Wildlife Wednesday – Early Spring Visitors

A pair of wild ducks have been visiting from early March, the drake does not eat but protectively keeps guard over the female and watches her, my hopes were up that she was nesting in our garden. He seemed to love her, despite her manners.

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Protective Drake watching his mate

A few days later, my neighbours with a large pond told me the duck had laid eggs in their garden, under an elderly Sage bush, I have been given visitation rights but felt a little disappointed as I had wanted the chicks to be born here.

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The pair continued to visit and the Drake still did not eat, he cannot feed her in the way other male and female birds do, but he can lead her to a source of food. She lays more than half her body weight in eggs, so needs plenty of rest and nutrition. This last week, he has started to eat too, his job is done for this Spring and will be off, their love was brief, they do not pair for life and then if no replacement clutch is needed he joins other groups of males for the summer moult. There is a short period between siring one clutch and the summer moult when groups of males behave in a foul manner towards females, I hope she is spared.

Ladybirds

7 spot native Ladybirds (Coccinella 7-punctata)

During the late March tidy up I was delighted to see lots of 7 spot native Ladybirds emerging from dormancy and searching for handy mates. During their year long lives, they can eat 5,000 aphids each, even the larvae eat aphids. The parents die as the new generation emerge and the cycle continues.

Woodlice

Woodlice, possibly Porcellio scaber

Elsewhere, the children’s Wildlife Centre has been taken down. They have left home and I wanted to let more light into the potting shed, the centre was a lean-to tacked onto the side, blocking some of the windows. The wood was rotten with only fond memories holding it up and still home to the inspected and usually nocturnal woodlice. Predated by Toads, woodlice are one of natures recyclers eating rotting vegetation. In its place we now have another small log store with living roof, placed under the shed windows, although we do not need insulation for the wood store, I wanted another growing space for pollinators, hence the living roof. The soil is 3-4″ deep, the spot sunny and sheltered. I’m still dithering over plant choices but to start will experiment with some shallow rooted Phacelia tanacetifolia.

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Tree Bumblebee (Bombus hypnorum) on Forget-me-not (Myosotis sylvatica)

Bees have been foraging too, climate change has enabled the European Tree Bumblebee to make its home in the UK and this worker feeding on self seeded Forget-me-nots had mites and was trying to clean them off by combing its legs over the body, I’ve read on the Bumblebee Conservation Trust website that some mites are not harmful, but if a heavy infestation, when the weight of the mites would inhibit flight a small childs paintbrush can be used to gently brush them off.

Male Pheasant

Male Pheasant

Amongst the usual bird visitors, a male Pheasant has appeared on a daily basis, they were introduced into the UK for gun sport. Its estimated 40 million Pheasants and 10 million Partridges are raised in battery cages for release during the “season”. Animal Aid’s report on the welfare of these birds make gruelling reading. Animal aid are campaigning for a ban on the use of these cages. Its quite staggering that the shooting lobby claim these shoots are good for our countryside.

In more uplifting news, our Robins have nested and begun to lay eggs but alongside my potting tray behind several stacks of waiting pots, I cannot risk upsetting her, incase she abandons her eggs, I have read she will lay one egg a day usually early morning and a normal clutch is 4-6. They are used to me in and out of the shed but think it will be a step too far to prick out seedlings so close to her. It will be 13 days for her to incubate the eggs, 14 days further for the chicks to fledge and then both adults continue to feed them for a further 3 weeks. So all in all I will be potting on seedlings in the summerhouse this year and hoping to see the chicks in a few weeks time.

My grateful thanks to the lovely Tina for hosting the Wildlife Wednesday meme, please take a look at other wonderful wildlife across the globe.

Happy Wildlife Watching!

Wildlife Wednesday – Looking Back at Our February Garden Visitors

Tina Huckabee hosts a monthly Wildlife meme on the first Wednesday of each month on her lovely My Gardener Says blog. I took part for the first time in January and am just as happy to be able to take part again, this time looking back at the wildlife visiting our garden in February. A month of mixed temperatures, with cold snow, heavy rain and howling winds and then some sunny days rising up to 11c. A wide range of birds, some regulars, some occasional visitors and for the first time a female Black Cap dropped by too, plus a few displaying some unusual behaviour.

