watervole: (Default)
 If you read the news, you'll know that bees are in trouble.  Bee species are in decline, not just honeybees, but our many species of bumblebee as well.  Two species have already become extinct in the UK.

Many agricultural crops have their flowers almost entirely pollinated by bees, such as strawberries and raspberries and sunflowers. Some crops are exclusively pollinated by bees – such as broad beans and tomatoes in glasshouses – bees are worth a lot of money to our economy, quite apart from their essential role in pollinating many wild species.

Please take 30 seconds to sign this petition asking the government to take action to reverse the decline in bee numbers.
watervole: (Default)
 Yesterday, Mr and Mrs Blackbird brought their young in the garden. I spent several minutes watching Mr Blackbird trying to educate one of his children. It went roughly like this:
Mr Blackbird hops onto a flagstone and demonstrates how to bash a slug. Youngster watches with mild interest.
Mr Blackbird hops onto a new flagstone. "Look here, son, this is how you do it. You take the slug in your beak; beat it backwards and forwards like this; and then it's ready for you to swallow it."
"Don't know about that, dad. It all looks a bit complicated to me."
Not to be defeated, Mr Blackbird hops on to yet another flagstone. "It really is quite easy, son. Look, I'll demonstrate again. You take the slug in your beak, and you beat it backwards and forwards against the flagstone."
Youngster opens beak pointedly. "Look, dad, wouldn't it be much simpler if you just fed me the slug."
Blackbird hops onto the lawn, ready for yet another lesson.
Youngster follows, still looking hopeful.
Dad gives up, and feeds him the slug.
watervole: (Default)
 Two weeks ago, my gooseberry bush had its tips covered in aphids.  Now, you have to look hard to find any aphids at all.

This is almost certainly due to the sparrows who have been searching the bush for useful food for their chicks.

Baby birds

May. 29th, 2013 06:19 pm
watervole: (Default)
 One of the delights of a wildlife-friendly garden is the baby birds.

This year, we have blue tits in the blue tit box, great tits in the sparrow box (first time it's ever been used - had it nearly a decade and the sparrows never showed any interest).

We also have baby goldfinches and sparrows.  We don't know where they nest, but the parents bring the babies to us for meals.

We have a selection of bird feeders, but it isn't just the feeders that brings them into the garden.  The parent birds can be seen drinking in the pond and hunting through the plants for insects.  Insects are very important for baby birds - seeds and nuts are too big and hard for the first week of life.  Insects are easier for them to digest.

We never use insecticides, and we try to have a variety of wild and non-wild plants.  Some plants like loosestrife, ransoms, primroses, aquilegia and campion are very pretty even though they are wildflowers and are also easy to grow.  However we also have heucheras, and other non-natives.  The basic trick is to have LOTS of plants.  My general philosophy is to stick in anything that I like the look of, and get more of them if they seem to like it.  Geraniums grow well in our garden, so I have several of those.  Bedding plants are something I never bother with.  Too much hassle, and the slugs tend to go for them.  Grow things that slugs don't like - there are loads of options!
A hedge or tree is also a big plus.  Birds like somewhere to perch where it's harder for cats to get them.

Right now, the baby goldfinches are sitting on the washing line and the baby sparrows are in the mulberry tree.

The basic tactic if you are a baby bird is roughly this:

Crouch down (message -I'm only little, I need feeding)

Flutter wings like mad to get parent's attention.  I wonder if wing flashes evolved for this purpose?  (Message - "I'm over here, daddy.  Look at me!  I'm very fit and healthy, but I need feeding.")

Tweet loudly (message - "I'm starving, Daddy.  Forget the other guy.  I'm hungrier than he is")

In short, "Feed me!"

they're incredibly cute, and very amusing.
watervole: (Default)
2011 (in spite of many other defining features) will almost certainly go down in family memory as the 'year of the goldfinch'.

If you look in bird books, you will discover that goldfinches rarely visit garden feeders, but can occasionally be tempted by niger seed feeders.

In the 30 years we've lived here, this has always been true - except that we couldn't even tempt them with niger seed.

This year is different.

Whether it is an evolutionary genetic change or simply learned behaviour, I don't know, but this year the goldfinches have started eating sunflower seeds.  And they've brought along the kids. And goldfinches have more than one clutch a year.

Suddenly, our garden is filled by a small flock of goldfinches! 

They're delightful little birds, red faces on the adults and vibrant yellow wing flashes on all ages. I can see the newly-fledged babies sitting on the washing line, flapping their wings like mad to display the gold flashes to dad to encourage him to come and feed them. (It's likely to be dad - the female often sits on the next clutch of eggs while dad goes off to feed the first brood.)

