The Garden Diary 2004


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5 December - The weather today is following a now familiar pattern of largely dull, overcast with the occasional break in the cloud, but with virtually no daytime sunshine. It is 10C outside at just before midday. The rain continues to stay away - I understand that this November was the driest for some 49 years. Despite the lack of rain there is very little evaporation from standing water on the ground, and I haven't had to top up the pond for a couple of months.

For various reasons, this morning has been the first time I have picked up my camera this month, and this was to record the appearance of this Coal Tit as it made repeated brief visits to the bird table to snatch peanut bits.

Last year this species started appearing in September, so this is a later start for it as a visitor this Winter.

I need to hang fresh apples from the Hawthorn in case another Winter visitor, the Blackcap turns up in the next week or so.

As I write this I've just been watching a group of Sparrows engaging in an almighty tussle in the Hawthorn. They haven't been to bothered by the Sparrowhawk this last week - I have seen it here just once and as usual it left without success.

There are encouraging signs on the Blackbird front. There is now a pair that seems to be constantly together as they move about the neighbourhood, although I think I spotted a male rival this morning.

The hedgehog seems to be very comfortable in its temporary accommodation. I think I have got the food supplies just about right now (in addition to the cat food and dried hedgehog food,  it eats all the earthworms put in each night) , and it has a regular den of straw that it sleeps in each day. It is still very nervous when I am about so I'm still resisting pointing the camera its way.

When I first took in the hedgehog on 20 November it weighed 356g, but it  was several days (nights) before it started eating properly and it lost a bit of weight (down to around 335g),  Tonight it weighed in at 376g, which means that it is putting on weight now.

There have been no further signs of straw disturbance in the birdbox.

6 December - Another largely dull, dry day, although I actually caught sight of the sun just before it slipped below the rooftops this afternoon.

I caught another glimpse of a Coaltit today, although I didn't see it at the bird table.

The female woodpecker spent a good few minutes at the peanuts this afternoon. The left hand image shows her trying to use her left foot. It obviously caused her some distress and this was the only shot out of about twenty I took that showed it extended.

The disability didn't hinder her when a Starling had the cheek to start feeding. The moment I had pressed the shutter for the right hand image she moved towards the Starling and flashed her barred wings at it before the camera could react for a second shot. The Starling left and she resumed eating.

9 December - I saw the sun today! It was colder than recently, but the skies opened up and it turned into a very pleasant day, which I took advantage of to do a bit of metalwork outside.

My presence didn't deter the Sparrows from feeding almost non-stop and we had quite a few Starlings around.

In the left hand image, two Sparrows feed on the sunny side, while a Starling takes up what seems to be a favoured, but awkward perch to get at the peanuts low down the feeder.

While the Starlings seem very sociable as they gather on the rooftops or branches, they become possessive once on the feeder, seeing off any other that tries to share (right image).


I took a camera with me when I fed and cleaned out the hedgehog tonight. It wasn't interested in posing for a photograph, so here it is, snuggled down in the nest it creates out of hay in a small plastic tray at one end of its container. The pink you can see is a piece of old towel under the hay.

It keeps this clean, so I only change the hay every few days. The rest of the container is lined with newspaper, so its just a matter of replacing that, and cleaning/refilling the water and food dishes.

At the moment I am feeding the hedgehog with a mixture of 'Felix' Chicken and Turkey in jelly, 'Spike's Dinner' dry food, and some earthworms, nearly all of which disappears overnight. I had also bought some 'Wild Things' dried hedgehog food, but while the hedgehog eats the banana slices, fruit and berries (which I add to the dish each evening), it doesn't seem to like the dried pellets that make up the bulk of it.

I mentioned doing metalwork outside today. I did some yesterday as well, doing it outside because I didn't think the hedgehog would appreciate power tools starting up in the shed during the day! I'm in the middle of making a tripod mount for a lens I bought on eBay this week in readiness for the new camera. I understand that a delivery is expected imminently!


11 December - Just a short note to record another frosty morning followed by a bright day, although I didn't get to take any photographs.

There were two Sparrowhawk attacks before 9am. The first was unsuccessful, but I'm not sure about the second one. This afternoon I weighed Horace the hedgehog (thanks to Laurie and Drew in Maine, USA for suggesting the name). It is up to 435g, an increase of 59g in six days - the diet seems to be doing its job!

Still no sign of the camera, but the tripod mount is complete, although I will probably paint it in the next day or so, if it's not too cold outside (as I will not be able to use spray paints in the shed with Horace about).


