The Garden Diary 2005

January(part 1)

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 Best Wishes to You for the  New Year!

1 January - A dull day, with dampness in the air to start the new year.

I actually got around to doing a bit of pond clearing today, at the shallow end where the frogs prefer to deposit their spawn. I should be putting this into the frog diary - perhaps I'll get that started in the next day or so.


I came across one frog as I cleared the dead leaves from last year's Iris plants. I also found this small caterpillar down on the floating pond weed. It measures about 18mm in length.

It looks like a young Winter Moth caterpillar, but I can't be sure about that ID.



This second group of images shows more detail of the head end of the same caterpillar.




I also cleaned out the hedgehog house ready for Horace. I hope to get a bag of straw to put in it tomorrow.


3 January - A pleasant, mainly sunny day on which Horace was moved into his/her new residence.

By today, the workshop shed had cooled down until there was less than 2 degrees difference between it and the hedgehog house (top-left image) under the bike shed. You can see the entrance in the top-right corner of that image.

While in the workshop, Horace slept in a tray (top-right image) that I could easily lift out when I cleaned its enclosure. Before moving it to its new 'home' I weighed it (bottom-right image). It is now an impressive 745g.

The bottom-left image shows it just after being placed in the hedgehog house.

When I checked it a couple of hours later it had completely disappeared under the straw. I've placed the sensor of an electronic thermometer in the straw to monitor the temperature in there. It was around 9.5C this evening.


This was one of a couple of small flies that were attracted to the outside of our kitchen door by the light inside last night.

I can't identify it, but it could be one of the window midges.




4 January - A dull day, which turned damp in the afternoon and evening.


During the morning I did a bit more pond clearing. It is now nearly ready for the arrival of the hordes! In fact, I hope to make the first Pond Diary entry tomorrow.

In the meantime, here is a picture of one of the five frogs that I could see tonight.




Outside the kitchen door there are lots of these flies tonight. They are around all through the Winter, but there seem to be many more than usual at the moment.




With bodies just over 7mm in length, they look like miniature Crane-flies. I think they may be a species of Trichocera, based on the wing venation of this individual. The banded abdomen suggests that it could be T. annulata.



Yesterday, I didn't mention one part of the new  arrangement for the hedgehog. The exit from the hedgehog house is in a covered space between two sheds. Having been in 'close confinement' for over a month I have decided to stage its release, so I have put up barriers at either end of the space, and will continue to provide food for about a week before freeing Horace completely.

Last night I saw it visit the food supply around 9pm, and this morning it was tucked up deep in the straw again, having eaten about half of the food.

I took this picture at just after 9pm tonight.


5 January - An overcast, but dry and relatively mild day with a high of just over 8C (at 6.45pm it is still over 7C). There was a frost on north facing rooftops this morning after it reached over 10C yesterday.

Another small job has now been done as we prepare for the new nesting season in the garden.

Following the close encounters the Great Tit chicks had with cats in the days before fledging last Spring I have put up some wire mesh panels to prevent access from the roof and the North side of the box.

I have done this reluctantly, but there are numerous cats about at the moment. I even found one perched at the top of the Hawthorn yesterday.


The straw inside the box shows no sign of having been disturbed since I last mentioned it on 29 November.

Bird activity in the garden is really at a low at the moment. Other than the Sparrow flock, the only other regulars are a trio of Collared Doves, the occasional Starling, the Blackbirds and a Blue Tit. The Goldfinches no longer appear, and we haven't seen Dunnocks, the Woodpeckers or a Song Thrush for weeks, and even the Sparrowhawk seems to have deserted us for the moment! I had hoped to see our first Blackcap of the Winter by now, but no luck so far - I shall have to put out some fresh apples tomorrow.

Outside of the garden there are other birds about.

The Crows often fly over us, and this picture is of a Magpie and one of a group of sometimes quite noisy Black-headed Gulls that have appeared over the last couple of weeks.

Although they seem to be ignoring each other in this shot, it looked as though the Magpie was following the Gulls about as they flew around the neighbourhood looking for food.



Down under the Hawthorn, the first Snowdrop flower buds are now visible, although most of the plants are still just a couple of centimetres about soil level.




The thermometer on the hedgehog house seems to be staying at around 10C. It is raining this evening so there may not be a chance to get any photographs tonight.


