Wildlife Wednesday – Early Winter preparations

Over the last month high winds have brought down an ivy clad tree in our lane and many of the standing perennials I leave for sheltering invertebrates and foraging birds were blown to the ground. Temperatures have been slowly dropping and the first frost left its sparkling mark. We have put high energy, fat and suet up, to help birds maintain their body temperatures especially on cold nights.

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Blue Tit (Cyanistes caeruleus) on fat filled Coconut feeder

The Strong adult bills cope with seeds, sunflower hearts and peanuts but come springtime and early summer their chicks need caterpillars and up to 100 caterpillars a day, so for a brood of 10, thats 1,000 per day, collected from trees and shrubs. A very good reason to plant more trees, shrubs and a native hedge.

Blue Tit

Blue Tit

To the right of our east facing dining room window we have a veteran climbing hydrangea petiolaris, nearly 15 feet wide and 10 feet tall. The Summer flowers are a Bee magnet but in the winter when the leaves drop the gnarled structure becomes a playground for birds. Hanging fat filled coconut shells from the branches near the windows have brought in some confident Blue Tits. They are more common in our UK gardens now; once they would have lived primarily in deciduous woodland, where the food they need for their chicks to survive is hopefully abundant. The BTO report that males are usually brighter in colour than the females and the youngsters have pale yellow rather than white cheeks, but so far I haven’t been able to distinguish the adults apart, hopefully there will be a chance to see a chicks pale yellow cheeks next spring.

Squirrel

Squirrel stealing the birds peanuts

Another woodland but sometimes less welcome visitor is the Squirrel, we feed the birds every day and winter peanuts are pricey but birds bring so much joy and make our garden a better place to be. As winter begins several Grey Squirrels are visiting, all with a variation in colouring, we were really intrigued to see one with the cream underbelly colouring of our native Red Squirrel. But its not a hybrid, just a variation. The Greys are still causing controversy and the cull debate goes on. Anglesea an island off the north coast of Wales separated by the Menai Strait and linked to the mainland by two bridges have just declared they are a Grey Squirrel free zone. They achieved this by culling the Greys with the last reported sighting in 2013. There are now 700 Red Squirrels on the Island, which they hope will thrive.

Robin

Robin (Erithacus rubecula)

We have noticed Robins trying to extract seed from the feeders but they do not seem to be designed to cling on. Occasionally I put mealworms and sunflower hearts on a mesh ground platform for Robins but our wet November often left a soggy mess. So we placed fat filled cages adjacent to convenient branches, close enough for the Robin to reach across and take the spoils. Sheltering from the high wind this little chap was quite happy for me to stand close by with a camera.

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Elsewhere in our garden, I am bundling up the hollow stems of the wind strewn perennials and stacking logs to create ‘dead wood habitats’ which should rot down and any overwintering invertebrates provide more food for birds in the Spring. The hollow stems and seed heads will provide shelter for lady birds, lacewings and other beneficials. Piles of leaves have been stuffed into hedge bottoms. And we’ve been cleaning bird boxes and putting up new ones in readiness for the next cycle of life.

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With many thanks as always to Tina at My Gardener Says for her inspiring Wildlife Wednesday meme.

Happy Wildlife Watching!

66 thoughts on “Wildlife Wednesday – Early Winter preparations

  1. Oh, Julie!! Your photos are wonderful! I just love the Blue Tit, especially the shot of him staring right at you. I’m glad you did the math concerning just how many caterpillars a couple needs to feed their brood. If there are plenty of large, native trees, there are plenty of insects/caterpillars for the birds, but if folks plant more sterile trees, those bird parents are out of luck–thanks for the reminder. As for the squirrels, I certainly know plenty of gardeners who are frustrated with ours. This year has been especially bad for obnoxious squirrels. I’ve had problems with them and I’ve never minded them around. Thanks, as always, for joining in with your lovely post!

    • Thanks Tina, usually I disagree with you on perennial natives as we have far fewer options here but on native trees, I do agree we need to plant more as they support a greater abundance of invertebrates than non-natives. Whereas with perennials, annuals and wildflowers there has been so much habitat loss here that we need to use some from where you are just to boost pollinators options especially in the Autumn. I made that sound complicated but you know what I mean! Thanks for hosting Tina. X

  2. I was amazed to find out that blue tits need to collect 100 caterpillars a day for their young. We have quite a few tits of various types on our feeders,so that might explain why we don’t have many butterflies! Lovely bird pictures – especially the ruffled robin.

