The Garden Diary 2014

May (part 2) 

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6 May -  Today began with an intermittent electrical problem that disrupted the images from SW(up) and SW(lo). A quick check in our loft established that everything was working up there, so I had to get the ladder out!

Four Swifts here this morning, 6 May 2014Fortunately, before I could move the ladder into place the connection came back together for a while, revealing a single Swift in SW(up)! The problem must have occurred before recording started at 6am, so I couldn't establish when this additional Swift arrived, but it brought the total to four.

Anyway, it meant waiting until the Swift left its box several hours later before I could go up the ladder. As I suspected, the fault lay with a connector outside the boxes so I didn't have to open either of them, and it only took a couple of minutes to renew the link.


Sparrow chick attacked by Swift, 6 May 2014Across in SW(le) the single Swift was still having a problem with one of the Sparrow chicks. However, around 9am it chased the youngster and managed to catch it directly below the camera.

It got hold of the chick by the back of its neck and held on for some time. When it finally let go the chick flopped down, kept absolutely still and I began to wonder if I would need to remove its body from the box.

Soon after the Swift left the box and I could see signs that the chick was still breathing.


Half an hour later it got up and spent time flapping vigorously, before leaving the box around 10am.


During the afternoon SW(ri) was visited numerous times by a pair of Sparrows who seemed to be prospecting for a nest site.....

Greeting between Swifts in SW(ri), 6 May 2014


Just to confuse matters, tonight there are four Swifts here, as two pairs in SW(le) and SW(ri), but SW(up) is empty.

Here is a moment from the greeting when the partners in SW(le) met in the box for the first time this year.




At the moment Evan seems a bit wary of these unfamiliar birds that have just turned up in the boxes. I'm sure that will chance once he sees eggs and watches the adults flying fast and noisily between the houses!

As usual he spent as much time as he could out in the garden today, watching centipedes and millipedes, the occasional ground beetle, and digging for worms. This last task had a special significance after we found a large frog out on the side of the pond. He was absolutely enthralled by the way the frog stalked the worm before grabbing it - in fact it took five worms to satisfy the frog's hunger!

14-spot Ladybird, 6 May 2014



We also came across our second ladybird of the year, a 14-spot Ladybird (with spots joined).

This is a very small species that feeds on Aphids on a large variety of shrubs. This one was on a Marsh Marigold.




A leaf beetle (Gastrophysa polygoni), 6 May 2014



On the same hunt we also found two leaf beetles, Gastrophysa polygoni. one on a Bamboo leaf and the other on a Marsh Marigold leaf.

These small beetles are associated with plants of the genus Polyonum, which includes knotgrass and knotweeds. I don't think we have any plants belonging to this group. It was quite a breezy day so they were probably carried here on the wind.





7 May - A mainly grey day with what feels like a cool wind.

Evan went off the nursery armed with some Swift pictures this morning. He hardly had time to take his jacket off before he was gone to show them to the group.

Sparrows attempt nest building in SW(ri), 7 May 2014


Once the Swifts had left the the boxes for the day, the Sparrow visitors of yesterday became nest builders in SW(le) with straw brought in and numerous shuffles by both birds.

They continued to visit until approaching 6pm,




Swifts bring feathers into SW(le) and SW(ri), 7 May 2014



and then some twenty minutes later two Swifts arrived together, bringing the first feathers to the adjacent boxes.





Five Swifts in residence tonight, 7 May 2014



Tonight we have five Swifts in residence.








8 May - A very blustery day, mainly cloudy, with a damp morning, although very little rain actually fell despite some very threatening skies. As I write this after 7pm there has been just a hint of sunshine in the western sky as the sun drops down close to the horizon.

The Swifts had a very late start to the day (probably wondering why they have returned to such a chilly place!), and by 7.20pm three have returned to the boxes.

Early-nesting Bumblebee that entered our Kitchen last night, 8 May 2014


Last night at around 10pm I went down the garden to lock the shed and as I walked back into the house I was followed very closely by a bumblebee - in fact, an Early-nesting Bumblebee! I caught it and kept it in a jar overnight until I could photograph it this morning.

This individual (a male?) was between 15-17mm long and had a fresh look about it. While a common species in this part of the UK, I rarely catch sight of this type in our garden.




Three pairs of Swifts here tonight, 8 May 2014


Tonight we have three pairs of Swifts in residence, although you may need to look closely to see the second bird in SW(up).

You may notice that on the webcam the two lower images have been swopped around, the way they should have been to start with, with SW(le) on the left!




The dome created by the Sparrows in SW(le) seems to be a problem for the Swifts, so if it is dry tomorrow I may get the ladder out again while the Swifts are safely out of the way so that I can reshape or remove some of the straw.




9 May - A bright, mainly sunny morning but very blustery.

The Swifts in SW(up) this morning, 9 May 2014


First of all a better view of the pair in SW(up) shortly before they left the box this morning.

All being well this means that we will have three Swift families to follow over the next few of months.




In SW(lo) the Sparrows continue to tend to their eggs, which are due to hatch this weekend. Unfortunately, watching the cctv image is a bit like looking at stringy jelly through a fog - the only way I know there is some activity is when it wobbles! At least when the eggs hatch the frequency at which the wobbling occurs will increase and eventually (Swifts permitting) we will hear the chicks.

More Sparrow shuffling in SW(ri), 9 May 2014



In the meantime the other Sparrow pair continues to visit SW(ri) and work on the flooring, seemingly in ignorance of the Swifts' intentions for that box.




SW(le) before and after excess straw removed, 9 May 2014

Following on what I decided last night I went up to SW(le) to remove some of the straw. The cctv image didn't quite show the steep slope created as the Swifts collapsed the dome, and last night's image (left) shows the pair settled into what had been the position of the Sparrows' nest cup.

I have now removed the dome, replacing as many feathers as I could, so that the base is now much more level for the Swifts.



Unfertilized House Sparrow egg from SW(le), 9 May 2014


I wondered if there may have been a dead Sparrow hidden under the straw which would have attracted flies to the box, but there wasn't - the family had managed to

However, there was this unfertilized House Sparrow egg which I retrieved in order to show Evan. It's much more speckled and larger than the Play-Do version I made for Evan, although I blame the size problem on the Paly-Do shrinking as it dried out!

When the time is right to show Evan, I already have a discarded Swift shell, thrown out from the box by one of the Swifts last year.




cctv images from front of house, including fighting Sparrows, 9 May 2014


Finally, for the moment at least, as yet there have been no Swifts approaching the set of boxes at the front of the house. Last year several non-breeding birds took a lot of interest in them so I'm optimistic that at least one may be used this season.

If that does happen I may well juggle round my cctv connections in the loft in order to install a camera into that box (or those boxes) ready for next year.


In the meantime, Sparrows and the occasional Starling have been looking into them without entering. On the other hand, Sparrows often go into the House Martin boxes, and this morning feathers flew as a pair fought for several minutes in HM(3).



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