The Garden Diary 2005


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1 December - A dull and breezy start to the month, with the temperature over 7C first thing, and rain during the morning - welcome, really, although it is much nicer to open the curtains to blue skies!

I've taken advantage of the conditions to get the cover of the calendar finished, so I just need a December pic to complete the job! Now I need to start planning the layout changes needed for the diaries ready for 2006.


2 December - Well, the ponds are full now. Last night there was a lot of rain. This morning started very dull and wet, but the day saw a mixture of sunshine and heavy showers, including one of hail.

Tonight it is very wet and windy outside, with the temperature around 8C at 9pm.



Last night's weather was enough to finish a job that started two days ago - The left-hand picture shows a part of the  tree on 30 November while the right-hand image, taken this morning during heavy rain, shows just a few leaves left on the Birch.



6 December - The last few days have been very quiet in the garden, and in my bit of the house. I have been trying to do sort out how I can make a timer/dimmer contraption that will raise the light levels in the birdbox in the morning, and then dim them at the end of the day. A good search through the junk in my shed has been rewarded with what I think will be the essential components that I can use. The next stage is to make up some bits so that I can assemble a test rig. If it works out I would like to install it before Christmas

The weather has also been fairly quite, with a bit of frost on just one morning, and just a little rain since the wet day on the 2nd. I'm still waiting for the December calendar photograph to materialise, something I must get done during the next few days.


12 December - The weather continues to be quiet - mainly dry and a couple of just about frosty mornings. This fern was photographed yesterday, and this morning was damp and misty. Yesterday afternoon there were black clouds in the sky to the north of us. A look at satellite images suggested that they were part of the smoke plume from the oil depot explosion and fire near Hemel Hempstead. There was little evidence of the smoke today.


I've been having a bit of a struggle getting much done over this last week or so, but I have managed to get the calendar finished. The timer/dimmer is making progress and should be finished this week. On the weekend, a trip to our local carboot sale was worthwhile - I bought another colour cctv camera. This one (which accepts all the lenses I've already got) is very sensitive in low light, and has built-in motion detection. This works as a grid within the image, and I can select which parts of the image are used for the motion detection - something else to experiment with.

The garden looks pretty drab now, with the visiting birds providing flashes of colour. We have up to three Goldfinches coming, although they only appear once or twice each day. The Blue Tits continue to be regulars, as are the Coal Tits. Yesterday I came very close to a collision with the local Sparrowhawk. It then perched on our roof as I stood there without my camera.


13 December - A thoroughly dull but dry day weatherwise. After a comparatively mild night with the temperature staying above 4C, it didn't get up to 6C during the day.

The Sparrowhawk appeared again this afternoon -  I must have my camera nearer to hand.

This afternoon I finally got round to connecting up my timer/dimmer and testing it. Having confirmed that it works (taking just under two minutes to operate the dimmer), the next job will be to mount it on a wooden base.

I will be setting it up in my workshop shed, with just the connections for the LEDs wired through to the birdbox.

I will be writing something about it in the technical section of the website, but if you click on the image you can read a bit more about it now.


15 December - A much brighter morning, with hazy sunshine, and mild, with a temperature of 9C at 10.30am.



Last night the temperature didn't drop below 6C, and this encouraged the frogs to be more active. This one was spotted climbing amongst the leaf stalks of the Marsh Marigold. I'm not sure how many insects it would have had the chance to catch.




17 December - The night before last staying mild (low above 7C), and at lunchtime it was up to 11C. After that, a cold Northerly wind has blown and we had a touch of frost this morning. Despite sunshine today, the temperature only got up to around 3C at lunchtime and is dropping again this afternoon.

The garden remains a very quiet place. I haven't seen a Goldfinch for the last three days, and there is less activity by all of our usuals. The Sparrowhawk has been here again, although I don't think that it is entirely to blame for the lack of activity.

It's been a year since I first laid my hands on the Canon 20D and
over the last couple of weeks I've bought a couple more camera bits for macro work with it. 

I have now got a Canon Auto Bellows to complement my older bellows and yesterday I added a 28mm Rodenstock enlarger lens to the set-up to provide magnifications between x4.29 and x7.5 with the bellows, stretching to nearly x12 when extension tubes are added - the results are very promising.


The Auto Bellows attaches to a macro stage that I've had hidden away for some time to give a very steady platform for high magnifications. I've added a microscope mechanical stage to allow for small movements of objects being photographed. At the bottom-left of the picture is the receiver of a wireless remote that I use.


