vegetable garden and a single red admiral was seen feeding on it on the 5th. On the 7th there was a small flock of 30 or so redwings – our first winter thrushes this year – low over the garden with five stopping off briefly in the apple orchard.

The second week of the month began with a sparrowhawk kill outside my office  – a wood pigeon – although the kill was abandoned.  Two buzzards took great interest in it on the 8th but weren’t quite brave enough to come down so close to my office windows. On the same day a single red kite also checked it out but again didn’t quite land. Other birds in the garden included a few chaffinches which I hadn’t seen for a while,Ruddy Darter9638blog but there were very few goldfinches – just a handful on the feeders. A female sparrowhawk came through daily and a male was also seen on the 16th – both coming regularly to sit on the feeders outside my office. In the vegetable garden  nasturtiums and calendula were both well in flower but only attracting a few flies.  In the evenings a skein of geese flew over the garden on several days, heading towards the Long  Mynd.

As we moved into the third week of the month a more autumnal feeling prevailed.  At least two grey squirrels were burying hazel nuts around the garden while jays continued to bury acorns. On the 17th, eight redwings were seen in the big hawthorns on our garden boundary and they joined several male blackbirds to eat the hawthorn berries there and in the vegetable garden hedge.  Two female bullfinches and a male blackcap were also feeding in the hawthorns. A migrant hawker dragonfly flew around the big pond and a ruddy darter rested on the edge of the compost bin in the vegetable garden, soaking up the autumn sunshine. A single red admiral fed on the Verbena this week and two sunbathed on one of our south facing hedges. Twelve long-tailed tits were using the feeders daily and a male blackcap was seen eating the berries on our large alder buckthorn. A few greenfinches returned to the feeders.

In the last week of the month a treecreeper was seen feeding on one of our big apple trees outside the back door.  This is a regular species here in the autumn and winter and always entertaining to watch.  A male fox was heard calling one evening in the field next door  at the beginning of the week – an eerie sound in the damp misty weather. A small flock of redwings continued to feed in the hawthorns most days while two marsh tits carried on with their task of caching sunflower hearts. The 24th was a beautiful bright sunny day after the cloud had lifted, but the weather turned cold and wet on the 24th and 25th – and we received some much needed rain. A small flock of fieldfares visited the hawthorns daily, chacking andSparrowhawk9688blog squabbling noisily and they were joined by several blackbirds. Two tawny owls were heard several times in the late evenings giving us hope for a breeding pair in the area next spring.  On the 25th a male sparrowhawk spent some time sitting on the bird feeders outside my office and a female kestrel hovered over the garden almost every day – she was seen to catch a bank vole on two occasions. Torrential rain fell overnight on the 25th/26th, completely flooding the garden and the surrounding fields from which the garden has yet to recover! Thankfully the house remained dry.  The month ended with frosty weather with large numbers of finches and thrushes around the garden. Siskins have yet to appear but I shall be looking out for this favourite bird over the next few weeks.

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The Wildlife Garden in September

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The beginning of September saw our female mallard and all the young ducklings happily living in our garden once again in spite of our attempts to encourage them to use the bigger pond next door. On the first of the month we had excellent views of a hobby in a clear blue sky, chasing the swallows over the garden – the day our second brood of young swallows fledged! None were seen to be caught but I certainly had conflicted loyalties – the swallows continued to be very active around the nest in the mornings and evenings and none seemed to be missing! There was a huge amount of swallow activity all around the house for several sunny days – possibly the first brood siblings with parents and the second brood plus other local birds. Large numbers of young goldfinches were using the garden, especially feeding on the seeds of the knapweed and thistles on the pond bank, Goldfinchblogand they soon learned to use the feeders and find water in the small ponds. Towards the end of the week the weather became very cool but birds were still abundant in the garden and some butterflies too, especially red admiral, small tortoiseshell and painted lady which were very active on sunny days.

