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Sheffield, United Kingdom(Zone 7b)

I always leave lots of seed heads on the evening primroses, lavender, Michaelmas daisies, etc. for the birds to eat and for insects to over-winter in, but at this time of the year am very tempted to tidy everything up as it looks such a mess and there isn't much else to do.

I 've managed to restrain myself and have been rewarded with large flocks of gold finches and best of all today there was a flock of redpoll which we haven't seen in the garden for years. I feed the birds and today recorded 18 different species, most of which I could see while having my cup of tea in bed.

The redpoll were mainly on the evening primroses.

I just thought I would mention this in case you are tempted to have a tidy up. Messy gardens are more wild-life friendly at least until Spring.

Lincoln, United Kingdom(Zone 8a)

I agree with you, I can't believe looking back at the summer photos there could be SUCH a difference. I have leaves still all over, it came cold at the same time they came off this year, we have a huge conker tree and you know how many Big leaves they drop. We have had goldfinches, a few years ago when we moved in there was quite a few, now not so many. Had a nest in the conker tree a couple of years ago, a baby was on the ground, cold and nearly dead. I warmed it up, tried to feed it, and he was such a little cutie. He died that night, it seems they need the saliva from the parent to digest their food, but at least it was a comfortable passing in it's sleep. The nest was far too high to get to. I have seen the blue tits lately, they like the nice young buds on my nectarine tree! Blackbirds busy throwing up the leaves looking for worms that lay under them. I always leave most leaves on the beds till spring, and most of the dead plant tops, all sorts live in them. I often find lady birds in the seed heads of many plants, dahlia, delphinium, anything they can crawl in. When I finally clean them up I have to leave the recycle bin lid open while they crawl to the top! There is also a gatekeeper butterfly I had this year, and I discovered they only have one lot of young, the caterpillar overwinters under debris on the ground. I also saw a Red Admiral drop an egg while on a dahlia.

You did well to see 18 species, I have never counted them but we do get quite a few, in a country area. Redpolls are very rare, it must be 25 years since I came across them last. We have had bullfinches, Jays, woodpeckers, wagtails, a hawk (which got a pidgeon in our garden), and there is a bird we have each year lately i feel sure must be a nightingale. Others I have seen in the trees, making noises I don't recognise, I will have to get a proper book and study them. One nuisance, although they are a bird with equals rights, is the magpye, we have a thrush which goes and comes back, then the magpye steals the young. Each year we have a pair of mallards in our beck at the front, just before they go off to nest. They dive for the acorns that come off the oak tree next to it, and sun themselves on our lawn. We have a regular squirrel that buries its nuts and digs around for them again, I get hazelnuts springing up everywhere. I saw it yesteday, it nibbles conkers, don't know when its supposed to hibernate. I also saw a huge bumblebee a few days ago on my neighbours viburnum, just opening flowers.

I'm having a lovely ramble here aren't I?

Rambling and yarning is pretty much what we've always done in this forum Wallaby *G*

It's very tempting to tidy the garden up but like you two we find the birds come in for the seeds (if I haven't got there first) and it helps to form a protective frost mat for the overwintering plants.

We saw a Red Kite in the summer overhead and it returned recently making the resident fowl silent and watchful but no goldfinches here that I've seen. There is a tree creeper somewhere abouts and the usual array of bird species.

We planted with wildlife in mind and have tried to keep as many nectar plants as possible over a long season but they've been gone for a few weeks now.

Sheffield, United Kingdom(Zone 7b)

Your garden sounds lovely Wallaby *G*, and yes, Baa we do tend to have a ramble on this forum. We do seem to be like minded people don't we, we set one another off.

The Redpoll are here again this morning and seem to be going around with the Siskins and Goldfinches. They look beautiful, they were all sitting on separate twigs on an Amelanchier tree I have recently pruned near the house and just looked like Christmas tree decorations.

I have had the same problem with the Magpie, every time the Song thrush has a nest in the garden they steal the young. One year they took three consecutive broods. I felt like taking the air rifle to them, but would have probably shot a passerby instead.

We've never had any Red kite here, but a Sparrow hawk passes through the garden usually twice a day, and last winter when it had snowed it landed on the wall about six feet from our bedroom window.
Last summer I saw it pluck a House martin from the air and then land on the garage roof to eat it. Nature in the raw!

Your comment about the Gate Keeper butterfly was interesting. We had quite a lot last year, much more than usual, and I didn't know the caterpillars overwintered in leaf litter, so that gives me even more of an incentive to leave things alone.

I'm going to get all my seed catalogues out now and check through the seeds I have left. At least I can plan and order my new seeds ready to get gardening a.s.a.p. even if it isn't the weather for doing anything outside. I find gardening so thereapeutic, I get withdrawal symptoms if I don't have a potter in the garden or greenhouse. Still, the day length is on the increase again and the birds seem to sense it, they have started singing again, the Robin is getting a bit territorial and the blackbirds are pairing up. Roll on Spring.

