The Garden Diary

January - 2003

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1 January 2003 - A happy and peaceful New Year to all of you.

The new year is starting off with heavy rain which has continued all night, and we have just heard a roll of thunder. The only birds I can see in the gloom outside at 8.30am is the flock of hungry House Sparrows as they dash between the Hawthorn and the feeders, and a solitary Dunnock on the ground beneath the tree.

By the afternoon the rain had eased up enough for me to get outside. While the Sparrows continued to be noisy in the garden the TV masts on the chimney pots were becoming meeting places for the small local Starling flock.

The Gull was one of five that spent a noisy half hour flying around over the house. Judging by their mewing call I think they are probably Common Gulls rather than Herring Gulls.

Click on the image to see a larger version



3 January - Just a short note to record a change in the weather, from gloom and rain to a bright sunny day, and getting colder.

The picture shows the progress made by the most advanced Snowdrop plants - you can see the white of the flower buds. Many of the plants are still just a couple of centimetres tall at this time but a couple of groups are near to the stage shown here.

The forecast suggests that we may even get snow during the weekend, so I have made sure that the feeders are filled and I have cleaned and half filled the bird bath ready to add hot water in the morning if the water should freeze.




4 January - Just a brief note about today. As I opened the curtains this morning there were large snowflakes falling (no photos-sorry). Unfortunately, they soon disappeared after landing on the ground as the temperature had stayed above freezing - there was no sign of ice on the birdbath.

Yesterday I forgot to mention that there was a brief visit by a Great Tit to the garden. I wondered if it would investigate the bird box but it showed no interest at all. I have not seen it today.

There was a dead House Sparrow in the garden this morning - no sign of it having been caught by anything so I shall put its demise down to old age.


6 January - The weather has remained dry and bright these last two days, although it is cold, with daytime temperatures not getting above 5C. At night the temperature has dropped to just around freezing.

Last night I set up a camera (at last) to try to capture images of night visitors to the garden. As you can see, there was no fox, just two neighbourhood cats (between midnight and 2am).

At least the left hand one wears a collar and ID tag, but neither has a functional bell to warn birds that they are about in the daytime. Why can't cat owners take a bit of responsibility for their pets?

Over the last ten years or so there has been a lot of house building in the local area, with 'green field' areas disappearing. The variety of birds we are seeing is getting more restricted now, and it cannot help when the number of predators in the area is kept artificially high without some attempt to limit their hunting ability.


7 January - A cctv camera was in use again last night and captured images of the right-hand cat at around 1am. At 4am it recorded a visit by this healthy looking vixen that stayed around for about 10 minutes.

When Sheila got home from school this afternoon she said that she had heard a fox calling from nearby at about the same time this image was recorded.




This morning saw a sprinkling of snow again and the ponds have retained a white speckled look all day as the air temperature has not risen above freezing.

The low temperatures have meant that have needed to pour hot water onto the birdbath several times through the day. The water has been especially welcomed by the Starlings, like this quartet, who have queued to bath.

Click on the images to see larger versions


8 January - The snow arrived today. Although it continued most of the day, the fall has not been heavy, just a few centimetres, but it has been enough to give an all too rare scene of whiteness - the first significant snowfall in this part of the country since 1994 (according to the news).

Last night our outside thermometer went down to -6.3C, although the television news reported that -8C was recorded at nearby Farnborough. The continuous cloud cover today has meant that temperatures have risen slightly to around 0C.

The forecast is for milder weather again by the end of the week.



Keeping the birdbath liquid and making sure food was available meant that the birds were here in force today. The House Sparrows were joined by 30+ Starlings, like this one, at various times.




There were four Dunnocks about and, unusually they came out of the shadows much more than usual, allowing me to get this picture. They are very skittish birds and hardly stay in one spot long enough for a clear picture to be taken.




'Our' Blackbirds were here most of the day, but this is a picture of a third - a male with a white tail feather that I had not seen previously.

I shall have to watch out for this one in future.

Click on the bird pictures to see larger versions

9 January - A bright, cloudless morning has seen the breeze removing yesterday's snow from almost all the branches and leaves, and with the temperature up to 2C there is a promise of a slow thaw.

An update on yesterday's diary come in the form of this second picture of the Blackbird with the white tail feather, showing the white feathers around his head. Is this an older individual? There were two very healthy looking (perhaps younger) males here earlier.

Videos were recorded through the night again and revealed just one fox visit, just before midnight, and three visits by the black and white cat pictured above.



10 January - Typical of our British climate, within a day or so, our first decent snow for years has nearly all disappeared. What is left is a wet, slushy mess, and the day is overcast and gloomy.

At lunchtime today our outside thermometer reads nearly 5C and the remaining snow is melting quickly - I was just in time to catch this criss-cross of mainly Blackbird footprints on our decking before they vanished into a pool of water.


A disappointment about this very brief touch of Winter has been that we did not see any visitor bird species come into the garden. It was good to see our regulars able to get food and clean water, but it would have been nice to have spotted a few extras (other than the white speckled Blackbird)!


13 January - During the weekend just gone the weather has remained cold and, after the thaw described above, yesterday the temperature remained below freezing in the shaded parts of the garden with an overnight frost staying put all day.

This morning there was a drastic change in that the temperature outside was 7C by the time I was having breakfast. It has been sunny all day, with the temperature reaching over 10C in the afternoon.

I was doing some jobs under the caravan port for much of the day, and as a result bird activity was somewhat restricted. One thing to note was that I saw a pair of Collared Doves mating on the chimney, perhaps carried away by the warm sunshine. That reminds me, yesterday I saw a Chaffinch female in the garden for the first time since I saw a male here at the beginning of October.