At the beginning of the second week the weather was a little warmer but sadly the better conditions didn’t last long. However, when the sun shone there were still plenty of butterflies around and the Verbena bonariensis in the vegetable garden was covered with whites, red admirals and painted ladies. On the 9th a hare was seen well in the field next door, a rarity around us here and wonderful to watch. The weather began to feel more autumnal this week but our swallows were still with us roosting in the porch nests overnight, but by the 12th they appeared to have gone. Large numbers of passing martins and swallows swooped and fed over the big pond every day, creating quite a spectacle. By the end of the second week all the meadow cutting was finished and the task of raking up all the hay was a time consuming job as usual!

The third week of September was spent away from home on the South Wales coast. The Gower Peninsula is a very beautiful area that I have visited in the past and I was keen to return to this picturesque coast which is teaming with wildlife. The weather was stunning for most of the week and it was brilliant to walk every morning along the cliff tops to Worm’s Head. My main objective was to see choughs and indeed we saw them every day, both on the cliffs and on the Rhossili Downs which frame and shelter the amazing beach there. Other birds seen frequently this week were wheatear andChoughblog stonechat plus there were large flocks of linnets and goldfinches taking advantage of the seeds in a huge field of sunflowers growing in the area. A single peregrine falcon was also a highlight of our coastal walks as were several views of wall brown butterfly and a single small adder.

The last week of the month saw me back in my Shropshire garden and the week began with sunny but cool and windy conditions, although we did have some much needed rain on a couple of days which filled the ponds and refreshed the borders. Large numbers of blue tits and great tits were still using the feeders and there were daily visits from the mallard ducklings – now fully grown – as they continued to commute between our garden and the pond next door. Kites and buzzards soared overhead and some birds, the local marsh tits in particular, began caching food especially sunflower hearts. In spite of the lack of an ‘Indian Summer’ there were still red admirals around the garden feeding on Verbena, which was still well in flower, and on the fallen apples and plums in the orchard. The month ended with cool wet weather and on the 30th several swallows were seen flying over the garden – no doubt the last we will see here until next April.

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The Wildlife Garden in August

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August was yet another very variable month weather-wise and some areas of the UK experienced high winds and torrential rain. Here in South Shropshire conditions could have been worse and at least we had some sunshine between the storms. Our nesting swallows were coping well with the poor weather conditions – they seemed to be experienced parents and possibly not first-time breeders as I had suspected, and they were confidently incubating their second brood – even when visitors came to the front door they generally sat tight and were not easily disturbed. Spells of good weather between the storms meant that they went into overdrive once the eggs had hatched. Around the borders butterflies were still very much in evidence with a huge influx of peacocks – I counted forty around the long borders and the herb garden. Painted lady and red admiral were also still numerous especially on the Buddleia and Verbena bonariensis. There were lots of birds all around the garden, and the local red kites appeared to have had a successful nest close by. Two adults and a juvenile soared over the garden on clear days and their whistling calls echoed all around our little valley.

As we moved into the second week of the month nothing really changed in terms of the weather except that it became even more windy! The local female kestrel visited the garden many times, sometimes hovering over the wildflower meadows or sitting on the electricity cables over the nectar garden at the back of the house, and a male Antler8872blogsparrowhawk also found a convenient perch on one of our garden seats. Bumblebees were plentiful all around the borders and butterflies continued to survive in spite of sometimes wet and windy conditions. A single hummingbird hawkmoth was seen feeding on the Buddleia on the 9th and the moth trap attracted a good range of species including one of my favourites, the antler moth.

The wild mallard duck and her ducklings continued to feed here but we were able to encourage them out of our garden this week and into the large neglected field next door. This field has a big natural pond where the ducklings will be able to find plenty of food plus a bigger pond will provide them shelter from any predators that might be around. They seemed very settled and we could hear them splashing about in their new home!

