The Garden Diary 2004

April (Part 1)

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2 April - Another pleasant, largely sunny Spring day, good enough to have lunch outside.

Although I can't claim it as mine, my neighbour's Silver Birch tree overhangs our garden enough to include this photograph to record the bursting of its buds. I saw a few flashes of green yesterday but today's sunshine confirmed it.

The catkins also seen to be producing pollen - it may be a coincidence that my 'hayfever' has been bad for the last couple of days.


In comparison, the buds on our Birch tree are still tightly closed.


3 April - An overcast day, with the constant threat of showers, but remaining dry so far.

It may be dull but an unexpected sighting has brightened up the afternoon! I occasionally mention seeing a Long-tailed Tit coming to the garden. A couple of times recently I have spotted a solitary bird visiting the tall peanut feeder. This afternoon it was there again, but this time flew down low from it rather than out of the garden. I decided to investigate and moved into the caravan for a while.

It turns out that there was a pair of Long-tailed tits here, and their behaviour suggests very strongly that either they have started nesting, or they are thinking about it.

This is, what I deduce must be the female. She kept quiet and low, this being one of the rare moments she appeared above the plant tops.

Much of the time she seemed to be just resting. It may be that the nest site is either my Berberris bush or a shrub just the other side of the fence, in my neighbour's garden. I need to spend more time watching before I can be certain, but if they are nesting it will mean three type of Tits nesting 'on our doorstep'!


While the female kept a descreet presence, the same could not be said of the male. He was constantly on the move between taller branches around the area occupied by his partner.

His calls varied from loud chirpy calls to bubbly sub-song, and between chirps he flicked his wings frequently, as shown in these pictures of him.



This is a sharper image that I managed to get when he paused in one spot for a bit longer than usual.




4 April - A mainly cloudy, breezy day with showers.

There has been no sign of the Long-tailed Tits today, although we were out all afternoon, the time when  saw them yesterday.



The first of the Snake's-head Fritillary flowers opened today. This is just three days later than last year.



Tucked away amongst their large slender leaves, the flower buds of the Bluebells are now visible, although it will be a couple of weeks before they are due to open.




6 April - We are going through a spell of sunshine and very heavy April showers at the moment, with it getting quite cold (5.7C at 7pm in heavy rain).

This picture was taken at around 6.30pm as the rain poured down over the Hawthorn, backlit by evening sunshine.




Today, two events have brought a bit of interest and confusion to the garden.

This morning I spotted the female Blackbird gathering up 'straw' under the Hawthorn. It is too soon for this to be a second brood. I wonder if this is a repair job, or has the first nest been abandoned?


The Blue Tits continued to take nest materials into my neighbour's box this morning but I didn't have chance to take any photographs before we went out for several hours. This evening, around 5pm I took a walk in the garden and spent some time watching the Sparrows and wondering when we will see them starting to nest.

To my amazement, a Blue Tit fly into the garden, high over the Hawthorn  and straight into one of the 32mm entrances in the new House Sparrow box.  It was carrying a long bit of straw. As I watched, it flew off over the conifers, returning a minute or two later with another bit in her beak.  A shower interrupted my viewing. When I got back outside with my camera the puzzle took another turn when the Blue Tit flew into the adjacent opening in the Sparrow box, the hole she used for the rest of the time that I was watching.

These pictures show her coming and going!


Between visits, what I assume is her partner flew up to inspect the box. He didn't enter, but spent time hanging on outside. The female flew up to the box but did a 'u' turn to perch on top of the Hawthorn until he left.

More heavy rain sent me back inside, and I haven't been able to watch any more. I shall be watching with interest tomorrow morning in an effort to establish if this is the same pair that had been setting itself up next door.




7 April - Just a note to confirm this morning that the Blue Tits are continuing to take nesting up to the sparrow box rather than into the neighbour's box. Yesterday we had quite a few heavy downpours with the rain and hail coming from the North. That box faces North and has virtually no protection for the entrance - I wonder if that caused the BT's to abandon it.

The sparrow box does break the guidelines for the positioning of a box in that it faces West and is not shaded. However, as I said elsewhere, it is made from wood which is over an inch thick and has ventilation at the back (including a gap between it and the wall). The roof overhangs a lot and is painted white.

My biggest concern is that I have still to see signs of the House Sparrows nesting, here or elsewhere. I haven't seen them taking an interest in any of the Sparrow boxes, or the artificial House Martin nests at the front of our house.

Well, this afternoon I spent some time watching the Blue Tits and ended up rather confused. There was definitely non action at my neighbour's box, but there was action at two of the Sparrow boxes!

While they were going to the right-hand entrance this morning, by the afternoon there was action at both front entrances. At least they haven't found the side ones yet.

