The Garden Diary 2012


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10 November  -  Despite a long silence mybitoftheplanet is still hanging on!

I won't attempt to catch up these lost months in any detail. Following the record breaking drought in the Spring, followed by the record breaking wet spell in the early summer, July and August were very disappointing. Dull weather certainly had an effect on insect life in the garden, and our solitary bees probably had their poorest breeding season for a long time. Surprisingly, in bright spells I saw more honeybees visiting the plants that were in flower.

I took very few photographs during the summer but I did prepare some for the diary in both July and August and l will add a few more of them to this entry over the next day or so.


We did have some leaf-cutter bees  laying eggs in one of the bee hotel logs - but more about them later, and while the other solitary bees seemed to be having only limited breeding success, their nests provided points of interest (on 11 August) for two species of ichneumon flies that we have seen here in previous years.





And butterflies were only occasional visitors. Having taken advantage of a bright spell one afternoon this comma seemed to have been caught out when the sun was once again obscured by cloud. It remained on our Buddlea plant for several hours, sheltering by an inflorescence of dead flowers (12 August).



The 'allotment' had mixed fortunes, thanks to my lack of energy, but nevertheless the grand-children enjoyed the mange-touts. Now, in November the plot is still waiting for me to get on with the clearing that is needed before I try again in 2013.

As September arrived there was a gradual improvement in the weather, enough for Sheila and I to make the decision to head for Cornwall for the first time this year. We arrived at Pinetrees on the 10th (Monday) and almost immediately met up with one of our sons, Tim who was already down on the Lizard, camping with Emma, his partner . Plans were made to meet up again.

On Tuesday the sea was calm and I couldn't wait to get out on my kayak before we headed down to Lizard Point to have a meal with Tim and Emma.

The next day I headed out on the kayak once more but a call on the radio had me heading back to the beach immediately.

Our daughter-in-law had just received news about the progress of her illness that left Sheila and I agreeing immediately that this was no time to be on holiday. We headed back to Pinetrees, packed the car, went to tell Tim and left for home early the next morning.


Here we are, now well into November, and still a complete family. Long may it remain this way. Grandson, and his mum and dad continue to do things together (a walk by a local canal this morning), and tomorrow we will be having lunch with them.

The garden continues to look very unloved, although the week before last I did get my tall stepladder out and clip most of the top of the Hawthorn, as well as pruning several other shrubs at the house end of the garden. I'm now waiting for the next day on which the force is with me to continue the task.

In the meantime, it has been good to see an increase in bird activity here over the last couple of weeks.

After an almost complete absence of Blackbirds through the summer, there are now at least three males and a female about.



During the last week of October I saw a Greater Spotted Woodpecker (male) feeding at the tall peanut feeder several times. Then, on the last day of the month, at just before 7.30am I saw it again. This time it bypassed the peanuts and instead headed for the bee hotels.

It visited all of them, but concentrated on the log in which the leaf-cutter bees had laid their eggs, robbing all five of the burrows!



Afterwards it moved on to inspect an apple tree stump and the log that I use to chop firewood.

Since then I have seen it in the garden several times, usually at the peanuts, although today it visited one of the bee hotels once more.





I understand that this Autumn there has been a very large influx of birds from the continent. Perhaps this explains the arrival of the Blackbirds, but I suspect that it may also account for the fact that since the end of October we are having frequent visits by Jays, usually two of them but on one occasion I saw three here at the same time (a first for the garden).

The visits start first thing each morning and continue all day, attracted no doubt by the chopped peanuts that I have been scattering below the Hawthorn. If the visits continue I must try to take a photograph from the bedroom window in an attempt to catch the dramatic pattern of white wing bars that show in flight.



The grand-children have really appreciated the level of bird activity, and the Jays have become a special favourite, even with our 18 month old grandson (who stands on a small chair to look out and says 'all gone' when the birds disappear! Whenever he come to visit he has to go out on a spider hunt and knows exactly the spots where he has seen them on previous occasions.


This morning we had a breakfast time visit from a local Grey Squirrel that need to leap to the peanut feeder and then be equally athletic when it was time to leave.

Notice the brilliant colour of the Himalayan Birch at the moment. In contrast, the Rowan has already lost all its foliage, and after the poor summer neither has it any berries.






12 November - A grey day, with some drizzle and horrible lighting for photographs.



Just one bird has found its way into the diary today, a Coal Tit. There has been at least one of these coming to the sunflower kernel feeder quite frequently over the last week, although its visits are brief and it usually stays on the 'wrong side' of the feeder.

I'd like to get a picture that shows clearly the white flash at the back of its head, but this is the closest I've got to doing that so far.




