The Garden Diary 2009

March (part 1)

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A Daffodil for St. David's Day1 March - St. David's Day - A dull, overcast start to the month - At least the daffodils have opened just in time for St. David's Day!

The first couple opened two days ago, but I'm afraid they were enjoyed by the slugs rather than us.

It's very quiet out in the garden this morning, with not much bird song to be heard. However, the Siskins continue to tuck into the Sunflower kernels and the Niger seed, and they were joined briefly by a couple of Greenfinches again.


A frog rests next to spawn


The conditions seem to be affecting the frogs too. There has been no more spawn produced overnight and this morning all is quiet in the pond. There is no sign of mating activity going on. Once spawning begins the frogs tend to react to just about any movement in the water, but this morning they seem to be lacking in interest - perhaps waiting for a new influx of females?


Broken sunshine in the afternoon brought the frogs back into song, but although there was more activity in the shallow end it's not been intense enough to keep the frogs distracted as I approached so there has been no chance to get any group pictures today.

A frog in close-upHowever, I thought I'd 'take the plunge' with the Olympus waterproof camera to see how it would be for getting a few frog-eye views.

Here is a close-up to start with. It looks as though I should be able to get some decent pictures from positions where I couldn't possibly put the Canon cameras. As the picture above shows only too clearly, underwater pictures will not be possible until the frogs have calmed down at the end of spawning.

A pair of frogs at dusk


The forecast suggests that under clear skies the air temperature will drop to around 1C tonight, so I would expect that the frogs' mating instincts may be put on hold.

As darkness falls the pond is already quiet, even with the temperature still over 8C at 6pm, and there are only a couple of frogs paired up in a very 'relaxed way.


While I haven't commented on the overnight recordings recently, I am still looking at what happens on the veranda during the hours of darkness. The night before last we had a hedgehog here just after 10pm, some mouse activity around 1am, a rat passed through soon afterwards and a healthy fox around 4am. Last night it was a mouse that had the place to itself, appearing several times between 1.30-2am. During these last two nights not one cat made an appearance.



2 March - A sunny start after a cold night when the temperature dipped to 2C.

Fresh frogspawn

The temperature got up to nearly 11C in the middle of the afternoon, but frog activity remained low key all day, and there is only one new clump of spawn.

As this picture suggests, much of it was above the water. Although the forecast suggests that we should get some rain tomorrow, as the week goes by the forecast is for night-time temperatures below freezing, so this afternoon I took the decision to top up the water level in the big pond as a precaution.


Bumblebee on Reedmace



While I was having an unsuccessful attempt to get more frog close-ups this bumblebee almost met a premature end when it landed on a Reedmace stem just out of the reach of a leaping frog.

A second bumblebee flew over and it seemed as though the sound spurred this one into taking off again.


Before it does decide to rain, I did bit of work in the garden today to repair a small shelter in front of our metal shed. While I was outside we were visited once more by the male Sparrowhawk which again left without success.

You may have noticed that the website was not available in the late afternoon. This was due to a problem with the Server at my web space provider, and was remedied after a friendly phone call.



3 March - A really dull start to the day with everything damp outside after some light drizzle during a mild night when the temperature didn't drop below 6C. It looks as though we will get heavy rain by the end of the day.

An update at approaching 4pm - The rain has arrived, not too heavy yet, but it has come with quite breezy conditions. The frogs seem to be enjoying the weather. From the house I can see them splashing about in the big pond.




It's been yet another good day for the birds here, with the Siskins continuing to be here for much of the day,




Goldfinch in the Hawthorn


along with the Goldfinches (and a single Greenfinch this morning).

Just before 1pm I was chopping a couple of logs when I had to stop just to watch what was going on. In the area bounded by the Hawthorn, small pond and the veranda there were Siskins, Goldfinches, Sparrows, a couple of Blue Tits and a Great Tit, a pair of Long-tailed Tits, a Robin, a couple of Dunnocks, and a Coal Tit all at the same time - that's pretty crowded for one end of our garden!

Wren (a distant shot!)


And I forgot the Wren. This is a rather poor image I grabbed from the house earlier in the day.

I saw it here four times during the morning, and on each visit it went down to one end of the small pond, in the area amongst the developing Irises just out of the water itself.

This seems to be a favourite hunting place for Wrens when they are in the garden. It's just a bit too far from the house to get decent images with the lenses that I use, especially when it's gloomy.


I'm rarely awake early enough to hear the dawn chorus, but the 'Morning Chorus' more than made up for it today. Standing down by the big pond at around 10am I was treated to the frogs croaking below, and a mixture of at least Sparrows, Siskins, Robin, Great Tit, Collared Dove and Chaffinch singing in the trees around us. In fact, the male Chaffinch was high in the Birch tree. If there was anything noticeable by its absence it was the male Blackbird.

Looking through the recordings from the last two nights, it seems that we didn't have any foxes come to visit. The night before last the only animals to appear were a hedgehog at just after midnight and stayed for about twelve minutes even though the temperature got down to 2C, and a mouse that started making dashes to the hedgehog dish at 1.52am and continued for about ten minutes.

