The Garden Diary

-Up to the end of March 2001

Go to last entry of this chapter

Throughout the past year I have kept a cctv watch on the blue tit and robin boxes. Since last year's nesting neither box has been used for roosting by any birds. However, recently there have been occasional periods of daytime activity in and around the blue tit box.

On one day before Christmas a pair of birds spent about 4 hours at the box with one bird being in the box most of the time while the partner(?) perched on the birch tree adjacent to the box, or at the entrance itself, entering only briefly a couple of times. On one occasion a third blue tit appeared on the scene. Following some chasing about in the birch tree it approached the box. When this happened the bird inside became very defensive, crouching down with a flattened body and head held back at a rear corner of the box. Once, the intruder entered the box and a fight took place, with the two birds literally wrestling claw to claw, on their sides on the bottom of the box. The encounter lasted only a very short time before one bird left the box. That must have been the intruder as the behaviour of the pair soon returned to normal.

January (all times GMT)

7th - Two visits by a fox this morning, 8.30 and 9.15am. It looked healthy. We often hear foxes call in the night and I have seen them in the garden during darkness,but this is the first time I have seen one in the garden in daylight.

8th - A Sparrowhawk caught a sparrow and ate it by the side of the pond, leaving a small patch of feathers. Our flock of house sparrows is currently about 30 strong. I am considering building a multiple nest box to put up under the eves at the back of the house for them.

As usual at the moment we are having two robins feeding on the ground under the hawthorne tree. I have not seen any agression between them during their visits.

The first snowdrop flower bud has appeared.

11th - A blue tit seen in the box for a short time during the late morning. Unable to grab an image as my PC is out of action.

12th - A sunny day with a cold wind. Our female blackbird still has a drooping wing as a result of two attacks last year. However, It does not seem to hinder her now and, just like the male, she frequently comes to feed by the Hawthorn. She is also quick to take up the offer of mealworms in a corner hidden behind our caravan. When I put mealworms out there is usually a race between her and the robin to get the best ones!

I had a brief glimpse of a wren this morning - second time this week, and a female greenfinch joined the sparrows at the feeder.

It used to be that if I put food on the ground it would soon be discovered and devoured by lots of starlings. At the moment they are not even daily visitors to the garden and when they do arrive it is only in very small groups. In the early afternoon there are just two here. Later, a group of eight visited briefly.

13th - Great tits and a male greenfinch at feeder at 8.30am

15th - Blue tit activity around and in the box is becoming a daily affair now. Yesterday saw several hours of occupation with the occasional challenge from a third bird. At one time the bird inside the box remained motionless for about five minutes in response to a visit to the garden by the sparrowhawk.

Blue tit visits continue in the mornings. There is one in the box now, with the partner(?) perched in the birch tree, no more than 5-6ft from the entrance. When this bird flies to the entrance and looks in the bird inside crouches down on what appears to be a somewhat defensive or subordinate posture.

I have not seen any dunnocks during the last week. This is unusual as they are normally regular visitors below the hawthorn.

19th - On a cloudy, cold morning with a little snow (1C) 30+ sparrows feeding Also, a pair of great tits back after an absence of a couple of weeks. A solitary goldfinch spent a couple of minutes on the bird table. The blue tits' daytime activities continue around and in the bird box.

The collared doves seem to be starting the preparation of their usual roosting/nesting site up in the leylandii.

22nd - A dull, wet day saw only limited activity in the garden. However the late afternoon saw a prolonged visit by a wren to the ponds. It is becoming a regular at the small pond where it goes down to the water's edge in the shelter of the iris plants. After bathing it returned to the Hawthorn tree to preen before going back down to hunt amongst the irises. It then went on to the big pond and spent some time there before disappearing back into the bushes.

30th - Over the last couple of days a small number of bits of straw have been brought into the BT nestbox. No roosting as yet. Still no sign of any frogs. Numerous snowdrop flower buds but none open yet. The robin pair are often together now, especially when mealworms are offered.

