Spring has sprung

At the beginning of March I wrote an article for the Cheshire Environmental Records Centre newsletter about the garden in springtime.  (You can read it here: Wildlife on your doorstep)

I can’t believe how much the garden has changed since then.  Drifts of snowdrops, crocuses and dwarf iris have faded away only to be replaced by stunning daffodil drifts, primroses and hellebores.

The garden looks lovely at the moment.  There are vibrant yellows, pastel purples, beautiful blues and pure whites.

Drifts of daffodils symbolise that spring has sprung and is now in full swing.  There are so many different varieties and every one of them is beautiful.

The primroses are also looking their best now adding vibrant colour under the trees whilst hellebores add pastel hues to the garden.  Hyacinths also look beautiful at the moment and their heady scent wafts down the garden.

If I had to choose my most favourite flower in the garden at the moment, I think I would choose….snakeshead fritillaria.  I think it’s such a delicate pretty flower.  The pastel shade of purple with chequered pattern is exquisite.

My favourite tree in the garden at the moment has to be the damson tree.  I absolutely love the the delicate pure white blossom and the hoverflies, bees and other insects adore it too.

It’s not just the plants that are taking centre stage in the garden though.  Wildlife is returning to the garden once more.  Those sleepy hedgehogs are waking up, frogs are relaxing under the hibernacula and newts are returning to the pond.

It’s lovely to see the hedgehogs waking up from their hibernation.  They have a big shake, a good old scratch and then waddle off to find food.  (You can see some hedgehog footage here)

The pond is absolutely teaming with life.  In the sunshine I can see caddisfly, flatworms, water daphne and waterlice.

I absolutely love sitting by the pond on a sunny spring day to watch the newts dancing about showing off to one another and laying their eggs on plant leaves.  (You can see some pondlife footage here though the newts are being shy)

 

Spring is such a lovely time of year, it really does lift your spirits.

The garden is bursting with life and colour now so get out there and enjoy it.

 

 

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Big Garden Birdwatch

I’ve been looking forward to the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch since I got my pack through the post in early January.  I had it all planned out in my head of how the day was going to unfold and as the weekend drew closer I excitedly got my spotting scope, binoculars, camera, notepad and pen out ready.

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Unfortunately, the weather had other plans and it decided that this was the weekend it was going to be cold and raining.  To top it all off, I also fell ill with a cold.  Luckily this year RSPB have added an extra date, so I had my fingers crossed for Monday.

Well… Monday has come and I’m thankfully feeling much better today, and as I opened the curtains to a dull and damp morning, I wasn’t going to let anything stop me counting those garden birds.

I set up my spotting scope in the corner of the garden where I was well hidden and could see a number of the feeders.  As I was setting up I saw a cheeky magpie eyeing up the suet feeder in one of the trees, but then it saw me and flew off.

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At 10.30am with wooly hat, gloves and downy jacket, I sat down and waited for the birds to appear.

I could hear the birds tweeting away but it took a good 10 minutes before they started to appear in view.  The first to venture out was 2 blackbirds, followed by blue tits and great tits.  It was hard to keep an eye on all the feeders at once, so I decided to concentrate on one feeder at a time.  I have noticed that certain birds stick to certain parts of the garden, so I first watched the sparrow feeders.  They were so quick darting from the feeder to the hedge and back but I managed to count a group of 8 jostling for room on 2 feeders.
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I then turned my attention to one of the finch feeders hanging from a rowan tree. I was delighted to see chaffinches and green finches on the feeder and a wood pigeon sat in the tree.

From my view point I could just make out a bird table towards the front of the garden. Here there were rooks, jackdaws, pigeons, and a seagull.

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As I moved my spotting scope around so that I could see the back part of the garden, I caught a glimpse of a little wren hopping along the fence and a robin singing merrily sat on a branch of the hobnut tree.

At the next feeder I was busy watching the blue tits, great tits and even a cute coal tit.  Then excitingly I saw 5 long tailed tits fly into the garden and land in an apple tree, before moving to the peanut feeder.

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I even saw a jay on the compost heap in the garden, but I had to stay very still as they are easily spooked……but then it went very quiet.   All the birds disappeared and you could have heard a pin drop.

But why?…

…..Then whoosh…out from one of the fruit trees a sparrow hawk came flying past me like a fighter jet plane.  It was amazing to feel the energy as it flew past, though it was so quick it was almost a blur.

Of course, that was the end of my Big Garden Birdwatch after only 40 minutes; as although I could hear the chattering of birds from the hedges, none would venture out again till they felt safe.

 

Winters wildlife garden

I’ve finally got round to writing my first blog of the year. (Better late than never)  I have been busy with various things since my last blog, most of which have been boring mundane stuff but, one of them was writing my first ever wildlife article for a newsletter.  The article was called ‘Wildlife On Your Doorstep’ and was for the Cheshire Environmental Records Centre newsletter.  I had so much fun writing it and hope those that read the article enjoyed it.

(Here is my Wildlife On Your Doorstep article.)

 

Here’s what else I have been doing in the garden since then…….

