The Garden Diary 2005

October - Part 1

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1 October - A bright and breezy day with occasional dark clouds passing over us, although only  a couple brought showers to us, and it was several degrees cooler than yesterday.

The morning didn't get off to a great start when we discovered that the water supply to our dishwasher had been leaking slightly, perhaps for the last week or so. Once that problem was brought under control, it was a case of waiting for a gap in the clouds to set up the camera for a few more Martin photographs.


The intervals between feeds were much longer this afternoon so that not many photographs were taken. While two days ago the gap was usually no more than five minutes, today it was extended to twenty minutes or more, although I don't know whether this is their way of encouraging the youngsters to consider leaving the nest, or simply as a result of the cooler conditions restricting the availability of insects. Craneflies were the main food again today.


The chicks continue to squabble over the prime spot at the entrance, and as the time went on since the last feed there were definite signs of impatience.

This one came perilously close to the edge, and if you look closely at the large image you will see two claws over the lower rim of the entrance.


Tonight, feeding continued right up to around 6.45pm (sunset was at 6.38pm), and soon after that I saw a adult go into the adjacent nestbox. I'll be recording the cctv images tomorrow morning just in case..........

I haven't seen the frog pair today - I have just checked the small pond (at 7.40pm) and counted some 25 pairs of frog eyes looking up out of the water! Quite a few had the pointy snouts of immature frogs.


2 October - A beautifully sunny morning had me out at the front of the house with camera set up before breakfast!

The chicks were looking out of their nest soon after 7am, while the parents were not to be seen until they left their roost around 7.20am. Then, they returned to the roost box several times over the next half an hour, without approaching the chick that was visible.


At around 7.45am one of the chicks became very restless, reaching further and further out of the entrance and looking towards the roost box. At around 7.50am it reversed into the box before launching itself into the air, followed very quickly by both parents. (there is not a larger image of these poor quality cctv images)


Over the next few minutes there were numerous approaches made to the nest by (I think) both the adults and the fledgling. However, the entrance was now blocked by a second chick.

Five minutes after leaving, the fledgling and both parents flew up to the roost box. Two of them entered and the third perched at the entrance briefly. Then both parents flew off, leaving the fledging in the box where it has remained ever since (I'm writing this just after 4pm).


The first feed was brought around five minutes later and for the rest of the day the adults have to choose which box to approach as they bring food.



Just to add to the excitement this morning, even after that first chick had moved out there were still bouts of squabbling in the original nestbox, and it was just before I took this shot that I saw for the first time that the family has three offspring.

In the late afternoon there is no sign of any of the three youngsters showing an interest in leaving the boxes while feeds are continuing quite regularly. Perhaps I shall be photographing them again tomorrow morning...

While I was outside I saw a pair of Cormorants fly over in close formation and a bit later, a Jay.

The end of the day came for the Martins with the last feed (left image) seen just before the first adult headed into the roost (middle) box at 6.30pm (central image). During the next four minutes the other adult repeatedly flew up to the roost box entrance before it too retired into it for the night.

Once the adults disappeared, youngsters continued to look out of the boxes for a further 15minutes before they too settled for the night.



3 October - I was all prepared for having to share the camera between fledging Martins and a partial eclipse of the sun this morning, but cloudy skies hid the latter, and the Martins are still here at noon!


I had my camera set up at 7.30am, the chicks were already peeping out, and it was about ten minutes later that the first adult left the middle nestbox (top image).

Two minutes later it had returned and, seeing the way into that box was blocked it headed into the left-hand one (lower image).



It was nearly 8am before that adult flew again, returning to the same box several times before the second adult made its first appearance out of the middle box at 8.20am (upper image), followed immediately by the fledgling.

They were soon back in the box (lower image) and activity more or less ceased for quite some time. In that picture I think that the shorter tail feathers indicate that the fledging is the bird still in flight (I may be wrong!)



Around 9am the adults became more active, although they continued to re-enter the boxes. They were not bringing any food for the chicks but were making close fly-pasts (top image) as if trying to encourage the youngsters to join them.

The fledgling made another trip out, and the lower image is the only one I have so far obtained that shows the whole family as the adults and the fledgling return from an excursion.

While the adults were flying, and the three chicks were confirmed as being in the boxes, I noticed that another Martin had joined the adults. Later in the morning it was with them again and actually approached the nest boxes with them.

The first feed didn't come until around 9.30am and since then the parents seem to have got back into feeding mode. As it approaches 1pm the three offspring are getting quite regular feeds, so it looks as though we may have to wait until tomorrow for another fledging attempt.