I have seen no more grass gathering by the collared doves although they spend quite a lot of daylight time going in and out of the leylandii. Last week I caught a brief glimpe of my first goldcrest of the year.


11th - The first frogs in the pond today, counted 10. The snowdrops have all opened.

12th - Counted dozens of frogs today.

15th - The female robin spent some time this afternoon collecting nesting material and taking it behind the trees. It was a sunny day so perhaps she was misled by the good weather. Frog activity in the pond has come to an almost complete halt.

17th - I put up a block of four birdboxes for sparrows today. Also I weighed the robins! They both topped the scales at 21-22gm. Hopefully I can get the blackbirds onto the scales in the next couple of days to compare their weights with last year.

23rd - The male robin fed mealworms to his partner for the first time.

25th - Courtship feeding by the robin continues. The sparrows have started squabbling in the bushes. I watched three males around a female. They were pecking at her and she was responding in kind. The female robin has started putting on weight (now 23-24g). The male remained unchanged. The male blackbird weighed 101g.

26th - The female blackbird weighed 100-101g today

27th - Four song thrushes spent time in the garden this morning. there was displaying and a brief fight between two of them. They fed on ivy berries. There is a good number of sparrows here in the daytime now, 30+ today. Saw a goldcrest at the bottom of the garden.

28th - Three long tailed tits spent time here this morning, feeding on a fat ball in the hawthorn. Two returned in the afternoon. Watched as a wren hunted for food below the hawthorn and among iris plants in pond. The female blackbird weighs 105g today, and the female robin is 25g.


2nd - At last I managed to get a photograph of the robin pair together. Unfortunately, whlie the female is calling for food, the male had not got round to picking up a mealworm. Usually the feeding takes place away from the dish.

3rd - Watched a goldcrest hunting in the burberis bush. Saw a dunnock in the garden for the first time since Christmas.


7th - Yesterday saw a change to milder weather and with it a reappearance of lots of frogs in the ponds. A song thrush appeared in the garden yesterday and has returned this morning. Each time, after a short period on the ground it is chased away by the male blackbird. The female blackbird has been taking small amounts of nesting materials up into the leylandii. Blue tit box visits continue daily. Very little extra nesting material has been brought in as yet. A pair of green finches are daily visitors to the feeder, as are a pair of great tits.

8th - The sparrow hawk visited today. I saw it perched on the fence by the Blue tit box, looking a bit bedraggled. After a couple of minutes it flew to the top of the ivy tree and made a half hearted effort to investigate it's contents. A magpie arrived, landed next to it, and moments later they both flew off. Soon afterwards the thrushes came to the ivy to feed. The female blackbird is definitely nest building in the leylandii.

9th - The first frog spawn appeared today. There must be 70+ frogs in the pond now. The female blackbird is taking nesting materials from by the small pond to her nest high in the leylandii. She has not tried this spot before.

10th -Female robin weighed 28g against male's 20-21g this morning. The male blackbird weighs 104g. The female blackbird continues nest building - has not started taking moss yet. Watched song thrush digging for worms by snowdrops. Later there were three of them at the bottom of the garden, at the top of the ivy tree.

11th - Song thrushes were feeding again.
In addition to our usual pair of green finches at the feeder, this morning brought a pair of goldfinches. The female blackbird weighs 113g - I have seen no nest building activity by her today. The first daffodil has opened and the snowdrops are fading away. There is quite a bit more frog spawn at the shallow end of the pond.

12th - The female blackbird has put on 16g in the last two weeks and is now 116g. In this picture you can see her damaged right wing.

The blue tit has started serious nest building during the fine weather this morning. Afternoon rain seemed to put a stop to this activity. Song thrushes feeding in the morning, and I am sure I saw one take nesting material up into the trees behind out leylandii.

