Sunday, 14 August 2016

Out and about

I've written before about evening walks and occasional encounters. I'm not sure if there are more animals about or if I'm just seeing more of them, but there has been a definite increase in meetings, particularly with badgers.

As well as more triggering of the backdoor security light as badgers come through the garden, I've had a couple of close encounters in the street that were thrilling and delightful.

A week ago, after a wedding anniversary meal that left me needing a walk, my evening stroll started with a pair of owls, I think tawny, calling to each other from the high trees that bound the zoo's western edge. It would be nice to actually see one sometime, but the calls suffice to let me know they're there. I've heard tawny owl calls described as mournful, but that isn't the sense I get; there is nothing minor key about them, more a soft assertion of presence, over the gentle sussurations of leaves and branches, that delights me, but no doubt terrifies listening rodents.

There were plenty of foxes around, the numbers swelled by this year's cubs. I know three or four were born earlier in the year down the hill, but I'm not sure how many there are altogether in the neighbourhood. It is this time of year when the cubs are more adventurous in the streets, playing in the middle of the road, learning the established paths and runs through and between gardens. Even when they are out of sight you can usually tell where they are as successive security lights flick on in front and back gardens, tracking activity and movement as definitely as an RFID tag.

Towards the end of the walk, as I turned into our street, I noticed a young fox standing in the middle of the street outside our house. I stopped and stood still. I saw that it was watching something, and when that something moved I realised it was a badger which started to come my way. The fox and badger were about 100 metres from me and I stayed motionless. As the badger came closer, I realised it hadn't seen me, unlike the young fox that watched me intently, trying to figure me out.

The badger didn't see me until it was about 2 metres away when it too stopped and was obviously trying to work out what to do. I had plenty of time to take in the grey fur, the colour of darkened charcoal ash, the black snout, the small ears and black eyes. Anxious not to scare it (because claws, teeth) I stayed where I was until it decided the sensible thing to do was scamper away and up a driveway.

Meanwhile, there was movement further down the street and I realised a second fox and a second badger were coming my way. This fox noticed me quite quickly, though I was standing still, and trotted off; again, the badger didn't until it too was about 2 metres away. This one didn't hang around to think about it, it turned round and ran off into the shadows.

I was chatting with neighbours who are happy there are badgers around but would rather they stayed on the hill. I can understand this as they have had to clear up the mess left by badgers in their bins. Nevertheless I disagree. "Rewilding" is a bit of a cliche, but I like the sense that we are surrounded by a nocturnal world that kicks against human sensibilities.

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Catch Up

2016 has been almost as quiet as previous years. In Spring I thought there were signs of an upswing in the numbers of garden birds, but that hasn't been sustained.

My neighbour a couple of doors up reports the same. Despite the proximity of our gardens, the wildlife population differs: for example, I get a lot of jackdaws while he sees none; he gets goldfinches, I almost never do.

Even our usually reliable dunnock population is conspicuous by its absence. I'd like to blame the increasing number of cats in the neighbourhood, but I haven't seen much evidence of dead birds.

On the foxy superhighway
I've seen a single chaffinch in the garden this year (one more than I saw in the previous two years) but mostly it has been blackbirds, blue, great, coal and long-tailed tits and the occasional sparrow. I can hear starlings, but haven't seen many. There was a goldfinch on a TV aerial and three overflying, and 3 rooks a couple of weeks ago (to add to the garden corvid list of raven, carrion crown magpie and jackdaw). The buzzards have been around, but sporadically rather than a constant presence.

About the finches; I've commented here before about the catastrophic loss of greenfinches and chaffinches in the garden since the hard winter of 2010. Melissa Harrison mentioned something I hadn't known about:

Opening food waste bins

For other fauna: foxes are a constant and regular. Our backdoor security light was triggered a few nights ago when a badger took a short-cut, and badgers have been active in the street on bin nights. One of them seems to have developed a technique of pushing recycling bins around our neighbours driveway until the catch springs open.

We still have frogs coming through, though I have no idea where they spawn. Yesterday there were two dead frogs, one on the decking, one on the lawn. Both were adult and looked to have been in healthy condition. The were no marks on one of the bodies, but the other had clearly been killed quite recently by a bite to the throat. As there were no signs of anything snacking, my guess is it was a cat that did the deed.