Lincoln, United Kingdom(Zone 8a)

Patbarr, I bet you wish you had your camera on hand when the sparrowhawk landed on your wall! You must be in it's hunting path, what a treat. I had our squirrel on the ledge of our front window once, he was going back and forth as if trying to look in, his front legs up on the window, no time to get the camera. It is quite low to the ground, and large. We had been giving it some left over nuts, walnuts and hazels, leaving them at the bottom of the oak not far away, he would take them up the tree and sit on the blue tit nesting box, nibbling them.
I felt so sorry for the song thrush, so beautiful to have it singing, it would stand guard and chase the magpye, but I found 2 babies under the conker tree with no heads, they do just take off the head, horrid!
I had lots of different butterflies this year, as I grow more flowers it is attracting them, also getting good established shrubs for them to hide in. Saw a small tortoiseshell only once, but had a female speckled wood, the male I think I saw him darting around bushes. A pair of peacocks on my seed grown dahlia collarette 'Dandy', a pair of Red Admirals regularly visited the seed grown species dahlias, I think i saw 3 different commas, like the dahlias but mostly sedum 'Frosty Morn'. Also a pair of brimstones, they liked the species dahlias, and actually are the only central European butterfly to hibernate as a buttefly in evergreen shrubs, wihtout seeking a more protected site. I saw one lurking in and out of my ceanothus. They have the longest life span of 10-11 months, emerging Feb or March, mate and lay eggs in April in one brood. The caterpillars feed on buckthorn species.
The gatekeeper caterpillar feeds at night on common lawn grasses, perennial rye grass, bents, fescues etc, so it is a good idea to have some rough patches. The adults feed on flowers found mostly around bramble thickets.

The Speckled Wood hang around shady shrubs, and rest on the leaves of other shrubs and herbaceous plants. It hung around a large hebe under a red leaved cherry, also on the dahlias and other shrub nearby, fed on the hebe flowers but alsolikes well ripe juices from berries. i have boysenberries, raspberries and victoria plums. The bullfinch I saw last year on dried seed on the boysenberry. Speckled Wood caterpillars (2-3 broods) feed on species grasses, like Yorkshire fog, Bearded Couch, Cocksfoot, Wood Sedge, False Brome etc. I have been pushing leylandii hedge clippings around the roots of the trees to mulch, and some rough grasses grow there which I leave as not doing any harm, they possibly provide food, but the chickens from across the road are allowed to wander, and they have been scratching it all out and feeding, I think I managed to scare them back a litlle, the neighbours need to be scared back too, they started roaming all over my garden. I have never seen so many, and want to keep encouraging them, I had to buy a book, a Collins Butterflies and Moths of britain & Europe.

I've put in acouple of orders for tubers and bulbs, from jungleseeds and jacquesamand, i was going to order seeds, have a preliminary list for Chilterns sorted, also want some from plantworld-devon, and tradewindsfruit, oh the expense! No good waiting though, you can soon miss out. I have got it real bad when it comes to 'wanting' more plants over winter, as if there wasn't enough to do! It just breaks out in a spending rash.

A pic to share, the woodpecker I took on 9th June climbing the oak, from our small to window, I got him all the way up. The box below is a blue tit nesting box, each spring I hear the 'tap tap' when they think they have to peck out the hle, then you have to watch very carefully to see them, they dart in and out. I had a small nest of some sort in my passiflora caurulea on the south wall, found it when trimming it back, it runs along the electric cable and into the roof. It could have been a wrens, we always have some, and of course the robins.
Spring should be due soon, I think we have had winter!

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Castelnau RB Pyrenée, France(Zone 8a)

I love watching the birds in the garden too
I used to do the BTO garden bird survey when I was in the UK - endless fun recording. I think I had 60 something species overall after a couple of years - 18 in one day is fantastic :)
I had the redpoll/siskin/goldfinch troops, which are lovely to watch. One of my favourites were the long tailed tits which used to do a regular round and seem very indifferent to humans so you can get quite close if you just stand still while they pass (if that makes sense lol). I had redwing on the lawn one year too, after the apples I put out, oh, and a lesser spotted woodpecker on the Scotch thistles - drilling the stems for grubs. Yes, I'm an 'untidy' gardener too and leave as much as possible for the wildlife - as well as planting things specially.

Here the nuthatches are surprisingly common - dominating activity at the feeders. I have a feeder on a dead tree just outside and we get treecreepers on there, as well as the blue, great and marsh tits (I've not seen coal tits strangely enough). We have an overwintering warbler too, but I'm not sure which one
The other day in the countryside I was thrilled to see a purple heron - a very unusual sight at this time of year - thought they were all in Africa lol. It's a fantastic area for birds of prey. I'm still learning to ID them, but we definitely have red and black kites, peregrines, buzzards, kestrels, booted and bonellis eagles. They occasionally fly over the garden..........