13th - Watched a couple of siskins in a neighbour's garden for a few minutes this morning, and saw a song thrush take nesting bits into the line of conifers behind our leylandii. The robins' courtship feeding continues. Saw a newt in the pond (first time this spring). Their breeding was very successful last year so I look forward to seeing more of them. This afternoon I watched the siskins again (2 male 1 female) feeding on the conifers. I must try to identify what these trees are. Also watched a song thrush working its way along the garden gathering 'straw' which it took up into the same trees. The blue tit continues to bring bits into the box - it looks pretty rough in there at the moment!

14th - The first Lesser Celandine flowers have opened in the morning sunshine.
The blackbirds have been experiencing a serious threat to their territory this morning. Another pair was involved and quite a bit of aggression was exhibited. Things seem to have quietened down by 11am and I think the status quo has been maintained. In the meantime, the song thrushes are making more and more appearances. I have just watched two foraging under the hawthorn (first time ever for that). The siskins are still about.

15th - Here is one of the last snowdrops in the garden that has not drooped. In the meantime, I have spotted the first two flower buds on the snake's head fritillary plants, and some of the leaves of the wild garlic have unfurled .
The thrushes have not made an appearance today, although the siskins have been seen once. The blackbird pair have had the garden to themselves, with no sign of yesterday's intruders. I have just watched a wren go down to it's 'secret' spot among the young iris plants in the small pond. It has visited this spot very often though the winter to both bathe and hunt.

16th -
Three of my regulars turned up to be fed and weighed this morning. Interestingly, both males have lost a little weight over the last week, as the female blackbird puts on weight. The female robin comes to the dish far less now, with the male taking food to her instead.

Male blackbird 97g
.............Female blackbird 118g.........Male robin 19g

It has been a quiet day in the garden today, but the song thrushes did make brief appearances.

17th - A cold, dull and very damp day has meant another quiet day. I caught only brief glimpses of greenfinches, great tits and the song thrushes in addition to our usuals. The highlight came in the early afternoon when the sparrow hawk arrived and spent some time trying unsuccessfully to scare some sparrows out of the berberis bush. Unfortunately, by the time I grabbed my camera it had given up, perching itself on top of a tree behind the leylandii.


18th - Another cold, dull morning (4C at 11am) has meant activities in the garden were a bit slow today. However, when I put mealworms out the female blackbird weighed 108g. After checking that the scales were set properly I took advantage of the fact that she was feeding to climb up the leylandii to check on her nest. This is not as strenuous as it seems. I have constructed a walkway up there for when I clip the tree tops and a ladder is permanently in place.

She has built a nest just under the tree canopy, completely hidden from above. In it I found three eggs - this explains her loss of weight.

The nest itself is a remarkably neat affair. In the photograph you can see that it appears to be made up of layers. It would be a great temptation to try to set up a TV camera but I am concerned that I do not cause unnecessary stress.

Despite the cold, I saw my first bumble bee of the year at lunchtime.

I had a close look at the hawthorn this afternoon. Some of the buds on it are quite well developed (see right).


19th - We are having some sunshine today and the opening of the first white dead nettle flowers (Lamium album), at the side of the small pond and one of the snake's head fritillary (Fritillaria meleagris)flower buds looks as though it is about to open.
The female blackbird has not lost any more weight today.
I found the broken remains of a white(ish) egg in the drive this morning.
A song thrush spent some time near the house, feeding on a couple of earthworms this afternoon.

20th - On a cold, dull morning, with a few snowflakes in the air, the female
blackbird has weighed in at 113g, an increase from the 18th. The female robin weighed 25g. This is down from the last time (10th). Has she started laying? I cannot get to her nesting place to confirm this. She is away from the nest too much to be incubating and frequent courtship feeding by the male is still going on. I shall have to keep watching and guessing at their progress!

The daytime temperature has struggled to get above 1C all day and we have had periods of wet snow. Activity in the garden has been at a minimum, although we have had a visit from the sparrowhawk who could not find anything to catch. A song thrush has been down by the hawthorn eating several worms this afternoon and a couple of female chaffinches have been here several times.

