Saturday, 31 July 2010

Summer in Full Swing

Poisonous berries of Woody Nightshade

I seem to have seriously neglected this blog for the last couple of months, for which I apologise. The reason is because I have been concentrating on a project which is taking much of my spare time. I am recording "A year in the life of an English Country Garden" in photographs. I started on 1st January this year and will continue until the end of the year. I am over half way now!

I plan to produce a book (coffee table style) which I think will be an interesting record of wildlife and nature in the UK throughout the seasons. Many of the photos that I plan to use in the book are already in this thread, with many more that I have not yet included. I will upload a gallery on my web site to showcase these images, as soon as I have time.

I also plan to use the best photos and produce a calendar at the end of the year - hopefully in time to use them as Christmas presents for relatives and friends!

The idea for the project came from a photography web site called Talk Photography, which I can thoroughly recommend. There are a lot of very knowledgeable and helpful people on the forum. They also run a challenge called a "52", where people take photos each week on a particular theme and upload them for comments and criticism. The idea is to practise and learn from the feedback.

Very soon after starting the 52, I decided that the photos I was taking would be a useful record to chart the whole year in the garden. Hence the book idea.

So, back to the current time. Summer is in full swing and it has been hotter and more humid than the last few years with very little rain, at least in the south and east of England. Northwest Scotland seems to have been bearing the brunt of any bad weather coming in from the Atlantic. Our front lawn is completely brown, even after a bit of rain in the last week.

Common Blue Butterfly

The weather has made it an amazing year for butterflies and moths. I have seen more than ever before including several new species that I have never noticed in the garden before. The little chap above is a Common Blue, an exquisite little thing.

At the top of the page are some ripe Woody Nightshade berries. Poisonous, as the colour implies!

Finally, today I saw the roe deer buck closely following a doe. It must be that time of year again. Sadly, I have not seen any roe deer kids this year. I don't know if there were non born or whether Mum kept them well hidden?

I have kept a record of what has been goung on in the garden over the last couple of months and I will fill in the missing details of this blog as soon as I can.

Friday, 30 April 2010

The Bluebell Season

English Bluebells

Spring has continued to be unusual. The infamous April showers hardly materialised. It was the driest April that I can remember. However, that has not stopped the spring flowers. The garden is awash with colour, most notably the bluebells. They really are a sight to behold.

Once they start to flower, they become more and more blue until there is a carpet stretching across the garden and through the woodland. Beautiful!

The cherry, pear and apple trees are covered in blossom. It was windy today and the blossom was falling like confetti.

It is hard to describe just how much colour there is in the garden at this time of year. Perhaps a few photographs will summarise...




Japanese Quince

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Springtime in Full Swing

Dog Violet

In the last couple of weeks, spring arrived with a vengeance. This is the latest spring that we have had for many years, after a winter that went on and on.

The weather has improved and the wild flowers have sprung up all over the place. There are millions of them - many more than usual. Violets, celandine, wood anemones, wood sorrel, forget-me-nots, cuckoo flowers and just this week the bluebells have started flowering. My favourite time of year.

I heard the first cuckoo this week and also saw three swallows back from their winter in Africa. So, spring is well and truly here.

It is strange that the weather systems that have given us this good weather are responsible for complete chaos over most of Europe. Our usual south-westerly weather systems have been held at bay by a large area of high pressure over the UK. The ash belching from the erupting volcano in Iceland is being swept south east over the UK and mainland Europe causing the shutdown of European airspace. If our normal prevailing winds were in place, the ash would be blown northwards and out of harms way.

The consequences to the airline industry and other businesses relying on and supplying air transport are incalculable.

In the meantime, the result is an eerie quietness. We are on the flight path to Heathrow airport, one of the busiest in the world. Although we are not very close and the aircraft are usually quite high when passing over our house, there are always aircraft in the sky. Not so this week. The only planes flying are tiny prop planes flying over at very low altitude. It is very strange indeed.

This is likely to be a death knell for some of the airlines, who have already been hit very hard by the recession. I hope that this week the airline industry can get back to some kind of normality.

Cuckoo Flower

Saturday, 27 March 2010

A Very Slow Start to Spring

Blue Tit Nest Building

I don't remember the last time we had such a late spring.

Although there were signs a few weeks ago, the weather has not been good and things are progressing very slowly in the garden. Usually by this time in March, the trees are starting to show green, but not this year.