Finally, the Katy and Cox's Orange Red apple trees continue to thrive (last year the weight of apples was almost too much for the young branches). The greengage and plum trees that went in last year both died and have been replaced--the replacements are doing very well. The damsons in the front garden are establishing themselves and are clearly fruiting. Leaf-curl aphids did some damage but that is more of an unsightliness issue I think, and it looks good for future years. Mind you, last year, something was eating fruits in the night straight off the branches, leaving the stones behind: probably a fox, maybe a squirrel.

Thursday, 3 September 2015

Long tails

It's that time of year again. The first year's damsons are in, slightly early to protect them from a local fox who has a taste for them. In the back the cooking apples are starting to fall off the tree, so I'll harvest them shortly (and we'll have an apple and damson crumble at the weekend I think).

The Katy eating apples will be eating shortly, a week maybe, and the Cox's Orange Reds are coming on nicely for October. The Katies are cropping heavily.

And we had some more garden visitors this morning: three long tail tits that came through briefly. Here are a couple of them caught on the Katy tree.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

New one for the list

After a quiet period in which the garden was notable mainly for jackdaws and magpies, it went crazy this morning with a load of blue tits, great tits, a coal tit, sparrows and robins, may of them recent fledglings I think. I was pleased to see a wren on top of the hedge near the house, though it submerged into the greenery quickly.

This afternoon I was obviously looking out the window at just the right time as a bird hopped out of the hedge, sat on an old stump for a short time, then made itself scarce again. I didn't recognise it at first, but I managed a grab shot on the camera from which I can confirm it was a female redstart. This is a first for the garden as far as I can recall. It was quite a breezy day so I don't know if this bird was literally just being blown through or if it is resident nearby.

A heavily cropped copy of the photo is below.

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Fat balls

Spring is battling its way through the weather. The apple is in blossom (with Katy leading the pack) and the damson blossom has come and gone. The new Victoria plum is doing its best to settle in, with a little blossom and now some leaves, though the new greengage seems to be struggling to establish itself.

Bird life is picking up in terms of numbers, though not species variety. Garden birds have been
  • dunnocks
  • house sparrows
  • blackbirds
  • robins
  • blue tits
  • great tits
  • long-tailed tits
  • wren
  • blackcap (one male)
  • starlings
  • jackdaws
  • wood pigeons
  • ravens
  • magpie.
No finches at all, and no coal tits so far. I heard at least one owl hooting softly a few nights ago, though couldn't see it

Several of the above have been drawn by the bird food at the back of the garden, particularly the fat balls. As happens every year, though, this only lasts until the jackdaws see it--and I've noticed that every so often a jackdaw will come and have a look to see what's there before winging off to bring its hungry chums

My evening walks are mostly populated by foxes at the moment, but I did see my first bat of the year, a pipistrelle I think.

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Spring has sprung

Cherry blossom
Life slowly returns to the garden, though sluggishly. The bird feeders get visitors, mostly blue tits, and the buzzards are overflying again. My damsons, apples, plums and greengages are budding, and a new Japanese cherry in a small pot outside the shed door is blossoming nicely.

And yet it is all a lot quieter than it has been in years past, at least in terms of garden birds. Quite why this should be, I don't know. My gut feel remains that we still haven't recovered from the hard winters 0f 2010 and 2011; I have seen very few finches in the garden since then, for example, except for a pair of greenfinches last year.

Blue Tit at feeder
On the whole, the optimism I felt when I last posted has worn off somewhat--I expected to see more signs of birdlife than have actually happened.

Down where the old Corstorphine railway line runs--now a footpath and cycle path--the stretch between Corstorphine and Pinkhill has a lot of bullfinches, and I have seen them up on Corstorphine Hill too. It could be that the budding damsons in the front garden will attract them round the house later in the year, though I have mixed feelings about this. I'm happy to see them but don't want next year's crop destroyed.

In the bigger picture, walking at night continues to mean encountering foxes regularly, though it is a while since I saw a badger. Nor have I heard owls recently. I mentioned the buzzards and I have also seen a kestrel and a sparrow hawk overflying the garden; a heron overflew last night too. One afternoon I was watching 5 buzzards displaying above the house and saw something else flying very high--too high even for binoculars. It was large and had white-ish underparts. It was flying due north. I suspect, and acknowledge that there may be wishful thinking here, that this was an osprey.

Dunnock at the feeder by the kitchen window
Finally, last spring I noted on Facebook and Twitter that although I had a mass of apple-blossom, there were no pollinators around. The apple crop last year was pretty good all the same. In any event I was pleased to see the bumble bee in the photo above this morning. The apples aren't in blossom yet, but with a bit of luck there'll be a better showing by bees this year.

