The Garden Diary 2010

January (part 1)

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2 January - A slightly belated Happy New Year! We had a very pleasant Christmas with most of the family. Our newly married son (Simon) and his wife spent Christmas day in the air as they headed for New Zealand where they will be travelling in a camper van for the next three weeks. A couple of days ago we received a text messages that made me quite jealous - 'went for a walk early this morning and watched the sea lions playing with their pups in the rock pools'! I look forward to seeing the photographs that they will have taken.

A sprinkling of snow this morning, 2 January 2010Back here in Aldershot the new year is starting off on a bright and sunny note. Yesterday was a cloudless day and it looks as though today will be the same.

Mind you, when we looked out for the first time this morning we were surprised to see that there has been a sprinkling of snow during the night.


Bird activity in the garden remains quiet apart from the 'usuals' and the Song Thrush, still chased by the Blackbirds. The Goldfinches continue to feed here, although only two or three at a time.

Fox on top of our caravan shelter again

The fox continues to use the caravan shelter. On New Year's Eve it spent all day up there, despite the fact that the skies were grey for much of the day, but on New Year's Day it didn't appear at all, despite the sunshine. Perhaps the noise of all the fireworks going off lead to a disturbed night for it!

This morning it was in place under the Rhododendron foliage long before they were subjected to the sun's rays, although it left again around 11am.


Much of my day was taken up dealing with a new delivery of logs. Most of them are now stacked in the log store, although the setting sun prevented me from completing the task today.

I'm still in the process of rearranging the website to take into account the departure of 2009 so a few links may not work correctly at the moment.


3 January - Another day of blue skies, although the sunshine failed to tempt the fox out this morning.

No photographs today, but I did complete some essential tasks outside. First, the logs are all stacked. We now have enough supplies to take us through January and much of February, although with the prospect ahead of one of the coldest winters for a long time, I will probably order another load in a couple of weeks in order to build up our reserves.

Once that job was done I turned to one that was long overdue - cleaning out the Great Tit nest box. With the camera switched off I wondered if the Great Tits had been visiting, but multiple layers of old, dusty spider silk confirmed that no bird had been in the box for quite some time. Now that the nest box itself is clean I need to clean and sort out the 'human' side of the box which gains its own veils of silk as the P. phalangioides spiders take over the sheltered space.

Finally, I made a start on measuring and cutting plywood panels ready to make the swift boxes that I've promised my neighbours. I'm going to make double boxes for four houses that have a north-facing wall similar to our house. If the forecast is correct I should be able to complete the rough cutting of the plywood tomorrow.

This evening I've reorganised the diary's left-hand menu bar to include a 2009 button. I think I've changed all the necessary links, but if you find one that has gone astray please let me know.


4 January - Another cloudless day, with the temperature not getting above 0C. At 10.20pm it is now approaching -3C outside. I see that at Farnborough airfield they recorded a low of -6C last night, and -5C at 7pm today! Despite the sunshine there was no sign of the fox this morning.

After yesterday's activities I needed to slow down a bit today. However, with the possibility of snow over the next few days, I completed cutting the plywood for the Swift boxes. While I was outside a pair of Magpies were particularly vocal as they flew about the neighbourhood, taking occasional breaks perched high in the trees of the Brickfields Country Park.


5 January - No clear skies today but still very cold. Last night it dipped to -3C on the veranda, and at 11am it is -1C under clouds that must be several thousand feet up and with just a few small breaks to reveal the blue sky above. There is a weather warning out for us later today that gives a 60% chance of heavy snow, so the veranda log pile has been increased, just in case!

A Redwing in our Himalayan Birch, 5 JanuaryThe duller conditions this morning were not helpful when I spotted a very welcome winter visitor to the garden - a Redwing. I spotted it perched in our birch tree and managed just a few rather grainy pictures before it left again (no time to set up a tripod!).

Since starting the diaries I've only seen a Redwing in the garden in two years, 2004 and 2005, when they visited during the second half of February to feed on Ivy berries. This year's crop of berries isn't ready for eating yet, so I think I'll hang up some apples as an alternative.


That was done this afternoon and afterwards I set about cutting entrance holes in the plywood ready for the swift nest boxes. I've still got to tidy up some edges before I start on the process of assembling them, but it doesn't look as though I'll be doing that for a few days!

A blackbird with white feathers


My woodwork was interrupted by the arrival in the hawthorn of this blackbird - I'm not sure if 'scruffy' is strong enough a description!

We had a very similar individual here last winter -could this be the same bird?




As I cleared up after the woodwork I was dazzled briefly by a bit of late afternoon sunshine as the cloud cover appeared to be breaking up.

Snowing at 6.30pm, 5 JanuaryHowever, that all changed after dusk and when I looked out at 6pm it must have just started snowing. This was the scene outside a half hour later.

