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!

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?

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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!