Note: if anyone is at all interested, all of the pics. here were taken on a Fuji X-Pro 1 with a Fuji XF 18-135 lens

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Winter Blues

So, it has been a while since I posted.

2014 was a very quiet year in the garden. Aside from the continuing presence of buzzards up above, not a lot happened. The new apple trees fruited nicely and some damsons planted in the front garden during 2014 seem to be well bedded in. I'm now planning to add a plum and a greengage to the back garden.

In terms of wildlife, there have been the usual foxes in the neighbourhood but, after my last post, I definitely spotted badgers up the road late last autumn.

This year has also started off quiet despite the bird-feeders being primed. There have been the usual blackbirds, robins, dunnocks and blue, coal and great tits. A wren has been around the hedges quite frequently and a female blackcap turned up yesterday.

We were in Hong Kong for the first three weeks of January 2015 and I came back with some thoughts on gardens and water. We don't have space for anything major, but I may try for something on a small scale.

Sunday, 31 August 2014

Snuffle shuffle

Not a lot of action in the garden. The apples are ripening nicely and the new damsons out the front seem to be bedding in nicely, but apart from that, not much.

Most evenings I go out for a walk - about a mile and a half round the block to round off the day. More nights than not I encounter foxes in the streets, including a couple of fine looking juveniles a couple of nights ago. They clearly aren't frightened of e although they do give people a wide berth. If they are off street and working their way through gardens, the progress of the security lights flicking on tells me where they are.

In the past I've seen bats, too, usually catching moths drawn to street lights. And owls are often heard, though never, so far, seen.

A couple of nights ago, I thought I saw a badger in the distance crossing the road, but it was unclear enough to make it possible that it was a cat. I've seen badgers before up here, but not for a few years. Last night there was no doubt: a badger scuttled across the road, coming out from the shadows by the back entrance to the zoo and heading into a garden. I didn't see it again after that but I am pleased that they are still out and about.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Another year older

It has been a funny old year since my last post.

The reason I haven't written is because there has been nothing much to write about. It seemed to rain continuously from September to March and for whatever reason there has been a distinct lack of activity in the garden.

There has certainly been a much less diverse selection of birds, although I was pleased to see three juvenile blackbirds on the back lawn yesterday, which may indicate a reduction in the number of predators or might just be chance. The buzzards are in the skies, including juveniles, but I haven't noticed any sparrowhawks or kestrels around and I think there have been fewer magpies.

I seem to have seen a greater number of house-sparrows too and fewer dunnocks, and the local ravens have been around more often too. I haven't seen the woodpecker this year.

Foxes have mainly been spotted in the evening on the street - we had no snow so I couldn't keep track of activity in the garden in winter. I haven't seen any fox cubs around this year anyway.

Both of the new apple trees are fruiting (only the Katy did last year) and, though I was worried about a lack of bees when the apples were in full blossom, a couple of weeks later the rhododendron in the back garden and the thyme in the front were crawling with bumble bees and honey bees. Three damson trees are now in the front garden and I am considering adding a plum and a greengage in the back.

Finally, there seem to have been plenty of frogs in the back during the evening so there is obviously plenty for them to eat.

Saturday, 20 July 2013

It's been a while

It has been fairly quiet around the garden of late probably because I've stopped putting out so much food. This isn't deliberate cruelty but because the minute I put anything out it is devoured by rapacious jackdaws and I'm getting fed up of that.

There have been other reasons, as the photo to the right indicates. I was lucky to get this - I was washing some dishes and spotted this sparrowhawk sitting up on a neighbour's chimney stack quietly watching over the gardens. That would explain the almost complete silence that had fallen around the place as well. I took this from the back door at the far end of a zoom lens and have cropped it quite severely for posting here.

Not putting out food, especially set balls,seems to have been enough to stop visits from teh Great Spotted Woodpecker that had been coming around. That's a shame but, on the other hand, the jackdaws weren't leaving it any food anyway.

On the other hand, a couple of weeks ago I was out in the garden and heard a racket of gulls overhead. Like an idiot I didn't look up for a while to see what was going on. The photo to the left was a bit of a grab shot and has also been cropped quite severely for posting.

The noise was from seagulls mobbing a common buzzard which coasted around for a while before flying off in search of a quieter life.

It is nice that the buzzards are still around but they are nowhere near as frequent visitors as in the last couple of years.

Also noticeable has been an absence of wasps when I've been sitting out. This is due, I suppose, to a cold wet summer last year and a false spring followed by a late chill this year. I can't say I'm complaining but it has been noticeable enough to remark upon.