On the 13th a juvenile siskin was seen on the feeders. I was thrilled to see this gorgeous little bird – after having so many in the garden over the winter I was hopeful that they would be breeding in the area and this visitor possibly confirmed that, and later this week two more siskins appeared – an adult male and female. Very bad weather on the 14th left the garden windswept and wet and on the morning of the 15th a male blackcap was seen in the hawthorn outside the back door looking fluffed up and very damp. The variable wetter weather continued and these conditions brought yet more young birds to the garden feeders. Plenty of large dragonflies were seen around the big pond in sunnier spells including brown hawker, but on the 17th the female mallard abandoned her ducklings on the pond next door and returned to our pond! The following day all the ducklings had also returned having somehow climbed over or though the fence that surrounds the garden!

As we moved through the month the weather remained unsettled – it was often cool for the time of year and also still very windy. The ducks continued to commute between our garden and the pond next door and young birds were seen in good numbers all around especially in the orchard and on the feeders. Blue tits and goldfinches in particular were seen in very good numbers. A family of greenfinches also used the feeders daily. There were however fewer butterflies towards the end of the month, although agreenfinch9195blog single wall brown was seen feeding on lavender on the 26th, and basking on the house wall, but dragonfly numbers were still very good, especially for the larger species such as migrant and southern hawker and I was pleased that our wildlife pond was continuing to provide a good habitat for them in spite of the large number of mallard making use of a pond that was far too small for them!  The moth trap continued to bring in exceptional numbers of the commoner species.

The month ended with lower temperatures here and a family of wrens was roosting every evening in a small open fronted bird box in the tangled Clematis orientalis that grows over the potting shed, a sure sign that summer is just about over. With all the wildflower meadows now cut, the garden looked rather empty and wild but the bird feeders were simply buzzing with tits and finches. Bank voles were still around in large numbers and a single common shrew was also seen, but it was the huge flocks of young goldfinches, often fifty or more, that we were seeing daily, that indicated that summer was just about over.

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The Wildlife Garden in July

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The weather was variable at the start of July with a very cool and damp feel on the 1st of the month. Luckily the weather grew warmer as the week progressed and the last few days were quite warm! There were lots of young birds around the garden especially tits, with great tits anting under the climbing rose in the back garden. There were several ringlet butterflies around the meadows – certainly more than we have had for several years here, plus meadow browns were also plentiful.  It was so nice to see these meadow species dancing over the long grasses and wildflowers.  Other insects were also plentiful with lots of bumblebees feeding and a couple of scarlet tiger moths around the vegetable patch.  As the week progressed we began to see swifts feeding over the garden and the small field next door.  This is a relatively unusual bird for us to see here but as the week progressed more appeared every day until a maximum of about 50 were counted. They were joined by house martins and swallows and we enjoyed this spectacle every day with swift numbers building up to still further.  Our own swallows continued to feed their young in the nest in the front porch, and our post lady got used to dodging them as she delivered the mail.

The second week of the month still brought variable weather but there were a couple of warm days at the beginning of the week. The pair of red legged partridges were around every day often feeding on the sunflower hearts that fell beneath the feeders. A female mallard also appeared daily – usually at the end of the afternoon to stock up on food and have a swim in the pond and we became suspicious that she may have a nest somewhere. Single butterflies of several species appeared around the garden includingRingletblogjuly comma, small tortoiseshell and peacock in the long borders. A wood pigeon continued to build yet another nest in the hedge in the back garden and the large numbers of swifts continued to feed over the garden with the local swallows and house martins. Towards the end of the week numbers of meadow brown and ringlet butterflies increased considerably and we had the best numbers of these species here for some years.

In the third week of the month our swallows fledged – possibly on the 15th – with 4 or 5 young. The parents were seen fluttering around the porch trying to encourage the youngsters out.  They flew around the garden this week, resting on the overhead wires.  The weather alternated between sunny and warm to cool and windy and there were still masses of young tits feeding – probably from second broods. The orchids in the back garden now going over but were being replaced by lots of the biennial wildflower wild carrot which looked stunning!  There were plenty of butterflies still around in the meadows especially browns, commas, small tortoiseshell and peacock. The bullfinch family was constantly in the copse hooting and feeding on the wild cherries and there were a couple of young robins around the garden at last.

