Monday, 21 July 2014

SUMMER THUNDERSTORMS BRING RELIEF TO THE HEATWAVE

This week must be all about the summer weather, in particular the thunderstorms that swept the country and delivered much needed rain to many places, along with flashes of excitement.

In the garden the thunderstorms arrived in the early hours and while the thunder and lightning had left by 9am, the rain continued all morning and led to flooding down the lane that leads to the house.

But it was all over fairly quickly and the sun soon returned to dry up most of the water and provide the flora and fauna with some energy with which to continue growing.

I managed to take some images of the lightning, although not exactly very successfully. It only lasted for a couple of hours and trying to predict where the next flash would be turned out harder than I imagined.

The three flashes I did manage to capture show the garden and beyond lit up like it was daylight, but I can assure you it was pitch black at the time.

 
 
 
In other news the third tree and house sparrow broods are close to fledging and a number of blue tit chicks have been frequenting the garden, although I’m not sure if they fledged nearby or are simply visitors from the area who have happened on the garden.

The sunflowers are growing rapidly and at least four are as tall as me, with one over 10ft tall. More about them and the buddleia flowering which is attracting numerous butterflies next week, which means the diary of images about the garden growing will start in August.
 
 

Sunday, 13 July 2014

A BUMPER BREEDING SEASON?

Plenty of butterflies and moths have been in and around the garden recently, which makes me think it’s been a good year for them.

The most ‘popular’ attendees to the garden are the orange tip butterfly and the cinnabar moth, both of whom have been seen daily in the garden.

I’m beginning to think this has been a significant boom year for our small garden birds. I’ve now seen two lots of blue tit fledglings, the latest this week and the robins are looking distinctly scruffy, which makes me think they’re on to their third brood.

The blackbirds have had at least two, the swallows second brood also fledged this week and there appears to be large numbers of magpies and goldfinches.

But the big news on the nesting front is that both the house sparrows and tree sparrows are busy raising a third brood in the garden nest boxes.

The parents seem to be having a competition with each other as to who can raise the most chicks, as invariably when I can hear chicks in one nest the other follows with a day or so.

I’m not sure how many have fledged from each nest since April, but it must be double figures.

I very much doubt there’ll be a fourth fledging, but with the hedgerows around the garden swaying under the weight of sparrows, I wouldn’t be surprised.

What it must mean is it’ll also be a bumper year for the birds of prey. I know there’s a few sparrowhawk around here and certainly kestrels. The crows, magpies and jays may also pick of a few weaker young too, plus the resident little and tawny owls might pinch a couple from night roosts.

In the next couple of weeks I’ll be showcasing the transformation of the garden, showing images taken at weekly intervals from March this year.

The transformation is stunning, well I think so.

Monday, 30 June 2014

SUMMER BRINGS SUNSHINE, GROWING PLANTS AND DISAPPEARING BIRDS

The warm weather was interrupted by a few heavy showers and plenty of rain this weekend. While it’s great to be able to sit in the garden and enjoy being amongst the wildlife, the wet weather is most definitely welcome, both for the flora and fauna.

I did feel sorry for the birds who visited the garden looking like they had been swimming, and also the bees who got a pounding from the raindrops as they tried to gather nectar from the flowers.

I’m hoping to continue harvesting the vegetable crops this week, following the broad beans that made a tasty and welcome addition to the homemade paella I cooked this week.

The potatoes should be ready soon, while the runner beans and tomatoes should start showing by the end of July.

Of course the broad beans will still be harvested for the next few weeks and I’m delighted that they’ve done so well considering I’ve not grown them before in the garden.

The sunflowers are really starting to grow, with one now over six feet tall. I think they’ll be half a dozen that will exceed six feet and I’m sure the birds will welcome the seeds in early autumn.

The birds are now making themselves scarce; only the robins, blackbirds and goldfinches regularly visible now.

I have seen a few chiffchaffs, and heard plenty, but I’m not sure if they’re feeding youngsters or not. I suspect they are, but where is beyond me so far.

With the height of summer fast approaching I know the bird visits will decrease and I’ll have to concentrate on what’s growing in the garden, although the insects will take over to some degree, particularly the numbers of butterflies and moths, more of which next week.

Of course this will last until late summer when the young small birds that have survived the dangerous first couple of months return to a place their parents have used to feed, shelter and breed.

Monday, 23 June 2014

NEW ARRIVALS AMID SUMMER SUN

Little did I realise when I wrote my blog post last week that my imminent new arrival was exactly that.

A day after posting the latest update the garden saw another arrival, this time of the human variety and our second daughter.

Bizarrely a rose that emerged at the time our first daughter was born suddenly emerged again this week.

 
The rose plant hasn’t really grown in six years, but occasionally produces a lovely flower. Nature has a funny way of showing us things and while it’s likely to be coincidence, I’d like to think the garden was in some way saying congratulations.

With warm weather continuing to bathe the garden, the plants are reacting with growth spurts, albeit once I’ve provided enough water.

The blackbirds, house sparrows, tree sparrows, blue tits, great tits and robins are now fairly regular visitors to the garden, with most still appearing to have young, either in the nest or having recently fledged.