Last night the mouse appeared again (11.20pm this time). Judging by the direction it usually appears from it looks as though the mouse may have set up home in the log store at the side of the veranda. Apart from the mouse we had five visits by cats (at least three involved) -  no hedgehogs, despite it being a mild night with the temperature not getting much below 6C.

An explanation for the fewer visits by foxes came in a conversation I had with a neighbour yesterday. He takes his dog for a walk every day, and over the last week or so he has seen two foxes dead by the side of nearby roads.



4 March - After a cold night (min 2C) it has been  a bright day with a high of 7C.

Frogs in an amplexus scrum


The frogs becoming very noisy active today, but I only saw this one amplexus scrum.

As usual these scrums are one-sided with just one fertile female surrounded by numerous males that want to fertilise the eggs she is ready to produce.



Frogs in an amplexus scrum - 'hands' of the female


As the ball of frogsd rolls about in the water, usually the only sign of the female is a pair of 'hands' reaching out - the front limbs of the males are busy trying to get a hold on the female.



Frogs in an amplexus scrum - female's tongue protrudes from mouth


Usually, the outcome of an event like this is the production of another mass of frogspawn. However, on this occasion that was not the result.

As the rolling continued the head of the female came into view, her pink tongue protruding from an open mouth.


Male frogs continue to join amplexus scrum around possibly dead female


She had not survived the attention of the males and had probably drowned. You can see how her pupils have shrunk to much smaller than normal. Even after her death the male frogs still compete for the 'best' position for amplexus.

I waited until dusk before removing her body from the pond - even then there was still one male holding on to her.

While the death of females in this way is not uncommon I've never read an explanation for it. Could it be a way of ensuring that only the eggs from the strongest females go on to produce young?


A postscript (written a couple of hours later) to what I said above - At just after 8pm I've just been down to the pond and the female's body (?) has vanished. Was she not dead after all? She showed no signs of life when I took her out of the water.

In the pond itself there are several dozen frogs moving about, so I would expect to see more spawn by the morning.

Turning back to the birds, no pictures today, but I suspect that 'our' Collared Dove pair is at least considering nesting near the top of the Ivy tree. One of them spent ages in a hollow in the Ivy foliage, and the pair spent quite some time perched on a birch branch very close to that spot.

During the morning sunshine the Siskins once again entertained us with their chorus from the branches of our and our neighbours' birch trees - fantastic!


5 March - A cold, damp morning with the temperature just 2C at 9.25am, and the Siskins have brought some friends - there are at least twenty five feeding here at present, with most on the ground under the feeders. This is a record number for our garden.

One of my sons, who lives just a few miles north of us tells me that there was snow before dawn, although it had turned to rain by the time I woke up.

Amongst other jobs today, I spent time working with another infra-red triggering sensor that arrived this morning. This one uses fibre-optic leads, providing a very precise trigger beam and a very fast reaction time. This makes it a real possibility that I will be able to set up a camera trap to photograph solitary bees arriving at their burrows in the summer. Unfortunately, linked to the camera via a relay didn't trigger the shutter because the pulse was too brief. I had to hunt in my shed (and my grey matter!) to come up with a bit of electronics to control the time that the shutter connection is closed for. That is now sorted and at another time I will need to tidy up the arrangement ready for use.

I only watched the garden for a short time, but during that period I recorded a couple of things.

A Chaffinch male under the Hawthorn



First, a male Chaffinch visited under the Hawthorn for the first time in ages. These are pretty shaky images, taken under less than bright conditions, but at least they are a record of its visit.

Sparrow eats bit of Marsh Marigold leaf




Secondly, I was fascinated to see several Sparrows attacking the young leaves of a Marsh Marigold plant. They were tearing off small bits and eating them.






6 March - There was a frost first thing, although the temperature didn't drop below zero, and on a sunny day it reached a high of just under 10C.

Today again I spent little time watching the garden, although I did see a male Greenfinch here again. The Siskins are still coming and helping to empty the Sunflower feeder at record speed, but the larger flock that appeared yesterday hasn't been see again -  and they continue to sing loudly in the trees around us.

Collared Doves take an interest in the Ivy treeOn the 4th, I mentioned the behaviour of the Collared Doves. Today they were hanging about the Ivy tree for several hours. For a long time, one stayed perched on a Birch branch while its partner took up its position near the top of the Ivy tree again. It was this bird that was doing the cooing.

There's no sign of a nest (as far as I can tell) but I will be watching for progress in the days to come.


Over the last two nights we have had a fox visiting again. The night before last there was one here at 2.18am and then again at 5.13am, and last night the one visit was at 10.59pm. There were mouse visits both nights, although last night's mouse came from the direction of the gate rather than the log pile. Finally there were two different cat visitors, one each night.



7 March - It has been sunny for much of the day with a high of nearly 12C, although it turned cloudy by the end of the afternoon.

It has been an interesting day, with me playing with a new (well, second-hand actually, and over fifteen years old) 300mm f/2.8 lens that I had the opportunity to buy yesterday and which is going to improve my ability to take photographs in the shady parts of the garden, amongst other things. I have written a bit more about it in the technical section of the diary, but in the meantime, although I'm using it on my Canon cameras, it's a Nikon lens and it has manual focus - the modern Canon auto focus long telephoto lenses are just far too expensive, and their old manual lenses won't fit! Today's pictures were all taken with it, most of them with a 2X converter being used.