It seems that the snowfall could continue right through the night and tomorrow, with up to 30cm of snow possible.




6 January - Well, we may have had just half the suggested snowfall last night, but it is enough to transform this bit of the planet, and at 9am it is still snowing.

Snow at 8am, 6 January



Looking out of the front door,



Snow covered garden at 8.30am, 6 January


and our bedroom window.

A few depth measurements suggest that some 15-16cm of snow have fallen so far. It's quite wet snow as the temperature is hovering just on the positive side of 0C. In the street pictures you can see where it has been slipping off the cars.


The view down our road this morning, 6 January


With the snow continuing to fall all day I couldn't resist heading for the top of our road to look down the hill -sledges not cars today!



The Brickfields Park



Rather than heading back down the hill myself I took a diversion through the Brickfields Park.


Snow caps every branch in Brickfields Park



The lack of any appreciable breeze during the night meant that just about every branch, however thick or thin supported a cap of snow. During the day, an occasional breeze meant that you would be showered by dislodged snow.



Ducks on the pond in Brickfields Park, 6 January


That the temperature has continued to remain around freezing was emphasised by the state of the pond. Perhaps a quarter of the surface was still water, with the rest covered with slushy ice. In this picture you can see the circular marks when the ducks have been able to peck through the ice.


A female Blackcap (out of focus!), 6 January


By the time I made it home I was shattered and couldn't get my camera sorted out quickly enough when I spotted another visitor to the garden - this time a female Blackcap.

This was one of just two 'out of focus' pictures that I managed to grab as it moved quickly through the Buddleia before disappearing again. Watch out over the next few days for another attempt!


A Robin on our bird table, 6 January


I set up a tripod and waited, but it didn't return this afternoon. I hope to have another chance tomorrow. In the meantime, two of our regulars as they visited the bird table.

First, one of at least two robins that frequent the garden at the moment, with one for ever chasing the other one away from the feeders, and singing loudly from the bottom of the garden.


A Blue Tit on our bird table, 6 January



And secondly, one of the Blue Tits that are constantly flitting between the trees, shrubs and feeders in the garden.





The excitement generated by the arrival of the snow yesterday evening I forgot to mention that the apples were put up in the Birch, Rowan and Hawthorn trees. While doing that I took the opportunity to measure the height of the Rowan as 4.7m. Once the snow clears I'll use this to estimate the height of the Birch tree.


7 January - A bright, sunny, but very cold day with a high of just -1C in the shade, after an overnight low of nearly -6C in the garden.

Some of the day was taken up sorting out a problem with our Discovery after the immobiliser decided not to cooperate. It is now behaving again, but it did mean that I didn't spend too long watching the garden. However, I did watch for a while after breakfast and captured a few pictures for today's entry.

A male Blackcap in the Hawthorn, 7 January


First, I had another chance to take a Blackcap photograph, although today's visitor was a male which only appeared in the Hawthorn. There was no sign of the female this morning.

The weather forecast suggests that not only will the cold weather continue into next week, by we may also get more snow on the weekend. These conditions should provide more chances to watch for the Blackcaps as well as other visitors.




'Scruffy' returned again, still looking terrible but behaving perfectly normally for a healthy Blackbird male.

The appearance of white feathers is quite common in Blackbirds. Given that they become more common in older individuals - I wonder how old this male is?



A Dunnock emerges from the snow, 7 January



And finally, one of the Dunnocks that are regular visitors. This one is emerging from the snow-covered Cotoneaster bush to snap up seeds spilled from the sparrow feeder. 






8 January - A day that saw a mixture of cloud moving across from the north-east and bright, sunny spells, especially this afternoon. While some parts of the country had an extremely cold night, in our garden the temperature didn't drop below 3.5C last night. During the day it managed to creep up above freezing for a while, allowing a bit of a thaw. However, as darkness fell it very quickly dropped back down to -1.5C, leaving our front path treacherously icy before I put down some salt.

The forecast now suggests that the likelihood of snow this weekend is somewhat diminished, but it seems that the temperatures will be staying below freezing until some time next week.

The garden this afternoon, 8 January




Even with the slightly less cold conditions this afternoon, there was little change to the snow cover. Here you can see how most of the garden is hidden from the late afternoon sunshine,



Snow on the birch trees, 8 January


But much of the snow remains, even on the trees that are in the sunshine.

We were out for a couple of hours during the day and the snow and the 'Christmas card' trees were great to see - usually, on those rare occasions when it does snow it melts so quickly.


A Song Thrush visitsBack in the garden I saw no sign of the Blackcaps today, and the scruffy Blackbird just once, but the Song Thrush came to feed numerous times during the times I watched during the morning and afternoon.

It's always very wary, and with good cause as several times it failed to get to the raisins when chased off by a Blackbird.