That's a very long waffle for me - I've loved reading what you're seeing :)
Thanks for the photo wallaby

Lincoln, United Kingdom(Zone 8a)

Hi philomel, I'm sure we could drag a bit more waffle out of you!
Wow what a lot of birds of prey, so nice to know there are places they can thrive, I was just reading a thread on the DG newsletter, take a look, the pic with the bird of prey on the post. A lot of urban sprawl drives out their food and thus the birds.

Without looking at a map, are you somewhere near the south of France, I did have a good drive around and it sounds like something down toward the southern wine growing districts. Birds I imagine would find it easy to emigrate from Africa. Do you like life there? A lot of us would love to go, such a vast country and more space, and beautiful country, not to mention the quality foods. And the wine! That's it, now I am going to have to do a search........again!

have you any pics to share with us? You can tell I'm getting all gastronomically excited here, can't you......

Sheffield, United Kingdom(Zone 7b)

Hi Philomel, It sounds to be a wonderful area you are living in now. Are you near the Pyrennes? The best I can do is the Pennines, and we are only just on the edge. I've just down-loaded Google Earth so that I can track down my son while he is on his travels in Laos. I tried to find your town, but France isn't as detailed as the UK, USA and Canada. I got quite a shock when I looked for my house, it is so clear you can even see the garden paths. It doesn't cost anything to download and the geographical feature are brilliant. You can fly round the world and zoom in on anywhere you like.

Anyway, for anyone interested in birding the most amazing thing I have ever seen was from a high hill in a small town on the Bosphorus, a short boat ride away from Istanbul. It was September and the migration was in full swing and every morning between 10.30 and noon thousands and thousands of birds of prey, eagles, vultures, buzzards and huge flocks of storks came wheeling down the river from the Russian Steppes on their way to warmer climes. My partner identified them for me and there were the Bonellis etc, that you mentioned. Birders from all over Europe were there with all the gear waiting for them. You could almost set your watch by them they were so regular, just for a week or so. The first sign that they were coming was the noise, and then a vast stream of huge wonderful birds.

Istanbul was pretty amazing too!

By the way, Wallaby, I like the woodpecker photo. My bird photos tend to be spot the kingfisher ones. I know there was one there when I took the photo, but it takes a bit of finding.

Lincoln, United Kingdom(Zone 8a)

Pat you sound to have had an amazing time! Thanks for the tip on the satellite tracker, will search it out.

The oak tree is fairly close to the house, but I had to climb up to the small top opener (uPVC, don't open that well!) and shot through the gap. it's 5mp so can zoom in quite a bit and crop without loosing pixels. Besides, it wasn't flying!

Castelnau RB Pyrenée, France(Zone 8a)

Yes, wallaby, I'm in the SW - roughly half way on a line drawn between Toulouse and Biarritz, on the edge of the Armagnac (brandy) producing district and surrounded by vineyards growing grapes for 'Cotes de Saint Mont' wines (very good in all 3 colours). A local speciality is Floc which is armagnac and first press fresh grape juice mixed 50% and matured for a while (yummy :) I suppose the grapes and wines are nearest in character to those of Bordeaux (claret etc) but have a flavour all their own.

We are also in the area where the french come to eat, producing foie gras, ducks, geese, delicious lamb, beef and pork and lots of vegetables - oh and melons and asparagus are specialities here too.

We're about 2 hours from the top of the Pyrenees and, though we can't really rival the Bosphorus Pat, there are a lot of birds migrating through the mountain passes. We also get the odd chough etc even as far as we are from the mountains. The most unusual bird I've seen flying over was a Bittern - never seen one flying before. Also, I stepped out of one of our doors one morning to find a Nightjar a yard from me trying to use its camouflage on the concrete (didn't quite work). It sat there for about a minute and then we made eye contact, it knew it had been spotted and flew off with a whirring of wings.

Mmm, must go and look for Google earth - keep meaning to and not getting round to it. Thanks for the nudge :)

Castelnau RB Pyrenée, France(Zone 8a)

Oh dear, another reason for updatingmy computer - I still have Windows 98 and Google earth needs a newer system :(

Does it have any towns? we are between Plaisance du Gers and Nogaro
Alternatively (to give larger towns), we are almost equidistant between Pau, Auch and Mont de Marsan. These are the 'capitals' of the following departements respectively
Pyrenées Atlantiques (64), Gers (32) and les Landes (40).

Cranes overwinter in les Landes and I'm planning a trip to go and see them soon.