Two Starlings - a mature bird and a juvenile

Two Starlings – a mature bird and a juvenile

Running at a right angle to our east facing dining room window is an enormous Hydrangea petiolaris, its a tough woody, shade tolerant climber that provides shelter and foraging opportunities for many birds. In the colder months we add fat blocks impregnated with mealworms and crushed insects to the bare branches. The smaller Starling is a juvenile, its colouring will change and the bird will grow darker feathers. Both birds will lose their spots as they moult and develop darker sleeker feathers in preparation for finding a mate and the breeding season. Starlings regularly nest in a small gap between our barge boards and roof tiles, but to see a whole flock, we travel further east to the Fens between November and February to watch the murmurations.

Starling Murmuration at Godmanchester Nature Reserve

Starling Murmuration at Godmanchester Nature Reserve

Groups of Starlings meet up before dusk, its thought the reason for these gatherings is safety in numbers, predators such as sparrow hawks would find picking off individual birds difficult, to keep warm at night and to exchange information, such as good feeding areas. Watching a murmuration is an exciting event, many thousands of birds, swirling, soaring and finally as dark descends dropping down from the sky to roost.

Early February snow

Early February snow, Blue Tits, Long Tailed Tits and female Sparrow,

The month had started with a return to cold snowy weather, a steady stream of birds kept us entertained. The female sparrow was finally joined by a male and increasing numbers of Long tailed Tits came into the garden. This little bird is joyful to watch. The BTO (British Ornithological Trust) reports the success of this little bird and numbers have increased tenfold in recent years, although a very harsh winter could see numbers reduce again.

Long Tailed Tit

Long Tailed Tit

We encourage as much as we can to visit as a garden is pretty soulless without wildlife and the local pheasants have been interesting to watch as they come in looking for seed dropped from the feeders. They are bred nearby for shooting. The season runs from October 1st to February 1st. Foxes eventually take a lot of those not shot, a neighbour reported 12 in his garden last week, we have 4 hopping in and out, a male and 3 females. They are especially partial to a burnt orange primroses……

Male and Female Pheasant

Male and Female Pheasant

Last week we watched as the male decided to try and knock seed from the nyger and mixed seed tubes onto the ground. Where there’s a will there’s a way! This unusual behaviour has been reported to the BTO by other bird watchers too. The large black bird on the right is a Jackdaw, they roost with Carrion Crows and Rooks in the nearby woods, making a terrific din.

Pheasant and Jackdaw

Pheasant and Jackdaw

On February 16th, we went to a talk by our local Wildlife Trust group on macro moths. We learnt so much, including that one brood of Blue Tit chicks can eat up to 15,000 moth caterpillars. Other birds such as Robins, Wrens and Blackbirds also include moths as a food source. The Butterfly Conservation group estimate our Blue Tit population needs 35 billion caterpillars a year. There are 2,500 species of moths in the UK and most can be found in gardens, one small urban garden may be home to 100 species of Moths. As well as being a food source for other insects, spiders, frogs, toads, lizards, shrews, hedgehogs, bats and birds, they are also a garden pollinator as they feed on plant nectar.

However moths are in decline and the loss has a direct effect on the birds, bats and mammals who depend on them for food. Moth habitat loss is due to intensive farming, changing woodland management and urbanisation. Chemical and light pollution are also reported as having significant effects.

The Butterfly Conservation organisation has an excellent sister site Moths Count and both sites are jam packed with information ranging from identifying tips to citizen science projects.

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Male Chaffinch

This February we have been visited regularly by a male chaffinch, he will like many other birds be pairing up in the Spring. I read that its the female chaffinch who builds the nest, a neat cup shaped nest in the fork of a tree or tall bush made of lichen and spiders webs and inner layers of moss and grass with a lining of tiny rootlets and feathers and when ready will lay 4 – 5 eggs between late April and June. I haven’t seen her in our garden yet but I hope we do and hope she finds a suitable place to build her nest.

It was national nest box week in February and with the increased loss of suitable natural sites, a nest box put up now may still help garden birds to find a home to lay their eggs. The RSPB has a handy guide should you fancy making a nest box yourself. We have a nest box up with a 25mm entrance hole the suitable size for a Blue Tit, Marsh Tit or Coal Tit.

Please take a look at the other folk taking part in Tina’s Wildlife Wednesday.

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!