The Garden Diary 2010

March (part 1)

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2 March - An almost perfect start to the month with two sunny days, although the past two nights have seen temperatures dip below freezing, leaving both ponds ice-bound in the mornings. Most of that ice had melted by lunchtime.

Apart form a couple of better days, the second half of February was disappointing, both weather wise and energy wise for me, hence the lack of diary entries, although I have been continuing the barkfly monitoring. That has been interesting, with no two days the same, and it is set to continue well into March.

Snowdrops next to the big pond, 2 March


The snowdrops have been emerging right through the second half of February, but it has only over these last two days that the sunshine has persuaded the majority of them to open.

Crocuses next to the big pond, 2 March



The final days of February saw the first of the crocuses appearing, but again it has been the sunshine that saw them opening properly for the first time.




Primroses next to the big pond, 2 March


It may have been St David's Day yesterday, but the traditional Daffodils are nowhere to be see as yet. I can see some developing flower buds next to the water butt, but it will be a while before the first blossoms open.

The nearest we have to yellow in the garden at the moment is this single group of primrose flowers which remain open through the night, unlike most of the snowdrops and crocuses.


On the bird front, today has been the first time that I haven't seen Siskins visit the feeders since they arrived in mid-January. I haven't seen the female Blackcap since early last week when I spotted her on the last of the apples hanging in the Rowan.

I put raisins out every day and although they disappear regularly, apart form one exception I haven't been seeing any takers during the day. Either they are eaten by the 'early birds', before I get up, or the local fox is tucking into them during the night. The exception was blackbird 'Scruffy' which appeared one afternoon last week while I was out in the garden.


Blackbird and Thrush, 2 MarchThe Blackbirds seem to be rather quiet at the moment, and while I see an adult perched on top of a conifer every so often, it doesn't seem as yet to be in the mood to sing.

In contrast, I have to say that I cannot remember hearing a Song Thrush singing so often here. Over the last few weeks it could be heard at dawn, during the morning, in the late afternoon and before dusk on different days, and I'm sure that one day I could here a second one 'answering' its call.


Here is a recording of the Thrush calling from the top of a conifer beyond the bottom of my neighbour's garden. The clip is 53 seconds long with a file size of 838KB. To squeeze in as much of the Thrush, I have edited out parts of the gaps between calls. These gaps actually varied in length from 2 to 10 seconds

One advantage of their Birch tree being lopped - if the tree hadn't been reduced I would not have been able to see the Thrush.

The miserable weather, along with my weariness has meant that progress on birdbox preparation has been painfully slow. At the moment the House Martin nestboxes are on my veranda. I took them down to change two of the lenses so that all three internal cameras will have 2.1mm lenses. I've fitted one of the lenses but I decided to try the second one in one of the swift boxes.

The swift box cameras have 2.5mm lenses that only barely cover the full length of the box. I fitted the 2.1mm lens this afternoon, and having confirmed that it improved coverage, I'm now waiting for two more lenses to arrive so that both Swift boxes will have these lenses as well as the Martin boxes. The upper Swift box is being used daily by up to three sparrows so I have to choose to open the box while they are away with the flock!

The forecast is good for the rest of the week. This may give me the opportunity to get on and replace the entrances on the Starling boxes with Swift friendly alternatives so that I can get the boxes back in place before I get on to complete the new swift boxes. It would be useful If I can get those sorted out as well, if the force stays with me!

Apart from an occasional bird looking in through the entrance there have been no visitors to the Great Tit box so far.


3 March - A bright but cloudy day - almost disappointing after the last two days.

First, an apology to anyone who found that the Song Thrush link wasn't working yesterday. I forgot to upload the clip last night (and also the link to this page from the February page). Both links are now in place.

Just a few things to add to yesterday's entry. First, I have neither seen nor heard the Siskins and Song Thrush today. I hope this is not the end of their visits. We were visited by Blackbird 'Scruffy' during the late morning, tempted in by the raisins. Yesterday it seems that I may have missed a visit by a Greater Spotted Woodpecker which was seen here and in an apple tree two gardens away.

The lenses I ordered yesterday afternoon arrived this morning and are now in place. This means that both Swift boxes and all three House Martin nests now have a wide angle lens (2.1mm) which gives a better view in each case.

