The Garden Diary 2004

January(part 1)

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6 January - A belated Happy New Year!

Things have been a bit slow in the garden since the new year with the weather dull, overcast and damp with very little actual rain. Today we had a break from the gloom when the sun came out and we saw more blue sky than we have seen since before Christmas (if I remember rightly!).

One of the problems with taking photographs through our windows is that the double layer of glass does no favours to the image. Recently I've been trying out an arrangement that I can set up easily in my dining/computing room that allows me to open the patio doors a little bit without letting out all the warmth from the house.

I have used some high density foam panels between the door and the frame. Into this I cut two openings just big enough to fit my largest lens through. Foam plugs block the holes when they are not being used.




This picture was taken using this arrangement. It's probably the best I have managed to take so far of one of two female Chaffinches that now come regularly to the bird table. There is still no sign of any males coming to feed here.




Photographed in the same way, here is one of the Wood Pigeons that come to the garden at the moment. This time last year I had a net around the feeder because the pigeons had become 'too greedy' and were dominating the feeder. We haven't got to that stage yet, but I may have to chance my mind soon.

The Collared Doves are far less of a problem, preferring to feed on the bird table and the ground.



7 January - Another bright, although mainly cloudy day, and staying reasonably mild (air temperature at 8.30pm is 8.5C). This time last year I was reporting on snow that stayed with us for a couple of days. There is no chance of this being repeated as the forecast is for mild winds from the South-West bringing rain from the Atlantic over the rest of the week.

While bird activity has become pretty quiet again at the moment with only the 'regulars' about, a flock of Long-tailed Tits has just flown through the garden (at 10.30am). The Blackcap seems to have left us now, and the Coal Tits only appear occasionally, as does the Wren. The Blackbirds continue to chase each other. My neighbour tells me that the Woodpecker was at his peanut feeder yesterday - I must organise something part the way down the garden to attract it into visiting us. At the moment we have almost daily fly-overs by a gaggle of ducks (six today) and the occasional flock of geese. They are usually very low and too fast for me to get my camera.

Earlier this morning we could hear the Song Thrush singing from the Brickfields Park. Here, the Robin is singing a lot now, which reminds me that I need to get a suitable box set up behind some lattice work panels before the nesting season (to replace the spot lost when I moved the BT birdbox). Our local garden centre has at least one resident Robin and on the weekend I spent ages standing no more than 2-3ft from one as it sang its heart out on a display stand in the heated interior of the centre.

I haven't seen the Sparrowhawk about for a while but this morning, just beyond the pond, there were a couple of feathers that suggested that something had been caught in the garden.

A look over the fence revealed a patch of white feathers with the occasional black banded tail feather under my neighbour's apple tree- a sure sign that a Collared Dove has fallen victim to the hawk.



Down on the ground behind the pond the first Oxlips (or are they Cowslips?) have started flowering. As far as I can see these are the only flowers in the garden at the moment.

I spent some of the day clearing the area in front of the workshop shed and treating the woodwork with a long overdue dose of preservative.



9 January - Quite a change in the weather these last two days, with periods of heavy, squally rain and sunny periods, with really strong winds yesterday which had subsided by nightfall.

Another frustrating glimpse of the woodpecker in my neighbour's birch tree this morning. This was the nearest I could get to a picture as a panic call from a blackbird caused it to retreat to the Brickfields Park.

This afternoon I made a large peanut feeder which is now mounted about 8ft up on a pole just beyond the big pond. I have also strapped to the pole a piece of rotting wood picked up in some local woods. I have drilled some holes into the timber and stuffed them with fat and peanut butter.



Another frustrating observation this morning - a Blue Tit visiting the 'box next door' again while its partner watched noisily from our Hawthorn!!!


10 January - Back to dull, cloudy conditions for most of the day, and mild - at 6.45pm the temperature outside is still over 10C. The weather forecasters are warning of a deep depression heading our way with the possibility of winds gusting to over 70mph by Monday(12th), so today I spent a bit of time putting away loose bits that might be vulnerable. Tomorrow I will be lashing down our caravan shelter and taking a few more precautions.


One thing I will probably take down is the feeder I've just put up!

Here it is, as photographed from the house. As you can see, it has been discovered by the Starlings, but there is no sign yet of the Woodpecker.

The top of it stands about 9ft up, and you can see the branch is being used as a perch. The Starlings didn't discover the food in the holes.




The Sparrows continue to have dramatically noisy periods of squabbling between feeding sessions, and this male was photographed as it prepared to take its turn at a crowded feeder.

Using the foam 'hide' really does make a difference to picture taking. I should have set it up a long time ago.


As well as the Sparrow's noisy behaviour, I see that the Robin has become less tolerant of the Dunnocks now and a few times I have seen the latter being chased in circles around the Hawthorn. Likewise, If one of the Blue Tits sees a Coal Tit come to feed they will try to chase it away.

I did a bit more clearing of dead plant material this afternoon and had a minor disaster in that as I pulled away a handful of dead stalks I discovered that amongst them was one living stalk with a Red Campion flower in bloom!

11 January - A largely dry day, giving me the chance to prepare for tomorrow's promised gales.


One interruption to this work came when I spotted this growing from some rotting wood just behind the Hawthorn.

I think it's a Candle-snuff Fungus (Xylaria hypoxylon), a common species on dead wood, although I have not seen it here before. It is also known as Stag's Horn Fungus.



While I had the camera with me I took some long overdue pictures if this lichen that is growing on a tree stump by the small pond.

It may be Cladonia fimbriata, a lichen that is common on tree stumps. The tall stalks are tipped with cups. In the lower image you can see brown rings in the cups -these are the spore-producing structures of the lichen.



A photograph that I should have included in the diary two days ago - it shows the first leaves of the Lesser Cellandines that had appeared. There are now numerous more in sight, although I will not expect the flowers to appear until March.

The image also includes the first leaves of a young Dead-nettle plant.


13 January - Well, the promised gales failed to materialise yesterday - in fact there was hardly a breeze all day, although we did have some showers. It seems that the depression turned right and headed across the English Channel towards France. 

A second (but weaker) depression passed over us during last night and as a result it was windy this morning. The day that followed was largely dry with some bright sunshine.

I haven't taken any photographs these last two days as I have been doing other things, including trying to shake the cobwebs from my brain as I sorted out how to set up an electronic shutter release. I would like to use it to use my camera to capture more images of insects in flight this year. Now I just need to get a couple of components to finish the job.

There has been little new to report from the garden. A Great Tit made a rare visit this morning, I saw a lot of the Wren throughout the day (but never close enough to photograph) and I think it was the face of a Blue Tit that I saw peering briefly into the birdbox this morning. I must make sure that the video recorder is running in the mornings from now on.


14 January - The unsettled weather continues to move in from the west, bringing us bright spells and heavy showers. The temperature has dropped a few degrees over these last few days and at the moment (8.30pm) it is 3.5C outside.


It looks as though the local male Robin has a partner now. I have seen them together several times without any sign of aggression between them.

This picture shows one of them resting in the safety of the Hawthorn during a sunny spell.



The Blue Tits continue to spend much time in the garden, feeding at the table and on the apples, as this one is, although I didn't see any 'faces at the door' of the birdbox today. Neither have I seen them visit the box next door over the last few days.

The bird in the photograph spent quite a bit of time calling loudly from high in the Hawthorn just before going to the apple. This, and its bold eye-band suggests that it is a male.




2004 Garden Diary Index..........Last Month.......... Second part of January