9 January - A dull but calm day after a windy spell, with rain tonight. It continues to be mild (over 11C at 7.45pm).

Over the last couple of days I have been doing some work at the bottom of the garden - putting up wire netting extension at the top of the fence panels across the width of the garden. This will allow for the growth of the Ivy and other climbing plants that thrived on the 'West Wing' last year. Hopefully it will also act as an improved cat barrier.

By the time I had put away the tools etc this afternoon the sky was looking quite threatening, but I took a moment to have a look at the well nibbled leaves of a couple of Cowslip plants (or are they Primrose plants? - no flowers as yet on them).

Past inspections have been unsuccessful but this afternoon I was in luck. There was this solitary green caterpillar on the underside of a leaf.

Notice all the new growth on the plant. There are signs of new growth on most plants in the garden.


Here is a second view, taken after it reacted to the movement of the leaf (and perhaps the light?). A first look through my Collins Guide to caterpillars hasn't yielded an ID.




Hanging underneath another well eaten leaf on the same plant I found this very small chrysalis. At just 6mm long it seems much too small to be from the same caterpillar type.

The rain started to fall before I could take any further pictures.




Earlier in the day, while I worked on the fencing, I nearly trod on this much larger chrysalis that must have been dislodged as I moved plant stems about to tie them to their new support.

Whether it is a caterpillar becoming a moth or butterfly, or the nymphs on the birch tree that become the Orange Ladybirds, I find the whole process of metamorphosis quite amazing.



The hedgehog continues to feed, although not much each night, and the thermometer in the straw seems to have stabilised at 10.8C.

We are still waiting for some Winter bird visitors to appear in the garden. Having lamented the disappearance of the Goldfinches, two of them reappeared yesterday, and at least one Blackbird is now a regular visitor under the Hawthorn, eating the raisins that I put out.


10 January - A miserable, damp day with an overpowering gloom that didn't ease up at all.

The rain meant that there was no chance to try to check on yesterday's caterpillar. It has been suggested that it is a young Angle Shades caterpillar. These can get much darker as they grow.

Even the one Goldfinch that visited looked dull in the poor light - for these images the camera had to be set to its maximum sensitivity and even then most of the shots were blurred.

In the larger version of the pictures you can see several diagonal lines in the images, caused by rain drops passing as the shutter was open.



11 January - A repeat of yesterday's gloom, but even more so today, with it turning wet by lunchtime.

I had all but given up on any photographs today when there was this welcome sight of a Song Thrush a high above the bottom of the garden. It was having to hold on tight as a stiff wind blew from the left of the picture (from the SSE).

The last time I saw one here was on 18 December when I photographed it in a similar position, but with the Olympus 2100. From a purely photographic point of view I must spend a bit of time comparing the two original images at some stage.


As I write this at 2.30pm there must be 50+ Sparrows in the Hawthorn, spread throughout its branches, and taking turns at the feeder. It seems as though they are being left alone by the Sparrowhawk at the moment. I haven't seen one here for weeks. At the moment they are being very quiet, although they have periods of intense chirping.  Also, they have started having squabbles, and I have seen a female being chased by males several times lately.

Down on the ground there are  quite a few Snowdrop flower buds to be seen now. There is just one that is now hanging in its characteristic pose, but has yet to open. I understand that there are Snowdrops already in flower by the local church, and in a neighbour's garden.

Tonight, with the mild weather continuing I have taken the decision to remove the final barrier and allow Horace the hedgehog to roam freely. It has been emerging from the hedgehog house around 9pm every night and has been eating variable amounts. I shall continue to put the same food mixture in the same spot unless I find that it has abandoned the house. I'll check the temperature of the straw in the morning to see if it is similar to tonight's reading (11.7C) which should mean that it has returned (fingers are well and truly crossed!).


12 January - After all the gloom today has been brilliant, with long periods of bright sunshine.


This pair of Collared Doves was happy to spend ages perched together in my neighbour's Birch tree, preening and enjoying the sunshine.

I caught a glimpse of a Goldcrest for the first time for ages. It was flitting about in amongst the tangle of branches that make up the Ivy tree.



Horace took advantage of its new freedom last night and was spotted investigating under the caravan at around 10pm, but the thermometer reading of 10.7C this morning indicated that it returned to the hedgehog house after its wanderings. 