In the Swift boxes I've also stapled white plastic panels to the inside of the front panel, the roof and the back wall to bounce a bit more light around the box. If all goes well, tomorrow I hope to fit new infra-red LEDs to the Swift boxes. These should also benefit from the presence of the panels.

Something I forgot to mention yesterday was that while I was working on the Swift boxes I found a barkfly in the nest material of the upper box. I haven't had chance to examine it closely as yet, but it does look similar to Lepinotus patruelis, a wingless species that I have come across once in our log store. I've got the insect in a container and I hope to photograph it as soon as I'm able in order to confirm the identification.


5 March -  A sunny day, with me outside for much of it.

It looks as though I will need to get started on the nest box diaries in the near future, as I saw the first visit inside the nestbox by a Great Tit this morning.

CCTV composite image, 5 March


First of all, the day started with a House Sparrow in House Martin box 1 as well as one in the upper Swift box.

Last night (as usual) there were two Sparrows in the Swift box to start with, but one was chased out, and I suspect it was this bird that headed for the Martin nest.


CCTV image of Sparrows in Swift box (upper), 5 March


That Sparrow left the Martin nest at 6.40am, and the other individual left the Swift box at 6.50am. During the rest of the morning there were frequent visits by two Sparrows to the Swift box. Tonight there are two roosting in there and the Martin nests are empty.


CCTV image showing a Great Tit in the nest box, 5 March



At the other end of the garden, a bird looked into the Great Tit box at 7.08am, and an hour later a Great Tit entered the box.


CCTV image showing a Great Tit in the nest box - 2, 5 March



I need to spend some time sorting out this box as the resident spiders have made a real mess of the glass as well as producing a great deal of silk inside the box itself.




I went up and down a ladder too many times today! First to get my attention were the House Martin nests. First, I wanted to adjust the camera angles, and having put in two new lenses I noticed that the lens in nest 1 wasn't as clear as it should have been. My first task was to take that lens out to clean it, only to discover that it was badly scratched. It looks as though I'll need yet another one. The lens has been in place for at least four years and has been attacked numerous times.

Rather than put it back in that nest I've replaced it with one of the new lenses in the Swift boxes (the lower one). This allowed me to complete setting up the Martin boxes, and it will easy to replace the scratched one once a replacement arrives.

The Martin cameras are now ready - all we need now is for the House Martins to return...


Starling nestbox, now with Swift-friendly entrances, 5 March

The other job that I started on this afternoon has been to convert the Starling boxes. Rather than replace the whole front panel I've added two smaller plywood panels. The new openings are 35x65mm, a size recommended for Swifts. I've also installed a small 'canopy' on the inside of the entrance to help discourage Starlings.

If I decide to return it to its original form I'll just have to cover the lower openings again. Tomorrow I'll paint the panels and check the electronics before putting the boxes back up on the wall.

One thing that was quite noticeable in the garden today was the lack of bird song. There was the occasional outburst from the male Robin, and the call of the male Great Tit a few times, but there were only a couple of Goldfinches seen all day, and there was a complete absence of the bubbly conversations of the Siskins -they must have gone. Sheila thinks she heard the Song Thrush really early this morning, but I woke up shortly before 7am and didn't hear it at all during the rest of the morning. However, as I was putting away my tools there were a few unmistakeable calls from the trees in the Brickfields Park, so at least the Thrush is still with us!


6 March - After a cloudy start it turned into another beautiful, sunny day (with a breeze keeping the temperature down to 7C.

Not a lot achieved today after yesterday's activities, although I have now painted the Starling/Swift box. The next stage will be to check the cameras and LEDs before putting the box back on the wall.

As far as the other boxes are concerned it has been a rather quiet day. The two Sparrows roosted in the upper Swift box as usual. They arrive in the box before 5pm and from what I have seen so far, the female tucks herself in well away from the entrance while her partner seems to sleep right over it, so that he can look out at any time. I had expected to see them snuggled up close to each other, as the Starlings do (when not quarrelling!).

The House Martin nests remained unvisited today, as did the Great Tit box.