The Blackbirds come to the area under the Hawthorn more frequently now, but they come just one at a time and they leave immediately if they see any movement inside the house. I see that one of the males has a small white spot (feather) on the top of his head which should be a useful identification mark if I can photograph it and the others that come down to feed.

And for the third day on the trot the squirrel turned up for breakfast at the peanut feeder.




13 November - Another grey morning, and a slower start for me - not getting downstairs until after 8am meant that I missed any early morning visits by birds to the garden. By 10am (and with the skies getting brighter) I still have to see any Jays.  I saw three here again yesterday afternoon so I suspect they will appear later.

At 8.20am I'd only just opened the curtains, but not pulled up the slatted blinds when there was a dramatic arrival on the scene in the form of this female Sparrowhawk intent on a breakfast snack.

Some of the resident Sparrows were at their feeder when the hawk surprised them, and although the feeder is barely a foot from the Cotoneaster shrub the slowest Sparrow had no chance.

The Sparrowhawk dropped to the ground and waited as the Sparrow struggled in vain, giving me a chance to get to my camera and take a couple of 'insurance shots' through the half closed blinds. At the top of the picture you can see banding caused by the blinds and their reflections in the double glazing.

I tried to alter the slat openings but although I moved very slowly the hawk saw me and headed off to the bottom of the garden to eat its meal in privacy! I don't recall seeing a ringed Sparrowhawk in the garden before. Unfortunately there didn't appear to be any markings on the ring that were visible from my point of view.




Talking of markings, yesterday afternoon I did get a photograph of the Blackbird with the white feather, albeit with the bird behind the Sparrow feeder's pole.





A follow-up from yesterday -today the Coal Tit didn't make its first appearance until the late morning when there were Goldfinches here. This forced the Coal Tit to come around to the house side of the feeder during its first visit, allowing me to get this picture to show the white stripe on the back of its head.






Now a pair of birds that have long been regular visitors but which normally escape the attentions of my camera by confining their activities to the far end of the garden.

Over the last week the female Chaffinch has become a regular visitor to the area under the Hawthorn, with the male starting to make very cautious visits in just the last couple of days. This morning, while the female spent relatively long periods on the ground and logs, the male made just two visits, each time spend most of his time perched on the lowest branches of the Hawthorn apart from a couple of quick forays to the ground, lasting just seconds each time.




27 November - As with many days already in November today remained deeply overcast from dawn until dusk, with occasional drizzle adding to the gloom.

We continue to have daily visits by the same group of birds that I've already mentioned, although I have not seen the Sparrowhawk since its successful attack on the 13th. Since then I have taken a closer look at the photograph and have realised that I can after all make out some markings on the ring.

On the left of the ring there appear to be two numbers, a 6, which is quite clear, and above it a 3 which is not so clear. To the right of the 6 I think there is a 0 (zero).

I understand that a few months ago a Sparrowhawk was ringed at a site about 6km from here, and I'm hoping to establish if this is that same bird.



This morning, at just after 8.30am I spotted this male Blackcap - the first time I've seen one here this Autumn.

It only stayed for a minute or so and as far as I can tell did not return during the rest of the day.




 In contrast to this, the Jays made repeated visits in the morning and again in the late afternoon.

It's now a month since they first arrived and since then not a day has passed without frequent visits by either one or two of them. There have been three in the garden several time, although it seems that 'three's a crowd', with one being chased away each time!

A pair of Magpies followed the Jays into the garden this afternoon, but they were very wary and didn't venture down to ground level before flying off again.



Amongst our daily visitors, the Coal Tit continues to make frequent appearances. I never see more than one here - am I seeing the same bird every time?

Large images have now been added for this page although I have not yet added image properties/alt text.




23 December - As we approach Christmas Day it is difficult to look forward to it with a happy heart as our wonderful daughter-in-law Georgina finally lost her battle with cancer last Wednesday.

Of course, while we adults struggle to get to grips with this, her little boy makes everyone around him smile whenever he is present. When with us he continues to watch out with great delight for the birds coming to our feeders.

The Jays continue to visit, although not as frequently as in November. This morning I watched one collecting peanuts from the bird table.

 I need to clean the table and some of the feeders. Hopefully I can get this job done in the days between Christmas and the New Year when there may be a bit of a pause in family activity.

I'm afraid that any efforts to sort out the disastrous state of the garden will have to wait for the New Year to have come and gone. I'm considering removing the small pond so that I can concentrate on the main pond in 2013. I haven't received any information about the Sparrowhawk and its ring so that is something else that I'll need to pay some attention to in January.

It is unlikely that I will be writing another entry this week, so may I wish you Happy Season's Greetings.



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