    • Thanks Annette, I am hoping they go for the caterpillars of micro and macro moths and maybe less desirables such as Sawfly larvae. I’ve read there are around 2,500 species of Moth in the UK and 59 Butterflies. But I guess they could choose Butterfly caterpillars too, unless they were poisonous to birds. I wonder if this is one reason why we have less Butterflies over the last few years, something I had not considered, we will have to plant even more plants!

      • Actually thinking about it, I don’t think a little baby blue tit would fit 100 fat caterpillars in it tummy. They would have to be tiny wouldn’t they?

      • Now you have me wondering, there are probably bigger birds and maybe small mammals that take the Butterfly caterpillars though. I have just tried to look this up and Spiders and even Dragonflies prey on Butterflies themselves. Its a tough world for these creatures!

  3. Wonderful photographs. I always enjoy your wildlife posts Julie. In my garden woodmice are taking food from the bird table and taking it into the loft to eat at night. They have special clogs they put on to do this. The pest control man suggested traps, but who could be heartless enough to kill these adorable creatures? They have such big eyes and huge ears. I just wish they could party a little more quietly.

    • Thats a hard one. But I do have a tale of caution. My mum lives in an area where there are Edible dormice – Glis glis – they got into a neighbours loft, ate though the wires and caused a roof fire. Maybe humane live traps would work and then release elsewhere to party. We once dug up most of lawn trying to catch moles, we marched them to the woods but I am sure they’ve been back several times, good luck with your dilemma.

      • So called because the Romans kept them in a jar, fattened them up with chestnuts and acorns and then ate them as a delicacy. But the ones in Tring escaped from Rothschild’s private collection in 1902 and carried on breeding, they now sadly cause havoc.

  4. Robins are so resourceful, I’m glad you’ve found a solution for them. The squirrels are cute but there are so many here they take anything I put out for the birds. I’m sure we’ll be working on the defences again this winter. Trying to keep one step ahead of them certainly keeps the old brain active!

    • Squirrels are tricky blighters! We spend a lot of time banging on the windows or yelling ‘hoy hoy’ as they scale the feeder poles. I have always liked your spinning thing, it makes me laugh just to remember seeing your video even now!

      • Julie I know this will not look elegant, but, many years ago I read a suggestion for keeping cats from climbing bird feeders, cut the top and bottom of plastic bottles so you have a tube and slide them over the pole, cat can’t then get a grip to climb, it might work with squirrels, not glamorous though, another tip was to put any very prickly branches around the pole, just a thought, Frances

      • Thanks Frances, you are thoughtful! I shall try that. We are trying to recycle as much as we can rather than send anything to landfill and the prickly branches are a really good idea.I shall try that too. 🙂

  5. The shrubs are all full of berries so I’m hoping that gets my bird friends through the really rough winter patches…A day in the garden does so much good, heals most wounds and truly renews that sense of wonder about the world; I really enjoyed your photo series.

    • I’d like to add more berried plants here and replace our lost Pyracantha asap, that was easily one of the best plants for birds. This has to be one of the best years for berries especially on Holly but there is an ‘old wives’ tale which says thats a sign of a harsh winter to come. You are so right to about a day in the garden!

  6. Fabulous photos. We have blue tits that nest behind a window frame each year, squeezing in through a gap between the brickwork and frame. I’m sure it isn’t good for the fabric of the house but I love watching them come and go. I keep threatening to buy a nesting box with built in camera but it seems rather voyeuristic. Rather less keen on grey squirrels.

    • I would really like one of those camera boxes too Anne as I have not witnessed a chick fledge in real life and I’m envious of your little nesters, I can imagine they are very entertaining to watch. 🙂

    • I feel exactly as you do Brian, we love sitting with a cup of tea and watching visitors and if working in the garden and a Black bird or Robin is nearby, thats priceless.

  7. Your bird photographs are superb. The blue tits provide us with so much entertainment although they consume quantities of the bird food. I liked your idea of bundling the hollow stems and seed heads for the lacewings etc. I have been a bit remiss in this area and I will try to do better next year. Amelia

    • We had one night where speeds reached 63mph, which did the damage. I am possibly too late this year to really help but hopefully not. It does not feel like December here, we have 12 degrees over night today and another mild week ahead.Hope you have some good weather too Amelia.

  8. gorgeous photos of the bluebird and robin Julie, I hope the falling tree didn’t do any harm and that as much as possible can be left to break down naturally as fallen trees create amazing habitat for lots of wild creatures, you have been busy with all your shelter habitats, I hope you will be rewarded next year with bountiful wildlife, like Annette I did not realise just how much food chicks need, perhaps that is why I tend to see so few caterpillars in my garden, Frances

    • The tree fell on a poor mans car, he very fortunately wasn’t seriously hurt but very shaken, however, his car was a mess. The bulk of the tree is still blocking a field gate, so will have to be moved eventually. Not the best of events to say the least. Our local wood has lots of fallen Birches, peeling back the bark to see whats underneath is a favourite activity!