Yesterday I forgot to mention that Blackbird 'Scruffy' visited again. I didn't see him today, but a well groomed male made several appearances under the Hawthorn. I haven't heard the Song Thrush at all today. A Coal Tit came to the table this morning - the first time I've seen one since early February. I waited with the camera ready for it to return, but it didn't come again.



8 March - The weather continues to be excellent, if a bit chilly. Over the last two days it has been largely cloud free, although in the shade it has still been cold enough for ice to remain on water throughout the day.

A sure way of telling that Spring is on its way is when my eyes start to itch. It started last week and became a really annoying a problem all weekend and again today.

There have been no more visits to the Great Tit box, and the Sparrows have roosted only in the upper Swift box (although there have been several daytime visits to House Martin box 1.

Starling nestbox, now up on the house wall, 5 March


This afternoon I checked the cameras in the Starling (now Swift) boxes. Fortunately, they only needed a wipe of the lenses before I was able to put the boxes back up on the side of the house. This wall faces north, and there are at the western end.

As the original Swift boxes are labelled 'SW upper' and 'SW lower', I will probably call these 'SW right' and 'SW left' in future entries.


I can confirm that the Siskins have stopped visiting. Not only is the garden audibly quieter, but the feeders are also quiet. At the moment there are only a few Goldfinches about so apart from the Sparrow feeder it could be a good few days before the feeders need topping up. And I've not heard the Song Thrush over the last two days.



12 March - Since that last entry the garden has remained very quiet under largely grey skies.

Frogs gathering in the big pond, 12 MarchToday started off the same, but a bit of sunshine around lunchtime brought out the first mass activity by frogs in the big pond.

This was the only picture I took today, from inside the house as each time I walked down the garden the frogs headed underwater! Mind you that wasn't before they greeted anyone going outside with the first chorus of croaks I've heard this year.


The sunshine didn't last, and we had showers during the afternoon, after I used a hosepipe to top up the big pond. A forecast is for good weather over the next few days, with more sunshine, so there are likely to be more chances to start getting decent pictures, once I'm clear of a rotten cold!

There continues to be very little bird activity at the moment, apart from the twittering of the Sparrows and the singing of the Robin. As far as the nestboxes are concerned, I have seen only the Sparrow pair roosting in Swift box (upper), with occasional visits into Swift box (lower) by the male. With daytime temperatures not getting up past around 7C in the shade, they have been in their roost by 4pm and don't leave in the mornings until around 7am. They return frequently throughout the mornings, with their longest absences occurring during the afternoons.


14 March - A day which started sunny with the temperature getting up to 12C during the late morning, but then turned cloudy during the afternoon.

The first frogspawn of the year, 14 March



I have still to make the time to make time to photograph the frogs, but I had to take one picture this afternoon when I spotted our first frogspawn of the year, a full two weeks later than last year.


Blackbird 'Scruffy', 14 March



A confirmation that Blackbird 'Scruffy' is still about, continuing to behave as healthily as ever, despite its appearance, as it arrives to tuck into the raisins.





16 March - A beautiful Spring day, sunny and in the garden this afternoon the temperature was up to at least 16C in the sunshine.

The first daffodil of the year, 16 March




There were several reasons for thinking Spring today. First, several daffodils have finally opened,



The first ladybird (7-spot) of the year, 16 March



and outside the front of the house I saw my first active ladybird of the year, a Seven-spot.

No photographs, but I also caught a brief glimpse of a small, dark coloured butterfly fluttering over the rooftop and a couple of bumblebee queens, one of which investigated our crocuses.




Frogs and frogspawn - 1, 16 March


In the large pond things are beginning to accelerate now. I managed to count around sixty frogs, and they are not yet near the peak of excitement that we expect to see each year - no seething balls of males around a helpless female as yet.

However, the frogspawn count is increasing, with at least ten clumps so far. 


A frog smiles for the camera, 16 March



At last I've managed to spend just a short bit of time with the frogs today between jobs.


A frog rests against frogspawn, 16 March



With no great sense of urgency yet, males will spend a lot of time just resting on the edges of the spawn clumps,


A frog rests against frogspawn and croaks, 16 March


and it's only occasionally that the reason for their presence causes them to puff up their throats and issue a deep, usually rather quiet and hardly croak, before falling silent again. It doesn't give any impression that the individual has any enthusiasm for what is going on!



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