Wildlife Wednesday – Looking back at January Garden Visitors

Tina from My Gardener Says hosts a monthly meme – Wildlife Wednesday – I am really happy to be joining in for the first time and sharing some of our very welcome visitors.

Starling in decline

Starling in decline and a Red Status bird but a regular January visitor to our garden

We have a wildlife friendly garden where we aim to provide some shelter and a place to forage for almost all creatures. Some like slugs are collected in a bucket and taken to the field behind, where we hope the frogs, toads and voles living in the drainage ditch make the most of them. The long mild autumn and bountiful hedgerows have meant birds have had plenty to eat elsewhere but the late January drop in temperatures have brought more birds back to our feeders.

Hibernating camouflage of Peacock Butterfly

Hibernating camouflage of Peacock Butterfly

An unwitting stowaway came up from the log store into the covered area next to the house on the 4th of January, we had accidentally disturbed a hibernating Peacock Butterfly, I dithered wondering if I should return him or her to the log store and then looking a little ragged it started to open its wings, grabbing my camera I took a couple of photos and then decided it should stay in the new log pile and hopefully continue hibernating near the house.

Peacock Butterfly Jan 4th 2015

Peacock Butterfly Jan 4th 2015

We were surprised to see a large Buff tailed Bumblebee on the Hellebores in mid January, and believe it could have been a Queen briefly coming out of hibernation to gather food. I read they build their nests underground and had worried a week later that the late January colder temperatures would be detrimental but learn they can survive underground up to minus 19c. I wasn’t quick enough to photograph her but this is a link to the very helpful and excellent Bumblebee Conservation Trust website, which explains amongst other things how Bumblebees hibernate in winter. I thoroughly recommended a visit to their website.

January also brought another visitor, I had admired the squirrel deterrent Jessica from Rusty Duck has and foolishly or not wished for a squirrel to visit my garden. Well we have one now, thats a squirrel not the deterrent. The grey squirrels are an exceptionally prolific introduced species from North America that have outrun our native Red Squirrels.

Squirrel on our bird feeder

Squirrel on the peanut feeder

We only have one Squirrel visiting our garden and its not a problem, however the Forestry commission and Defra are between them very sadly planning to introduce a cull which they say is designed to protect Woodlands and native Red Squirrels. This follows on from the failed waste of money debacle of the Badger cull, instigated by the current government. The UK has around five million Greys and an estimated 120,000 and 140,000 Reds, with 75 per cent of them in Scotland.  Understandably Animal charities are strongly objecting to the plans. Hugh Warwick wrote an excellent article in the Guardian at the tail end of last year “Should we cull grey squirrels to save the native red?” he concludes “The biggest threat to the natural world is our lack of understanding – without understanding, without a connection, we simply cannot care deeply enough to make the changes needed to ensure wildlife and humanity can live together.”

January continued in a rollercoaster of temperatures and a just before the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch, temperatures dipped again bringing yet more bird species into our garden. Folk are asked to count bird visitors for just one hour over the weekend of 24th-25th January. To date 199,885 individual bird counts and nearly 6 million birds have been recorded with the RSPB. We recorded 12 species in a really happy relaxing hour of drinking coffee and looking out of the window guilt free. Not all of the regulars showed up in that hour but amongst many others one of the local pheasants appeared.

Male Pheasant

Male Pheasant

We live in a rural area, pheasants are bred nearby for people to shoot. Lately one male with a damaged tail and two females have been regular visitors and they eat up the seed dropped from the feeders. Yesterday I sadly noticed a pile of female pheasant feathers in the landlocked wild field at the bottom of our garden. Most likely a fox.

Thankyou so much if you read to the bottom of my post and if you can help me with this little Blue Tit I would be grateful, apologies for the blurry photo, on January 31st I spotted what looked like a youngster with a partial moult of feathers is that usual or is something else afoot here?


Blue Tit and partial moult

Many thanks to Tina for hosting, please visit her lovely blog My Gardener says to see Tina’s and other Wildlife Wednesday posts. Or join in this month or maybe next month on the first Wednesday.

Happy Wildlife spotting!

49 thoughts on “Wildlife Wednesday – Looking back at January Garden Visitors

  1. What a fabulous post and thanks for joining in!! Gosh, you have so much. I’ve read a little about your red vs. grey squirrel debate and the cull. Goodness. We have similar debates in the US. The more we muck with nature, the more mucked it becomes.
    I love the photos of the pheasant and the the Blue Tit–great photos and beautiful birds, both. and that butterfly–wow! I guess I’m surprised that one would morph from its chrysalis in winter, but you’ve said your temperatures have varied quite a bit.
    I’m off to read about bumbles, but thanks again for joining in!