At the weekend I decided I would have a bit of a tidy up in the garden and my tasks for the day were to make sure the ponds, bird baths and feeders had a good clean.

The ponds are situated in the orchard so had collected many leaves but I had to tread carefully as I noticed bulbs poking out from the leaf litter and grass.  (My job for next weekend is to put canes in the ground where the bulbs are coming up so as not to step on them)

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I gently and carefully started to scoop the leaves out of the pond a bit at a time making sure I put any debris by the pond just incase any pond life was hidden there.  Whilst scooping out the leaves I saw a number of water slaters and pond snails.

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I didn’t tidy up the sides of one of the ponds as it is a newt breeding pond and they lay lots of eggs amongst the vegetation there.

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As I scooped the leaves out of the other pond I found a large frog hiding at the bottom.  I swiftly apologised for disturbing it, put it back in the water and gently topped up the pond using water from the near-by water butt.

Next on my to-do list was to give the feeders and bird baths a real good clean; so out come the washing up gloves, scrubbing brush and disinfectant.  There are about 7-8 bird baths and many feeders in the garden so it took a good while to clean them all thoroughly.  There was a blue tit, blackbird, robin and little wren watching me as I walked around the garden with a watering can filling up their baths.

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Before I went inside I cut some apples in half and placed them around the garden. Blackbirds, squirrels and foxes absolutely love eating them at this time of year.

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Here are some things that you can do in your garden at this time of year.

Put feed out for the birds and clean their baths.

Make sure you check that ponds and bird baths don’t freeze over.

Put bird boxes up in the garden.

Give the pond a little tidy ready for Spring.

Listen out for woodpeckers, watch out for those beautiful waxwings and look out for those bulbs just poking up from the frosty ground.

and lastly….make yourself warm and cosy, have a nice hot drink and start planning what you’ll be planting in the garden come Spring.

Winter is a coming

As I went to bed last night I looked at my weather station which said the temperature was  -1 and as I peered out from the curtains I saw thick freezing fog coming in. Of course this is what happens at this time of year when there has been a clear sunny sky all day.

I snuggled down in my new hedgehog brushed cotton blanket which I had got for my birthday and wished I could hibernate just like the hedgehogs.

When I woke this morning I opened the curtains and there before me was a marvelous sight. The fog was starting to retreat and everywhere looked like it had been sprinkled in icing sugar.

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I  wrapped up warm and rushed out with my phone to take photos.

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I think its a magical experience to walk around and see the white covered cobwebs hanging from every tree, shrub and fence. it looks like the garden is covered with white tinsel.

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The garden looked like a winter wonderland with frost covering everything. The grass and moss sparkled and the shrubs looked like they were covered in tiny crystals.

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After taking photos, I made sure I walked around the garden checking all the water butts, ponds and bird baths for ice. Luckily most were ice free as I had placed a floating object in each to help prevent them freezing over as much. The bird baths, however were frozen solid with a 1cm thick ice cap, so I smashed the ice and put clean water in them. It’s so important to check these at this time of year as water is so precious to all the wildlife that visit and live in the garden. I know the diving beetle was happy it could get to the surface of the water butt it lives in.

After lunch I had another peek outside and things were just starting to thaw in places and the low lying sun scattered golden dashes of light across the bare tree branches. As the frosted leaves began to thaw, they delicately cascaded down through the branches like snowflakes. finally falling onto the crisp frosted ground below.

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Most of the leaves have fallen now but there are a few still hanging on. Once all the leaves are down, I can start clearing the ponds so they don’t become choked with muck and decaying leaf litter. Infact, there is still much to be done at this time of year in the garden. As well as pond maintenance and making sure there is clean water for wildlife; there are nest boxes to be put up, bird feed to put out and wildlife habitats to be made.

As long as you wrap up warm and stay dry, this time of year has lots of magic to offer.

 

Parkgate Marshes

Parkgate marsh is a fantastic wetland habitat situated on the Dee Estuary in the North West of England. If you wish to see plenty of wildlife then high tide is the best time to visit as I don’t think you truly appreciate how much wildlife thrive on these vast salt marshes when you visit at low tide.

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High tide offers a unique opportunity to view a number of small mammals that are seldom seen otherwise, as its home to field voles, shrews, moles, rats, and harvest mice. You may see flocks of ducks, geese, lapwings, egrets and wigeon. And if you are lucky you’ll get to see beautiful kestrels, hen harriers, owls and merlins.

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As an early birthday treat I visited Parkgate yesterday. It was quite blustery and cold but ideal conditions for a good tide. Sitting on the promenade eating yummy chips I sat and waited for the tide to come in. It was amazing to watch a vast amount of salt marshes become submerged and even better was the wildlife I was able to see because of it. Small mammals were flushed out of the homes and forced to flee towards the old sea wall to seek dry land. I saw a gorgeous field vole on the grass in front of me and watched a brown rat swimming to a clump of long grass to get dry. The small mammals are very vulnerable at this time as they can be taken by herons and a variety of raptors.