Dunnock under the Hawthorn



Starting down under the Hawthorn, the Dunnock has so often been lost in the shade. This morning it was one of my first targets to test the lens and I was pleased to catch it on the move in this shot, something that wouldn't have been possible previously.


Wood Pigeon with ruffed up feathers


The Wood Pigeons have been here quite a bit today, doing their useful job of clearing up spilt seed again, and it was nice to catch this moment when the normally smooth looking plumage  became furrowed in appearance.

After commenting on the Collared Doves yesterday, despite being in the garden frequently today they seemed to stay away from the Ivy tree.


Greenfinch in the Hawthorn



Up in the Hawthorn much of the tree was subject to mottled sunlight and you can see the effect on this Greenfinch that appeared with the Goldfinches and Siskins again.


Siskin male sings in our Birch tree




And the male Siskins continue to sing from the Birch trees.



Male Robin next to Ivy tree



I set myself up down on the West Wing to try the new lens on the female Robin as it headed for the nestbox.

She didn't turn up, but her partner was singing loudly from the top of the Ivy, and when he stopped singing he came down on my side of the tree and perched long enough for me to grab this shot of him.


Squirrel in close-up



Finally, the squirrel visited this morning and I couldn't resist a close-up.



Last night, despite the temperature not dropping below 4C it was very quiet in the garden. A healthy looking fox came to visit at 11.14pm; the 'log pile' mouse visited the dish numerous times between midnight and 2am, and again after 5am; and there was just one cat at 4.23am.


8 March - A bright and breezy morning, with the temperature just above 9C at 11.30am.

Collared Doves on bird table


The Collared Doves may have ignored the Ivy tree yesterday, but they are more than making up today.

First of all, here they are at breakfast time - eating together on the bird table.


Collared Doves in the Ivy Tree


Since then they have spent the rest of the morning together in that same spot in the Ivy.

It faces east and so catches the morning sunshine, so perhaps its just a cosy place to do nothing (other than the occasional preening).



Frog amongst spawnDown in the pond it looks as though spawning is coming to an end, with a decent amount of frogspawn produced, although not as much as we were getting a few years ago (there should be another picture added later).

The spawn provides a wobbling 'water bed' for the frogs to rest on, although if disturbed they will simply burrow through the mass to hid underneath it.


Smooth Newts hunting

A sure sign that there is less vigorous frog activity is seen in the clearing of the water in the shallow areas of the pond - clear enough last night for me to photograph Smooth Newts for the first time this year.

Notice how even the bit of frogspawn in this picture is covered with a film of mud.

Case of Caddis Fly larva



Also spotted was the unmistakeable arrangement of cut leaves that is a caddis fly larval case, swaying in the water as the occupant searches for food.



The bright morning gave way to cloud and rain during the afternoon, but it was fine again by this evening.

Last night's recording was the quietest yet - neither foxes nor cats visited, just the log store mouse over a twenty minute period starting at 11.50pm, and again at 5.30am. Between these times there was rain, and in the hours before dawn it got quite breezy.



9 March - A bright and mainly sunny morning but with a chilly westerly wind. The temperature dipped to 2C before midnight and has reached 7C by 10.30am.

Frogspawn fills the shallow area of the pondAs if to emphasise what I said yesterday about spawning coming to an end, there was not a frog to be seen when I went to take this picture of the spawning area at 10.15am.

It shows the shallow area of the pond that measures around 4ft x 2ft. and it is more or less three quarters full of frogspawn. In the past there hasn't been any space left between the clumps of spawn.


If the previous night's recording was quiet, last night was even more so - just the log-store mouse again, but this time it didn't appear until nearly 5am for just a few sorties to the dish of food.



10 March - Over night the temperature didn't drop below 6C and there was quite a bit of rain, Today it has remained cloudy but has stayed dry (up to 2pm, at least).

Frogs active again in the big pond



From the house I can see that the frogs have become active again,


Frogs in amplexus next to garden shed



and when I nearly trod on this pair by the garden shed it confirmed that my earlier report of spawning over was perhaps premature.



Lesser Celandine and pink Primrose come into flower

As well as the frogspawn in the water, shallow end of the pond has more signs of Spring emerging on its banks.

The first Lesser Celandine flower of the year has emerged, along with two pink Primroses. Compared with the last two years the Celandine is late, flowering on 15 Feb in 2007 and 5 Feb  last year.

On the other hand, this Primrose is about on time, flowering on 6 March 2007 and 15-16 March last year.


Long-tailed Tit with feather (hidden in Hawthorn tree)


It looks as if the Long-tailed Tits are turning their thoughts towards nesting. I spotted this one with a feather in its beak this morning, but wasn't quick enough getting to the camera to photograph it out in the open.

The pair headed North out of the garden.

Late this afternoon I caught a brief glimpse of the pair and and again had a feather in its beak

Click on images to see larger versions

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