Nature's Garden

   by Jenny Steel

Blog Archive

 

January

February

March

April

May

June

July

August

September

October

November

December

Home

 

AUGUST 2016

At this time of year it is usual for my garden to be full of young birds - yesterday I counted 21 juvenile blue tits in just one part of the garden - and it is also normal for my 'mini pond' outside the back door to be in constant use by young birds drinking and bathing.  Early one morning recently a mixed flock of birds visited to take a bath - there were two juvenile Chiff Chaffs and one adult, a juvenile whitethroat, a willow warbler and a blackcap amongst some great tits and blue tits.  Most surprising though was a redstart which spent some time having a bath in the shallow water. I was unsure as to whether this bird was a female or a juvenile.  Photographs were sent to a friend - an expert in bird identification - and he confirmed that I had photographed two birds, one adult female and one juvenile.  Clearly there had been a nest nearby.  Last year a nest was spotted by chance in a lovely old local oak tree but a visit to this tree a few weeks ago revealed nothing. Our small family had nested somewhere else.  A few days later a redstart was again seen in the garden, drinking from the same small pond. It appeared to be a juvenile bird. However this time there was another adult bird with it - a stunning male redstart! This handsome male was feeding on the ground close to the small pond and was only seen once. However the next day a single juvenile was seen again.  Since then there has been no sign of this species; they are no doubt now making their way southwards to north-west Africa to warmer, sunnier weather. Our excellent views of this lovely migrant has prompted us to look more carefully into providing nest boxes for them.  Although common redstart is generally a tree hole nesting species, it will use a nest box.  Here however, any suitable nest boxes are quickly taken up by tits in the spring. Next year we may have to block the hole of a box, only opening it when great tits and blue tits are already settled and breeding, to allow a passing redstart to breed in the garden. That would be a thrill indeed.

 

AUGUST 2015

As someone who used to work in university research, it is deeply ingrained in my nature to observe and record what I see, and also, when necessary, to count things (I once spent six years counting weed seedlings). All for the greater good of course as this meticulous sort of research is the basis for understanding a great deal about our natural world. So counting the different types of wildlife  that visit or live in my garden is second nature to me and that inevitably means that I keep lists. Birds, butterflies, moths and dragonflies in particular are observed and their details logged but the bird list here has been firmly stuck on 79 for quite a while. These are birds that have visited the garden, not simply flown over - that of course is a separate list entirely! Recently though one of my favourite birds became our 80th visitor. Great spotted woodpeckers are very common in my local area and we see several every day - they bring their young along to the feeders as soon as they can fly in summer and I have a soft spot for these youngsters with their little pink caps. But the Green Woodpecker is a different matter. This was a very common bird in my garden back in Oxfordshire and a real favourite of mine, but sadly never seen here in the 10 years of making this garden. The Yaffle, to give it it's old country name, is green and yellow with red on the crown of the head and nape of the neck - a wonderful colour combination. It makes a loud and distinctive 'laughing' noise - think Professor Yaffle in the children's program Bagpuss. It is not inclined to drum on trees with its beak as a great-spotted woodpecker does. The green woodpecker also has very different feeding habits from its largely black and white cousin, feeding mainly on ants, so it is more likely to be seen on the ground, and doesn't visit garden bird feeders. My recent new bird was heard 'laughing' from around the trees here and eventually spotted on the short grass outside my office window. A very worthy number 80!

 

AUGUST 2015

Buddleia is a plant that is well-known for its ability to attract a variety of insects, including butterflies, some moths - especially the wonderful hummingbird hawk-moth - and many types of bee, but it is also excellent for a range of other small invertebrates and many small fly species bringing a whole different dimension to its wildlife value in any garden. In July and August in the garden here we always have a variety of juvenile warblers - generally chiff chaff, willow warbler, whitethroat and blackcap. These young birds feed around the garden in a variety of places, especially in the thick hedges that surround the garden, and also in our apple trees and the densely planted flowering borders where many small insects can be found. Once the Buddleia is well in flower though, this multi-purpose shrub is the most likely place to find the juveniles of our local warblers as the flowers attract such a variety, and quantity, of small flies. These are clearly a very important part of the diet of these young birds and they spend a lot of time flitting about between the branches, picking up the tiny insects that are feeding amongst the flowers. Most shrubs that are recommended for birds in the garden are those with berries, and in the next few months blackbirds and thrushes will increasingly be finding food amongst the rowans, cotoneasters and hawthorns here - the wild cherries have already all been eaten. But we rarely think of our insectivorous birds when planning to plant wildlife friendly shrubs, yet Buddleia has no equal where warblers, spotted flycatchers and tits are concerned. My own preference is for the variety Lochinch which has mid to pale mauve flowers and a sweet honey scent. My shrub is cut back hard every February as it flowers on the new year's growth. This practice ensures that it has plenty of flowers all through the summer, when the larger butterflies including red admiral and painted lady are around, but especially when young warblers are feeding up for their autumn migration.