We've even got more sparrows than I've seen in many years.  Twenty or so used to be fairly normal for us, but in recent years we've rarely seen more than five or six.  This week, there's a flock of around a dozen paying regular visits.

We're having to refill our two large seed feeders every couple of days now, but we don't mind a bit!  (one of sunflower seeds and one mixed seed.  The goldfinches just use sunflower seed, the sparrows like both)


Jun. 5th, 2010 12:03 pm
watervole: (water vole)
We saw our first ever linnet in the garden today. We had to look it up to find out what it was, but it was very obliging and stayed on the feeder for several minutes.

watervole: (Default)
I found this to be absolutely amazing. Being a natural sceptic, I checked with Snopes.com  (the use of perspective on the legs suggested human input) It isn't a fake (which is what I first wondered), though the elephants are trained. But even so, what age would a human need to be (even with training) to be able to draw that well? What does this say about the intelligent of elephants? PS. Can anyone tell me how to embed the clip in my journal?
watervole: (water vole)
I'm afraid I haven't posted about the robins in the last few days as it's bad news.

The parents (after a few abortive checks) didn't return to the nest in the ivy, from which I conclude that the cat did indeed kill the babies.  One of the parents has a tuft of feathers sticking out of his/her back, which rather suggests that the cat came close to getting one of the parents as well.  (I wonder which of our neighbours owns a small dark tabby, and if they have any idea of what their cat is doing when its out of their sight...)

It was the first time we'd ever had robins nesting in the garden, so to lose them in this way is really upsetting.

However, there is better news on another front.

I may have mentioned that we had blackbirds nesting in the (very prickly) hedge, among the climbing rose.  We had been concerned about them for the last couple of days, as Mr and Mrs B had started building a new nest in the wisteria over the lounge window.  However, this morning, they brought the babies to visit.  Two young blackbirds, who presumably fledged yesterday or this morning.  The parents must started work on nest number two as soon as the babies were ready to leave the first nest.  (they don't reuse the same nest as that increases the risk from parasites)

Blackbirds like to use some mud in the construction of their nests.  We discovered this the amusing way...  Richard was given some watercress seed by his mother and duly planted it in a container that we keep very wet.  Yesterday,  Mr B was rooting madly in it.  Was it worms he was after?  No.  He filled his beak with a large ball of mud and flew up to the wisteria.  We debated moving the tub so that he wouldn't destroy any potential seedlings, but it wasn't a very long debate.  (about half a second)  Baby blackbirds won out over potential watercress.

This will be the first time we've ever had two blackbird nests in one year.

So, if you want baby birds in your garden, here are my current tips:

1.  Prickly hedge.  Pyracantha, hawthorn, blackthorn, anything really as long as it discourages cats.  Cut it back so that it stays bushy and not too straggly.  Climbing roses grow well through hedges like this.  (pruning tips to get amazing loads of flowers on your climbing rose are available on request)

2.  Lots of plants.  Lots and lots of plants.  British natives are probably best, but everything that grows is an asset.

3.  A bit of bare, dry soil. Sparrow in particular love a good dust bath.  The space under my rosemary is popular at present.

4.  A bit of soil with dead leaves, twiggy bits, etc.  Just like the soil under my raspberries, which is free of plants because I weed it, but covered in interesting twiggy, leafy, bitty compost that I mulch it with every year.  Blackbirds and dunnocks just love rooting around for insects.

5.  Climbing plants.  On every possible surface.  We get birds nesting in both the ivy and the wisteria.  There isn't a gardener in the world who can't grow ivy!

6.  A pond.  Not always possible, but birds bath in it, drink it, catch insects that live in it and seem to flock to the plants that grow in it.  (there's not much point in a pond unless you have plants in it)

7.  A bird bath.  The little birds use the bath, the big ones use the shallow part of the pond.

8.  Nest boxes.  Good for blue tits and great tits.  Unlikely to be useful for any other species.
watervole: (water vole)
I now know what a robin alarm call sounds like...

Two robins in the mulberry tree making an awful lot of one short repeated note.

Wondered what it was, then looked by the point in the ivy where we think their nest is.


Went and chased off the cat.  Alarm calls instantly ceased.

I do hope the babies are okay.  The cat wouldn't be sniffing around there if the eggs hadn't hatched.

(We can hear the baby blackbirds in the hedge where the roses are, but that's harder for a cat to get to)

Richard's loaded the supersoaker by the back door.

I've been watching around ten minutes now (and chased the cat off once more).  The parents are clearly nervous about approaching the nest again.  They keep flying to the ivy and then backing off again.  I can see one now, with a beak full of food, but he's waiting in the mulberry.