17 December - The last week has flown by, with me trying to keep awake enough to get various jobs done before Christmas. This morning, at 10am it is very dim outside and we are getting what must be the first heavy rain for a couple of months.

In contrast, yesterday afternoon was quite pleasant in the garden and I managed to get out and take a few photographs for the diary. The garden is in a rather sorry state at the moment, although there are still glimpses of colour to be seen.

Several wildflowers are in bloom. Most noticeable are the White Deadnettles (top left) and the Primroses (top right), although these are looking pretty ragged. I tried to see signs of what has been eating them - possibly slugs, but I couldn't see any tell-tale trails.

There is just one Red Campion flower open at the moment (bottom left) and at the far side of the pond an Oxlip has numerous flower heads (bottom right).




Under the Hawthorn, at the side of the small pond there are these  clusters of Snowdrop leaves giving an early signal of what is to come in January.




It took some searching to come up with any visible insect life amongst the plants, but I did spot this tiny beetle (possibly a Ragwort Flea Beetle -Longitarsus flavicornis) which was active, moving about the grass at the spot where the ragwort plants grew in the summer.




Tucked into several sheltered spots on the Stinging Nettles are groups of Mirid Bugs (I don't know what species).




One of the Woodpeckers made a brief visit today while the weather was gloomy but seemed to be put off by the number of Starlings present at the time.

Finally, my new camera turned up at the end of the afternoon, with most of the bits, although I shall have to wait a bit longer for the ringflash, which is a pity. Hopefully, I will get to use it for at least a couple of entries tomorrow, when I have worked out some of the switches and buttons.


18 December - A dry, fairly cold day, but largely dull again.

No pictures yet with the new camera, but I did manage to grab this image (with the 2100UZ)  of a Song Thrush on the conifers beyond the end of the garden.

I had caught a glimpse of one down under the Hawthorn a bit earlier, and just after this picture was taken it flew to a tree in a neighbour's garden, where I saw a second one down on the ground in that garden.

The Thrush is becoming a regular Winter visitor, although its arrival seems a bit late this time.


Part the way down the garden is a tree stump that is slowly rotting away. On it here is an area of very healthy lichen, pictured here.

Next week I hope to take some close-ups of their sporing structures.



Lower down the log there is a patch of these tiny fungal sporing bodies.

Many of them have burst open, and the spores seem to be dark brown in colour.



Tonight I weighed Horace the hedgehog again. It is now an amazing 576g, up from 435g in a week. I could feel the difference as soon as I picked it up! During the week I noticed that it was leaving the berries so I stopped adding those, but I've had to buy a packet of banana slices as it had eaten all the ones in the hedgehog food packet.

19 December - After rain during the night, today has been a bright, sunny day - a pleasant change.

Despite the good weather I didn't spend time in the garden, but I did try out the camera when this Starling decided to bathe itself.

It's amusing to watch as the Sparrows wait their turn and get soaked as they do so.



22 December - Today it has been dry, largely cloudy, relatively mild (11C at 5pm), and windy from long before dawn.

Perhaps because of the  conditions, but bird activity in the garden was very restricted. The only times that the Sparrows came to feed it was very dull outside.

I'm including this picture of a female Sparrow feeding that I took through the double glazed window with the 20D, using a flashgun that was positioned outside. I'm still waiting for some decent bright conditions to really test the new lenses on the camera.




Later on I was caught unprepared when four Long-tailed Tits turned up to feed on that and another fat ball that are hanging from branches on the Hawthorn.

This was the only grabbed image I managed before they flew off.




24 December - There was some brightness this morning, while we were out doing some last minute shopping. By this afternoon the sky was grey and quite a bit of rain has fallen.

The grey skies were again enough to discourage photography, but I did get a couple of shots of this Blue Tit at one of the fat balls.

I didn't see the Long-tailed Tits today. Also, the Goldfinches seem to have moved on now. I haven't seen one of them for the last two days.

I have weighed Horace Hedgehog again it now weighs 680g - amazing! After the holiday I shall have to consider whether it will be possible to release it during a mild spell, or if it will be best to wait for longer. In the meantime I have turned the heating down a little bit in the shed.


25 December - Christmas Day

The Season's Greetings to all who visit mybitoftheplanet on Christmas Day


26 December - Boxing Day - We didn't get a White Christmas, and this morning, as the terrible tragedy hit the Indian Ocean, we were waking to blue skies and a heavy frost.

It has stayed cold and the frost has remained on shaded areas all day.



For the first time this Winter the big pond has frozen over. You can see how the thin ice layer distorts the images of plant stems in the water, between the trapped air bubbles.