Nest building is, however, in full swing. This little blue tit has taken up residence in one of our nest boxes. The long-tailed tits have been picking cobwebs from around our windows to line their nests and last week I saw a little goldcrest picking fluff from one of the garden lamps.

The daffodils are now flowering, several weeks later than usual, but the weather is not being kind. Not too cold but lots of rain. We change the clocks tonight and will lose an hour, but the evenings will be much lighter. I hope that the weather will allow us to enjoy them.


The deer are still hanging around the garden most days. I think they can find more food here than in the woods, until everything starts growing again. They sit in the woods during the day, watching us from a safe distance, and come out in the evening to graze in the garden. It should not be too long until the babies are born.

Roe Deer

Friday, 5 March 2010

Spring is on its Way

CrocusMarch dawned with beautiful weather, mild and sunny. But it did not stay that way for long! Several very cold, frosty mornings this week.

However, the birds are getting excited. There have been signs of frantic nest building and frenetic activity. It has been a long, hard winter for them and they have survived. I love to see them at this time of year - always in pairs.

As well as snowdrops, we have crocuses flowering and the first daffodils this year, bringing some colour back to the garden.

Sunday, 28 February 2010

A Quiet Month

Snowdrops - Galanthus nivalisFebruary has been a quiet month with not much happening in the garden. Everyone is waiting for spring.

The weather has been awful - grey, dark snowy and rainy. I think the animals are as fed up as I am.

The only things flowering are the snowdrops. They seed themselves every year and have grown over a large area.

The only good thing about this weather is that it has driven the deer into the garden, even in daytime to search for food. They come right up to the house and it has been wonderful watching them. They are eating things that they would never normally eat, such as heather. I guess they are desperate.

It is now official that this has been the worst winter for more than 30 years in this area. In other parts of the UK, it has been even worse.

I hope that no damage has been done to the plants and that everything will spring into life when it warms up a bit.

Roe deer - Capreolus capreolus

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Roe Deer Convention?

Roe Deer - Capreolus capreolusThere have been so many roe deer in the garden over the last week, I am having trouble identifying them.

Last week I spotted this threesome and went outside to try to get a photo. They, of course, spotted me immediately and did not stay long. I must try to improve my deer stalking skills!

It is difficult to tell, but I think these were two males and one female.

Yesterday, I went into the kitchen to make a cup of coffee and spotted this roe buck cleaning up the seed under the bird feeders (just 3 metres from my kitchen window). I had the wrong lens on the camera but no time to change it, so all the photos were close-ups.

You can see his little antlers just pushing through!

I think the extreme weather this winter has been great for wildlife spotting. The creatures are more desperate than usual for food and are willing to venture out in daylight to find it.

Roe Deer - Capreolus capreolus

Sunday, 31 January 2010

Big Garden Birdwatch

Here in the UK, each January, the RSPB run their Big Garden Birdwatch. This is a massive survey of garden birds over the whole of the UK. Supporters are asked to identify and count the birds they see during a one hour period this weekend. The results are submitted online and provide a picture of bird numbers in each region. It is also a lot of fun.

I did my Garden Birdwatch early on Sunday morning and here are the results:
  • Blackbirds - 2
  • Blue Tits - 2
  • Carrion Crows - 5
  • Chaffinch - 1
  • Coal Tit - 1
  • Dunnock - 1
  • Great Tits - 2
  • Great Spotted Woodpecker - 1
  • Jays - 2
  • Long-tailed Tits - 6
  • Magpie - 1
  • Marsh Tits - 2
  • Mistle Thrush - 1
  • Nuthatches - 2
  • Red Kite - 1
  • Robins - 2
  • Wood Pigeons - 8

That is 17 different species in the period of an hour - and some of the regulars did not turn up during that time!

You can read more about the Big Garden Birdwatch at

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Long-tailed Tits and Roe Deer

Long-tailed tits - Aegithalos caudatusProbably my favourite small bird is the Long-tailed Tit (Aegithalos caudatus). They are small and fluffy, never keep still and are very sociable. You never see them alone. They usually appear in groups of 6 to 10.

Sadly, they are not constant visitors to the garden. They appear for a few days then disappear for weeks, but they are a joy to watch. After the bad weather recently, I think they were very happy to get an easy meal on my bird feeders.