I think I'll go and wash the dishes.  That will put me in a position where I can watch the garden for half an hour and hear any alarm calls, while still getting some useful work done.

PS.  If you have a cat, and can face keeping it indoors for a month, this really is the time of year when baby birds are at their most vulnerable.  I'll bet whoever owns this tabby has no idea that it's out hunting baby robins.
watervole: (water vole)
We've got babies - take a look here.

It's the first time I've ever actually seen a baby bird leave the nest.  Yesterday, I was amusing myself by watching dad (or possibly mum) great tit feed the babies.  I look out of the bedroom window at the nest box, watch parent depart over the roof of the house, sprint through to back bedroom, watch parent come down on the other side of the roof and visit the seed feeder, nip back to front bedroom and watch small head stuck out of nest box to await returning parent with food.  Repeat.

Today, they've ventured out into the big open world - along with every other baby in the neighbourhood.  We've never had goldfinch chicks visit the garden before, but there they were, along with our annual sparrow family.  We don't know where the sparrows nest, but once they have the youngsters out of the nest, they generally move into our hedge and take up the arduous commute of one metre to the seed feeder for most of the year.


May. 18th, 2008 05:31 pm
watervole: (water vole)
Robins are truly gardener's bird.  There's one in our back garden at present who is remarkably tame.   He'll come within a foot of me if I don't move too abruptly.  He's been having a field day today - I've been digging out some old hellibores to makes space for another gooseberry bush this autumn and this, of course, results in lots of freshly dug soil with the resulting crop of tasty insects for him.

I've been watching him when he cleans his feathers.  He really is just a fluff ball of (mostly white when you get to the underneath ones) of feathers, balanced on fuse wire legs.  Lots of personality - robins always seem to be great characters.  He watches me with that bright little black eye of his and I always get the feeling that he knows what I'm thinking.

I feel I should introduce you to Judith's theory of robins.  You will have noticed, if you are a gardener, that robins always act as though they know you.  Well, of course, they do.  All robins are actually the same robin.  It is a basic fact of robins that you never see more than one.  Thus, it follows that the robin that acts so familiar down our allotment does so because he is in fact the same robin that lives in my garden.  When you go for a country walk, it is clear that every time you think you encounter a new robin, it is in fact the same one just following you along.  Every gardener/walker has their own person quantum robin.

This explains everything, including why it is impossible to tell male and female robins apart.  There is actually only one bird per nest, reproducing by some unique variation of parthenogenisis.  And if you wonder how the robin manages to impregnate itself, well, the males have always been nicknamed 'cock robin'!
watervole: (water vole)
Taken a brief break from gardening as the baby great tits were getting very noisy.  I don't think the parents like approaching the nest when we're working.  So, the babies get a food break and we get a tea break.  (The parents were there with a beak full within seconds of us going indoors)

How do you get birds to nest in your garden?

1.  Nest boxes. Particularly loved by blue tits and great tits.  They work especially well for blue tits if there is an oak tree within a hundred metres.  Also, having a shrub somewhere close to the nest box may be an advantage - the parents often like somewhere to perch where they can take a quick look around to be sure it's safe to approach the nest.

2.  Ivy.  Thick ivy growing against a fence or wall.  We definitely have a pair of robins, and possibly a pair of dunnocks as well, nesting in our ivy this year.

3.  Hedges.  Prickly is best.  We have a pair of blackbirds nesting in the hedge this year.

4.  Pond.  A reliable supply of water for drinking, a shallow area for bathing, and lots of plants to support things like dragonfly larvae that make such a tasty snack for young birds when they emerge.

5.  Plants of every kind and no insecticides.  Baby birds need soft food - they can't eat seeds, nuts, etc until they are several days old.  They need insects, and that means plants.  British native plants are probably best from an overall wildlife perspective, but all plants are beneficial to some extent.

6.  Undergrowth and leaf litter.  Our dunnocks and blackbirds just love rummaging through old leaves and bits of compost that I've spread around the raspberries and under the hedge.  Yet more insect food for them (and excellent mulch for the plants)

You don't need a big garden (ours is fairly small), you just need to have lots of living things in it.  Hedges beat fences hollow - and they don't blow down in storms either.  Life attracts more life.
watervole: (Default)
There are some very strange, and very beautiful, life forms out there.  Take a look at the Pompeii worm
watervole: (Harriet Jones)
All Japanese Knotweed plants in the UK are in fact the same plant.  They are all clones of a single female and the plant spreads solely by bits of rhizome being moved from one place to another.  It can be distributed by people trying to remove it as they distribute bits by digging them up (fly tipping is a real problem).  Floods can transport broken-off pieces downstream.

