The Garden Diary 2005


Go to latest entry on this page          .    ......Go to previous entry

1 February - A dull start to the month with the temperature relatively mild - 9C at 6pm.

I had hoped for a picture of one of the Blackbirds bathing for today's entry. I set myself up for nearly three hours of watching the pond from the caravan and managed just this one picture of a male House Sparrow that went down to the water's edge to drink.

Blackbirds and sparrows visited both before and after the time I was in the caravan. I shall have to open the caravan window on a regular basis so that the birds get used to it, and perhaps try again at the end of the week.

While I was setting myself up, I caught the most welcome sight of a Dunnock for the first time since November. I was beginning to think we had lost them completely. There was a single visit by a Goldfinch and a couple of Chaffinches were seen in the Birch.

Last night we saw Horace feeding at around 10pm but there was no sign of it on the video recording this morning (3-7.05am). This evening the temperature in the hedgehog house is up to 13C (with the outside at 9C at 9.20pm) so it definitely 'at home'. - At 9.40pm Horace has just emerged and after feeding has gone out into the garden.

Over the last couple of days I've made use of eBay again to obtain two infra-red remote controllers for my cameras. These devices can be used to create an IR beam so that the camera shutter is triggered when something breaks that beam. When they arrive I hope to use one to get a long overdue picture of Horace out in the garden. I bought a second one so that I can dismantle the receiver and experiment with it for use around places such as the bee hotel.


2 February - A few bits of blue sky provide some occasional brightness this morning.

Last night Horace was back in its house by 10.10pm. However it must have gone out again later as the video showed it returning at just after 5.30am. This morning, with the outside temperature at 7.4C at 10am, it is 13.4C in the hedgehog house.

Tonight Horace went out at 9pm. This time I was able to find the elusive hedgehog as it foraged about in front of the workshop shed. It is very nervous so I took just this one picture of it.

However, I also took advantage of the moment to weigh it. A month ago (3 Jan)when I released it into the hedghog house it weighed 745g. Tonight it was noticably heavier, at 794g. If February turns cold (as it usually does) Horace should have no problems surviving any period of hibernation.



One other event to note from today was the appearance of two Crocus flower heads, one of which has been partially eaten. Last year the first one appeared just one day later.

Although I haven't photographed them, there are lots of well developed leaves now on the Lesser Cellandines along the southern side of the garden.



4 February - Another dull morning as the mild. cloudy weather continues. It's 8C at 9.30am.

Yesterday we had a lone Long-tailed Tit come and feed on a fat ball - an unusual event. This morning a pair of Goldfinches have been to the thistle seed feeder.


Last night, I hoped to take some more photographs of the spider on the Birch. For the first time in a couple of weeks there was no sign of it, but I did spot this small beetle (about 6.5mm long) on the tree.

I shall look through my insect guides later today.



I happened to be looking out of our bedroom window at 10.45am when a flock of birds flew past heading South. At first I thought they were Starlings although their flight movements were wrong.

It wasn't until they changed direction and landed in a Chestnut tree a few gardens away that I realised that it was a flock of Waxwings. they flew down from that tall tree to strip the berries of a much smaller tree in another garden.

 This is the first time I have ever seen these visitors from Scandinavia and Russia so I made a dash down the road and went (with permission!) into a garden that was nearer.

Moments before I took these images the tree had been full of birds feeding and the tree had been almost completely  stripped of its orange berries.


In a garden closer to us there is a tree with lots of small red berries on it. Although a couple of the waxwings flew down to investigate it, the rest of the flock obviously preferred the orange berries.

During and after the feeding the flock spent the rest of its time preening and trilling quietly high up in the chestnut tree where these shots were taken.

While I watched from below, Sheila did so from our bedroom window. She was particularly struck by how much the yellow band at the end of the tail showed up, especially just before landing, when the tail is splayed out. She estimated there to be at least 60 birds in the flock, and I agree.

Then, as suddenly as they arrived they were off, a few small groups and then the whole flock, heading South-West.

The photographs were a bit disappointing, partially because of the poor lighting conditions, but also down to my inexperience with the new camera -I must practice more!


5 February - After yesterday's excitement today has been quiet, with the skies remaining grey. I could actually see stars before going to bed last night, and so the temperature dropped to about 2C.

No photographs today, so far, just a couple of notes about Horace. I haven't seen it the last two days, neither in the evenings or on the early morning videos, although the small amount of food put into the dish has disappeared each night. When I checked the hedgehog house temperature this morning it was only 7C, prompting me to check the straw and confirm Horace was safely tucked up inside. By this afternoon the temperature in there had crept up to 8.2C (with it 7C outside).

There was no sign of a repeat visit by the Waxwings today, but yesterday's episode has prompted me to investigate the possibility of planting a Rowan in the garden, something talked about in the past but never acted upon.

Today has been one of those difficult days when I have struggled to do anything at all. However, late this afternoon I spent some time out in the garden, mostly on my hands and knees looking for caterpillars not only under the leaves of the primroses, but also numerous other small plants that are being nibbled at the moment.

The search was fruitless until I found this little beast under a leaf of a Red Campion plant. The surrounding leaves all have small holes in them, just like those shown in the top-right image, but this was the only larva that I came across.

It measures about 10mm in length and I think the head is at the right-hand end of the images. At the tail-end there are two small 'horns' that are pictured in close-up in the top-left image.



This image shows a side view. There do not appear to be any legs. You can see one of the horns protruding at the rear, and a thin line along its side. It appears to be completely hairless.

I'm at a complete loss on this one...