The sunshine has been appreciated by the birds.

Here, on the left, a Starling sunbathes on one of the conifers, while another visits the bird table, the sunshine showing up the iridescence of its feathers.



This immature Blackbird has been down under the Hawthorn numerous times today, but I was only able to get pictures when it perched in the Birch tree.




The local Crows are active at the moment. This one spent some time on the roof of one of the houses beyond the conifers. It's still a distant shot, but one that wasn't possible before I got the new camera.



There has been no sign of either the Goldfinches, the Woodpeckers, or the Song Thrushes for days now, which is a bit disappointing.

Our hedgehog has now doubled in weight since I took it in on 20 November. Tonight it weighed in at 715g and it is still eating all that I put for it!

Tonight the skies are clear again with a full moon rising over the rooftops just after dark, giving me a chance to test the camera's telephoto lenses on it.

There is a weather forecast on as I write this and it says that we should expect -2C tonight. However, by the middle of the week we may well be having daytime temperatures of some 13C again, so the pond will not stay frozen for long.



27 December - Another bright, sunny day, with a hard frost to start it which got me off to a bad start when I fell flat on my back when I ventured out the garden!

After that low down moment, it has been a quiet day for us and for the garden. There was some bird activity early on, with Long-tailed Tits and a solitary Goldfinch making appearances. The blackbird (that was pictured yesterday) came down several times and spent time hunting around the pond edges.

I often spend time watching the House Sparrows as they wait their turns at the feeder. Although the feeder has six feeding 'stations', it seems that the birds prefer the top pair, and especially the one on the North side. This is often the source of disputes as an impatient bird tries to bully the incumbent into making way for it.

Before this sequence was captured, the female had been feeding for some time and was having some difficulty holding onto the perch, presumably because it was cold and icy (you can see the frost on the feeder tube).

When the male appeared she almost slipped right under the perch before using her wings to right herself and see off the intruder.

In the next minute or so the perch changed hands some six or seven times.

The three images were taken at intervals of just 1/5th second, with the whole encounter taking just over a second.


31 December - An almost dry day to end the year with daytime temperature of around 11C (yesterday it was nearer 12C).

I haven't been paying too much attention to the garden over the last few days, and I haven't seen anything 'different' as far as bird activity is concerned.

Believe it or not, this is part of a length of rope that stretches across my caravan shelter as part of my storm precautions.

While the other ropes seem to be clear of any growths, this one is almost completely hidden by mosses and lichens, although the lichens are restricted to the section nearest the southern side of the shelter.



Here is a closer look at that end of the rope. You can see the rope fibres between the moss growths.



The mosses have many stalks (see the first of the images above) but only a small number have fruiting capsules as in the left hand image here.

The right hand image shows fruiting capsules on another patch of moss. These have obviously matured and have lost their caps.




Here are a couple of much closer images of the capsule in the centre of the previous image.




Finally, a close-up of one of the lichen cups, showing the brown spore-producing bodies on the rim.




The hedgehog continues to reside in the shed. Yesterday I wondered if it had decided that it was time to hibernate as it hardly ate anything the night before last, and I didn't even need to change the paper lining of the container. Last night things were back to normal and all the food was eaten. I have reduced the amount of cat food in the mixture now, and if the mild weather is set to continue I will get on and prepare the hedgehog house that is under the 'bike shed' (a name given to it a long time back, when my three sons had bikes!). I intend to fill it with clean straw through the inspection hatch in the floor of the shed. Then I plan to put the hedgehog into it during the day while it is sleeping and put a dish of food near the exit, which is in the  sheltered space between that shed and the workshop shed.

Well, that brings mybitoftheplanet to the end of another year, and a mixed one it has been. During the latter half of the year, the CFS has been more of a pain than for some years and has caused too many gaps in the diaries, with the pond and its diary being especially neglected.

There have been some plus sides to the year as well, with the nesting of the Great Tits in the Spring and surprise nesting by the House Martins in August/September. We saw more species of Ladybirds than ever before, although I think their overall numbers were down on previous years. Our visits to Cornwall were rewarded by the sights of the Chough family and a Hummingbird Hawkmoth in May/June and the Velella strandings in October.

With the tragedy unfolding across the Indian Ocean, it's difficult to say 'Have a Happy New Year'. Nevertheless, as midnight creeps towards the UK I hope that you have a safe and rewarding New Year, wherever you are in the World, and lets hope that this planet of ours can see more of peace, cooperation and understanding in 2005.

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