Having said 'it' I must compare the spot patterns on photographs taken during different visits to confirm if one or more Thrushes are visiting.


With no other 'visitors' seen today, here are three of our regulars -

A female House Sparrow perched on the Buddleia, 8 January



First, one of our House Sparrows, a female,  poised to fly across to the sunflower feeder.



A Great Tit perched on the Buddleia, 8 January



Next, one of the Great Tits that I hope will nest here this Spring. Like the Sparrow, it is about to head for the sunflower feeder. It doesn't usually stay in one spot long enough for me to grab a picture!


A Starling feeds head-down




Finally, I don't often get a chance to photograph a Starling from above.....






9 January - With the cold spell showing no sign of easing up, the temperature has ranged from last night's low of -4C to a high of -1C today, despite some bright sunshine. The snow is still on the trees, but this afternoon there was a north-easterly breeze which became stronger as dusk approached. If the forecast is correct this will get much stronger during the night, so some of the 'Christmas Card' scenes are likely to be spoilt by tomorrow morning. Having said that, as it approaches 6pm it is snowing steadily outside........

A Redwing in my neighbour's apple tree, 9 January



There was a Redwing about for a short time again this morning.

I first spotted (and took this photograph of) it in my neighbour's apple tree. It then flew to the Hawthorn but was scared off when a trio of Starlings arrived - no further sightings today.


A female Blackcap in the Hawthorn, 9 January



The female Blackcap also reappeared, this time spending a few minutes feeding on an apple. Again, it was just one short visit.

There was no sign of the male today.



A rather nervous female Blackbird, 9 January


The scruffy male Blackbird was seen just once this morning, but at least two other males came to feed, one completely black and the second with just a couple of flecks of white. As usual the Song Thrush had to run the gauntlet of these birds whenever it came to feed.

Also, for the first time during this cold spell a female Blackbird visited several times.



It's interesting to see how well the different species seem to be faring during this cold weather.

One of our Robin visitors, 9 January



For birds like the Robin (there are at least two coming into the garden at the moment),



One of our Dunnock visitors, 9 January




the Dunnocks,




A Wren hunting around logs under the Hawthorn tree



and the Wren, it almost looks like business as usual.

The Wren didn't seem to be put off by the snow as it poked into crevices in the tree stumps searching for food.

At other times it would be more likely be seen searching amongst the Iris plants at the end of the small pond, but these are snow-covered at the moment.


A Collared Dove fluffs up its feathers to give extra protection against the cold, 9 January




The Collared Doves do not seem to be so happy with the conditions, often fluffing up their feathers against the cold.




A composite picture to compare a Wood Pigeon and Dunnock, 9 January

In contrast, the Wood Pigeons appears as sleek as ever as they 'hoover up' spilt seed.

No, the Dunnock didn't perch on the log next to the pigeon. I decided to merge photographs of the two to compare their sizes. I had hoped that the Wren would oblige by perching in the same spot for me, but I had to make do with the Dunnock which measures 13-14.5cm in length compared with the Wood Pigeon's 38-43cm! I don't know how they would compare on a scales...



A Great Tit with feather damage, 9 JanuaryYesterday I included a picture of a Great Tit. That individual didn't appear as well groomed as I will expect it to be during the nesting season, but that is perhaps because its plumage is fluffed up slightly to increase insulation.

However, this bird appears to be in a somewhat distressed state with feather damage on its head.

I understand that this sort of damage may be done by a parasite that eats the plumage, and occurs in birds that roost in small cavities. The parasites will emerge from their hiding places at night while the birds are all fluffed up.


A House Sparrow suffering from the effects of the cold weather, 9 January



The House Sparrows too must be having a hard time at the moment, as the sad appearance of this male suggests. However, most of the Sparrows that I'm seeing appear to be quite healthy. Perhaps, like the scruffy Blackbird this is an older bird.



A House Sparrow with bedding for a nest box/roost, 9 January


Just before Christmas I photographed a female Sparrow collecting Buddleia leaves for one of the nest boxes. That activity went on this morning too, but in addition to the green leaves other materials were also being taken up to the boxes.

I have yet to see any of the other bird species doing something similar here outside of their nesting season.




You'll notice that in the first Sparrow picture above the feeder is partly empty. That was the main reason for a trip out this afternoon, to get a bag of Budgie seed (mainly millet). AS well as that, we came home with several large bunches of millet seed heads, some of which are now hanging up outside and a large suet block which will go onto the bird table tomorrow morning. We also bought a bag of small animal bedding (100% vegetable material), some of which is now in a mesh container which is hanging under the bird table, sheltered from any fresh snow. It will be interesting to see if the Sparrows 'discover' it.

This evening's snow, which had stopped by around 8pm, has only produced a thin layer of less than a centimetre. The cloud cloud cover remains, and at 9pm it has helped the temperature to creep up just half a degree to -0.5C.

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