The Garden Diary

December - 2003

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1 December - The month has started out wet! Despite the rain the Coal Tit pair continues to make frequent morning visits. The Sparrowhawk made a morning attack and was last seen chasing a group of Sparrows down the driveway next to the house.


2 December - A day without rain, although it has stayed very dull most of the time after a promise of brighter conditions for a short while this morning.

During the afternoon I spent a bit of time outside taking some photographs of fungi that have appeared on a log pile. As I was doing this I was distracted by the characteristic noisy approach of a swan.

It flew over the garden three times, but it was only on its last pass overhead that I was able to grab these three images.


The fungi that had caught my attention were these tiny raspberry-like structures, each measuring less than 0.5mm, that cover several of the logs, giving them a deep red appearance. There are also smooth orange fruiting bodies present, although these are comparatively few in number.

I cannot remember what type of tree the logs came from. I shall have to ask one of my sons when they next visit in the daytime.



These very delicate gill fungi are growing on timber from an apple tree (I think!). The largest 'umbrella' measures about 3mm across.


Click on the images to see larger versions




3 December - Another quiet, dull, damp and slightly misty day has been disrupted by a Sparrowhawk visit just before noon.

There were a lot of Sparrows about but the panic calls of one of our local Blackbirds gave them enough warning to disperse, and the hawk was left to look down from the conifers onto an empty Hawthorn.

She(?) left before I could get a second, less hurried photograph.





6 December - The weather continues to be dull - thoroughly miserable.

After I took that last photograph of the Sparrowhawk I saw another visit the same day and by the next morning there was a characteristic circular patch of feathers on my neighbour's garage roof, signifying that she was successful in a third, unseen attack.

Yesterday I saw a further three attacks, and there is no sign of a kill this time. There has been no sign of the hawk today.

The sparrows seem to be more relaxed today, as though they knew it wasn't about. There was a crowd of them in the Hawthorn for much of the day and both the feeder and the table were busy.

The poor light meant that even with my camera's image stabilisation at work the shutter speed was so slow that the slightest movement by the sparrows produced a blur, especially when there were constant arrivals and departures!


One unusual arrival under the Hawthorn was this Magpie. We often see them fly over, or perch on the roof or tree tops, but I cannot remember one going down under the Hawthorn in the past. This one returned a second time a few minutes later.

The light problem was even more acute for this one, and the camera didn't focus properly on it for the only clear shot I could get before it left.




8 December - Yesterday the gloom was replaced by almost clear skies - a brilliant day, on which I did a bit more woodwork around the base of the birdbox and a few other jobs.

This morning started equally promising with blue skies and a frost (I had to use a couple of bowls of hot water on the birdbath to melt all the ice). Then the clouds rolled in quickly from the south, the frost disappeared, and by mid-morning there were only the occasional glimpses of blue (none by lunchtime).

The Magpie was here again this morning (still only blurred pictures!), along with a couple of dozen Starlings that enjoyed the bathing facilities with great enthusiasm. In addition to these, and the sparrows, there have been several Wood Pigeons, Collared Doves, Blackbirds here (some competition for territory going on, I think), a trio of Blue Tits, a couple of Dunnocks, a Robin and a Coal Tit. A song Thrush perched in the Birch tree but I didn't see it come down for food.


I haven't seen the Woodpecker since I took the photograph at the end of last month.

10 December -
The weather is very changeable at the moment. Yesterday it was misty both morning and evening, and dull all day. Today started off the same way but it brightened later. This evening the mist descended again for a while before disappearing again late in the evening.

I have been doing a bit more work down the garden again. The kayak is now under shelter again and the external jobs around the birdbox are now complete - just in time as the weather forecast promises rain for the ret of the week! Now my attentions will turn to sorting out inside the birdbox - setting up the electrical supply and rearranging the shelving/seating so that I can have a camera set up by Christmas.

First thing this morning there were a couple of Goldfinches in the Hawthorn, although I didn't see if they went to the bird table. For the first time this winter we saw a Blackbird feed on berries on the Hawthorn. I don't think there are as many berries as there were last year, and I think the same can be said of the Ivy. I have mentioned before that there appeared to be insects about this year - perhaps the smaller berry count reflects this. The Coal Tits continue to make regular visits.



11 December - Another dull, damp day, although the rain this morning died out by lunchtime.

Nothing was done in the garden and bird activity was generally quiet with no return of the Goldfinches.

The Sparrowhawk was back for the first time since the 5th. She made two visits, and on the second one she 'trapped' a dozen or so sparrows in the hawthorn by flying a couple of orbits around it.  Then she perched on my neighbour's apple tree and waited until a couple of sparrows made a panic stricken dash away from the garden - she was last seen in hot pursuit!




14 December - After another two dull, damp days, today was brighter with short periods of sunshine. A brisk northerly breeze made it feel quite cold as I spent more time sorting out the bottom of the garden. I now have a car-full of scrap timber to take to the local re-cycling centre tomorrow.

I only picked up a camera briefly this morning in the hope of capturing an image of a blackbird that was eating haws (shortly before 11am, but I was distracted by this sight -

The birdbox is situated on a north facing was in my neighbour's garden and has, to the best of my knowledge, been used just once for nesting, at least five years ago. I don't think the box has been used since.

The Blue Tit seemed to be clearing out bits, possibly droppings - perhaps it it using the box as a roosting site.

Since taking that photograph I haven't seen any other activity at the box. I shall be checking on it again tomorrow.

Seeing this reminds me how important it is to get my birdbox ready for action  as soon as possible. I have now reached the point where I can concentrate on that task, and I hope to get the electrical supply installed tomorrow.