    • Thanks for hosting Tina, I hope you encourage more folk to join in too, its a great way to think about the relationship in a garden with the wildlife that bring it alive too. (Literally) We had a very late good Autumn, I think that Butterfly hasn’t morphed but is hibernating ready to awaken and lay eggs in the spring, that is if it survives us thinking its a dead leaf. Your line The more we muck…is so true.

  2. I really enjoyed this post Julie. Do you ever see red squirrels at all these days? We fortunately still don’t have the grey ones, but i expect they will arrive one day. I also found some peacock butterflies in our woodpile! There must have been 5 or 6 of them and I felt awful disturbing them. I hope they settled back into a dry corner. You got a lovely shot of one!

    • I have only once seen Red Squirrels in the flesh and that was on Brownsea Island off the coast of Dorset, where there are no Grey squirrels to compete with. There are none at all where we live. The greys are just part of life now and there is a thriving population in our local woods. I do not like the idea of culling or that landowners can choose their own method, including poison which has the potential to get into the food chain of other animal predators. I hope your Butterflies are Ok too, looking like an old leaf is not always an advantage!

  3. What a wonderful array of visitors you are getting! Clearly your spaces are setting out the welcome mat for wildlife. I’ve read about the struggles deciding how to save red squirrels in the UK. It is such a delicate balance we’ve upended with all our importing and exporting of wildlife. Is a squirrel “worth” more or less for being native to a place? It is a thorny issue indeed.

    Love the photos and the thoughtful treatment of a provocative issue. Hope somebody has more information on your moulting bird and thanks for joining Wildlife Wednesday!

    • Every park and woodland has Grey Squirrels over here, they are a part of our fauna now even though not originally native. I really hope we find a way forward that will help both species of Squirrel, without mass culling.

  4. Lovely post Julie; if the grey squirrels need controlling and I suppose they do they should find a contraceptive to keep numbers down, poisoning sounds like the worst case scenario. when I saw red squirrels at Pensthorpe where they have a breeding programme they said that their decline was mainly due to habitat loss – ie us!

    • I did not realise they were some Reds at Pensthorpe, I haven’t visited yet but would like to. Thats an interesting comment from them on habitat loss too, I think you are right, some way of providing contraception would be the most humane.

  5. These are magnificent photos! What a joy to see these creatures. Thanks for speaking out about the cull. Meddling with systems when we don’t really understand the connections tends to lead to disaster. I do think we need to use a little more sophistication.

    • I’ve read that culling can create more problems as the food sources once competed for amongst a group of greys become more available and neighbouring areas of squirrels move in and population goes up even further.

      • That makes sense to me. The greys are fulfilling some function. If it is out of balance now then it will probably get corrected through natural means — if those means are given an opportunity. The thing about systems is that they have multiple connections — interfere with one piece and there will be results all over the place. Some of those results cannot be predicted.

  6. Julie–We don’t have blue tits here, but we had a similar problem last winter with our cardinals. I asked a birding friend and they thought the issue could be mites. Regarding the grey squirrel, we are over run with them here, of course. I’m not sure how much good a cull can do unless it is agressive and countrywide. We’ve had a population explosion of coyotes and local DNR (Dept of Natural Resouces) says it does no good to try to control numbers, as they will repopulate to the level that can be supported by the habitat.

    • Thanks Marian, thats interesting about the mites, we’ve had a real dip in temperatures the last couple of days and without full feathers that little bird probably did not survive. I read the same on Greys and habitat support as you report on Coyotes, that makes a lot of sense.

  7. Can’t answer your question, Julie, but I can say that your post is very interesting, and I’m sorry about the pheasant being eaten by the fox – nature is grand, but cruel at times, I know.
    The peacock butterfly is a new one to me. What an interesting appearance.

  8. Such a difficult problem the grey squirrels. Pests though they are I am not a supporter of culling either. Thanks for the link.. the squirrel spinner is supposed to be a deterrent, sadly I think they enjoy the ride a bit too much! The pheasant shooting is over now for another season, but we have a fox here too so it’s not all good news.

    • Earlier this year I watched a Vixen and 3 cubs sitting on some old compost bags all about 10 feet away, it was a good 30 seconds before they noticed me and then just trotted off. It was thrilling to be so close, but I am glad we do not keep chickens anymore, the order of things is not always pleasant.