6 February - There was sunshine today - a pleasant change!

First of all, yesterday's green larva is a hoverfly larva (thanks Sarah Patton). Precise identification is a problem -  Steve Covey suggests that it is possibly a Pipiza species, and Nigel Jones suggests a Sphaerophoria species (an aphid eating type).

Also, the small brown beetle photographed two days ago is probably a round beetle called  Agonum albipes  - thanks to Paul Mabbott who has been trying to decide between A. albipes and  a similar species, A. obscurum. Neither beetle appears in my insect guides.

While on the topic of insects, tonight this caterpillar was spotted about 6ft up the trunk of the Birch tree. Half an hour later, at 9pm and with the air temperature dropping to below 4C under a clear sky, it was a couple of feet out along a branch - not too much to eat out there, unless it is going to graze on algae.


Although they didn't show up here, I understand the flock of Waxwings is still in the local area - on this side of Aldershot so I shall have to keep the camera handy, especially if the weather stays bright.


I spent time watching the pond from the caravan again today, with the same result as a few days ago. The only visitor was, once again, a Sparrow that came down to take a quick drink.



I am beginning to think that Horace has decided that the time has come to cease activity for a while. Last night there was no sign of it leaving the hedgehog house. The food in the dish was not disturbed, other than a few bits removed by the mouse ( or rather, mice - two seen last night!). Tonight the thermometer indicates 8C in the house.

While checking that temperature at 10.15pm I had another look at the caterpillar, found out what its destination actually was, and this time needed a step ladder to get the photographs!

It had been heading for a bud, and is tucking into it as I write this.



Here is a close-up of it, taken from the other side. In the morning I must remember to see how much of the bud survives.



Once last thing - this morning I caught a glimpse of a male Sparrowhawk making a brief sortie around the Hawthorn. It has been some time since one has visited, especially a male.

7 February - A bright and largely sunny day, what a change!

Last night's caterpillar didn't eat much more of the bud after the photograph was taken, and had disappeared by this morning. I'll check the Birch again this evening.


Another search under the Red Campion leaves revealed nothing this afternoon, but the Primrose leaves yielded this caterpillar, which looks as though it could well be be a more mature version of one I photographed a month ago.

It measured about 25mm in length.



The only other creature I spotted under the Primrose leaves was this hopper. Including the wings, it measures about 5.25mm, although the body is shorter, at about 3.5mm.

To my inexperienced eye, the large spur that can be seen half way down the hind leg suggests that it is a member of the Delphacidae family.



While the Birch buds, and those on most of the shrubs are tightly closed, many of those on the small Elder (next to the Hawthorn) have burst.



Last night passed without any signs of Horace appearing. Again, the only activity caught on cctv was a mouse raiding the food dish. I must capture an image of that for the diary. At the moment this computer has no video input, a situation that needs correcting before the nesting season begins.

8 February - Today has been sunny with the temperature up to 9C by the end of the afternoon. With birdsong going on all day it could well have been a perfect Spring day if it were not for a tragedy in the garden - Horace has died.

Yet again I didn't see any activity last night, and this morning when I checked the hedgehog house temperature it was more or less down to the air temperature outside. While I know that hedgehogs will usually go into hibernation at around this time when conditions are cold, these conditions have not affected us yet this winter. I decided to check on the hedgehog and found it with its body quite bloated and its mouth wide open. There was no doubt that this was not normal hiberation, with no reflex reactions to being touched. I left it alone for a while, but there was no change and, sadly I had to accept that it had died, just a few days after I last saw it looking quite healthy out in the garden.

It had been buried just in front of our veranda where it will not be disturbed by any deep planting we will be likely to do in the future.

For the rest of the garden it really was a taste of the season to come.

Between the two ponds a fresh grown stem of a Red Campion plant has a cluster of flower buds, one of which opened in the morning sunshine.



Last year we had planted some Comfrey plants next to our veranha. They grew with great enthusiasm and took over the corner a bit too much, although the bumble bees loved them. This morning I moved the plants to the other end of the garden, placing them below the Ivy tree, with the Stinging Nettles, where they will have more space.

All the time I was planting them I was being watched closely by a Robin.

Up until now the Robins have been very nervous, disappearing even if I simply moved near the window while inside the house. Today there has been a drastic change as this one followed me about, spending much time singing its sub-song from just a couple of feet away.


At other times it burst into full-volume song, as here in the Birch tree, and also in the Hawthorn, and at the top of the conifers.

Several times in the day it appeared to be moving about with a partner, which is encouraging to see.



The singing wasn't restricted to the Robin. The Blackbirds, Blue Tits and Chaffinches could be heard and seen frequently through the day.  At one stage there was a very serious encounter involving four Blackbirds in and around the hawthorn. None seemed hurt by the encounter which seemed to centre on two adult males.

Also seen in the garden were a pair of Goldfinches, a group of four Long-tailed Tits and a Wren.

One last thing to add - a neighbour tells me that there was a small number of Waxwings about again yesterday morning, visiting a Rowan a couple of gardens from us. I watched out for them today but there was no repeat visit.

It is a pity about Horace.


12 Feb - Sorry about the gap - there have been various distractions and little to report over the last few days, other than the seasonal influx of frogs. It has remained largely dry, except for rain during last night. Today the outside temperature passed 12C on a largely sunny day, but the forecast is for colder conditions to return over the next few days.

There will now be another gap in the diary - entries should get back to normal (whatever that is!) by the end of next week.

Click on images to see larger versions

2005 Garden Diary Index.............Last Month............... February (part 2)