Wildlife Wednesday – All Creatures Great and Small

The first Wednesday of March, one day after the beginning of our meteorological Spring is suddenly here. February flew by in a blur. The weather has veered from heavy rain and high winds to occasional sunshine and sharp frosty mornings.

Goldfinch on Rudbeckia seed head

Goldfinch on Rudbeckia seed head

The cold weather brought in a trio of Goldfinches, to feast on the seed heads of Rudbeckia, Teasels and Astilbe. The males and females are similar but females are slightly duller with less red on their face; the trio looked masculine. And made me glad I had not cut back any of the overwintering seed heads, despite the untidiness and my itchy fingers.

Snails

Revealed – Garden Snails

We kept warm by spending a whole week digging out the rocks and soil of an enormous ground elder, riddled and inherited rockery, most of which was wheelbarrowed into a large skip. As the drab brown sandstone rocks were dismantled, we discovered family groups of snails. As the food of Thrushes, snails always remind me of Summer and  listening to the ‘tap, tap, tap’ of a Thrush as the snail shell is bashed on something hard to reveal its contents – one of my favourite summer sounds.

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Helix aspersa Common Garden Snail

The larger mature snails hibernate during winter months and waken up in Spring. Mostly they were still dormant but one brave small snail began to explore. Shortly they will become more active especially on cloudy or rainy days, they dislike desiccating hot sun.

Common Garden Snail 'Foot'

Common Garden Snail ‘Foot’

Underneath the snail, which at it’s fastest is reported to travel 1.3 centimetres per second is a ‘foot’, a flatish muscular organ. Mucus is released to help the snail glide over rough surfaces, leaving a tell tale meandering trail. Apparently they have a complicated and interesting sex life and can produce 430 babies a year. On the upside they are one of natures cleaners, consuming debris, sadly they are also partial to a prized vegetable leaf. As well as Thrushes – Ducks, Lizards and Frogs eat snails. We’ve cleared the rockery area to make space for a recycled greenhouse and small pond with wildlife friendly planting where we hope visiting Frogs, Wild Ducks and Thrushes will have a field day on the snails.

Dunnock in the woodstore

Dunnock in the woodstore

Since my last Wildlife Wednesday post on our Robins, we haven’t seen any sign of nesting (yet) but the poor little Dunnocks, subject of many a Robin attack are nest building in one of our wood stores. This little brown bird also has an interesting sex life and pair up in unusual and complex ways. In their determination to carry on their gene pool, they can pair male and female, one male two females, one female two males and several males and several females. All very liberal!

Dunnock

Dunnock creeping along the ground

Hopefully when you read this, you are not eating. Often two males mate with one female , the female hopes both males will help her raise the chicks. The dominant male will try to remove the rivals sperm by pecking the female’s rear end (the cloaca – through which both faeces and eggs exit) and encourage her to eject it. Dominant male mating then follows. Liberal and ghastly!

Male Blackbird

Male Blackbird, usually a ground feeding bird.

Less complicated are our Blackbirds, this fellow is singing his heart out. The Black Feathered males with bright yellow bills and eye rings are easily identified. Juveniles are similar to females, the RSPB explain how to identify the juvenile male wing bars.

Female Blackbird

Female Blackbird or is it a year old juvenile?

We are quite hopeful there is a Blackbird nest just beyond our vegetable garden in an area of overgrown brambles, grasses and emerging wildflowers with pioneer native Alders growing along the drainage ditch and Birch trees colonising the bare areas. Both tree species will be rich in insect life, for the birds to forage on. Technically this area is a no mans land, land locked between houses and fields with no hope of future access. Many a snail and slug has been delivered here, for foraging creatures further up the food chain.

Edgeworthia chrysantha and Robin

Edgeworthia chrysantha and Robin

And finally on a more colourful note, this last photo was taken on Sunday morning in the RHS Wisley Garden, I had a couple of hours to while away waiting for my daughter to finish her netball training. As I leant forward to smell the fragrance of the Edgeworthia, a very round Robin hoped onto the branch, inches away from my face, one of those uplifting and life affirming moments. There is a great deal to worry about in life but there is also a great deal to be grateful for and enjoy in the natural world.

With many thanks as always to the lovely Tina and her wonderful Wildlife Wednesday meme, please take a look at other contributions from across the globe.

Happy Wildlife Watching!

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!