The Garden Diary

December - 2002

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2 December - A cold wind and sunshine this morning and, as I write this a male Chaffinch has just appeared for the first time for ages.

Last night our regular hedgehog tucked into the peanuts as usual and about 11pm a fox turned up and triggered the outside lighting, just as I was going to bed. By the time I got back downstairs to my camera it had decided to leave. I may well have a late 'fox watch' tonight.

My birdbox camera disclosed a visitor this morning in the form of a shield bug. Inspecting the box I found that the bug was almost completely surrounded by spider webs. I think it is a Hawthorn Shieldbug (Acanthosoma haemorrhoidale). I put it onto a Hawthorn twig (seemed appropriate!) to photograph it and in the right-hand image it is stretching one of its wings just before flying off. You can see one of the Hawthorn buds that house next Spring's new growth.

I have seen no sign of bird visitors since the end of last Spring's nesting.

This evening the hedgehogs gave me a surprise by turning up before 6pm looking for the peanuts.


3 December - Tonight both hedgehogs were here again before 6pm and this time, the large one's visit was followed almost immediately by a mouse.

They did not feed at the same time, but I have 'put' the mouse into the hedgehog picture to give an idea of their relative sizes (the dish is 15cm across).

In the evenings I use a red lamp to illuminate the area of garden nearest the house and the pictures were taken using flash at very slow shutter speeds, which help explain the red 'shadows' you may see around the hedgehog.


9 December - Another gap in the diary - this time I've been away in London for a few days. During that time the weather has turned colder with the wind coming from the East, although the sub-zero temperatures on the continent have been held back by the effect of the North Sea. Today the high was around 4C.

Back in November I mentioned a chrysalis I found while demolishing a garden wall. Well, at last I have got round to photographing it. The left-hand image shows its position in a gap in the mortar between the brick layers.

The dark deposits in the picture are made up of the droppings and remains of woodlice that also used the enclosed space. It would appear that the caterpillar blocked the entrance when it decided to pick that spot to pupate.



Another plant continues with its flowering by the side of the small pond, in this case one of the White Dead-Nettle plants (pictured this afternoon). In other parts of the garden this species has lots of young, healthy leaves, but no other flowers at the moment.


10 December - A very dull, overcast day with a very cold easterly wind and an outside temperature of 1C in the late morning. The birdbath was frozen over this morning, needing a bowlful of hot water to make it usable.

In addition to the usual feeding arrangements, at this time of the year I 'decorate' the Hawthorn with some apples, hanging on plastic-coated garden wire. I put up three before the weekend and this morning I have had to replace the empty skins. This Blue Tit was the first customer after I had finished. The other main users are the Starlings, which are frequent visitors at the moment.

The 40+ House sparrows are by far the most numerous occupants of the garden, sharing their feeding time between the peanut and seed feeders and the ground. There is a great deal of quite agressive displaying and squabbling going on between them, and I frequently see males with wings drooped and tail held erect.

Our blackbirds seem to be established as a pair now, so hopefully we will see them nesting here in the Spring. On the ground I have seen at least four Dunnocks here today, with no agression from the Robin, who is back and forth all the time. Finally, the Collared Doves descend on us several times through the day, six being the largest number at one time today.


13 December - The weather continues to be dull, overcast/misty, although the temperatures are slightly higher again with a temperature of 5C at 10am. The bitter easterly winds have gone and the bit of snow that was reported in the West missed us. Sheila tells me that a few flakes were seen at her place of work.

It's so miserable out in the garden that even the birds seem to be keeping to themselves this morning - having said that the gang of eight Collared Doves has just arrived under the Hawthorn to clean up the chopped peanuts!

I haven't seen the hedgehogs in the evenings these last few cold days. The birdbox remains unvisited

Keeping myself indoors, I found myself distracted by this tiny jumping spider. the main picture on the left shows it, paused for a brief moment on a millimetre scale, its body length about 3.5mm.




The smaller image shows it with its 'head' reared up, showing its front set of four large eyes more clearly.

This second image shows its underside.

I have not yet been able to identify it beyond it being a member of the Salticidae -the hunting spiders.

Tonight the mist has descended and outside is very damp, although not so cold at 6C. A walk down the garden was rewarded by the sight of this harvestman on the trunk of the Birch tree.