16 December - Some thin high cloud this morning and a cold start to the day (-3C recorded last night and a bowl of hot water was needed for the birdbath) with hazy sunshine.

Earlier this morning I spotted the welcome return of a Blackcap to the garden, in this case a female. She was having quite a feast on a couple of the apples that I hung on the Hawthorn a couple of days ago. Although they have been here in the past this is the first time I've seen one in the garden since starting these diaries.

As I write this there are pairs of Blue Tits and Coal Tits here, taking sunflower kernels from the bird table. While the BT's usually retire to the Hawthorn to eat, the Coal Tits head for the bottom of the garden(s).


I didn't get the wiring done yesterday, but I did buy the materials needed and they will be put in place today - in fact, the job was done before lunch.

I had just come into the house to get a cctv camera to test the connections when I spotted movement amongst the Iris leaves in the small pond. Moments later this small Wren appeared and spent the next few minutes hunting low done amongst the leaf cover.

These rather distant images were grabbed through the window - the first time that I've managed to get any photograph of one.



18 December - A fine day after another frosty morning requiring a bowl of hot water for the birdbath. Bird activity was confined to the usual crowd for the morning.

In the afternoon the Blackcap reappeared (no sign yesterday) and visited the apples frequently right up to about 3.45pm when it was getting dark. You may be able to see some sunflower kernels that I had put into the hollowed out apple earlier in the day. While the Coal Tit took these, the Blackcap ignored them.




The Blackcap seems to have her place in the pecking order. She defended the apples against the attention of the Blue Tits and the Coal Tits.

However, even though it didn't feed from the apples, a Robin saw her off several times, and she also had to give way to a female Blackbird that decided to feed on an apple at dusk.



19 December - A grey, overcast start with the temperature at 6C, nearly 8 degrees higher than yesterday morning at the same time.


The Blackcap and the Coal Tit pair have been visiting since before 9am  and we have had one visits by this solitary Goldfinch at around 9.15am.

For the rest of the day we were busy doing other things, but in the late afternoon I did notice a brief visit by a Great Tit, for the first time since early November.




23 December - A wet day, after another dry, cold spell - the temperature was expected to reach double figures during the day but it is only 8C at 2.30pm.

The Blackcap continues to be a frequent visitor to the apples, but there has been no sign of a return by the Goldfinch.

Here, a Starling tucked in at lunchtime yesterday. I did see a Robin at one yesterday evening when it was too dark to use a camera without flash.

As well as the apples, I hung up a single pear, but this has been ignored almost completely (except for the signs of one 'nibble'). In contrast, I have had to replace three of the apples which had been completely hollowed out.



The last couple of days has seen more visits to the bird table by this female Chaffinch. Her partner (?) has appeared in the Hawthorn just once during this time but I haven't seen him feeding. I don't know if this is the same bird that I photographed back in October, when she played host to a tick, but she certainly looks healthy now.

The Wren pictured a week ago has become a daily visitor now, with one investigating a Lavender plant next to our verandah as I write this.



The Blackbirds (at least three of them) continue to play 'follow the leader' through the garden most days. I think there is a competition for territory going on between them.

Finally, I thought I'd include this female House Sparrow at the feeder. The intensity of the eye stripe seems to vary quite a bit between individuals and like this one, a few have really bold markings.

The flock isn't being bothered by the Sparrowhawk at the moment and they spend a lot of time in the Hawthorn, visiting the feeder and table in communal feeding sessions.

They continue to be very wary of disturbance and the slightest movement by us in the house is enough to send them dashing back to the protection of the tree.



27 December - A belated Seasons Greetings to everyone! A couple of busy days, with all the family visiting on both Christmas and Boxing day meant that my attention was elsewhere - an enjoyable time was had by all (although we probably ate too much!).

Today we had some sunshine to start the day, after dull damp weather over the holiday. Unfortunately the cloud returned by lunchtime with a bit of rain this afternoon.


Just before the holiday I set up the first black/white cctv camera in the birdbox and today I installed the microphone and radio link. Now I can monitor the box continuously as we wait for any signs of interest by the Blue Tits that spend a lot of time here.

This is one of them, at the bird table just as the cloud covered the sun. While I haven't seen any visits taking place so far, neither have I seen any further activity at my neighbour's nest box.

Click on the images to see larger versions


I saw a Coal Tit visit numerous time today but there was no sign of the Blackcap. However, there was an all too brief treat when I caught sight of a Bullfinch in our Birch tree. Sadly it moved on far too quickly for me to get even a snatched photograph. This is only the second time I have seen one of these birds in the garden, the first being many years ago.

It's interesting to see the amount of display behaviour by the Sparrows at the moment. I watched as a male spent a prolonged period clearly displaying to a female in our Hawthorn. Also. over the last week they have taken to stripping pieces of thin outer bark off our Birch tree.




30 December - As the year draws to an end we are stuck with pretty miserable weather. We need lots of rain to reduce the threat of drought next summer but we are getting very little. Instead, we have dull grey skies and damp conditions with poor light levels for photography - horrible!

I have been out in the garden a few times today, firstly doing some pond clearing and then some clearing of the area under the Hawthorn.

Here we have some of the early signs of the new year to come in the form of Snowdrop shoots popping up in clumps, and some Bluebell plants which are right on schedule (last year I photographed them on 26 December). The Snowdrop shoots are a bit shorter that they were at this time last year.


There have been no 'different' bird visitors in the last few days. The Blackcap is still about, if not feeding here as often as before Christmas. This is also true of the Coal Tits. I see a wren at least once each day. The Blue Tits continue to visit, and are often seen in the Birch tree, but there has been no sign of one visiting the box so far. Last year the first visit took place on 28 December.

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