The Garden Diary 2009


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16 December - I was beginning to wonder if I would actually get around to an entry for December. The first half of the month has, like me, been rather disappointing. There was some heavy rain early on, but over the last week it has become colder, and glum, with damp, misty days.

Last night the temperature dropped below freezing soon after dusk. The overnight low on the veranda was -2C and this morning we awoke to a white frost.

A dusting of snow covers the garden - the first snowfall this winter



As the day progressed we had our first snowfall of the winter. As the picture suggests, it was only enough to coat surfaces other than the stepping stones.

By dusk the snow had turned to rain, and at 8pm it's quite wet outside, and the temperature is around +2C.



The garden seems to have remained very quiet so far this month, although I did see a Song Thrush here briefly two days ago - the first one seen in the garden since last February. It looks as though there are also visiting Blackbirds about now. I saw two males chasing each other today.


18 December - Yesterday morning was quite bright and dry, but by the end of the afternoon there were areas of cloud rolling in from the east bringing flurries of snow. Several snow showers fell during the evening.

A thin layer of snow covers the garden - the second snowfall this winter

The temperature dropped a couple of degrees below freezing during the night, and this morning the garden was white once again - a bit thicker this time, but still not enough to completely cover the stepping stones.

Sheila was the first to peep out from behind our bedroom curtains, and when I looked out over her shoulder and saw a Great Spotted Woodpecker male on the tall peanut feeder.

While Sheila kept watch I headed downstairs to get my camera. As is often the case, the woodpecker left. On this occasion it was disturbed by a fox which climbed up onto the caravan shelter from my workshop roof.



An arrow indicates where a fox is sheltering under Rhododendron foliage

Unfortunately, in the couple of minutes I took to return to the bedroom the fox too had more or less disappeared. It hadn't left, but instead had gone under the Rhododendron plant that grows around our neighbour's Birch tree.

I've marked the spot in this picture, and in the large version you may just make out the brown colouring of the fox's coat.


A Fox  shelters under Rhododendron foliage on top of our caravan shelter


I grabbed a quick shot of the fox before it settled down under the foliage, and I decided to set up a tripod and settle down to watch and wait, and wait, and wait!

It was lunchtime before the fox got up and poked its head out for a moment or two before retiring further under for the rest of the day. It was still there when I took the camera away at 4.15pm. By then there was a large arc around the plant where all the snow had melted away.


As I hadn't seen any signs of a fox, and not disturbed one behind the sheds I had assumed that we had lost our resident from a couple of months ago. Perhaps I was wrong.


A Goldfinch on the Hawthorn



The weather conditions meant that the feeders were busy today, with Sparrows and Goldfinches about all the time. Blue Tits were the next most frequent, followed perhaps by Great Tits,


A Starling in winter plumage




although there may have been just as many visits by Starlings (I liked the bold winter markings on this one),


Wood Pigeon on top of the Hawthorn



and Wood Pigeons. There were also numerous Collared Doves about although they seemed to spend much of their time chasing each other.




A Song Thrush on the caravan shelter


Also doing a lot of chasing were the male Blackbirds I mentioned in the previous entry. There was also at least one female Blackbird about today.

In addition to chasing each other, at least one of the Blackbirds was also intent on seeing off the Song Thrush that returned to the garden numerous times during the day. I managed to grab this image just before it was chased away once again.


I didn't get to photograph a Dunnock today, but there was one about, in or under the Hawthorn for much of the day. I saw it at the Sparrows' seed feeder several times.

A Wren on the Hawthorn



I had just one sighting of a Wren around noon when it worked its way up through the Hawthorn and perched momentarily before flying out of the garden.





Finally, two sightings of a rare visitor to the garden. When I first set up the camera this morning a flash of white on a bird that flew up past the bedroom window caught my eye. That, coupled with a long tail had me thinking 'Wagtail'?

The only previous entries for a Pied Wagtail are single sightings in the back garden in November 2004, November 2007, and then 2 January this year when I spotted one on the wall at the front of the house.

A Pied Wagtail makes a rare visit


At just after 1pm I had a much better look when it landed on a wireless antenna wire that runs down our garden. It is indeed a Pied Wagtail - an adult in winter plumage, and the degree of whiteness may indicate that it's a male.




I don't think we are due any snow overnight, but with below freezing temperatures forecast I've topped up the feeders and put bits down on the ground.-


22 December - The weather has remained cold since the previous entry, with temperatures varying between lows several degrees below freezing and highs remaining below 3C.

The fox sunbathes during the morningSaturday (the 19th) was sunny, and just as on the previous day, the fox headed for the caravan shelter.

I set up my camera once more, but fox didn't move all morning until a trailer load of logs arrived in our driveway! I'm afraid that the noise of the gate being opened was too much for the fox and it headed back down off the shelter, probably returning to its hiding place behind the sheds.


While I watched the fox from the bedroom, bird activity involved not just the usual visits to feed, but more territorial (or pecking order!) squabbles. The Sparrows particularly were involved in such activities, with pairs of birds sometimes literally clinging to each other's beaks.

A House Sparrow female collects Buddleia leaves for her nest box
At least one female Sparrow was engaged in a much more peaceful activity. From time to time I watched as a female visited the Buddleia bush to peck off a leaf which she would then take up to one of the nest boxes.

This is behaviour that I've seen during past winters. I understand that in some parts of the world it has been found that Sparrows line their nests with particular leaves that help keep the nests free of parasites. I've seen no suggestion that this happens with our House Sparrows. Perhaps the leaves just provide soft bedding during their winter roosting.


On the 20th there was a distinct lack of sunshine on a largely overcast day, although the temperature remained low. On Monday (21st) the day started dry, but by the afternoon we were getting rain and snow showers, a rather miserable combination. By the evening temperatures had dropped below freezing, leaving the roads treacherous over quite a wide area, especially to the west of us.

Before midnight, the temperature rose back up to above 1C, and it stayed that way until around 8am when it hovered around freezing. Today has been sunny, and the temperature crept up to nearly 3C in the afternoon. Despite the sunshine there was no sign of the fox this morning.

We drove to a garden centre/country market this afternoon. It was situated on the south side of the summit of a small hill. I parked the discovery just over the crest of the hill, on the north side. When I returned to the vehicle the difference between north and south aspects was clear. The ground around the Discovery was like a skating rink, while back on the southern slope it was still wet.

Tonight the temperature in the garden had dipped below -1C  by 9pm.

Click on images to see larger version

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