Tonight it appeared at 9.10pm and spent about five minutes at the food dish before heading out again. I've set up a cctv camera to monitor the feeding area and I will be recording through part of the night in an effort to find out when/if it returns. With a clear sky the temperature is likely to drop to near freezing, so perhaps it won't stay out too long.

It is a pleasant change to have a clear night sky, and I spent some time down the West Wing looking upwards. These days it is very difficult to see the Milky Way but despite that, many stars were visible.

While Nasa's Deep Impact mission to crash a projectile into the Comet Tempel 1 was launched successfully today, I turned my camera towards another comet, Comet Machholz.

I caught my first glimpse of it last night (close to the Pleaides group of stars) but there were too many clouds about.

This picture was taken at 6.20pm and that part of the sky was almost vertically above me. When you look at the larger image, the Pleiades is in the bottom left corner and the comet is the fuzzy spot next to the star you can see half way down the right side of the image.


This is a closer view in which the comet appears with a greenish halo right next to the star mentioned above. If you click on the image you will see two pictures, taken nearly two hours apart that show how the comet is moving along a different path to the stars.


If you wish to search for Comet Machholz, is a good place to find out where in the sky to look.


In the first picture it is possible to see two streaks on the image in the region of the Pleiades (again, you will need to look at the larger version). While I cannot be certain about the first one, I am sure that the feint line is a satellite passing overhead.

The right hand image shows what an aircraft trail normally looks like, with its navigation lights flashing on and off.



13 January - Another bright, sunny day although colder than yesterday, with the temperature only just reaching 7C. It must have been colder up above us as well. We live in a part of the country that is under a very busy bit of sky, with aircraft criss-crossing at many altitudes. Today their vapour trails disappeared only slowly, and many spread out so much of the sky had a thin veil of Cirrus-like clouds.

These were still around after darkness fell although the sky was clear enough for me to find the comet again at 6pm.

I thought I'd include another image to show how much it has moved in the 24 hours since my first picture. I have marked that first position with a blue cross.

To see really spectacular images of Comet Machholz, visit the website of Waldemar Skorupa and Norbet Mrozek in Germany.


Back in the garden I have checked again under the leaves of the Primroses. This time I found three caterpillars, all apparently different.

The first, and largest at about 17-18mm, is this green individual which promptly fell off the leaf and remained curled as shown here. This one has a much lighter head than the green one photographed a couple of days ago, and doesn't have such boldly marked spiracles.



The second example also dropped off the leaf as soon as it was disturbed.

Measuring about 15mm, it certainly doesn't look as though it can be the same species.




Finally, there was this much smaller individual which held on to the leaf, but adopted this position all the time I was taking photographs.

I'm not going to attempt to identify the trio. Perhaps I will find a better caterpillar guide some time in the future.


Last, but not least, an update on Horace - I checked through the video recordings from last night and there was no sign of him(?) returning on the recordings which finished at 3.10am What was revealed by the video was a mouse pinching food from the dish, its eyes standing out like headlights as they reflected the Infra-red light!

As a result, I am again dependent on the thermometer to tell me that it has spent in the hedgehog house. At 8pm, while the outside temperature is now dipping below 4C (in slightly misty conditions), the box temperature is just below 10C. It will probably be another hour before we can expect it to head out into the garden. Tonight I will have the video recorder set to LP to record the 8 hours from 11pm to 7am.

A late update - Horace emerged at around 10pm and had a snack before heading off into the garden. There has been no sign of the mouse this evening.


14 January - Another fine day, although the cirrus clouds (courtesy of the airlines) stayed across most of the sky all day. There was ice on the bird bath and pond first thing this morning.

No photographs today, just a couple of notes about Horace. After leaving the hedgehog house at 10pm it returned to the food dish twice before 1am. My video recorder has a problem with recording on the LP setting and the video was very difficult to watch, so I didn't see when it returned. However I did see a cat investigate the house entrance at about 2am and at 7.12am, just before the end of the tape, Horace emerged to have a breakfast snack before retiring for the day - the tape ran out as it fed. First thing this morning the temperature in the house was down to about 8C but was back up to 10C by noon.

Tonight it made an earlier start, emerging at 8.45pm. It spent a few minutes eating before going off on its wanderings, and then returned for another helping at 9.30pm.

Click on images to see larger versions


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