As for the eclipse, at noon the cloud cover started to break up and the sun appeared, after the moon had passed it by. I wonder how much effect the combination of cloud cover and the dimming of the sun (about 60% cover) had on the Martins' tardy behaviour this morning. There were certainly more birds gathering on the rooftops and tv antennae than I usually see in the mornings and there seemed to be more twittering - the Starlings looked as though they were getting ready to roost!

An afternoon update at 3.45pm -

Sometime around 2pm another of the chicks fledged, flew and then moved into the left-hand box, so we now have the three siblings in their own accommodation and demanding personal room service!

I spent an hour outside watching them this afternoon, and I think only one of the adults was tending to them. Could the other be taking a break, perhaps with the 'stranger' that turned up this morning?

It will be interesting to see what happens at dusk.


The afternoon update became 'out of date' just after 4pm when the left-hand youngster decided to leave, not returning until dusk (I think). After it left, feeding of the remaining two continued right up to nearly 6.20pm when a Martin entered the middle box. Five minutes later it was followed by a second one, so that there were now three in that box. A short time later one left that nest and entered the right-hand box, staying in there some eight minutes before returning to the middle one.

By that time (6.50pm), it was too dark to make out any details on the cctv image. If nothing else happened afterwards it means we may have 'lost' one member of the family (perhaps the adult that went awol this afternoon?), and consequently three are now roosting in the middle box, and there is just the one chick still in the right-hand one. The video is set to record another morning....


4 October - Another cloudy morning, and I've slept (a bit) late.

At 9am I can see a young beak poking out of each of the three nest boxes, and a short time ago I saw adult Martins left the left and centre boxes - the family is still together!

Reviewing the early morning video showed that there was no activity at the nest boxes until an adult left the middle box at 7.30am, followed ten minutes later by a second adult, so there must have been a very late arrival last night. A flurry of activity that followed meant that by 8am the left and centre boxes each had an adult and fledgling in them with the right hand box still containing the last chick. Then. all went quiet for a full half hour before another beak was seen.

By 9am the adults had flown again, leaving the three offspring, each in their own box.


For the next hour things were pretty quiet with just a few morsels of food being brought, but at 10.10am the chicks disappeared in a panic as the nestboxes had a visitor.

A starling flew up to the boxes, inspecting each one very closely, poking its beak in as far as it would go. Then it disappeared out of sight, only to return and repeat the inspections just a few seconds later.

No harm came to the youngsters and it was only a minute or so before they were getting fed again, although there are quite long gaps between deliveries.

At  12.40pm there is only one box occupied, by the chick that has yet to make its first flight. The morning cloud cover has all but gone so perhaps the afternoon brightness may encourage it to take the plunge.

With just a brief interruption there were two youngsters being fed at the boxes from 3.15 onwards. I went outside to watch for a few minutes. I could see the three other members of the family flying over us. It was interesting to note that while two were extremely agile, the third, presumably the fledgling, was flying much more steadily and staying higher than the other two.

 Just before 5pm I thought the right-hand chick was about to fly, but it retreated back in. Feeding continued until around 6.30pm when an adult entered the left-hand box and then moved to the middle one. I watched the video recording up to the 7.10 mark after which it was too dark to make out anything, but didn't see any sign of the remaining two birds returning.

Yet again we have to wait for another day, although the last chick certainly looks as though it is very close to flying at last.

Just to confirm that there is life beyond the Martins, I spent a bit of time (long overdue) doing some pruning and tidying in the back garden late this afternoon, and the aroma of the Ivy had me looking up. Lots of flies and a single wasp (first I've seen here for months!) were visiting the flowers.

I'll be pointing my camera in their direction over the next few days, but I did manage to put down my secateurs long enough to record these Red Admirals, regular visitors to the Ivy.



5 October - The third chick has fledged!  On a dull, overcast day, our reluctant chick is still looking out of its nestbox at 11am!

The early video recording showed no activity at all around the boxes before 8.30am, and there was no sign that the 'missing' birds returned last night. When I went outside to look I could see two heads looking out of the middle box, one adult (on the left) and one juvenile.

However, I could see three House Martins flying quite high above us.


It wasn't until 9.08am that any birds left. Then, an adult and a juvenile left the middle box, and to my surprise a third head appeared at the entrance, although I couldn't decide whether or not it was the third youngster or another adult. This one left some twenty minutes later, leaving the solitary chick in the right hand box.