It is a Dicranopalpus ramosus, a Mediteranean species which has been spreading across the southern UK. The right-hand image covers an area measuring about 7cm tall.


The less cold conditions have also encouraged the hedgehog(s) to reappear. I nearly tripped overa large one just outsde the kitchen door earlier this evening.

Click on images to see larger versions


19 December - Just a short note about the weather. Today it has been gloriously sunny. What a difference from the past couple of weeks. Unfortunately I've been busy with other things so there hasn't been any photography going on since the spider pictures.

Last night the skies cleared enough to give a frost this morning and the air temperature just above the pond surface is -1.3C so we may well have a frost again tomorrow.

I have not seen any hedgehogs since the 13th, and there have been no signs of fox visits either.


24 December - As Christmas day approaches the weather has turned unseasonal. This evening (Christmas Eve) it is dull, overcast and very mild (12C at 4.45pm), but at least the forecast for Christmas Day is for largely dry weather.

The garden has been very quiet since my last entry, except for the increased activity noted in the ponds.


25 December - Christmas Day

Here is my Christmas card to you, with thanks for your visits and support through the year. Click on it to see a larger version. I would have put snowflakes on it, but with the mild weather I decided that flowers seemed more appropriate.

I hope you all have a happy Christmas. We are having a family get together for Christmas dinner, so a day of happy chaos is in store!

At 8.30am it's fine, and although the sky is cloudy it is not a dull start to the day. The temperature is 9C outside.


26 December - Boxing Day - A relatively quiet day at home, and the weather has been disappointingly dull and damp after yesterday's dryness.

The wet Autumn and winter(so far) has left the ground saturated. I have to be careful when I spend time near the pond because it is far too easy to leave a deep impression in the ground when you spend too long in one spot as the clay soil is so easily squeezed aside.

I also need to take care now as next Spring's plants are now starting to show themselves. In the last couple of days the Snowdrops have appeared in the area between the Hawthorn and the small pond. There are lots of small shoots there, the tallest being about 3cm at the moment. They seem to be about 5-6 days earlier this time. There are also Bluebell plants pushing up, including the two shown in the left-hand picture, which are already about 9-10cm tall.


27 December - A dull but so far dry morning has seen a series of visits by a pair(?) of Robins that seemed to follow each other around with no aggression between them at all. They fed close to each other and completely ignored the Dunnock that was nearby. Over the last few days there has been a lot more Robin song heard in the garden.

Looking back at last year's diary I see that there was 'partner feeding' going on between Robins as early as the middle of December. I did not see any signs of that this morning.

There was a Sparrowhawk visit about 11am. It left 'empty-handed' - fortunately, as well as several Sparrows, it had trapped our male Blackbird and one of the Robins in the Hawthorn.


28 December - A bright, sunny day has brought another sign of the Spring that is not too far away - the first inspection of the birdbox by one partner of a pair of Blue tits, almost to the day since the first visits started happening last Christmas!

I decided to set up my 2003 diary yesterday, and it seem I was just in time, so visit that to see more details about the visit.




31 December - The year has come to an end with a dry, colder day after a couple of really wet days. The last two evenings have been brightened by the songs of our local Robin, Blackbird and a Song Thrush, although the latter has not made an appearance in the garden (unlike this time last year). The Robin continues until after dark. The House Sparrow flock is a noisy as ever in the daytime but they disappear quickly as the light drops in the late afternoon.

It has been disappointing that there has been a lack of 'unusual' bird visitors to the garden this year. The Goldcrests seem to have been lost to us and we have had only the occasional glimpse of a Wren and I never did get to see a return visit by the Nuthatch that allowed me only a blurred image back in mid-April.

The night-before-last we were awakened by the barking of a fox. The sound suggested that it was not in our garden but I hope to set up a camera to get some images of one in the near future, once I sort out the best way to arrange a sensor.

It seems strange to be heading into the new year with some plants still in flower from last Summer. The White Dead Nettle, the Oxlip and a solitary Red Campion flower stand out in the soggy garden while the shoots of next Spring's plants are developing fast. Although I haven't photographed them yet, there are bunches of leaves of the Lesser Cellandine already formed in several places.

To all of you who have followed my diaries through the year (or even longer), may I wish you a happy and peaceful New Year, wherever you may live.

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