    • Possibly, but I do hope not as then there would be one hunting nearby and I do not want to make the feeders a lunch table, we do see Buzzards and Red Kites overhead but never down in the garden. I think that little bird would struggle to survive now in these much colder temperatures.

  9. Your wildlife principals are paying off. I can’t believe you have pheasants appearing! We have a pair of grey squirrels who’ve made their home in our back gardens. They are not in the least bit timid, scurrying around. Fun to watch – potential damage still to be assessed!

    • The Pheasant shooting season runs from Oct 1st to Feb 1st and we are always visited by some Pheasants during that time. The females are really beautiful unlike there gaudy male partners. Squirrels are fun to watch aren’t they!

  10. Lovely post Julie! My only wildlife experience recently was wondering why I still had a fly in my bedroom (dread to think). I can’t help with the blue tit, but read Marian’s mite idea with interest. We are lucky that we only have red squirrels here. I’m in two minds about the culling idea. Our most serious pest here is water voles – mostly that species, but other voles as well – it almost makes me cry when I look for advice in English and see that Britain is protecting them (this is the other side of the culling problem – living on a small island is tricky!). Voles are an agricultural and horticultural disaster in France, and the water variety don’t just live near water sources any more. I’m afraid we finally used poison after losing so many plants. Most of my neighbours have told me that it’s the only thing that works. When you get them killing off entire young orchards its difficult to know what to do – I’ve planted trees in wire baskets as well. The voles still truck along, but they are reduced/discouraged now and our cats do the rest (and I would only use poison again as a very last resort). Again, lovely post.

    • Hi Cathy, we have voles too, both water voles, we live 15 metres from a river plus garden voles. I really sympathise, I’d say they are the creature doing the most damage here. I’ve learnt to jog along with them in the borders but in my veg garden they tunnel through the raised beds, which is very annoying. Like you our cat does take some. The only time poison was used here was by the rat catcher shortly after we moved in and giddy with moving to the country we threw lots of bread out for the ducks only to find a great deal of large rats came to visit. On the upside for the voles they do eat slugs!

  11. Wonderful post, Julie! The Peacock Butterfly is beautiful. With its wings folded it resembles a wood chip. And the starling! It’s interesting that it’s in decline in your area. Is there a specific reason for that? We have quite a large population around here. At times I love these birds, at other times not so much. The pheasant is beautiful, also. As for the squirrel, I hope whatever resolution there is will be a humane one. I’ve heard of contraceptive “baits” being used to help lower the populations of some animals. As for the tit, maybe lice? Or perhaps its rubbing a lot on the perches or nesting/resting areas it chooses?

    • It isn’t fully understood why the Starling is in steep decline over here, numbers have dropped by 80 per cent since 1979, here and across Europe. Its thought loss of habitat and food source and there is current research to pinpoint exactly why. Wildlife friendly farming is moving forward here, but the research is needed to prove the cause before action is taken by landowners. I wonder why the Starling and House Sparrow are much more successful in America than here. I think you are right about the lice, not good though for that bird, its bitterly cold here currently and without feathers it will surely perish.

  12. Very pretty collection of wildlife, I hope your butterfly makes it through. The pheasant is gorgeous.

    Squirrels always go for the feeder first even when we put out decoy food for them. As much a nuisance as they are I can’t imagine just culling them.

    • Me neither Shirley, its been tied into land incentives over here, the Forestry commission would like more woodland planted but landowners are reporting Grey squirrel damage as the reason this does not happen. I am certain there will be a lot of scrutiny as this proceedes.

  13. Lovely post! We have grey squirrels visiting our garden and I’d rather they didn’t. They have caused so much bird feeder damage chewing through metal squirrel-proof feeders and dismantling others and eating all the food. I went out last year to shoo two off the ground feeder which has a cage over it that they were chewing and one of them rushed at me in a very threatening way! I was somewhat taken aback I can tell you!

    • Oh my goodness, Clare! What an event, I had not heard of Squirrels doing that before. I have had a rat jump 3 feet in the air at me, but think it was the rat who was probably more frightened. (I like to think that anyway) There’s a link on my post to the Rusty Duck who has a spinning squirrel deterrent, would that help? We have a ‘mole catcher’ in our village who sets humane traps and often catches squirrels to, maybe that would work and then take them to a wood to release them. Either way I can see how infuriating having them dismantle bird feeders would be.