The photograph of a fern frond back on the 12th shows brown patches on the upper side. These mark the spots where structures called sori are found on the underside.

On this fern each sorus consists of a  roughly kidney-shaped 'umbrella' called an indusium under which are a large cluster of stalked capsules (sporangia), containing the fern's developing spores.



Each sporangium has thin celled, rounded sides, and a rim of thickened cells (the annulus). You can see the annuli as boldly banded structures in this photograph.

When the spores are ripe, the indusium withers away to expose the sporangia. As soon as they are subjected to drying conditions, the cells of the annulus lose water. Tension builds up in the ring until the sides of the sporangium tear apart and the spores are flung out as the annulus springs outwards.


As they continue to dry, the annuli eventually spring back again to scatter any remaining spores.

In this photograph the straightened annuli look like small worms amongst the debris of the torn sporangia. The image shows an area approximately 1.2x1.75mm.


18 December - A sunny start to the day with a temperature of -3C at 8am, having fallen gradually since lunchtime yesterday - by noon today it was back up to 2C. Since then the sky has clouded over and the temperature peaked at around 3.5C around 1pm.

This afternoon I connected the timer/dimmer to the LEDs in the birdbox. It seems to work quite well although the last bit of 'brightening' happens a bit quicker than I would have liked. That is down to the fact that I had to change the variable resistor after I damaged a connection - the replacement has a much higher value (100K instead of 10K). I shall set up a cctv camera and play around with a couple of adjustments over the next few days. Even without making any changes it will be a lot better than just having the lights come on suddenly each morning.

This evening, instead of getting colder it's actually creeping up, and is 5.5C at 9.30pm with rain promised by the morning.


22 December - a bright and sunny start to the day, with it 5C outside at 8.30am.  Unfortunately it had clouded over by 10am, and after another dry day it is still over 8C at 8pm.

With the Winter Solstice having passed yesterday, we can now look forward to the days getting longer again. Yesterday, I caught a glimpse of a male Blackcap at the bottom of the garden - I must hang up some apples on the Hawthorn to attract it down to this end of the garden.

Also, both yesterday and this morning I've a Blue Tit acting territorially, chasing another one out of the garden. Up to now they have been more interested in the food on offer than each other so its interesting to see this change in behaviour. In the past they have started to show an interest in choosing a nesting site by Christmas (or just afterwards) and a camera is now set up in the BT box to monitor any visits. The lighting looks ok, although I will not start to use the timer/dimmer until the box is actually in use (if that happens - fingers crossed!).


Also taking their first steps towards the New Year are these Snowdrop plants that have started appearing in their usual spot by the small pond.




As for the rest of the birds, things really are very quiet now. Apart from the Sparrows, Blackbirds, Dunnock and Robin, a trio of Collared Doves visits. We get the pair of Coal Tits coming in the mornings and a female Chaffinch visits the table. Just a few Starlings appear each day and I occasionally disturb a Wood Pigeon that is picking berries from the Ivy. We seem to have lost the Goldfinches completely for the moment.


24 December - The third day in succession with a high approaching 9C. The lack of rain is having an effect on the ponds, so last night I decided to top up both of them. The weather forecasters are including the word snow in their forecasts, although not until after Christmas day - my fingers are crossed for the week to come.

After yet another quiet day as far as the birds were concerned, I took a walk down the garden at around 8.30pm tonight to see if the mild conditions were encouraging insects to appear.



I was just starting to take some photographs of this harvestman -



when I heard a rustling amongst the leaf litter. It turned out to be the first hedgehog I've seen here since April.

As soon as I took this picture I retreated from the garden to minimise the stress in the hedgehog. While it's a welcome sighting, I hope that its present activity doesn't use up too much energy and that it will be able to cope with any cold spell in the near future.



25 December - Christmas Day

A great family day was enjoyed in the Jones household - I hope the day went well for you.

During the evening I spotted another, smaller hedgehog in the garden. I hope it will be safely tucked away before the weather turns frosty again.


26 December - After a bright Christmas Day, today is very dull (4C at noon) and also damp with a bit of rain in the late morning.



However, things have been brightened up by the appearance of a solitary Goldfinch for a short time this morning, so we haven't lost them completely - good!




We also had a low flying display from  a few of the Black-backed Gulls that appear in the neighbourhood each winter. This was prompted by a neighbour throwing bits of bread onto his shed roof.

The gulls are in their winter plumage, which includes the black spot you can see behind this bird's eye.



One shot I missed out on this morning was of a pair of Canada Geese that flew over us so low that I swear they must have passed one each side of the chimney pot that we share with our neighbour.