It peered out of the nest constantly but the video recordings confirm that it received no feeds all morning. I was out in the garden for most of the day and didn't see any sign of House Martins flying over the area, and by the middle of the afternoon I was a little concerned that the chick had still not been fed.

I took this image as a record, just in case the rest of the family had abandoned it.


Then, five minutes later at 2.40pm there was a flurry of activity around the boxes, that lasted for the next ten minutes. This started with the return of a fledgling (accompanied by an adult) to the middle box.

Then the chick had its first feed of the day before launching itself into the air at 2.46pm! (I was in the middle of setting my camera up again when it happened so, later today I shall have to lift an image from the video recording).

Shortly after, with lots of comings and goings by at least one adult, a fledgling returned to the left-hand box.

The two youngsters now in the boxes again received regular feeds for the rest of the afternoon. The bird in the middle box left again around 4.40pm.

By 6.30pm the family was returning to roost and while there was still enough light I saw that there were at least four birds at the boxes, as the bottom image shows.

However, they were still flying in and out right up to 7pm when the cctv image became too dark to make out anything.

We will be watching the Martins again tomorrow.



6 October - A dull, damp start to the day with a touch of drizzle making it a bit awkward to point the camera skywards!

There were four Martins roosting here last night, and this picture shows them at 9am. Prior to that they had all left the boxes for the first time at around 7.40am.

The bird in the left-hand box is definitely an adult, at the right is a juvenile, and the middle box has at least one juvenile (although I haven't had a clear look at the second bird).

Soon after the photograph was taken, all four left for a brief flight of just a couple of minutes, and on their return, one made a momentary, and undignified landing on the guttering above the boxes. Once back in, they didn't appear again until 9.45am when they all flew again.

During the course of the morning they have returned several times. During one stay, this fledgling was fed at the box before heading out once more at 11am.

This shot, taken from almost directly below emphasises the drab colouring of the chin feathers on the youngster.


Something I haven't mentioned before has been the high level of insect activity around the nestboxes that we have been able to see on the cctv images. The insects move relatively slowly, but their activity is especially obvious when I 'fast-forward' the images. It will be interesting to investigate (with suitable protection!) these further once the Martins have finally left .

It's 1pm, and no Martins have returned to the boxes since the fledgling left at 11am.

It seems that I'm not the only one expressing an interest in the insect population of the boxes.

Just after 1pm this Blue Tit turned up to inspect the left-hand box and spent about fifteen minutes there, mostly inside, as it pecked at those insects.

Recently the Blue Tits have been appearing more frequently in the garden and this morning there were at least six here. While I have been photographing the Martins I have watched  BT's pecking at the pebbledash walls of the neighbouring houses as they searched for food. We caught a glimpse of a Magpie doing the same thing yesterday.

Update at 4.45pm - The Martins have not yet left us. At 4.35pm a trio of birds flew into the left-hand box, and although two have left again, there is one peeping out as I write this.

By 5pm all three boxes were occupied, with an adult in the right-hand box.

While that adult stayed put for the next half hour, its partner was busy collecting food for the two fledglings, sharing the sky above us with two other Martins.

Soon after the adult let the box I could count six Martins flying over us, so it seems that 'our' family has met up with three 'strangers'.


As it became dark, from around 6.40pm onwards, there was a lot of coming and going so I can't tell how many ended up roosting here tonight.


7 October - Another overcast morning although it is brighter than yesterday.

The Martins first poked their beaks out of the nests at around 7am but it wasn't until 7.44am before there was a flurry of activity, with three leaving the boxes and returning several times over the next five minutes.

All went quiet again for nearly an hour before three, one adult and two juveniles, left at 8.47am, leaving just this youngster looking out of the left-hand box for the next hour before it too flew off. It looks as though our three youngsters are still on track.

I wonder if I shall see any other Martins overhead today.

In the back garden the Goldfinch family (six birds) was feeding on the niger seeds for quite a long time this morning, and we had an all too brief visit from a Coal Tit.

I must start to spend more time in the back garden now. Last night was the first time for a couple of weeks that I put my macro lens on the camera after I spotted this newly emerged Orange Ladybird on the underside of a Birch leaf.

The leaves on the Birch are now looking quite dull because of mildew growth on their surfaces. This is a favourite food for the Orange ladybirds and their larvae (left of picture) - it is  disappointing to see their numbers down this year.


The only other Ladybirds I have seen in the garden today are these 5-spot Ladybirds. Unlike the active Orange Ladybirds, this pair seem to have found themselves a spot to hibernate in a dead leaf on a Rosebay Willowherb.

I will probably move the leaf into more sheltered accommodation, possibly the unused bumblebee box.