I’ve not seen many youngsters recently, but I’ve heard lots of chattering in the trees and bushes with parent birds appearing to be flying rapidly between the food sources in my garden and the fledglings in the canopy.

The swallow numbers have continually grown and this is most evident during the period just after dawn and early evening.

With shorter tails it’s easy to identify the youngsters from this year, but with plenty of them and the speed in which they all fly together, counting how may there are is almost impossible.

I've also seen a few house martins around and occasionally swifts – both of which I've seen in previous years and I know nest nearby – so I'm hoping this is a good sign that breeding has been good for them this year.

The slug and snail invasion is showing no sign of slowing down. The casualties mount up daily, although I do try and put live ones in our recyclable green waste bin so they can be ‘relocated’.

I’m hoping to have my first crop harvested this week, which will be the broad beans. It’s hard to tell when they’re exactly right to pick, but I’m looking forward to creating some dishes with them as a key ingredient.

Saturday, 14 June 2014

YOUNG FLEDGLINGS EVERYWHERE!

Due to the imminent arrival of a new baby in my house, I’ve been pretty busy ‘feathering the nest’ in anticipation.

During the last two weeks there’s been lots of activity in the garden and in the surrounding area.

The first brood of swallows fledged and within days were gathered in a big family group chasing of a bird of prey. I didn’t have enough time to see it before the bird disappeared, but my thinking was either a merlin or kestrel. It was too big for a buzzard and I’m not sure if hobbys are around this area.

Two more fledgings in the garden with both the tree and house sparrows with their second broods of the year.

Unfortunately one of the fledglings jumped out this morning and fell straight into a bucket in the garden. It was dead by the time I reached it at 7.30am and probably suggests it left the nest fairly early this morning when it was first light, about 4am.

The blue tits and great tits appear to be either busy with another brood or still keeping up with their first lot. Both sets of parents are looking a little ragged and it won’t surprise me if they stop coming to the garden soon, particularly if they have no second brood.

The female blackbird has been absent for many days now, while the male is always in full voice at dawn and dusk, and often lots of times during the day. It leads me to believe that another brood is on its way.

All of the flora is looking good with the first emergence of ladybird poppies and the foxgloves in full bloom. The bee rush on the escallonia bush has subsided as the flowers start to diminish in number, but the foxgloves are providing another good source of nectar and pollen in the garden – just at the right time.

Only one negative was the return of the snails and slugs, mainly on the potato plants. The numbers were soon reduced, but only time will tell if the potatoes are ok.

The hanging baskets will feature next week as the birds head off to explore the big wide world and moult.

Sunday, 1 June 2014

BEES IN ABUNDANCE

This week I’ve been fascinated by the bees in the garden. There has been an almost constant hum of noise around the escallonia bush, with at least 15-20 bumblebees and the odd honey bee making the most of the nectar on offer.

I recently trimmed the bush back, after previously allowing it to grow for a couple of years. It has flowered every year, but not to this extent.
 
Here’s an idea of how it’s grown from 2008, 2009 and present day.



 
I’ve so far been able to identify three types of bees visiting the escallonia; the red tailed bumblebee, buff tailed bumblebee and early bumblebee.



 
If anyone can identify any more than please let me know.

Finally for this bee-fest, here’s a video of the escallonia. Next week I’ll have an update on the flora, including the vegetables I’m growing.
 
video
 

Monday, 26 May 2014

GROWING CROPS, FLEDGINGS AND SNAIL WAR PART II

Tonight is the start of BBC Springwatch and I'm really looking forward to this annual extravaganza.

The house sparrow family in the tit nest box with the ‘broken’ camera, have fledged this week and both parents have been busy feeding the youngster.

The garden has become a very popular feeding station for the house and tree sparrows, so much so that the great tits, blue tits and robins are often out-competed for food by the gangs of sparrows.

In two days they went through two full feeders of peanuts, 250g of mealworms and two fat snacks. It was literally a feeding frenzy from dawn until dusk.

I did think about checking the nest box camera and buying, then fitting, a new power cable, but I’m going to leave them until I know the breeding season has finished.

I’m guessing the mother house sparrow will soon be on eggs again and I don’t want to disturb her.

This is something I think the tree sparrows are already on with, so maybe the sound of another hungry brood of sparrows will be heard in the garden again soon.

The swallows appear to be almost complete with the nest building and ready to start laying eggs and incubating. Updated on the first fledgings will on here soon – I hope!

Both the robins and blackbirds haven’t been seen for a week or so, which I suspect is down to the fact they’ve got fledglings and/or are sitting on a second brood of eggs.

I know the nearest robin family is nesting close to the garden and in the same area as a wren family, how much I’ll find about where the nests are, is something I’ll know more of later this summer. I plan to explore the area around the stream in the hope it’ll be a much drier than it is now and not get wet!

The slugs and snails, though fewer in number, are still after my plants, so dose number two of the pellets came into force overnight. The marigolds have been the hardest hit and just when the sole survivor looked to be growing again, another attack came and bypassed the pellets.

Last night that mission failed and the casualties are now stricken around the marigold and a couple of other plants.
 

The carrots are starting to grow while the potatoes are doing very well. Hopefully they’ll help in breaking up the soil in the garden area of the joint land and yield better crops in coming years.

Until then let’s have some sunshine, more fledglings and big juicy crops.