Tonight there is broken cloud and the temperature at 7.30pm is just 2C. Despite this, several frogs are gazing skyward from the duckweed covering of the big pond- this one seemed to have quite a pronounced smile.

The water temperature ( about 5cm below the surface) is still 4C.



Hidden beyond the far end of the pond is a piece of well rotted timber. Along one edge of it is an almost seasonal looking growth of Candle Snuff fungus (Xylaria hypoxylon).




27 December - After a bright and frosty start (with a temperature of -1C at 8.30am), it clouded over during the morning and we had snow.

Well, a little bit of snow - not even enough to cover the now frozen surface of the big pond.

This afternoon the skies are grey and threatening, but at 3pm it's still dry.

Understandably, I didn't see a hedgehog last night.


Five days ago I mentioned seeing a Blackcap at the bottom of the garden. This morning I saw it again. This time in the Hawthorn. It returned several times, going down to the ground to feed.

I couldn't get a shot of it in the tree. However, this rather messy picture shows the black cap that gives the bird its name as well as indicating that it is a male (the female has a chestnut brown cap).

Last year, the female that visited enjoyed eating a Golden Delicious apple that I hung from the Hawthorn. I shall have to get a few tomorrow to replace the less successful Royal Gala variety that I'd already put out this month.

The feeders were very busy this morning, with all our regulars visiting. The Coal Tits were one of the first to appear at dawn, but haven't been back since. In contrast, the Blue Tits, which were the first birds to come at dawn, have continued to visit all day.

The Sparrow flock has very busy sessions and then disappears out of the garden for an hour or so before feeding again. A group of Starlings turned up around 9am  to feed and bathe, but since then I've only seen individuals return.

The Dunnock continues in its efforts to out-manoeuvre the Robin as they both head for the same feeding area under the Hawthorn.

What appears to be a Blackbird pair are also frequent feeders now, and a trio of Collared Doves have been down to eat the chopped peanuts. A solitary Wood Pigeon continues to perch in the Ivy, gradually stripping the berries which are still far from ripe.

The female Chaffinch is making frequent visits to the table (still no sign of a male coming into the garden), and finally, the single Goldfinch has been here just once so far today.


31 December - Well, it looks as though we will end the year with sunshine and rain showers. It's 6C at 8am this morning, and likely to go up a few degrees during the day.

Once again we missed out on the snow, only having a few more flurries after the last diary entry. Perhaps the new year will bring us some! We did get two cold days with the temperature staying around freezing, enough to cover both ponds with ice. But that 'cold snap' came to a rapid end yesterday as temperatures got up over 9C, and this morning both ponds are once again ice free.

There are no new bird visitors to report. The Blackcap hasn't returned over the last few days, and neither has the Goldfinch.

I spent a bit of time out in the garden doing a bit of tidying up, clearing away some of the straggly ends of old plant stems and removing dead Iris leaves from the big pond. I will need to do some more drastic clearing at the shallow end of the pond in the new year, in readiness for the frogs' spawning. The Reedmace seed heads are still intact, although I see that one of them appears to be near to bursting. In the past it has been the middle of January before they started shedding their seeds.

As the last day of the year creeps to an end there are no photographs to add to this last entry. I had hoped that the sunset would turn into something worth recording, but despite blue skies and scattered cloud the sun just sank below the horizon with hardly a hint of red to be seen.

It's been a very mixed year. The frogs appeared in large numbers and produced large quantities of spawn, and with far less obvious fuss, the newts seemed to produce more eggs than ever before.

On the bird front, we were disappointed that neither the Blue or Great Tits chose to use the nestbox. The Blackbirds had their usual problems, building nest after nest. The female even appeared momentarily on the BBC's Spring Watch program after a production team spent a memorable, and very enjoyable day filming in the garden (the only disappointment from that day was that the website didn't get a mention, even though I was shown working on it!). The House Martins did well, with two broods this year, so I await their next visit with great anticipation.

We saw a variety of Ladybirds, although the Orange Ladybirds did not have such a good year, with only small numbers on the Birch tree. The invasive Harlequin Ladybirds haven't arrived yet - that is an unwanted species to look out for next year. Another insect I'll be looking for next year is a cuckoo bee that is associated with the solitary bees, Heriades truncorum (Daisy Carpenter Bee), that nest in holes that I have drilled in old timber.  Both are 'Red Data Book', with the cuckoo bee being rare.

Well, I've reached the point where I need to complete the changes to the diary website ready for the change to 2006. Please let me know if you find any drastic errors as a result of the changes I make...........

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