16 January - On a bright and sunny morning I have been prevented from going out into the garden by the arrival of a very welcome visitor - this Song thrush.

I thought I spotted one on my neighbour's shed a few days ago, but it disappeared too quickly to be sure. This one has spent a lot of time perched (and preening), half-hidden, in my Hawthorn, occasionally going down to feed and getting a drink at the birdbath. It seems very nervous and is particularly jittery when the Starlings are here.

While several other birds seem to have been lost to us over the last year or so, the Song Thrush has become a Winter/Spring visitor again since 2000, after an absence of many years.

This morning has also brought the year's first sighting of a Chaffinch pair in the garden, although I have already seen a female (on the 12th).

20 January - There has been little to report since the 16th. The Song Thrush has only been seen once since then (the next day) and there have been no other 'unusual' visitors.

Today there has been heavy rain and strong winds so the ground very soggy again.


24 January - Two bright, sunny days have been rewarded with the first Snowdrops opening this morning, although most of the plants have still some time to go before they reach this stage.

While there are green shoots popping up elsewhere, and the clumps of Lesser Cellandine are growing well there appears to be no sign of any other plants following the example of the Snowdrops with flowers in the near future.




Rarely seen down in the garden, Magpies are quite frequent visitors at roof and treetop level at the moment. This one was on a neighbour's roof this morning, as it hunted for food amongst the tiles and moss. Looking a bit drab in this picture, the iridescent blue really shows up when the birds are seen in sunshine. It's a pity that their call is such a hard chattering noise.


25 January - A dull, cloudy start to the day with dampness in the air was, nevertheless, brightened up by the brief appearance of a Wren by the small pond. My viewing of it hunting along the side of the garden fence was rudely interrupted by a Robin chasing a Dunnock around the lower branches of the Hawthorn. The Robin is in a very aggressive mood this morning (at 8.45am). Up to now it has been very tolerant of the presence of the Dunnocks.

The sparrows seemed oblivious of this contest as they perched in the Hawthorn. However, minutes later the air was full of the noise of a couple of groups of them squabbling in what looks like competition over females. then it's all over as quickly as it started and they are back feeding again, until the next tussle!

Ten minutes later and the Dunnocks are down on the ground and one is very definitely displaying with great emphasis on the flicking wings - the first time I've seen that this year.

This afternoon there were gulls about again, and this time some of them landed on a neighbour's tv antenna long enough for me to grab my camera and get these images.

Identifying them was a bit of a problem, but having looked at my Collins Bird Guide several times I think they are young, non breeding Black-Headed Gulls. Typical of these Gulls, the individual in the top right image has a white flash on the outer forewing and no white spots on the wing tip.

Click on the image to see a larger version


This evening nature had the first attempt at a good sunset that I've seen this month. I took the pictures from our bedroom window. The thin line you may see running diagonally across the centre is my short wave antenna (for listening only).


26 January - Just a short entry today to note the presence of Greenfiches in the neighbourhood. There were five of them, and their singing from the tree-tops marked their arrival this morning.


27 January - A beautiful sunny morning that became a record breaking warm day (17C) for this part of the UK in January.

The picture shows a Dunnock, perched high up in the Leylandii and singing away in the early morning brightness.

His perch was created when I lowered the height of the Leylandii several years ago. I deliberately left a few of the main trunks standing proud of the new tree-top line. These are often used as high perches.

Click on the image to see a larger version



28 January - A rather different today, with us heading back towards winter. The temperature struggled to about 6C, but the very strong cold winds made it feel colder, and we had a period of very heavy rain in the afternoon.

No photographs of the usual wildlife today, but a look under a piece of hardwood which is slowly rotting away under the Leylandii revealed these tiny fungi fruiting bodies.

The ruler at the top has 0.5mm divisions, with each 'head' being spherical and just over 0.5mm in diameter, and with stalks of the same length.


On the bird front, I caught sight of the Wren again. A male Dunnock was again displaying vigorously and chasing after a female (with the occasional pause for food). Even a rude interruption of his courtship by the Robin did not put him off and he was soon flicking his wings again, with the Robin still in the Hawthorn.


30 January - Snow again! As dawn broke this morning, a look out of the bedroom window revealed that the weather forecasters (and their supercomputers) were correct in their predictions.

It snowed enough to cause disruption on the roads because, as usual people seemed to be caught by surprise. The temperature remains above freezing so the snow is rather wet and slushy to walk on.

Since that first fall, before 8am, there has been only one more short snow shower up to 10.30am, although a forecast a few minutes ago suggests that there may be more later.

The threat of snow remained with us all day but what fell failed to stick on concrete and tarmac surfaces. However, tonight the air temperature has fallen below freezing and wet areas have become icy.


31 January - No more snow, but even with sunshine the temperature struggled to get above freezing all day.

Our usual birds were constant visitors to the feeder and the ground below the Hawthorn all day. As well as the Sparrows, Starlings, Collared Doves, Blackbirds, Dunnocks, Blue Tits and Robins, a Song Thrush came for a short visit around 9am.

The pictures of female and male (on the right) House Sparrows were taken using a colour CCTV camera that I am testing at the moment before I decide whether to use it in the Blue Tit box.

There was a 300mm (35mm camera) lens mounted on the camera, which was linked up to my laptop in order to grab the images. While they are not going to be as sharp as images taken with a still camera, my first impressions of the camera have been encouraging. The next test will be to see successfully it can be used as a webcam.

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