In the last week of July the weather was yet again very variable. The bullfinches were now beginning to use the birdfeeders and our swallows seemed to be out all day, returning in the evening to roost in the nest. There were excellent numbers of butterflies in the wildflower meadows especially ringlet, meadow brown and essex skipper and we also saw a sudden large hatch of hoverflies which were all around the garden feeding on flowers in borders and meadows.  A surprise find was a slow worm in one of thePLblogjuly compost heaps.  This is a very welcome garden resident that we only occasionally see here. Other welcome visitors to the garden this month included the local kestrel and several linnets, the latter feeding on seeds of various small wildflowers in the meadows. Towards the end of the week the inevitable happened – our local wild mallard duck appeared with eleven fluffy ducklings.  We suspected that she might be around after last year’s successful nest here and she proudly paraded them around the garden, only once attempting to attack me when she came across me unexpectedly in the garden. The month ended with more variable weather but the butterflies were fantastic as huge numbers of peacock and painted lady fed all around the garden.

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The Wildlife Garden in June

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At the beginning of June the weather was yet again very variable in South Shropshire, although the rain we had was actually quite welcome. Cooler damper weather was interspersed with sunny periods with a little warmth, and the garden was almost overwhelmed with young blue tits and great tits which all seemed to fledge from our bird boxes within a week. Other young birds though were rather scarce with just a couple of young robins and no juvenile blackbirds at all in spite of nests here. The common spotted orchids in the garden continued to appear and the small ‘orchid meadow’ at the back of the house – once just a patch of lawn – was full of this beautiful species – over 200 were counted in this one spot. These orchids found their own way to this area of lawn, seeding naturally from a few plants in the big meadow where a little seed was sown when we first created the garden.  Clearly this spot with fine leaved grasses right outside our back door is just right for them.  They seem to have found the perfect spot and are spreading year after year.

A single female mallard, most likely one from the brood that bred on the pond here last year, appeared in the garden and seemed fixated on my husband, following him around whenever he was outside! A couple of red-legged partridges also spent a lot of time in the garden and are possibly nesting at the bottom of one of our hedges. Sadly there were no more signs of spotted flycatchers here and butterfly numbers dwindled as torrential rain fell at the end of the week.

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As the month progressed the weather in the second week remained wet, changeable and unseasonal! The damp conditions meant that the wildflower meadows grew rapidly. Numbers of  young birds continued to increase and we were treated to the wonderful sight of a kestrel hunting over the garden as bank voles were plentiful here in June. Kestrel is a bird that we used to see frequently here, especially hovering over the meadows we have created, but is now a more unusual visitor. Young birds continued to flock to the garden feeders and the tits were joined by juvenile woodpeckers, their bright red caps making them very noticeable. Another seed feeder in the garden attracted a pair of local jays – they managed to remove the peanuts with great skill!  A few house sparrows also appeared – a rare bird in the garden here.

The kestrel continued to visit, often sitting on a wire over the back garden, giving us great views of this beautiful bird. The weather became cool and changeable but the many young blue and great tits continued to use the feeders which needed filling up twice a day. The light evenings gave me the opportunity to see what was going on around the garden at dusk and a tawny owl one evening was followed by a barn owl the next! Barn owl has been seen here before but I do wonder how often this lovely bird visits us and we just don’t see it.

The weather warmed up in the last week of June, at least for a short while, and a few butterfly species appeared here in small numbers. Red admiral, holly blue and speckled wood and ringlet joined a few green-veined whites but the real splashes of colour blogringletaround the garden came from the flowering plants especially the common spotted orchids.  Knapweed, meadow cranesbill and lady’s bedstraw came into flower in the big meadow and meadowsweet covered the banks of the big pond and filled the apple orchard beneath the fruit trees.

