The Garden Diary 2009

January (part 1)

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1 January - New Year's Day

A Happy New Year to you, and to the wildlife that shares your bit of the planet.

For me, there are no New Year's Resolutions (I never seem to keep them!), but just a few hopes for the year -

Better weather at the right times to help the insect population recover from a poor 2008 (for example, please could we have more native ladybirds back here this year!).

Following on from that, for the birds to have a more successful nesting season -

I will be watching the skies in April with my fingers firmly crossed for the return of House Martins.

And finally (for the time being, at least ...), a wish for enough energy to keep up with the garden and its inhabitants as the year progresses!


New Year's Day has started much as 2008 ended, with grey skies. Yesterday the temperature crept up from -1.5C to just under 0C as the afternoon progressed and then remained almost constant all night. At approaching 10am it is 0C outside and the birdbath has just a partial covering of ice. The forecast indicates that we will have to wait until tomorrow to see the first sunshine of 2009! During the morning the temperature started climbing, peaking at around 2.5C this afternoon before before dropping back below 2C this evening.


2 January - A day when some hazy sunshine helped the temperature to rise from a low just above freezing at 8am to peak at just over 4C in the early afternoon. As the clouds recovered the sky the temperature started dropping again, albeit very slowly.

While I have no pictures to go with this entry, it has been a good day for birds in the garden. The 'usuals' are visiting throughout the day  - The House Sparrows, Starlings, Blue, Great and Coal Tits, Robins, Blackbirds, Collared Doves and Wood Pigeons.  I didn't see a Dunnock today, but at least one has been coming here on most days during the Christmas holiday.

In addition, today I have seen a Song Thrush here several times. I thought I heard a Thrush singing in the garden when I woke up early several mornings ago, but I didn't see the bird so couldn't confirm it, however, there was no doubt today!

A small flock of Long-tailed Tits were flying about in the garden while I was at the top of my ladder (working on the Starling boxes). Finally, I can just about claim a Pied Wagtail which I spotted walking along our front garden wall. I haven't seen one of those in the garden for a long time.


3 January - After yesterday's high of 4C the temperature continued dropping through the night, at at 8.20am it is below -3C, and I've just been out to put warm water onto the birdbath.

I may not have seen it yesterday, but there is a Dunnock under the Hawthorn this morning, and both Great Tits are busy feeding as I write this. It looks as though it could be a sunny day - I wonder if they will check out the box later on?

I've hardly mentioned the barkflies at all over the Christmas period and I need to put that right. I have been checking on them but seeing nothing, but last night when I headed the log pile I wondered if the high of 4C during the day would have made a difference, and it did. At just after 10pm, and with the temperature in the log pile at 2C (while the air temperature was down to 0C) there were a dozen or so E. pilipennis adults wandering around on their usual log. I couldn't see any anywhere else on the log pile.

Today there was no sign of the Long-tailed Tits, and I only caught a single glimpse of the Song Thrush, and that was as it was chased out of the garden by a male Blackbird.

Grey Squirrel in the garden


I had hoped to get a picture of the Thrush, but as I waited in vain I did manage to grab this shot of the local Grey Squirrel as it headed for the bird table. I spent some time in the garden trying to bury peanuts that it was taking from the table.

It appears in the garden quite often, but I haven't heard its call from the conifers recently.




4 January - It's getting colder! From yesterday's high of 2C at the end of the end of the afternoon the temperature dropped continuously during the night. At 8am it is -5C outside, even in the log pile - I wonder how the barkflies are coping!

Fortunately, I emptied most of the water out of the birdbath last night to leave room for a fresh supply this morning. With the forecast suggesting that it may not get above 0C today, I'll have to watch out for the water freezing again.

Update at 3.30pm - The promise of brighter conditions dwindled by lunchtime and it has been grey and dull this afternoon, the temperature getting back up over 0C so that ice that started forming on the birdbath has melted again.

Song Thrush in the garden


The Song Thrush has come into the garden numerous times today, usually leaving with the male Blackbird on its tail.

 However, this time morning I did manage to grab a picture from behind the cover of slatted blinds just before the Blackbird arrived.



As an indication of just how dull it is outside this afternoon - the Starlings have settled in to roost some twenty minutes or so earlier than over the previous two days!