Lincoln, United Kingdom(Zone 8a)

philomel, it sounds heavenly. We drove through a gorge near Toulouse going from west to east, ancient caves there , through a place which I remember as something le Puy, nestled down amongst hills, across the flat wine producing area, then toward the Italian border in the alps, then northwards thru Grenoble up to the 'balloon' mountains, just a circular loop really. I have once before been to Auch though on a previous drive, I remember Aachen on the coast, went to Lourdes, and that marvellous place on the cliffs, Roccamadour, spelt wrong poss. but a long time ago. We also took a trip to Rome, going through Lyon, thru Switzerland, the Mont Blanc tunnel, Bologna, Firenze, Rome, back up the coast to Pisa, then along the Mediterranean coast thru all those tunnels and over bridges. Went nothwards near Nice, across to Etienne, up to Paris where i didn't have a clue which exit to take for the ring road and ended up just heading northward until I saw a sign of a place i recognised on the map! Oh it was fun, but some inconsiderate prat on the road here gave me a nerve injury on the shoulder, put a stop to all that. The warm weather would be great for me though, not to mention everything else.

I also looked at the Google Earth site, I got a new computer this year, and have all the requirements, but not on broadband. I can see I will have to be upgrading before very long! My partner is really into sky viewing stuff, he has adapted a model helicopter with a camcorder, which actually works very well, but this has perked up his eckles.

I used to dream I could fly when young, we had some eagles in Australia, my father looked up at one flying over once and it plopped in his eye! Perhaps I need to do what that guy in the film did, followed the Canada geese on their flight, bring back the memories of youth.

Sheffield, United Kingdom(Zone 7b)

I've just looked up the towns you mentioned Hilary, and it shows Nogaro, Pau, Auch and Mont de Marsan. You can see all the small fields and there look to be quite a few lakes. For some reason it names some quite small roads, but not the towns they run through. It is just like being in a plane. It tells you what altitude you are when you zoom in. You look to be quite near to Spain. My partner's mother is Spanish, from Bilbao, but she hasn't been back for about 40 years, and as she is 84 now I doubt if she will.

You sound to have travelled quite a bit Wallaby 1. I've never done much driving abroad. I get confused if the controls are the wrong way round. It's OK while I'm concentrating, but if I have to do something quickly I automatically go for where the hand brake is in my own car and go into silly female driver mode. I'm sure it wouldn't take long to get used to it though.

The snow and ice has melted here today and it's been very wet and quite dark. My new hens don't seem to have got the idea that they should shelter and were cold and wet through when I fastened them up this afternoon. I hope they don't get ill. The Warrens feathers don't seem as waterproof as the Daisy Bells. I'll have to keep an eye on them.

Castelnau RB Pyrenée, France(Zone 8a)

Yes, we're about 2 hours from Spain, and there are lots of rivers and lakes, which I love. The Atlantic is only an hour and a half away, but when you don't want to travel and don't need the waves there are lots of local beaches on the fresh water which are a lot of fun.

I always used to find that it was when I went back to the UK that I would forget the drive on the left thing....... so watch out for a madwoman in a hire car in February LOL
When I watch UK TV I get this really uncomfortable feeling, wondering why they're driving on the 'wrong' side of the road.
I haven't visited half the places you name wallaby, but have been to Puy en Valais, a really striking town with all the steeples. Although I stayed nearby when house hunting I never actually got to Rocamador, so that's on my list of 'to go to'. Have just got a camping car, so hope to travel. My brother and family are in Milan and have a villa in a little village near the smallest of the Italian lakes, so that's definitely a direction I shall be heading :)

The temperature has shot up here too Pat. Last year the hybrid cuckoo hens started laying on January 1st. This year the marans I raised from eggs have gone one better and started laying on the 27th December. These are the noir cuivré - black with copper necks. Their eggs are very dark brown, see photo below :) I put on shop bought brown egg in the box for comparison
I hope your new hens are settling in well now and learn to avoid the rain etc

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Lincoln, United Kingdom(Zone 8a)

Pat it wasn't a big problem for me driving, I went in my own car, but you have to rely on your passenger to tell you WHEN you can pass, and you can imagine what fun that is! A male sitting there saying, yes go now, me saying do you mean NOW, he saying er...WAIT! He has a problem sorting his left from his right, after stopping I always had to put him in gear, imagine turning left or right on a T junction, which side of the road to BE on, and which side of the road to GO on.

philomel your brain is set to recognise a direction with your vision, and if that's changed it is like throwing your balance, I have this problem now with the injury, if I cross my ankles I get a balance loss in my brain. I only have to THINK I might lose my balance if I do something like bend over a slope, and my brain does a quick balance check like a shot from the left to the right, the power of thought helps us protect ourselves, but can also kill us.