As the month came to an end the weather was again changeable – it was cool and damp for several days which made me concerned for the young swallows in the nest in our porch, although the parent birds seemed to be returning with food for them even when there was drizzle. However warmer sunny weather returned and large numbers of house martins zipped around the garden in the early evenings, often clinging to the wall of the house but showing no interest in the artificial nest cups thereblogwoodyj which was very frustrating! Siskins were seen most days, usually on the sunflower heart feeders and a few meadow butterflies began to appear – ringlet and meadow brown danced around the meadows, feeding on knapweed and sometimes yellow rattle.  An influx of painted lady butterflies fed from the catmint in the borders around the house and the garden was beautifully colourful with masses of meadow cranesbill in flower – a plant that has spread here vigorously.

In all June was an excellent month for wildlife here, and hopefully the trend will continue into July.

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The Wildlife Garden in May

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The weather always seems to dominate my garden wildlife blog but that is simply because the weather makes a huge different to what I actually see here!  A variable week at the beginning of the month with some bright sunny days interspersed with cold rainy ones, meant that everything in the garden was growing very fast and the garden looked exceptionally green! The small green-winged orchid that appeared on the pond bank last month continued to flourish and the flowers opened, but it didn’t actually get very much bigger.  With no other plant of this species in the area with which to cross pollinate it looks as though it is going to be very lonely unless I can buy seed of green-winged orchid and attempt to grow more.

The cool breezy weather didn’t deter large numbers of bumblebees from feeding around the garden, especially in the fruit garden on the gooseberry flowers. Our apple trees in the back garden seemed to have very little blossom this year after large apple crops last Juvenile Bluetitblogyear but the fruit trees in our small orchard were covered with flowers as usual and looked wonderful. A quick survey of the nest boxes around the garden showed me that all our boxes were occupied by blue tits, with the exception of two – one which had great tits with a successful nest and the other which is occupied by bumblebees. This means that six nest boxes have blue tits breeding which rather makes me think we will be overrun with juvenile blue tits this year! Several robin and dunnock nests were very active and a chiffchaff was seen repeatedly returning to a patch of nettles in the vegetable garden where bullfinches and goldfinches were also nesting in the thick hedges. Chiffchaffs and blackcaps were singing daily all around the garden.

The weather continued to be changeable as we moved into the second week of May and at times temperatures were low for the time of year. The garden however looked lovely, with masses of red campion and yellow archangel in flower in all the hedges and around the garden boundaries. Three swallows racing around the house caused some excitement. It is now ten years since swallows nested in our porch at the front of the house and I am hopeful that two of these might be tempted.  A quick examination of the ledge where they previously nested showed me that part of a nest remains and would only need a little work to make it useable.  I am keeping my fingers crossed.

On the 15th a pair of mallard visited the Big Pond – their apparent familiarity with the garden gave me little doubt that they are the pair that nested here last year.  However, they quickly moved over to a pond in the field next door which sees a lot less human disturbance than the pond in my garden. Other birds that seem to have made their home with us this month were a pair of red-legged partridges. I am very fond of this species and hope they stay around for a while. Great-spotted woodpeckers were feeding blogotsfrantically, and the garden seemed very noisy with birds everywhere.  Bank voles were still numerous, so we were not surprised to see a kestrel hovering repeatedly over the meadows.  At the end of this week I was very excited to see a spotted flycatcher in our little copse of trees and later in the vegetable garden. I have my doubts about this species nesting in the garden again though, as nests have been predated in two previous years, but just to see one around was a pleasure. Butterflies continued to be numerous this week especially the orange tip which was still here in exceptional numbers.  They were joined by small white and the occasional scruffy comma. Chiffchaff and blackcap continued to sing and a pair of siskins visited the feeders daily.

As we moved into the last week of the month the weather improved. Warm sunny conditions meant that plenty of birds were singing.  The swallows swooped around the house, twittered on the overhead wires and eventually dived into the porch and took possession of the old nest there. Yellowhammer and whitethroat sang in the vegetable garden and on a sunny morning at the end of the month I heard a familiar song but one I didn’t associate with the garden.  This evocative song brought to mind a nature reserve I often visit in Wales and I realised the bird was a sedge warbler – a new species for the garden! He sang around the big pond and in the hedge, he posed for a photo and then he was gone.  A brilliant end to the month.