 

 

 

AUGUST 2014

For almost twenty years I have taken part in the British Trust for Ornithology's Garden BirdWatch programme for both my garden in Oxfordshire and my current garden in Shropshire. As a very keen birder it is one way of doing a bit of birdwatching every day - and the more you look the more you find!  My garden in Oxfordshire had, over 15 years, a total of 57 species from the most common tits and sparrows to the more unusual including stonechat and tufted duck.  Here we are in a rural situation and unusual birds drop in all the time. Ring ouzel, tree pipit, cuckoo, pied flycatcher and tree sparrow have all put in appearances and seeing these less common birds is always a great thrill.  Counting these less common birds for the BirdWatch scheme is easy, but it is far more difficult to keep track of the everyday birds such as blue and great tits. My strategy is to count the blue tits for example and note the maximum number I see at any one time. Counting again the next day may reveal fewer of that species or more - the larger number is recorded. In reality the actual number is a great deal more than you would ever see at one time, but these figures do over time give an indication of changes in numbers of individual species in our gardens which is very valuable data. Recently I have had the opportunity to get a more accurate picture of the robins here. Having seen three adults plus one Juvenile Robin, I was able to record four birds. However I began to photograph the juveniles visiting the feeders on one particular day and the degree of spottiness of their plumage gave me an opportunity to make comparisons and thus identify individuals. I was surprised to see that there were four youngsters in varying stages of spottiness so I can count seven robins here, although there are probably many more. If I were able to identify individuals for other species such as blue tits in a similar way and then scale up my records I might begin to understand why the bird feeders empty so quickly!

 
 

AUGUST 2014

Over the nine years we have lived here the number of species of butterfly we see in the garden has built up fairly quickly to 23. This included all the usual species I would expect to see in a rural garden, with one or two lovely extras including dark green fritillary and white-letter hairstreak.  Others I hoped for including marbled white have sadly not found us yet but I grow their larval food plants and keep my fingers crossed. Recently though we did have a new species. Small and large skipper have appeared over the last few years and apart from distinguishing between these two I never really examine them too carefully.  However a recent photograph taken of a skipper feeding on my lavender bank made me look a little closer.  Essex Skipper is similar to small skipper in almost every way, except that the tips of its antennae are black rather than brown.  This small difference is easily overlooked, plus this butterfly is most common in the south and east of the country. My skipper seemed to be most definitely an Essex and after checking it out with a few butterfly experts, it was pronounced to be just that. A message to the Shropshire county recorder for moths and butterflies revealed that he had been alerted to several in the south of Shropshire this summer. My garden is the perfect place for this little butterfly, having a large wildflower meadow with several of the species of grass on which their caterpillars feed, plus a bank of birds-foot trefoil which here, after spending a sunny afternoon chasing them around,  seems to be one of their favourite nectar plants along with the red and white clovers.  A further search around the garden revealed several adults of this species.  Essex skipper was only identified as a species separate from the small skipper in 1899 as the two are so similar and its increase in range is thought to have come about in part through the planting of motorway embankments with native grasses. This has given the species a network of corridors along which to spread.  It is good to see such a pretty, tiny butterfly extending its range in this way. We can all give it a helping hand by planting native wildflower meadows with native grass species, plus some of its nectar sources too.

AUGUST 2013

Butterflies continue to dominate the garden here and now along with the rest of the country it seems, we have huge numbers of Peacocks on the Buddleia and other plants around the borders and the meadow.  Although it is wonderful to see so many individuals of this large colourful butterfly, I have to say I am missing the equally beautiful Small Tortoiseshell of which I have only seen a handful.  In addition to the butterflies though it has been a good few weeks for moths.  I run a moth trap here when the weather is good (warm, overcast and still nights are the best) and then spend rather too much time identifying them all over the next few days when I have a spare moment!  The results of this activity can be seen here.  Not a huge number of species so far but that is largely as a result of my inexperience as a 'mother' - that is, someone who is interested in moths (as with 'birder'), not a woman with children, although I am that too!  Anyway, moths are beautiful and fascinating insects and I enjoy the identification process even though it is at times frustrating. Help is usually at hand in the form of friends who are far more experienced than I am but there is always a little buzz of excitement when I find a new species here.  It means the garden habitat is improving all the time. The last few trapping sessions have produced several new species including Buff Tip, Rosy Rustic, Dark Marbled Carpet and Orange Swift.  The names themselves are pretty enough but the moths are even prettier.  Their camouflage is often extraordinary and colours can range from bright red and yellow to subtle shades of green.  If you have only ever seen moths as boring brown fluttery things, see if there is a moth-trapping event near you and your eyes will be opened to another beautiful world.

AUGUST 2012

Although I appreciate all the wildlife we see in the garden here, there is the odd creature I would prefer not to have.  Our previous garden in Oxfordshire was invaded by rabbits, and although we had carefully fenced them out, neighbours had not been as thorough and rabbits managed to find their way in.  Only the vegetable garden was safe as a second line of defence was erected.  When we arrived here, although there was not a single Rabbit around at that time, we rabbit-proofed the whole garden with netting to keep them out from the start as we grow vegetables for our own consumption, not for little rabbits however cute they are - and they really are cute as this picture shows.  Recently though our defences have been breached. Baby Bunny has managed to find a way in.  He is certainly sweet to look at and quite confiding so I am not minding him too much, but he will soon grow into a lettuce-munching monster, so he must go.  I am setting a live trap for him, tempting him with carrot tops and other tasty rabbit treats, but no luck so far.  I'm hoping he will soon succumb though, so he can be reunited with his rabbit friends on the outside of the garden. In the past I have been able to catch small rabbits with a blanket - creeping up on them - stretched out blanket in my hands - which can be gently thrown over them. Their natural reaction is to sit very still in this sort of situation so it is then possible to scoop them up gently, still wrapped in the blanket, and deposit them on the other side of the fence with their rabbity friends. I am watching and waiting in anticipation of catching this little one soon.

Copyright Jenny Steel 2017