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Not far away from the old sea wall I saw a raven combing the ground, and egrets wading on the water’s edge. Further out on the estuary I saw numerous ducks, geese, herons and lapwings.
As I walked along the promenade towards the old bath house car park I saw a small flock of lovely twites singing merrily high up in the shrub branches. I stood for a bit and looked out over the estuary when I suddenly realised I wasn’t alone. There next to me hidden under a bush was a lovely little robin and a beautiful song thrush just looking up at me. They seemed to be hiding from something but what was it. I looked towards the trees behind me and saw nothing but as I turned back round I spotted it. There perched high up looking out towards the estuary was a stunning merlin with the sun’s rays glistening off its beautiful feathers. It was absolutely beautiful to stand and watch it as the sun started to set over the Welsh hills on the opposite side of the estuary.


As I walked back the light was starting to fade and with it came a vast number of geese silhouetted across the skyline. Numerous lapwings danced about the low horizon before landing in the marshes. The haunting sound of geese and lapwings indicating the end of a wonderful day and a great birthday.
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My encounter with a hoopoe

I read with excitement yesterday that a hoopoe had been spotted at Conwy nature reserve and my fingers and toes were crossed hoping that it would still be there today.

What is a hoopoe? I hear some of you ask.

A hoopoe is normally seen in the warmer climate of Europe but the lone one can be spotted along our coast from time to time during its migration in Spring and Autumn.  It is a stunning and exotic looking bird about the size of a mistle thrush.  It has a brown body with black and white bars on its back and wings, a long downcurved bill and a fantastic black and white tipped crest.  It is difficult to see on the ground as it forages for insects by probing the earth and leaf litter with its brilliantly designed bill.  The hoopoe mostly loves to eat various insects but will eat worms and grubs too.

I have never seen one before so I couldn’t miss the opportunity to drive down there and hopefully see this stunning bird.  I got to Conwy, North Wales at 9am and there were already quite a few there waiting to see this mysterious bird.  There had apparently been a glimpse of it first thing so it was hopefully a matter of waiting till it popped out into the open again.  There were people (including myself) busily scurrying from the coffee shop to the next hide and back like a yoyo in hope of spotting it. This went on for an hour until I got lucky.  Suddenly one of the hides was alive with excitement and whispering….it had been spotted at last.

It was still a fair distance away but I could just see it through my 10×50 binoculars but better still through a spotting scope. What struck me about the bird, apart from how beautiful and exotic it is, was how well it was camouflaged on the ground amongst the rocks.  One minute you saw it, then the next it seemed to disappear, merging into the background like a ghost.

It was fantastic to see such a stunning bird, especially in such a beautiful reserve as RSPB Conwy.  Even though it was too far away for my little camera to take any photos, at least I can say that I have seen my first hoopoe.

Spot the hoopoe 😀

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Can you see it yet 😀

 

RSPB Conwy is such a lovely place surrounded by wildlife, history and stunning views.  As well as the hoopoe I got to see various waders, herons and robins,

and gaze out at Conwy castle, the lovely estuary and Mount Snowdon.

(Check out the Birds of Britain website here to see photo of a hoopoe and read more about them.)

 

Unfortunately as I finish writing my blog, word comes in that a peregrine has taken the hoopoe.   RIP hoopoe, I’m glad I got to see you 😦

Surveying amphibians and reptiles

On Friday the weather forecast had given sun so the North Wales Amphibian and reptile officer and myself headed for the North Wales coast in the hope of surveying sand lizards.

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Annoyingly as we arrived at the coastal sand dunes the sun disappeared behind a blanket of cloud.  We needed the sun to come out for a bit so as to warm the basking areas so we could hopefully spot a sand lizard coming out of one of its holes in the sand to get warm in the sun.

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It looked however, like there could be a small break in the clouds coming up shortly so we walked to the beach while we waited. It’s amazing how much gets washed up on shore.  There seemed to be a lot of sea urchins and razor shells along the tide line.

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Suddenly we saw the sun about to poke out from behind the clouds and we walked back towards the dunes.  As we walked through the dune system we suddenly started to notice tiny little paw prints in the bare sand.  A stoat maybe??

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To my amazement, I also saw quite a few fungi in the sand dunes.  I never realised before that fungi would grow in such an environment.

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We found a good spot for watching sand lizards and we waited with our binoculars ready.  Using binoculars is a great way to observe the sand lizards from a distance without disturbing.  Unfortunately the clouds once again hid the sun so no sand lizards to be seen.

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When we realised that the sun wasn’t coming out we decided to visit the special natterjack toad areas to check the refugia there for signs of wildlife.

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Although I never saw any natterjack toads I did see a number of frogs and I especially liked an unusual dark honey coloured one we found.

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We found a number of beautiful smooth newts,

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and I even spotted a slug laying eggs in a hole.

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Even better still, I found and got to hold my first common lizard.  He was stunning and quick moving.  He had dug himself a little area to rest in under the refugia so after I had said hello to him, I placed him back safely.

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Even though I didn’t find the sand lizards I had originally wanted to see, I still had the most fantastic day surrounded by nature.

(For more photos of my amphibian and reptile survey head over to my Facebook page here )