The Garden Diary 2011


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3 February - A mainly sunny day as the temperature creeps up again after the cold end to January. There have been no frosts on the last three mornings.

In the garden the most notable bird activity today has been provided by the Dunnocks and 'our' Robin, with two Dunnocks spending time chasing each other amongst the branches of the Hawthorn, and in turn being pursued by the Robin.

A Robin searches for food, 1 February

Here, the Robin is checking the ground below the Hawthorn when it took time off singing and chasing to search for food. 

Sometimes, when I go outside I turn over a small area of soil in the area below the feeders. The soil has a good population of active earthworms and the Robin is quick to move in as soon as I return to the veranda.

 The solitary male Siskin continues to visit the feeders a couple of times each day.



First frog of the year, 3 February

Late this afternoon I received an urgent reminder that I have yet to clear the shallow end of the big pond. I spotted a frog in the pond for the first time this year.

This individual has only one eye, something that seems to be the most common injury that I spot amongst the frogs in our ponds.

I must get the pond clearing carried out during the next week or so.




5 February - The current mild, cloudy but dry spell continued today with with quite strong and blustery winds from the south-southwest ensuring a temperature remaining around 12C for much of the day.

The conditions were just right to get out into the garden and get the pond clearing done, so I donned old clothes, wellies and rubber gloves and spent several hours (interrupted by numerous breaks!) hacking at Iris rhizoids and clearing masses of young mint plants that have thrived during the milder spells these last few weeks.

The big pond - shallow end cleared for spawning, 5 FebruaryI should have taken a 'before' picture, but I'm afraid I was too keen to get started, so here is what the shallow end of the pond looked like by the time I stopped in the early afternoon. It looks rather bare now but it won't be long before the duckweed starts spreading from the deep end, and the plants around the edges recover from today's attack on them.

The water this side of the tree stump is just a few inches deep at the most but has always been the favoured area for spawning. This year I have cut back more than usual of the Irises but over the next couple of years they will spread out from the central area once again.



The big pond - overall view, 5 February


And an overall view of the pond.

In the left-background you make just make out the first flowers to open in the garden this year,



Oxlips in flower, 3 February


the Oxlips. These have been in flower for the last three days, making this about the earliest I can recall their flowering here.





The first Primroses start opening, 5 February



While there is no sign of any Cowslips producing flowers as yet, next to the Ivy tree the first Primrose opened today.




The first Snowdrops start opening, 5 February



We have Snowdrops in several places in the garden. Up to now only a few clumps have produced flower heads, and today several of them opened for the first time.

I hope to see quite a few more Snowdrops flowering as the month goes by.



Frog looks out from pond, 5 February


Having seen the first frog of the year two days ago, today the count was up to three, which didn't include that first individual.

Two were mature adults, with both eyes intact in each case. The third frog was a much smaller, perhaps a second year example.



My next major garden task will be to cut back the Irises in the small pond, although that won't be until at least the second half of next week.


Mature and immature frogs in the pond tonight, 5 February

An update at approaching 10pm - I have just checked the big pond and found that there are at least eleven frogs in residence tonight, as well as at least one Smooth Newt.

One of the frogs is a juvenile, perhaps the one that I saw this morning,




and submerged in the murky waters of the shallow end I spotted this pair. It seems that at least one male is anxious to lay claim to a partner rather than just gaze out towards the sides of the pond as the rest of the frogs are doing!

 Sadly, the newt that I spotted reacted to the light of my headlamp and dived under the duckweed before I could photograph it.


The weather conditions are certainly favouring the movement of frogs and newts from their winter quarters to their 'home ponds'. At 10pm it was drizzling, with the temperature still in excess of 10C.




7 February - Another blustery day, especially this morning, and remaining cloudy apart from a brief spell of sunshine earlier this afternoon. Yesterday afternoon there was  a bit of very light drizzle, and this morning while I did a bit of pruning (of the Elders) some bigger rain drops started falling, although that came to nothing and I was able to finish off the job.

By dusk yesterday it felt a bit colder than the recorded 9C, despite the continuing SW winds, and this was reflected in a lack of activity in the pond. I took my grand-daughter on a torchlight frog hunt as darkness fell and we spotted just one, and when I checked at 10pm things were no different. It's noticeable how just a degree or so drop in temperature (aided by the cooling effect of the wind) switches off the frogs enthusiasm! While last night's temperature only dropped to around 8C, the forecast for tonight suggests a dip to 2C.

I'm still waiting for the Fieldfares and Redwings to pay us a visit, and yesterday afternoon I had an encouraging sighting. While I was talking to one of our next door neighbours a large thrush flew overhead, heading south from the Brickfields Country Park. It was silhouetted against the cloud and its flight was slightly undulating, suggesting that it could have been either a Fieldfare or a Mistle Thrush. A little earlier I had heard some unfamiliar calls coming from the Park  - the same bird?


Back here in the garden I've also established that the Robin I see isn't alone. I spotted it with its partner near the Ivy tree yesterday. That is good news - it will be interesting to see if/when the pair decide to start nest building here.

Male Blackbird bathes in pond, 7 FebruaryClearing the pond not only makes room for the spawning of the frogs over the next month or so, but it also gives the Blackbirds more room to bathe!

This afternoon the male took advantage of the open water. It was a pity that we didn't have some brightness in the sky to highlight the water that was being splashed in all direction by him.