Tonight at 9pm the temperature outside is around +1C, although the sensor in the log pile is still registering 0C. After last night's low, I was wondering what effect the below freezing temperatures would have on the barkflies. I have just seen a single E. pilipennis adult moving about slowly on the exposed upper surface of the log, and there are others alive under an adjacent log. If I'm still up in an hour I'll check on them again.


Snow before breakfast5 January - Snow! Well, just a sprinkling of it this morning.

 Overnight the temperature dipped just below freezing, but by 8am it had started rising again, and was already above freezing when the snow fell before breakfast.

It soon disappeared again, and very little could be seen in the garden by noon when the temperature peaked at 2C.

Tracks in the snow



The thin coating of snow was at least down for long enough to record the passage of a cat and probably a Collared Dove across our veranda!



The rest of the day was mixed, with lots of dark, threatening clouds dashing over in a brisk east-north-easterly breeze, and the occasional break in the cloud cover giving us a few all too brief sunny periods.

It was strangely very quiet around our feeders today. The Squirrel was here, along with some birds, but nowhere as many as on recent days.

Last night, with the temperature hovering at just above freezing at 10.30pm I was able to find two E. pilipennis adults visible on the log pile. Tonight, with the temperature in the log pile approaching -2C at 10.30pm I can still see one of them. It has moved just a few millimetres from where I found it last night. It is still alive.


6 January - A bright, cloudless morning. I was listening to the radio in bed at just before 8am and heard the weather forecaster say that Farnborough, just a few miles to the north of us, was the coldest place in England overnight, with a low temperature overnight of -10C. That had me scurrying down the garden in my dressing gown to check the thermometer by the log pile - that agreed with the one just outside the house, giving the temperature in the garden as a more modest -5C!

During the day the temperature got up to 0C, but tonight at 9.15pm it is already -4C at the bottom of the garden, so it looks as tonight will be colder than last night - Brrrrrr...

The birdbath has been half-emptied, the feeders topped up, and there are more raisins soaking ready to put out for the Thrush and the Blackbirds in the morning. There are some already under the Hawthorn, but they will be already have eaten before I make it outside.


9 January - The cold spell continues, although on the 7th the temperature rose from an overnight low of around -5.5C to just under 2C by the end of the afternoon. Then it dropped to 0C by breakfast yesterday before climbing to 3C by 4pm. After that it was down hill, reaching -3.5C by 8am today, and with a touch of freezing fog. Today, despite some hazy sunshine it hasn't got above freezing.

I've been a bit out of touch with the garden this week, apart from ensuring food supplies and water for the birds. It's interesting that while the food in the feeders and on the table are being taken, the fat balls, which usually disappear quickly, are lasting much longer than usual during this cold spell.

Not surprisingly, I don't have any new barkfly sightings to report on. The last two that I mentioned some days ago haven't moved. I'll be checking on them whenever the temperature rises.


10 January - Another very cold day with the temperature not getting above -2C all day, dipping below -4C around breakfast time.

Frost on my neighbour's birch tree


The ponds are completely frozen over, but there isn't much in the way of frost to see in the garden.

The best place to look was actually my neighbour's Birch tree where it overhangs our caravan shelter.


Ice formations ('frost flowers') on bamboo leaves


While I had the step ladder out to take that picture I found some curious ice formations on the top of a Bamboo plant.

I'm not sure how to describe these formations. The leaves are not hairy and yet the ice gives the appearance of having formed along hairs - curious!


Laurie from Maine (where they have had some 26 inches, 66cm of snow so far this winter!) has e-mailed me with an excellent website about snow and ice crystals which suggests that the ice formations on the bamboo are known as 'frost flowers' although it isn't actually frost. It is produced as sap in the plant expands as it nears its freezing point.  The resultant increase in pressure forces it out through the pores on the leaves to form the long stringy lengths of ice that I saw.

The forecast is for the temperature to rise above freezing by the morning so there not be another chance to look at these formations.


11 January - At 8am, and under clear skies, there is still a frost, and just a hint of some snow having fallen, but with the air temperature already at +2C and climbing it looks as though the white stuff will soon disappear this morning.

At approaching 1pm and with it bright and breezy outside, the temperature reached 9C and other than on the ponds, all traces of ice had disappeared from the garden.  In the afternoon the skies turned grey and the temperature fell back a couple of degrees. It is still 7C at 8pm.