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The Wildlife Garden in April

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April began with relatively mild weather and good numbers of birds were feeding around my garden and on the feeders. Species included siskins, which I hope will stay around and breed here this year, and a pair of mallard on the Big Pond where a heron also visited daily.  On one occasion two herons arrived together. Every evenings two or three bats emerged from under the house roof but I still have no idea what species we have here. At the end of the first week a female blackcap was seen in the sheltered garden at the back of the house and as the earliest of the dandelion flowers went over a single linnet arrived to eat the seeds. Other visiting birds included two treecreepers.  These regularly disappeared into a crevice in an old willow tree next door, so I am hoping they will have a successful nest there.

The weather grew warmer at the end of the first week of the month and one of the smaller garden meadows was full of cowslips, their subtle scent filling the air in the evenings.  A pair of red-legged partridges roamed the garden during the second week of April, popping in and out of the hedge bottoms in search of a safe nest site. The weather became a little cooler and some welcome rain refreshed the borders. Several bird species obviously had nests around the hedges, in particular two pairs of blackbirds and several dunnocks. These little birds are regular garden residents and as well as nesting in theAprilblogredstart hedges here they also use the large sedges I grow in the long borders and around the big pond.  On the 14th a male redstart appeared in the garden.  This tends to happen in the second week of April every year and is always a thrill to see.  They are stunning birds and I feel privileged that they stop off in my garden and find food and shelter here for a couple of days before moving on to their nest site.  Another bird that was very active this month in the garden was yellowhammer.  A pair seemed very settled with the male singing from the top of one of our thick hawthorn hedges.  Hopefully they will nest here successfully again this year. At the end of the second week of April a single swallow was seen in our area but none were seen over the garden itself, plus it is sadly some years since we had a nest in the porch.

As we moved into the third week of April the male redstart was still with us although the weather turned cold and windy. Two starlings, quite unusual birds here, visited the bird feeders and also had a bath in one of the small ponds. The next few days were warm and spring like and the first orange tip butterfly appeared around the garden. It was good to see a speckled wood too and as the week progressed many more orange tips were seen making it easily one of the best springs we’ve had for this species for some years.  Other butterflies began to appear in the warmer weather including peacock, small tortoiseshell and a gorgeous female brimstone which was laying eggs on the alder buckthorn on the edge of the big meadow.  In the large pond both common and great crested newts were plentiful and plants around the pond edges started to grow rapidly. The weather was warm and sunny for the whole of the week and as spring seemed to erupt all over the garden it became obvious that this was a ‘vole year’ for us with large numbers of bank voles scuttling about in the long grass, in the borders and even in and out of gaps in the paving around the house! I am especially fond of bank voles and feed them here  – they seem to especially like sunflower hearts.  Queen bumble bees were also plentiful this week and on the 20th two swallows swooped around the house and two chiffchaffs and a black cap were singing here.

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Sadly this warm, spring-like  weather was soon behind us but all the local warblers continued to sing. Other birds, especially robins, were frantically feeding young in nests in the hedgerows and both male and female bullfinches fed on the dandelion seeds in the lawn.  Overnight on the 26th and 27th of the month we had a ferocious storm. It was very wet and windy but thankfully there was no damage around the garden as there had been at roughly the same time last year when one of our old hawthorn trees sadly fell apart.  As we moved through April the weather improved again, and it was warm and sunny until the very end of the month. Chiffchaff,  blackcap, yellowhammer and the local blackbirds sang constantly and the whole garden was alive with butterflies, birds and scuttling bank voles!  As the month drew to a close I was very surprised to find a small green-winged orchid close to the big pond, presumably a single plant that had germinated from seed that may have been in the soil here for many years.  I am hopeful that raking the pond bank later in the year might turn up more seeds of this wonderful plant.