Shortly afterwards he was under Hawthorn, feeding on an apple.



Going back to the frogs, the wind has died down completely this afternoon and when I checked the pond at 5pm the air was still. The temperature was around 8C, and once again there was just one frog in sight, in exactly the same spot as last night's individual. At 10pm, and with the temperature down to 6C there were two frogs visible in the pond.



8 February - A very welcome 'blue sky' day which started off with a frost - the bird bath and the small pond were completely frozen over and there was a thin coating of ice over most of the big pond. The ice finally disappeared by lunch time and at 4pm it is 9C outside.

Siskins at feeders, 8 February


This morning also brought what could be described as a 100% increase in the winter visitors to the garden, in the form of a female Siskin that joined the male to feed for a short time.




An infrequent visit by a Starling, 8 February



And there was an all too infrequent visit by a Starling.






One long-over due task that I must get on with very soon is the cleaning out of spiders and setting up of the cameras etc in the Blue/Great Tit box, a job usually done by the end of December.

Blue Tit at bird bath, 8 FebruaryIn addition to those jobs I would also like to get photographs of each of the Blue and Great Tits that visit the garden so that I can have a means of identifying any birds that may decide to use the box this year. So far this year the speed at which they visit the feeders, grab food and leave again has left me with useless images. However, late this afternoon I finally got my first useable pictures of one of the Blue Tits - at least another three to go.

As far as I can tell there are just the two Great Tits to be recorded.





12 February - Since my last entry we have had some rain - yesterday was quite wet after it had been sunny and almost Spring-like the previous day. Today it was largely sunny again, apart from a short, sharp hail shower during the late afternoon.

The temperature has remained above freezing since the frost of the 8th, with overnight temperatures on subsequent nights dropping to 6.8, 8.5, and 9.1C  before last night's low of 9.4C.

I haven't seen the female Siskin again since that last entry, although the male continues to make daily visits. The Goldfinches seemed to be more active today, with up to six coming to the feeders during the morning.

Prior to last night frog counts at around 10pm revealed just two or three individuals. However, last night's slightly milder conditions must have had an effect because I counted thirteen frogs and three newts at 10pm. At breakfast time this morning there was still frog activity that could be seen from the house, and during the day I was able to see at least a couple of frogs every time I checked the pond.

Smooth Newt in the pond tonight, 12 February


After dusk the sky became largely clear and at 8pm the temperature has dropped to 6C. There were just three frogs in sight but I also saw a couple of newts, including this individual which was hunting in the cleared shallow area.





The pond has a permanent population of tiny shore flies that seem to spend most of their time on the floating plants in the pond. They can be seen at just about all times of the year.

Shore-flies on leaf (daytime), 12 FebruaryThis afternoon I found a large group of them congregating on a leaf up away from the water surface, most appearing to favour the shaded side.

Unfortunately, as I tried to get in position to photograph them many reacted to my movement and headed off to the other side of the leaf. Subsequently this picture shows just some of the gathering.



Shore-flies on leaf (after dusk), 12 February


I wondered if the shower we had would have dislodged some of the flies, but when I checked the plant at 8pm I found an even larger gathering, with a second leaf now covered with the flies.







14 February - After a thoroughly wet yesterday, St. Valentine's Day was close to being a perfect Spring day.

First Crocuses in flower, 14 February



The brightness of the sunshine was  reflected in the garden by the opening of the first Crocus flowers,




Goldfinch at sunflower feeder, 14 February


and the flashing of bright yellow whenever a Goldfinch was disturbed while at a feeder.



Male Siskin at Niger seed feeder, 14 February


 While the wing of the Siskin appears to have similar colour patterns to the Goldfinch when closed I've yet to capture the moment the moment of opening to show the much narrower and less bright yellow bar.

Over the last couple of days we have had two male Siskins visiting, with no sign of a female.




Last night (in the rain) the frog count in the big pond was back up in double figures again, with thirteen in sight, plus two newts. Today's sunshine encouraged up to four frogs to appear at any one time, and at lunchtime two of them embarked on the first croaking session that I've heard this year.

The pair were about a foot apart and it seemed as if they were either in competition or conversation! Listen to the recording and you can hear two distinct 'voices', with the most vocal frog producing short croaks, with somewhat deeper and much longer croaks by the other, larger individual  - was this an older frog? To hear the frogs click here (MP3 file - 829KB, 53 seconds)

The Shore-flies that I photographed two days ago are still in residence on the same plant. It's curious - from what I have seen in the past their mating involves a lot of chasing about on the floating duckweed and there is no sign of such behaviour on these leaves. They are just 'parked' close to each other, seemingly moving only when disturbed. I don't think that they have all just emerged from the pupal stage as I have been seeing individuals about right through the winter.



At 7pm I checked the pond, but with the temperature down to 6C under partially clear skies there wasn't a frog to be seen, just one newt.

Caddis fly larva in pond, 14 February

This is a good time to spot the caddis fly larvae that can be seen moving about on the bottom of the cleared area of pond. To be more accurate, it's an opportunity to see neatly cut pieces of decaying leaves moving about, as the larvae cut these and fashion them into a mobile hide!

This one was rather more than 2cm in length and heading towards me! When I have more time on another evening I must take some higher resolution photographs of the variety of hides that they create.



Click on images to see larger version


2011 Garden Diary Index.. ...Last Month........February (part 2)