Puy en Valais is the place, you wind down into the village, in the 'valley', and there are statues all over the hillocks, and yes steeples, we climbed a very steep lot of steps to a church on top of the hill in the village, it had some unusual history attached to it I don't remember, but what old church has not. You will love the lakes in Northern Italy, we drove up the side of the first big one, Maggi....? I need my map!, then around the top near Switzerland, and down to Como. It is very difficult following road signs in Italy, you have to look for the next MAJOR place, and that is not always there, so a good nose for direction is required. When we hit lake Como it wasn't obvious, and the wrong 'way' took us up one of those really tall steep mountains with a deep narrow valley covered in tall pines and other trees. Just kept going up, up, thinking at some stage must start going down, down, there were goats with neck bells, and a mountain herder, just like in the movies.
It started chucking with heavy rain, spent a night in Como, still chucking so moved south, still chucking when we got to Milan, so continued south, Milan was an endless drive through tall buildings, couldn't imagine what they were all used for, looked neither residential nor commercial. The lakes were so beautiful, where all the rich used to go, bit flat in between, but once past Bologna started getting into mountains, and the colours, burnt brown soils, vinyards, those tall Italian cypress sitting on the hilltops, clouds lurking on the peaks and in the valleys, old villas wobbling precariously on cliff edges. Rome is amazing, easy to find a cheap 1* hotel, they are reclassified from B&B, all Italian places are clean, just don't get the TV and telephone etc. We paid 70,000 lira in 1992, where most were well over 300,000 lira, and we were closer to the centre, all you have to do is follow the signs towards the railways, always accommodation, and always near city centre. Then it was 2010 lira to £1, changed by 50% later to 3,000. If you haven't been to Rome, it is a must, the size of the old buildings is mind goggling, white horse statues on top of one. The Trevi fountain you would not believe. It is in front of a huge building, near town centre, and by size comparison the fountain looks small. there is a 'pool' in front of the statues of horses, and the building behind towers over it. Then you look at people walking amongst the horses, and they look like ants! On top of all that, it seems to be enclosed in such a small space, other tall buildings crowd around it and make it look small, but it is huge. We spent 2 days there, were going to look around some museums, but would you believe it, 'closed on Mondays'. Being time restricted to 2 weeks, couldn't hang around. Trying to get out of Rome was impossible, took forever, and Italian drivers are notoriously good on the hooters, pedestrian crossings ignored, you will see little old ladies dressed in black shouting and waving their fists at them. We saw 5 accidents in Italy, one we were there when heard a huge thud. Had stopped in at a roadside petrol station/cafe, a big 4WD was exiting when a little fiat zipped in and thud. It was quiet too, hardly a car around. Always a big vehicle with a small fiat, one was a mercedes with its bonnet stuck under the side of a truck. Saw no accidents in France.

Lucky for you having a brother there, we all should have a relative there really! Oh well, back to the seed catalogues.

Sheffield, United Kingdom(Zone 7b)

What beautiful brown eggs. Two of my new hens have layed today and quite a few of the older ones are getting nice red wattles so they shouldn't be long before they start up again. My Marrans used to lay nice brown eggs, but if they fidgeted about in the nest they rubbed the brown off. Its funny how some eggs have the colour all the way through and some seem to be painted on.

Your descriptions of Italy are making me want to travel again. I've been to Venice and Sicily, but never stayed in Italy. My younger son is always travelling all over the world between jobs, or should I say he has jobs between travelling. I keep suggesting he settles in some beautiful warm country so I can visit him.

Castelnau RB Pyrenée, France(Zone 8a)

Oh you're really gettig me going on the travel lust too wallaby!
I bought myself a new toy for Christmas - a GPS. It's fab!! So no more having to stop and study the map at intervals my poor retention span can cope with. It's taken me by fantastic back roads to places I thought I knew all the best routes to. It'll be a real boon driving around either solo or with my 95 year old Mum - who used to be an ace navigator, but it's not fair to ask it of her now. I wondered whether it would be a white elephant, but I'm hooked :)

I'm about to join you with the seed catalogues wallaby
Your new hens must be happy if they're laying Pat :)

Middlesbrough, United Kingdom

Ooh! Lovely eggs! Yum yum! My garden is pretty untidy; hopefully now that my formal college/uni studies are over, I'll have more time to mess around in it. I still have a college guitar class, once a week, and also a Saturday morning music jam (organised by the college) but it's definitely a lighter workload. The daffodils are starting to poke their tips through in some of the gardens now.

Sheffield, United Kingdom(Zone 7b)

Have you noticed how the birds are singing now the days are lengthening again?

This morning we had a treat when a female greater spotted woodpecker landed on the seed feeder outside the window and started taking the sunflower seeds out one at a time and took them to the pear tree, where she embedded them in the bark. She was there for over five minutes going backwards and forwards from feeder to tree. I wonder what the tree will look like if they germinate!

Lincoln, United Kingdom(Zone 8a)

Strange that Pat, I thought they picked things FROM the bark, not buried them! Great, you should get sun ripened pears! I should have a bird feeder, but the cats would like that too! Then it would be a cat feeder. They are clever little monkeys.

Castelnau RB Pyrenée, France(Zone 8a)

That's fascinating Pat. I've watched the nuthatches doing that, but, the same as wallaby, I didn't realise that woodpeckers stash things too.
Lol, that tree would look great :o)

Sheffield, United Kingdom(Zone 7b)

I had never seen this before, I knew they probed about in bark for insects, but perhaps they thought there was a good supply so they hid some for when they were hungry.