With Autumn progressing around us it is a temptation to get on with jobs such as clearing pond plants. The Ladybirds are one reason why this job has to be done with some care. Another reason comes underfoot in the form of the many tiny frogs (as well as young newts) that enjoy the shelter and food supplies found in the moist areas around the ponds.

to give an idea of scale, the fungus cap measures about 8mm across and it stands about 2cm tall.


One job that does need doing is the pruning of the Stinging Nettles next to the Ivy tree. The nettles have grown enough to overhang the path up to the West Wing but I hadn't cut it back because of the presence of the Comma Butterfly chrysalis which I first reported on 17 August.

Now the chrysalis is obviously empty as there is a hole right through it. Is this a sign that a butterfly emerged, or that it has been predated by something?

Whatever happened, it does mean that I can get the nettles trimmed.


An afternoon Martin update -

Since the last juvenile left at 9.46am the boxes had remained empty until around 3.20pm when a Blue Tit once again turned up to investigate the left-hand box, entering the box almost straight away. About a minute later, as the cctv images show, a House Martin turned up to look into the same nest and was obviously startled by the Blue Tit.

The latter emerged from the box, seemingly unperturbed by the encounter, and carried on inspecting the outside. I haven't seen the Martin return since (it is now 4.40pm).

At 5pm I have just seen two Martins approach the boxes but not go in. One of them seemed to approach the left-hand box with great caution, perching at the entrance to look in briefly before flying off again - perhaps it is the individual that encountered the Blue Tit!

Forty minutes later there was another Blue Tit encounter. At 5.10pm a fledgling Martin had returned to the left-hand box, escorted by an adult, which flew off, coming back a couple of times with food     (pic 1). At 5.40pm the Blue Tit reappeared, this time going to the right-hand box and spending several minutes there (pic3).

Then it moved across to the left-hand box, and despite there being a Martin inside, started to peck at the entrance (pic 4). It wasn't long before a close pass by an adult Martin caused it to fly away from the box. The BT didn't go far, perching on a telephone wire that come to the house just above the boxes. Another close pass by the Martin saw it leave completely.

The adult Martin then flew up to the box to, it seems, check on its offspring (pic 5). Apparently, all was well and soon a Martin was seen entering the right-hand box.

At 6.20pm both Martins left again, and I did not see any other signs of activity at the boxes before the cctv camera gave up at just after 7pm, so I cannot tell whether any birds are roosting here tonight, Again, I shall have to wait until the morning to find out if any returned after dark.


8 October - Dull and dry again this morning, and I think we are supposed to get rain before the end of the day.

Well, it's not quite all over at the Martin boxes. At 7.20am a beak appeared at the entrance to the left-hand box, and shortly afterwards an adult and a juvenile left. There has been no indication of any other Martins being present overnight, so it looks as though the family has split up. We wonder if the youngster could be the one that fledged last, with one parent watching over it? I would be surprised if they were to return tonight.

Martin update at just after 5pm - I've been proved wrong! I was just out in my garden and I spotted a House Martin fly low overhead. I made it to the front of the house in time to see it go into the left-hand box, chirping as it did so. There is no sign of another one, and a check of the video recording for the last hour proved negative as well.


9 October - A bright, sunny morning with fine day ahead of us after the promised rain came yesterday evening.


The House Martin story continues, with just one roosting with us last night - its beak first appeared at around 7.15am.

At 7 35am it had a fleeting visit from a Blue Tit that landed at the entrance just long enough to see the Martin inside and then left in a hurry without going to either of the remaining boxes.




The Martin stayed in the box until 8.16am before it decided to leave -



and this evening it was back again, around 5.45pm. It left again about ten minutes later, but although I didn't see it return again on the video I expect to see it peeping out tomorrow morning.


10 October - A misty autumnal morning, and it was almost a case of business as usual at the left-hand Martin nestbox.


Our remaining Martin first peeped out at around 7.20am but didn't leave for another hour, when it was still very misty.

 Having said that, by 9.15am it was certainly a lot brighter outside, so I guess that the mist layer isn't very thick.



The mist soon dissipated and we had a beautiful and warm day (max 22C). At the end of it there was no sign of the Martin returning. I shall set the video for tomorrow morning, just in case, but it could well be that we have seen the last of the House Martins for this year. I hope that this last bird has a safe trip. Perhaps it will meet up with others, as I have read reports that Martins are still being spotted in the country.

Click on the images to see larger versions -

2005 Garden Diary Index..............Last Month...............October (Part 2)