I assume that it is only one pair that I'm looking at, although at one stage there was a bird in both boxes simultaneously (sadly they did not appear at the entrances at the same time).

When a bird entered the left entrance it always came from the gardens to the N/NW of us. The right hand entrance was always approached from the SW.



Here a female is caught in flight as she is just about to land at the left hand entrance with a beakful of moss.




8 April - A cool day with sunny periods, when the showers seemed to have more or less missed us, despite some very dark, threatening clouds passing by.

From what I have seen the Blue Tits have now switched back to the right hand box!

Yesterday I forgot to mention the female blackbird trying to build a nest  between a lattice panel and my neighbour's garage wall. Sadly, there was precious support for it and it soon collapsed mid-construction. When the coast was clear I fashioned a piece of chicken wire to provide a platform. The male visited the spot later on but I think his partner had already given up on it.


That was confirmed this morning when I watched her gathering moss and mud form the banks of the pond and taking it up into the North side of the Ivy tree.

She has been busy with the task all day.



Being slightly distracted by the Great Tits, I forget to mention the two plants that came into flower on the 5th or 6th.

The first is this diminutive Groundsel, by the side of the small pond.



The second is this Water Forget-me-not, although this particular plant is in the border away from either pond.



10 April - A dry but dull day with just a glimpse of blue sky (that missed us!) this afternoon.

Just a few bird note for today. First of all the female Blackbird continues to gather nesting materials. In the meantime, her partner continues with his territorial dispute which seems to be centred on the shed rooftops and the North-West corner of the garden.

The Hawthorn has been the venue for another competition, this time between the Chaffinches. Two males spent some time chasing each other around the tree which a couple of females looked on, sometimes getting involved in the chase.

These pictures of a female and male were taken in snack breaks between bouts.



Unlike these birds, the Robins have been busy taking mealworms back to their nest, which means  we must have our first chicks in the garden.


Life hasn't been all peaceful for the Robins though. A 'stranger' Robin came to the garden to feed on the bird table. When it flew up to the Hawthorn it was confronted by our resident who puffed out his chest so that his red breast feathers were spaced out to show dark bands between them. The intruder left before the encounter became violent.


13 April - A dry, mainly bright day when we were able to have lunch outside, up the 'West Wing', at the other end of the path you can see in this view of the garden.

I still have a few jobs to do to complete the changes made last year. Today I planted a few more Cowslips and a Honeysuckle. Also, on the weekend I bought a 'proper' English Bluebell so that I can compare it with our plants as soon as they come into flower.




A bit of bad news came in the form of this broken egg on the path this morning. I think it is a Blackbird egg, although I have no means of telling if it came from our BB's nest.



One insect picture today, of a Bee-fly (Bombylius major). This is a common fly, although I don't recall ever seeing one here previously.

Despite the impressive proboscis which it uses to suck nectar, it is a harmless fly. In the top image, the sunshine shows up the thickness of the furry coat that gives the fly its bee-like appearance.


We had just one butterfly pass through the garden today, a magnificently bright yellow Brimstone - there was no chance of a photograph.



The first Red Campion flower opened today, some time ahead of any of the other plants around it.




As I cut the grass today the blue of these small Ground Ivy flowers stood out against the green around them.

It looks as though they have been in flower for several days.



I also noticed that the small Elder that is growing next to the Hawthorn has one group of flower buds at the top of one branch -the first time this will have happened. The bigger Elder by the Ivy tree does not appear to have any.


14 April - Another nice day, but without any photographs.

Three butterflies today, both out of reach of my camera - A Large White, a Holly Blue and a small, unidentified darkish brown one which flew past high overhead. While we had lunch down the West Wing there was a Red-tailed Bumble Bee queen buzzing about, but the only time it landed it was hidden from sight.

A sure sign of good weather - I watched a Sparrowhawk find a thermal and spiral up high for a couple of minutes before gliding out of it and away from us.


15 April - An overcast day, but dry so that I could spend time putting up some bits of trellis down the West Wing and plant a clematis.

Our Bluebells have come into flower (left and centre) so I have taken the opportunity to compare them with the English Bluebell I bought a few days ago (right hand image)

It confirms that the bluebells established in the garden are hybrids.




I also got round to taking some photographs of the Cowslips that I have planted.




Finally, I managed to spend time watching the Blue Tit box  at various times during the day. I'm still confused. The male has been making himself heard all day, from when I went to the bathroom at about 5.30am until after I took this picture at 6.30pm. Here he is perched on one of the Hawthorn branches that is closest to the boxes.

When he goes up to the boxes he visits both, although I think I saw the female go into the right hand box.

2004 Garden Diary Index............Last Month.............. Second half of April