I have my feeders hanging from the branches and use old pairs of tights to suspend them at a height that the cats can't reach, but which I can manage to fill them, and I try to put them on fairly thin branches which the cats find too wobbly to walk down. Then the squirrels are the next problem. They chewed the little perch bits off the peanut feeder last week, so the bottom fell off. I've replaced the perch with a knitting needle of the right thickness and put a cork on the sharp end to stop them pulling it out, and a bit of blue tack where it goes through the feeder so that it doesn't revolve when the birds land on it. They haven't been on it again yet, but I'm sure they will try.

Castelnau RB Pyrenée, France(Zone 8a)

Yes, the grey squirrels have a lovely time with bird feeders ;o) I didn't have trouble with them til my last couple of years in the UK (which I didn't know were going to be) and bought one of those caged in feeders, which worked well. They had been pulling my other (metal mesh) feeders apart.
Now I'm out here I can be very smug (LOL) as there are only red squirrels. I gave my special feeder away to a guest who was having trouble in their garden.

Good luck with your 'squirrel proofing' Pat

Sheffield, United Kingdom(Zone 7b)

Did you do the Big Garden Bird Watch today? I got 16 species in the hour we were supposed to do it, but all the best ones stayed away - typical! The most interesting was a large flock of siskins which stayed around all day. There were at least 20, but they wouldn't stay still long enough for me to count them accurately.

Lincoln, United Kingdom(Zone 8a)

I didn't know there was one! I did see a pair of birds I didn't recognise yesterday, but by I had got the camera they were gone. I saw one of them the day before just flitting past the window into a shrub and it was enough to recognise the colouring. They reminded me of a larger blue tit but not blue, I don't think like a coal tit or great tit either, but about the same size. The blackish cap was there, some light blackish and whitish wing markings, but also a sort of burnt umbra colour, I really must get myself a book, or have a search on the net. And set up a feeding station!

Sheffield, United Kingdom(Zone 7b)

The Bird Watch is the annual one run by the R.S.P.B. so they can monitor how well, or badly our garden birds and British birds in general are doing. You write down the maximum number of each species you see at one time and all the species you see in one hour, any time during the day. You could do it this weekend either Saturday or Sunday, but I'm afraid you'll have to wait for next year now.

I can't think what the birds are that you saw. It sounds rather like a coal tit, but I don't think the wings have any white on them. Then chaffinches have dark wings with a white wing bar, but they don't have black caps. Bull finches have black caps, but you couldn't mistake their deep pink chest and white rump for anything else, so I have no idea. Perhaps they will come back so you can get a better look at them. We do sometimes get over-wintering black caps, but I've not seen any for a while. You will have to get the bird book out.

Lincoln, United Kingdom(Zone 8a)

I know what all those birds look like, it just caught my eye when I first saw the one flitting by as something different. It was the next day they were both sitting on the twigs on lower branches of the conker tree, I saw them from an upstairs window so got a reasonable look as they weren't far from the ground. I have seen quite a few different birds over the years, never this one. I am curious, so will have to search for it.

One hour in any one time isn't much to count birds in is it? i have seen it advertised in mags before but don't buy them now, it's knowing when!

Lincoln, United Kingdom(Zone 8a)

What an interesting day it has been for bird spotting. I saw a pair of hedge sparrows (dunnocks) near the house this morning picking up bits off the grass, I know we have them but very rarely do you see them, and never together. Later I saw a female sparrow on top of the blue tits box on the oak at the front, it was looking down at the hole trying to figure how to get there. Then a blue tit came and shooed it away, sat in it's hole for a while and went. I normally see them later than this when starting to nest, and mostly first hear them tapping at the hole, not sure if this is a habit in order to make the hole the right size, or to attract the female. For the rest of the season you have to look very carefully to see them, they flit in and out very secretively. So I suppose they 'reserve' their box well before they use it.

A little later I looked out and saw 2 Great Tits at the base of the oak tree, picking up bits, and then on the bark pecking something off it. I rushed downstairs to get my camera, but when I got back of course they had gone. Then I saw a Jay a little further along by the roadside, on the other side of our beck. It was picking something off the grass as it walked, so had my camera, do I risk taking a shot through the glass, or should I open the window? I opened the window, which made a little squeak and it flew across the road to a tree at the front of the house there. It was probably the low flying helicopter that went past behind the house that scared it, would you know it? I couldn't quite pick it out, but then it decided to glide off, it went down low to the ground behind the stables opposite, so I missed it! We have seen a jay on the rare occasion before at the edge of our garden, last summer it was there a little more often, perhaps as I put in more beds it has more to interest it, or give it cover. I have not, as yet, managed to get a pic of it, but I will keep trying! It is such a rare bird to come across, but we do have woods nearby.