It is extraordinarily invasive and has no natural enemies outside of Japan.

I still recall listening to Gardener's Question Time on one occasion when a listener asked for advice on removing Japanese Knotweed.  One suggested napalm, another sighed in resignation and said, "Move house".

Why don't we have tighter laws on plant/animal imports and sales?  The economic damage from Japanse Knotweed alone is staggering (it can push through tarmac, damage foundations, etc) and many other species are equally bad.

When I go for a walk, I can easily spot plant species that have escaped from gardens.  Some, especially European ones, do little harm, but others (like European plants introduced to America and Australia) get everywhere.  The purple loosestrife that is harmless in my garden is a major problem in North America.
watervole: (Save the Earth)
An interesting programme today on Radio 4 on the food programme on sustainable fishing.  I'd you'd like to know more about sustainable fisheries in the UK and what the MSC label means, then have a listen.


Aug. 8th, 2006 04:59 pm
watervole: (water vole)
WE were originally planning to walk part of the Dorset Coastal path with [livejournal.com profile] dougs, but his car took sick and died, so we decided to save the coastal path for another day and went to Stonehill Down and Kilwood Copse instead.

The view is wonderful from the top of the down and there were a number of butterflies as well.

Kilwood Copse is one of the Dorset Wildlife Trusts more recent aquisitions (we donated £200 towards the purchase), so we definitely wanted to see it. It's an interesting area of coppice woodland close to Stonehill Down (reserves close together make good conservation sense) and the Trust have started work on it already. It looks as though one of the immediate tasks will be clearing rubbish as old fridges and the like have been dumped there in the past. It'll be nice when there's some proper footpaths too - but it's still a lovely area with dappled sunlight coming through the trees and ferns and moss on old fallen trees.
watervole: (water vole)
The Great Tits fledged, though we didn't actually see them go. (We wouldn't have allowed Henry to start painting the front of the house if they hadn't gone)

Now, there are blackbirds building a nest in the wisteria under his bedroom window.

We've never had so many birds raising young in our garden before! (and I have a suspicion that there may have been some dunnocks in the ivy at the back, but I'm not certain of that one)
watervole: (Default)
I've just spent ten minutes watching a rather lovely female pheasant. In 25 years of living here, I've never seen one in our garden before. She seems to like the lawn close to the hedge and she's doing a very good job of eating up some of the birdseed that gets knocked to the ground by the sparrow from the feeder.

She looks a bit like this (not my photo) http://community.webshots.com/photo/102728157/120073738nhEoPI

I hope she comes back again.


Oct. 4th, 2005 01:49 pm
watervole: (Dragonfly)
Cut back the hedge a little bit more (It didn't get trimmed enough last year, so it's got a bit too big and needs cutting back much harder this year). If I didn't have roses growing through it, I could just tackle it with a hedge trimmer. I'm doing it with secateurs, which is slow, but I'm in no great hurry and why complain when it's a sunny day and there's an emperor dragonfly over the pond, a robin is singing in the laurel and my hawkmoth caterpiller has moved to a much safer spot on an evening primrose.

I've transplanted a bit of orange hawkweed that Molly gave me into the front garden. It's been growing quite well round the back and it has pretty flowers. Let's see if it will grow in a less sunny spot near the front door. Apparantly orange hawkweed is a noxious weed in America - one of the many bad deeds to go over the Atlantic. It's quite well behaved over here, but then evening primrose is a native of America and is a noxious weed in my garden (seeds like wildfire and roots everywhere).

I only wish my hawkmoth caterpillar was actually eating the plant, but I think he's just resting there. Plants without their natural predators are a pain.

(e-mail backlog down to 50. I'm still gaining ground. The further I get, the harder the remaining ones are to reply to as they're the ones that have been put off because they require more work...)
watervole: (Default)
While gardening this afternoon, I came across two large and torpid caterpillars on the lip of the compost bin. As they look like something the cat left on the lawn, only with false eyes at one end, I rather assume they're hawk moth caterpillars of some kind.

I assume they're just about to turn into chrysallises, if not part of the way already. (One of them has anchored itself quite firmly to the bin.

Now, I'd leave them there to spend the winter (it's obviously a warm cosy spot with the heat from the rotting compose) but it simply isn't safe for them. I'm regularly adding more weeds and hedge clippings and putting the lid back on risks squashing them (I'm amazed I didn't kill them in the process of removing the lid in the first place).

What should I do with them? What is the ideal overwintering place for a caterpillar?


watervole: (Default)
Judith Proctor


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