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The Wildlife Garden in March

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March was, in general, a mild month in my Shropshire garden, but at times the wind was blustery and not very spring like! Rain and showers with even a hint of snow made it feel like winter was returning.  There were still masses of birds around the garden though, especially siskins and goldfinches feeding on nyjer seed. The abundance of small birds in the garden meant that the local sparrowhawks were much in evidence and a male bird was seen taking a blackbird from the top of one of my hedges.  A few winter birds such as brambling, fieldfare and lesser redpoll were still around and the wonderful fluty song of a mistle thrush was heard every morning. Two herons and several mallard visited the big pond.

blogcelandineAs we moved into the second week of the month two of my favourite birds appeared in the garden. These were red-legged partridges – birds that have bred in the garden before and they seemed very much at home wandering around the paths and amongst the plants in the borders. The rather wet blustery weather continued but this didn’t stop daffodils, violets and celandines bursting into flower, nor prevent the local blue tits from investigating several of the bird boxes around the garden. Finches were in abundance this week especially siskins, goldfinches and chaffinches and the garden was a rather noisy place with a great deal of twittering bird song.

The third week of March brought snow, rain and fierce winds to my garden so I left the miserable weather of my home county for the milder conditions of South Devon. The garden around my accommodation there was beautiful with huge magnolias in flower and countless house sparrows nesting in the old walls of the buildings there – a real treat for me as house sparrows are a rare sight in my garden.

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At the end of the month on returning home to Shropshire, the weather had improved, chiffchaffs were singing in the wood next door and primroses and violets were in full flower all around the garden. On the last day of the month a chiffchaff ventured into the garden and sang from the top of my small copse of trees. At last I felt that spring had arrived!

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The Wildlife Garden in February

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February was a very variable month in my garden especially where the weather was concerned. Cold and frosty conditions dominated the first week and the garden was full of siskins. There were still lots of fieldfares around too, feeding on the apples in the orchard, and a single lesser redpoll continued to use the feeders daily. As the first week ended the clear cold weather became damp and misty.  A single heron visited the big pond looking strange and almost prehistoric in the swirling mist, and both a male and a female sparrowhawk appeared frequently in the garden.  In spite of the changing weather great tits were singing and one was seen investigating the nest box on my potting shed. Blue tits were also preparing for breeding and the tiny, wobbly nest box on the front of the house, which hardly looks fit for habitation, was soon busy with both birds popping in and out.  This box is the only one in the garden used without fail every year.

The second week of February was milder but with wind and rain. Twenty to thirty siskins fed in the garden daily and the males sang constantly from the trees around the house. A huge group of chaffinches fed under the feeders in the back garden where snowdrops were now in full bloom. On the 13th a perfectly pristine small tortoiseshellBlogstort butterfly flew into the house through an open window.  It was easy to gently catch and put back outside into thick ivy where hopefully it was able to find a suitable sheltered place to spend the colder nights.  The clear weather encouraged several of the local buzzards to spend time soaring and displaying over the garden.

The month continued with more gentle weather. Great tits began to investigate other nest boxes around the garden and a song thrush sang from the woodland next door every morning and evening. On the 15th a stunning male brambling fed Primulablogwith the chaffinches under the feeders and a skylark was heard over the garden on several occasions.  On the morning of the 17th a good quantity of frog spawn had appeared in the small garden pond with several adult frogs in attendance.  The siskins continued to sing and take nyjer seed from the feeders outside the back door, giving me great views of these gorgeous little finches – one of my absolute favourite birds. The last week of February saw a change in the weather with the warmest February temperatures ever recorded in the UK, although here it was probably rather cooler than over in the east of the country. The small daffodil varieties began to flower around the garden and several queen bumblebees were seen zigzagging their way over the grassy areas looking for dandelions to feed on. The month ended with a song thrush singing and the first primroses in flower.  In all February was a delightful month, but all that was about to change as we moved into March’s wilder weather.

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