Barkflies on logs


The rise in temperature has already started to encourage the barkflies to emerge from the woodwork! I could see a few out on the logs by lunchtime, and at 9pm I counted a couple of dozen, mainly E. pilipennis adults, but other species as well.

I'm afraid I was a bit too weary to spend much time checking on the species tonight, and I only took a few photographs which you can see by clicking on this image.




12 January -  A thoroughly miserable day, with dark grey clouds and drizzle falling all day. The temperature didn't drop below 7C last night and hovered just below 8C all day, although this evening it has actually gone up to 9C.

A Robin bathes in the birdbathNeedless to say, it wasn't a good day for photographs in the garden, but the appearance of a pair of Robins had me grabbing for my camera (the picture taken through slatted blinds), especially as this one bathed while the other bird (its partner?) foraged on the bird table.

While a single robin is a frequent sight in the garden, this is the first time this winter that I've seen two, and they were obviously together as there was no sign of aggression between the pair when they headed back into the Hawthorn.


With the temperature unlikely to drop at all tonight I've put out some hedgehog food - just in case!


13 January - A better day - dry with some bright periods, mostly in the morning as more cloud rolled in later. The temperature peaked at 9C but has dropped after dusk as the skies have cleared.

No pictures today, but I should note that the two Robins have been about the garden all day today, with the male singing loudly from various perches. It seems that he is establishing his territory.

Some of the hedgehog food I put out was eaten during the night. However, I can see no signs of fresh droppings so I can't be sure whether it was a hedgehog that ate it or something else, perhaps a cat. The rest of the food will be left out tonight, but with the clear skies bringing lower temperatures I would hope that no hedgehogs will venture out.


14 January - A colder day, somewhat misty this morning especially, with the temperature dipping almost to 0C at breakfast time and just about reaching 4C during the day.

Male Siskin at feeder


It was a day of doing things indoors, but as I replied to some e-mails this morning I glanced out and saw our first Siskin of the winter at one of the feeders.

I didn't have a chance to photograph it at that time, nor was I able to capture the moment when two males landed on the bird table. Fortunately, this male returned to a feeder just long enough for me to grab a couple of pictures.


Blue Tit at fat feeder


While I had the camera handy I though I should record a bird that seems to be getting few mentions in the diary since the Great Tits became the 'owners' of the nestbox at the bottom of the garden.

Like the fat balls, this feeder ( and a second one close by) has been largely ignored over the last week or so



By this morning all the food in the hedgehog dish had disappeared. Again, there is no sign as to what has been taking it, so tonight I have set up a B/W camera to monitor the veranda. I shall check the recording with interest tomorrow. Last night I looked out of our bedroom window when our garden lights came on at 11.30pm, and saw what may be the culprit, a fox heading out of our neighbour's garden.


15 January - A dreary morning with dampness in the air and a temperature of 6C at 10.30am.

An injured fox feeds at 12.30amLast night's cctv vigil confirmed that the hedgehog food is being eaten by a fox, if nothing else.

This individual triggered the sensor on our garden lighting not long after midnight  as it passed between the ponds.

In the second image you may see that it has an awkward looking posture as it eats - its right-rear leg is injured and it was obviously too painful to put down.

Otherwise, the condition of its fir suggests that it is healthy.


After feeding it left the garden by going under the fence just beyond the Hawthorn, at what looks like a well used spot.

At approaching 4am there was another fox in the garden. While it too triggered the lights, this one stayed in the shades, although I could see that it was able to walk freely. The fact that it left the garden by jumping over the fence confirmed that it wasn't the fox that ate the hedgehog food.

A cat visits at 1.40am


During the entire time of the recording, just this one cat appeared, about half way between fox visits.

It managed to avoid triggering the light sensor, and although it sniffed at the food it did not eat any. It left via the garden gate.

No hedgehogs, mice or rats made appearances in last night's recording.


Hedgehog at feeder (6pm)Well, at just after 6pm I'm watching the the live image from the same camera and I'm seeing a hedgehog limping away from the dish! Just like the fox it has an injured hind leg, although it's the left one this time.

It seems to be quite mobile despite dragging that leg, and has since left the garden via the 'usual' hedgehog route, under the fence just where it meets the veranda. It' had a good feed, and now I need to refill the dish ready for the over-night cctv vigil!


Click on images to see larger versions

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