Just reminding myself to search for the mystery birds, I think I am developing a nice little organic haven here for them, it is so rewarding, I really loved having all the butterflies here last year, and am looking forward to having much more. I heard on the radio the other day someone asking if anyone has seen a ladybird yet. I can see them all winter, they hide in my plants, I often see some between the camellia leaves. So you see, you have to develop a home for them and they will live with you.

Sheffield, United Kingdom(Zone 7b)

Your garden sounds lovely Janet. Your oak tree will attract the Jays as they like burying the acorns. Birds and animals never co-operate when you want to photo them do they? Or if you go for your binoculars, they are never there when you get back. Is your camera a digital one? My son says you can't take good digital shots through glass as they use infra red, but I've taken some nice photos through train windows with my SLR.

There are huge flocks of siskins on the feeders again this morning, goldfinches, greenfinches, a pair of blackbirds, two pairs of dunnocks a robin, wren, a small flock of house sparrows and blue tit, great tit and coal tit and a few chaffinches. Nothing unusual, but lovely to see them and all their beautiful colours. It is very cold here today, I had to thaw the ice out on their bird bath.

Lincoln, United Kingdom(Zone 8a)

Patt it was cold here too, I couldn't go out for 5 minutes and really got chilled. The thermometer on the lawn read 32F, or 0C freezing! I did go out to get the budgie some chick weed and ended up doing a bit of cleaning up and rose pruning, once I did something it wasn't too bad, but I think it was still. It felt good to get something done, when February comes you can usually say the temps have changed just a little, yes DOWN.

We have all of those birds but I am not familiar with siskins, don't often see the chaffinches and greenfinches, but I'm sure they are around, I just need to entice them! The guy across the road said he had counted well over 40 species of birds, he has a paddock behind and then woods, that is where we get nice sunsets this time of year and I always curse the house, trees and cables in the way!
A greenfinch once ran into our large front window and died, its partner was there looking and waiting for it, so sad. We have the occasional pigeon run into the greenhouse too, just about every year one hits a house window, some die, they hit it with force and break their necks. I think the trees and sky reflect into them and they think they can go through.

Have plenty of blackbirds, one year a female used to come to within a couple of feet of me when I was cleaning up border edges, waiting for worms. They feed their young with left over cat food at the back of the house, so they probably weren't scared. It's the magpyes we get every year that I dislike, looking for young birds. I counted 5 in our back garden one year.
We always have crows nesting in the chimney pots, they used to use the unused one from the bedroom, our neighbour had her firplace taken out and chimney capped, they also put an old concrete slab on that one ( she is strange, blames us for everything!). I thought she was doing us a favour, now I know it was because she thought it would make her place damp. it was our fault when her oil boiler made a smell (poss atomising), the coal man got some differenet very gassy coal, it built up gases and we had a chimney fire. She had her smell when she came home and put on her heating after about 2 hours (she lives at her parents mostly), but she jumped on the opportunity to blame us. I could tell a very funny story about how she said the smoke was going up our chimney, turning to gas and going down hers! it was very distressing though, she had a rogue builder/chimney man tell us we needed to put in a liner at £1400, had the environment agency to monitor a smoke test that she 'didn't mind paying for us'. Days after we hadn't had a fire and she still said it was 'lingering' and her lungs were sensitive to the smell. Smoke test was negative, she still said it was us (the heat of a fire seals up the crack!) and we would pay for her chimney work to put in air vents. Strange thing was we didn't have a smell. It was like a comedy of errors, i just told her in the end she was a fire risk, she had two neighbours, and she had better sort it. That was last March and I haven't spoken to her since. She now comes and goes like a ghost, I strut around like a peacock! That's the last time she will trouble me, she has always been trying to tell me what I should do, what I can and can't do in my front garden, monitoring the width of the road which is ours and she uses! Haha, and their sewage drains run through our property as shared pipes, we are the ones that keep them clean, considering shoving a dead hedgehog up hers! Anyway, now that I've had a good grumble, yes it is nice but the neighbour undesirable, and now the crows nest in our main chimney. We thought the nest was just resting on the bar at the top, but it was full of twigs all the way to the bottom and took hours to get out! Then we put a wire cage on it as they were still going in when we had fires just at night. Within 3 days of full time fires the wire cage was completely clogged with soot, so had to take it off. I recently complained in a nice way to the coal man, the coal is cleaner now but still not as good as we had. And we will have to put a cage on again before the crows come back in spring.

I do have a digital camera, and have taken some good pics through the window, but one I tried out the back once to get a bull finch on the boysenberry (dried berries) was murky, and the Jay was at an angle so thought it might reflect. It is double glazing too. I have a Sony DSCV1, it has infra red and sends out the rays automatically on dark objects, also takes perfect pictures in complete darkness. It just reads the object, flashes and presto! It has a thread for adding lens, might do that at some stage. I haven't heard of ordinary cameras using infra red. i do hang out of the window upstairs to get sunsets, I can also get some through the hinge gap, have to remember to put the strap around my wrist, it is a low window and I put one foot on the outside ledge, one inside. Shame if I fall off!