      • I have a spinning squirrel deterrent on one of my sunflower seed feeders which so far has worked quite well mainly because the squirrels prefer the bird tables and the peanut feeders. I have the spinning deterrent where it is to put the flocks of rooks off. They can empty a three foot long feeder full of sunflower seeds in less than a day! The feeder empties more slowly but the rooks enjoy playing on the spinner so the large batteries run out quite quickly. I can’t win it seems!

      • Oh Clare! I’ve looked on the forum on the RSPB site and there is chap who has constructed a ball cage out of two strong hanging baskets wired together and the feeder is inside that, he reports they are effective. They are hanging on G hooks and presumably from a branch as it must be heavy. Maybe thats an option if you have a couple of old hanging baskets and some ivy twined through might look quite nice…

    • My elderly neighbour always calls the pheasants by her late husbands name, she feels thats him in spirit looking out for us, I can’t look at one now without thinking the same.

  14. Lovely post. The non-natives can be quite a problem to get rid off. I cannot think of a successful programme apart from perhaps the mink in the U.K. The asiatic hornets here are causing problems yet increasing their range year by year. Surely, we are past the stage of leaving poisoned corpses to enter into the food chain? Amelia

  15. What a great post Julie, I really enjoyed it. I wonder why starlings have declined so much. I haven’ t seen any round here for years. I used to have one in the garden that imitated the sound of the telephone.
    I don’ t like the idea of culls for any animal. The badger cull is an awful idea and we are still seeing the cruel effects of myxomatosis. But we are over-run with grey squirrels round here. Maybe contraceptives are the answer. It is always introduced animals which become a pest and upset the delicate balance of wild fauna.

    • The RSPB site reported on the decline of Starlings and say there is no conclusive reason and there is ongoing research, but habitat loss and food source for chicks are noted. We sometimes go up to Wicken Fen and have seen Starling murmarations there, its very exciting to watch, I am not sure how far you are from Wicken, but think you’d really enjoy the reserve too. There are some reed beds in our village where there was once an old fullers earth pit, I suspect thats why we have a few Starlings visit our garden.

    • Hi Jason, we disturbed the Butterfly accidentally, it should still have been hibernating and as for the Bee, I hope it went back to its burrow as its much colder this week. Its not known yet why the Starlings are in decline both here and in Europe, there is on going research though. Thanks for the deterrent link too, I don’t need one, but I know other folk who would be grateful!!

  16. Wow – such great photos! I love the pheasant and the peacock butterfly! I have nothing like that visiting my Texas garden! What I do have are the occasional starlings, which we consider to be invasive to our area. It is interesting how you have so few and want them in your area (where they belong), and they are generally unwelcome here (but I don’t stop them from nibbling on my suet). Thanks so much for sharing!

    • Hi Rebecca, Its odd that we have the same species yet here and in Europe they are in decline, I can’t understand whats different. Close up Starlings have beautiful markings. I am enjoying this meme and seeing what wildlife you have in Texas, especially the variety of birds.

  17. So sorry-I can’t help you with the bird:-( Maybe the answer is simple:-)Interesting about gray squirrel. Locally we had the “black squirrel” introduced to our area from a professor at a local college. He brought them back from a trip. They are now mixed with the grey squirrel. We have some interesting combinations. The black have been growing rapidly. Your red squirrel is lovely:-) I enjoy the reddish ones we have it seems more of their tail is red/ brownish-red.
    Our species are similar but coloring or patters are very different. Same thing with plants. Interesting and educational.
    Your winters are not as cold as ours, I don’t think I would find any bees but when our crocus start emerging through the soil, they do start coming out! Spring is around the corner:-) Even if it just snowed 14 inches last weekend-I have hope!

    • Hi Robbie, 14 inches of snow sounds a lot! We are 50 miles outside of London and like most of the UK we are in zone 8. The winters of 2012 and 2013 were much colder than normal but generally it is milder here. Snowdrops are flowering and Crocus here are just starting to emerge. It does feel hopeful. Hope your Spring is on its way soon too.

  18. We have millions of grey squirrels here but they’re native and have many predators. Many people in the US consider starlings pests since they’re an introduced species but I really like them and saw about 6 of them during my bird count today. Blue tits are such pretty birds. I hope that little guy is ok. 🙂

    • I hope so too Tammy, I watched one of the Starlings here collecting material to build a nest this morning, that was a very welcome sight. From December a new European regulation came into force apparently to address Invasive Alien Species over here, plants and animals hitching a ride with imports and exports make it easier for various unwanted species to spread. I hope whatever measures are taken its done humanely and not as a knee jerk reaction.

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