21st - A slightly less cold (6C) and dry day has not seen a great increase in activity today. However, I spent quite a while watching a pair of song thrushes hunting worms between the hawthorn and the house. Poor light made it difficult to get a good photo opportunity. They are very wary of any movement that I make even with me inside the house.

22nd - This morning saw an increase in temperature so that by 9am it was over 7C and this afternoon it reached 13C, with snatches of sunshine. It was enough of an improvement to bring out he first wild pansy flower (Viola tricolor) by the small pond.
Bird activity remained quiet. The female robin must be sitting on eggs now, the male is taking food to her in the nest, and the female blackbird emerged for food only once to my knowledge. Other than the house sparrows and the starlings only a couple of visits were seen, including chaffinches, greenfinches and collared doves.

23rd - A miserable, wet day with even the feeder quiet for most of the day. The highlight has been an all too brief visit to the table by a solitary goldfinch - it looked almost out of place in the gloom, but very welcome. The female robin appeared near the mealworm feeder and was fed by the male. I spotted a siskin pair in the tree of a neighbour, but I could not claim them as visitors today. As I write this the male blackbird is mining for worms just outside the patio doors and a dozen or so house sparrows have come to the feeder - the blackbird has now gone to the pond and is bathing.
The next two days saw the cold gloom continue, with little action of any sort in the garden except for a spectacular close flying display by the sparrow hawk, which went away with nothing for it's efforts!

26th - The London Weather Centre said this morning that there have been just 5 hours of sunshine in the last 10 days - at the end of today it was 5 in 11! Another cold (max <6) but dry day.
Even the birds seem reluctant to hang around much at the moment. Even the sparrowhawk found an almost empty garden this morning. At least the forecast is for more 'spring like' weather next week.
While checking for any signs of flower buds on the violets I found this caterpillar curled up under them. I put it back as soon as I had taken the photograph. I think it is a small white butterfly.

27th - Activity continued to be very quiet in the garden as yesterday was largely gloomy and wet. However we had a brief glimpse of blue sky in the early evening - unfortunately the sun had already dropped behind the trees so the garden missed it. Very little bird activity, the highlight being a brief visit from a solitary goldfinch which seemed nervous in the absence of other birds and left quickly. The male robin continues to take food to the female on their nest.

29th - The day started very early today when sometime after 3am (I think!) we were woken by very loud screaming and wailing outside - the sounds you might expect from an animal that was trapped and in a lot of pain. By the time I had dragged myself out of bed the sound source had moved out into the road. One look out of the from door revealed the cause - a pair of foxes! Their spring time activities have started.
Sunshine and warmer temperatures (max 10C) made it look a bit more like spring today. I spent the best part of five minutes watching a goldcrest hunting on the leylandii and the conifers behind them. For a picture of a goldcrest look in the 'Wildlife Pictures' page.
The arrival of a bumble bee in the blue tit box brought back memories of when a bumble moved into the hedgehog den that I installed under our bike shed. An inspection panel in the shed floor allowed us to follow the progress of the nest and allowed me to take some photographs of it. I must find the pictures to put a couple onto the site.
When the male robin takes a mealworm, he picks it up near one end with it at right angles to the beak. He then moves the worm across, using a series of quick pecks(?) until he is holding the other end. He repeats the process two or three times before either eating it or picking up a second one to take the pair to the female.

30th - A bright, sunny day with a high temperature in excess of 14C brought three butterflies into the garden today, two bright yellow (Brimstones?) and a smaller darker coloured one. They did not land or come near enough to make identification possible. A couple of bumble bees were seen, although these did not visit the nest box today!
As Sheila and I left the house this evening I spotted a Grey heron perched on the top of a neighbour's roof. It was being mobbed by a pair of rooks and was bobbing its head as they approached in a way very reminiscent of a boxer. I dashed back into the house to get my camera (already set up with a telephoto lens) but in those few seconds all three birds left!

31st - I have not been paying much attention to the garden today. The weather has been good for much of the day, as yesterday. I have found pictures of the bumble bee nest and have added one of them to the 'Wildlife Pictures' page.

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