      • omg, so glad he wasn’t hurt but I can imagine how shaken he must have been, I know ivy looks nice growing through trees, especially in winter when the leaves are down and it is very beneficial to wildlife, but it can be so dangerous, years ago a neighbours tree came down in my daughters garden, no one was hurt and it fell along side the house so they were not damaged but it was very scary nonetheless, keep safe when you go walking in the woods, Frances

      • I always take a different route when its too windy for walking in our nearby wood, I worry more for our dog though. Your Daughter was extremely fortunate, until one comes down its hard to imagine the force and weight of a tree. I am glad all was eventually well.

  9. What fantastic photos Julie. We’ve just put up the bird feeders for winter. The one containing sunflower seeds lasted less than a day, but did attract goldfinches and greenfinches. It won’t be getting filled every day I think. All the feeders look like prisons to keep the squirrels off. There are too many of them and sometimes they are smart enough to knock them off the hooks in any case. I am bundling hollow stalks too, with the intention of a building an insect hotel. I need to make a box like yours to contain them I think.

    • That box is a part of a four storey palaver, which I made from an old wooden pallet case, the type an engine would be delivered in about 4 foot tall by 2 foot wide, added a pitched roof, made 4 heath robinson shelves and drilled holes into logs added pine cones and hollow stems. My carpentry skills need to be better but I love this type of winter job. I have been looking at bulk bags on Amazon for Sunflower seeds and hearts, we rarely see Goldfinches or Greenfinches, that must of been a lovely sight!

  10. Those photos are something else – it’s as if the birds are leaping out of my screen! It is great to read about the preparations you are making for spring. I wish more gardeners would think about the small creatures – of the importance of taking care of them now and the impact this has on birds next spring. This is a wonderful post!

    • Thanks so much Sarah! Glad you liked it. We are rewarded many times over by the wildlife that visits here. Border plants, trees and our veg garden are all the more healthier too for keeping a balanced garden.

  11. Such charming pictures, its as if I was looking through my binocs. I have been chopping back some of the spent perennials where i work and noticed so many ladybirds that I decided to leave the Acanthus seed heads in place. The visitors in our gardens are great, Glis glis are not, EVER!

    • They look so beautiful but what a lot of damage they cause. I’ve read today that the 7 spots look for an overwintering home as early as October, leaving the Acanthus seed heads for them will look lovely through the winter after the leaves melt away.

  12. Your photos are really wonderful, Julie. I would love to see in person your blue tits and robins someday. They are chipper little birds. I am in favor of culling your non-native gray squirrels as they are driving out your native reds, which is a darned shame. With the cutest tufted ears, they deserve a fighting chance before they are decimated.
    We try to dissuade the grays from the more expensive seed by providing corn ears, which aren’t as dear. It works somewhat. I don’t mind their foraging for dropped seed, but parking on a feeder is a no-no. Our last dog was a really good squirrel dog. She chased them off and then would sit nearby to make sure they didn’t return and knew that the birds were welcome. Our current pooch wants to chase EVERYTHING and runs off if not kept on a lead. Useless except for cuddles. 😉

    • There are many folk that need a dog like your last one, she must of been a real joy and your new one sounds like you are kept young!
      The culling causes controversy here, I’ve only seen our natives in photographs but the greys have been a part of my life. I do not think it would now be right to cull every Grey as they are established and living creatures but you are right Eliza, our native Reds, deserve a fighting chance and we should be able to establish safe pockets throughout the country. Sadly they cannot co-exist, so inevitably that must mean some culling.

  13. Your photos are wonderful Julie; and it’s so good to read about the ways you’re caring for the lives that surround you. We hear so much about the negative human impact on the natural world, so it’s lovely that you are helping to redress the balance.

    • Thanks Su, the visiting wildlife is so rewarding any help is partly selfish too as they bring so much joy. But I do think gardeners can play a huge role in protecting wildlife with the unique non farmed land we have.

      • I think you are right Julie. Spending time in our own gardens is such a powerful way of reconnecting us to the natural world as a whole, and it certainly needs our help right now!