This was the first time that I managed to get a reasonably good photo of them.

There also seem to be a lot of deer around at the moment. This Roe Deer buck appeared with 2 females just before dark tonight. You can see his beautiful velvet antlers.

Roe Deer Buck in Velvet - Capreolus capreolus

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Badger Prints in the Snow

Badger printLast weekend the snow gradually disappeared, just to return again a couple of days later. Luckily not so much this time and it did not stay long. There was enough, however, to find some excellent badger prints across the back lawn.

It is not a brilliant picture, but you can quite clearly see four of the five toes with the long claws and the kidney-shaped palm print.

Two roe deer have been hanging round the garden this week, but no photo opportunities, unfortunately. I also saw a fox today but they are rather elusive. I have yet to get a good photo of a fox.

Snowdrop - Galanthus nivalisFinally, after being buried by 8 inches (20 cms) of snow for two weeks, these rather brave snowdrops emerged unscathed. They had just started to flower when the snow first fell, but their built-in anti-freeze protected them from the freezing cold temperatures.

I hope this is a sign that spring is on its way.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Watching Me Watching Him

Muntjac fawn - Muntiacus reevesiThere are some benefits to this bad weather. The muntjacs have been hanging round the house again today and it makes for some great photo opportunities.

They were rooting around in the flower beds next to the house and I was watching through the window waiting for them to emerge. The little one froze when he saw me, just long enough for me to take this photo before he ran off.

It has been slightly warmer today. No new snow has fallen, but there are still several inches left on the ground.

Friday, 8 January 2010

Not Yet Weaned!

Muntjac mother and fawn - Muntiacus reevesiI mentioned seeing a new baby muntjac deer a couple of weeks ago. Well, I was in for a real treat today. Mother and Junior were both on my back lawn and I was lucky enough to capture a picture of the little one suckling. What a wonderful sight!

Sadly the photo is not these best, but it was late afternoon and starting to get dark.

The snow is still deep and it is still very cold, so the fawn must be a tough little thing to survive.

The next picture shows the fawn when it ran across the lawn before disappearing into the flower bed next to the house. It looks as if it is sitting down, but actually the snow is so deep that it was sinking up to the top of its legs. I think it is probably about 8 weeks old and should be weaned very soon.Muntjac fawn in the snow - Muntiacus reevesi

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Bird on a Wire

Buzzard in the snowThe temperature dropped to
-11 degrees C (12 F) last night, so the snow is not going to disappear quickly.

I was watching a buzzard (Buteo buteo) this morning. He was sitting on the electricity cable that feeds power to our house. Not a very good photo, but he flew off when I tried to get closer.

The wildlife is finding it difficult in the snow. There were lots of animal tracks leading to sheltered spots underneath the shrubs in the flower beds next to the house. This weather cannot be easy for them.

Glorious blue skies and sunshine today, but it did little to melt the snow.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Worst Winter for 25 Years

Winter in the gardenWhat an amazing winter this is turning out to be. Some say it is the worst winter for 25 years. Last night eight and a half inches (21cms) of snow fell. I went out and measured it on the patio table this morning.

This may not seem noteworthy to those who regularly have hard winters. However, most years we get a maximum of one fall of snow which usually disappears the next day. Some years we get no snow at all.

The birds are not happy. I went out and sprinkled more food for them this morning and I was surprised by how many turned up for the feast. Not just the usuals, but also goldfinches and long-tailed tits. I did not get any photos of them or of the 2 roe deer that made a brief appearance.

The forecast is to be colder tonight, so although the snow has stopped falling, it will freeze overnight. I guess it is here to stay for the next few days.

Friday, 1 January 2010

Marsh Tit or Willow Tit?

Marsh tit - Parus palustrisThe new year dawned with sun and bright blue skies, but very cold. As usual the birds were very busy on the feeders and I managed to take a few photos.

This little guy (or gal) always has me puzzled - it is a Marsh Tit or Willow Tit? They are both very similar. My book says that the Willow Tit is more scruffy looking, but this one is very neat and tidy. The Marsh Tit has a smaller black bib and the Willow Tit has a heavier head and neck. I think it is probably a Marsh Tit (Parus palustris) but I would value any opinions.

This Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopus Major) was also enjoying a good feed today.

Great Spotted Woodpecker - Dendrocopus Major