  14. Lovely post Julie, and your photos are gorgeous! As you know, I wish we didn’t get Grey Squirrels in our garden but there isn’t much that can be done about it sadly. I have been finding ladybirds tucked into corners and crannies all over the garden now but didn’t see many all summer! We also have about 15 all huddled together in the corner of the window-frame in our bedroom! They will have to be moved in January as we are having the windows replaced. I am really not sure how I will move them without damaging them and hope that I relocate them somewhere they like!

    • I hope you find somewhere safe and suitable Clare, they huddle so close together I can imagine that will be a tricky move, I wonder if its better to try and move them now, whilst its still mild. Good luck!

  15. I really loved your photos, the details on the birds are wonderful. Very interesting to hear about grey squirrels. Here in Canberra, Australia, where I live we have trouble with a very invasive bird called the Indian Myna…fortunately there is now a humane culling program going and many of the lovely wild birds are gradually returning to the garden.

    • We are learning so much from the previous centuries mistakes made by man, we are entrusted with this planet but still play fast and loose with the responsibility especially with habitat and climate.I am glad that you are seeing more of native birds though.

  16. Julie, I loved reading about your preparations for the birds and seeing your gorgeous photos. I took a break from feeding the birds the last 3 months but maybe it’s time to pick that up again. I can never get close to them for pictures but I love watching them visit.

    • Watching them always leaves me feeling cheerful, the Blue Tits have started to come really close to our dining room windows, I had quite a few shots of birds bottoms though before that little bird was so obliging!

  17. Hi Julie! I really enjoyed this post and seeing the Blue Tits and little Robin that I remember so well from growing up in England. I think the Robin will always be my favorite bird. Your photos are absolutely beautiful and capture those chirpy little characters so well. I’m so glad you look after the wildlife throughout the year and plan ahead for spring and the young ones too. I love to have my feeders up year round, although sometimes it is discouraged here because people think it just attracts the raccoons and bears. I don’t think it makes any difference at all and with the destruction of their natural habitat and the continued use of pesticide in gardens here, our birds need all the help they can get! I loved the idea of the perennial stalks being used as a winter home and I shall copy your idea. It looks really pretty too.
    Thank you so much for sharing your lovely garden habitat.

    • Thank you so much for your lovely comment. Gardeners can do so much for wildlife, you are absolutely right too about birds needing all the help they can get, although we do not have racoons or bears I do worry about rats coming in for the dropped food. We have Wood Pidgeons though that eat any fallen seed and I keep the surrounding areas as clean as possible. A balanced garden with natural predators is so much healthier than an artificial environment controlled by life damaging chemicals. I hope you have a lovely week! 🙂

  18. The blue tit is quite a handsome fellow! Your Robin is quite different from our American Robin. This time of year I also put out suet, plus safflower and nyjer seed and peanuts in the shell. Looks like you are a good friend to the birds.

  19. Julie you are an inspiration for wildlife gardening…I adore your birds especially the Blue Tits and those precious robins. I like your idea of the piles which is essentially what we do …and we leave the leaves. I still see flies and ladybugs flying around which is unusual, but they have plenty of winter spots now when they want them.

  20. Absolutely love the Blue Tits, you captured them so well!! We hanged out some suet last week but probably I have to change location, or maybe is not cold enough yet 🙂 We all are enjoying a warmer than usual late fall, or better said early winter.

    • We’ve had a return to milder weather this week as well, with more mild weather forecast for the south of the UK, we shall leave the suet out here though as nights must still be chilly for those little birds. Hope you get to see some nearer your house too. 🙂

  21. Lovely photos – I especially loved the robins. All I can see from my house is sky – have to go a bit down in the steps to see what the critters are up to. I like your perennials stalks as well – definitely worth copying. The only wildlife I’m seeing much of is indoors, when the cats bring things in. At the moment I am managing to save 90% of what’s caught. Yesterday there was beautiful little wren, which I’m pleased to say flew off. And I don’t really know where the lizards are coming from, now the weather has turned colder!

  22. I think if those birds could talk they would thank you for everything you do for them. (or maybe they sing their thanks.) Sorry about the tree that was blown down, Julie, but it seems that the creatures find refuge and food from other places in your garden.
    Now for the grey squirrels – that’s interesting news about the culling. Here we seem to be overrun by black squirrels which I always foolishly thought turned grey in winter. Hmmm… two different breeds.

    • Apparently the Black Squirrels are a relative of the Greys with a colour pigment mutation. Over here we have a fourth species and that is related to the Red Squirrel, the Brunette, which has a similar colour pigment mutation. What unimaginative names we have given them all. Have a good weekend Cynthia. 🙂

    • Thanks, its pretty dreary up here today, drizzle and a chilly wind but it still doesn’t feel like December. Just hoping my family will not be disappointed by any tardy preparations!

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