A snow pic through our front window in December

Thumbnail by wallaby1
Sheffield, United Kingdom(Zone 7b)

Your photography sounds rather precarious hanging out of windows and balancing on windowsills. Your camera is very good. Isn't your neighbour horrible, the dead hedgehog trick would give her a few more smells to cope with wouldn't it.

I don't suppose you've identified the mystery birds yet have you? We had something on the feeder this morning that we couldn't make out. It didn't stay long enough for us to get a good look at it. It was small and came with the siskins, but was brown rather than green. I thought its chest looked like a goldfinch, but the rest of it didn't. It may have been a female redcap, but will remain a mystery until it keeps still enough for us to have a better look.

I'm just going to do a little digging now as it's warmer today, and I let the hens out to help me do the top garden. I'm going to sow some seeds in the greenhouse too. I can't wait any longer - getting withdrawal symptoms!

Lincoln, United Kingdom(Zone 8a)

No, still haven't looked for the mystery bird, too much else gets my attention! Yep, would love the hedgehog trick, not that I am a vindictive person you understand, but some people just deserve it! It would at least give me something to SMILE about!

I think spring is around the corner, tulips pushing up today, and snowdrops have buds, we deserve it after all this cold! I need to get some dead leaves up, that is a never ending job, crocus well and truly pushing now, and tete a tete daffodils, they didn't mind the cold did they? So I have to get my butt off the seat and get out, it is still and about 45F so should be OK, no chilling winds! I have already put in some seed, got some from tradewindsfruit (19!) and put 3 lots in, more to do, put 5 lots of palm seed from rarepalms in to soak last night, I really do make work for myself but I love it! I daren't count the number of seed I have bought this year. Did you see the voting on Phil on the home page? Ours is Melissa mole, and she didn't see her shadow on the 2nd Feb, so we must be getting spring!

Sheffield, United Kingdom(Zone 7b)

Hi Wallaby1, I saw the film Groundhog day so I suppose that is what it is all about. We haven't had any moles in the garden since our ginger cat died. He used to bring live ones home. I've no idea where he got them from.

Spring is certainly in the air with lots of new growth on everything and all the buds swelling on the shrubs and trees. The birds are all pairing up too and singing their little hearts out every morning. They have all been checking out the nest boxes too which is lovely. I've trimmed all my hedges so they won't get disturbed once they start nest building. I left the holly til last as it had quite a lot of berries on. It didn't get cut last year as the blackbirds started nesting before I got round to it, so it was quite a challenge this year. About 20 plastic sacks of prunings to get rid of.

We've had several tawny owls around looking for mates in the past two weeks. Very noisy in the early hours calling to one another from next door's chimney, our T.V. aerial and our sycamore tree and all round the surrounding woodland. Quite a racket.

It is still only February though, and it is very unusual if we don't get snow here in the last week in February. It is my birthday on 26th and I can't remember one when there wasn't either snow on the ground or at least a snow flurry or two. It is heartening to see the days lengthening so fast though.

I've been sowing lots of seeds this week in the greenhouse, some in the propagator and some under fleece. The book I'm reading has really set me off.

Lincoln, United Kingdom(Zone 8a)

Hi Patt, you must think I live at this computer, yes most of the time! I hadn't thought of the film being linked, but it probably is! Groundhog day seems to perpetually breed, I'm sure there are more of them each year!

You must live in a very nice aea, sounds like country. We had an owl on our roof a year or two ago hooting away, and in the trees, I don't always hear them but they are around, it was around in the day time too. I have seen Great Tits around a lot lately, they don't seem to stop long enough to get the camera. On one of our mild days recently there was a bird in our 'beck' on the leaves using it as a landing pad to have a bath, it's just at the front of the house and easy to see from the upstairs window. The Great Tits were also flitting about, then a blackbird scared the other off and had a good bath. It went just to the side and came back when the blackbird went. It looked like a female Goldfinch, and I managed to get a pic before it went. I don't think it was the mystery bird, a bit paler, couldn't see it's head very well, it was facing the other way! I cropped it to bring closer, it is a bit fuzzy, I used the zoom and you can't take a pic quickly with that.

There was also a Robin sitting on the Elderberry just opposite the oak tree, got a pic of him too.

I have lots of flowers open now, Helleborus, Crocus, Cyclamen, Snowdrops, Iris reticulata Pauline now. It is beginning! 10 day forecast only gives us 5-7C, but if we get some sun it can't be bad. You might be a bit cooler, it goes uphill to Sheffield, 3-4C is a good snow temperature. We mostly get a wet snow flurry around Easter. I have posted lots of pics in the bulb forum if you want to see them. there is more on the link of the previous thread.

My propogater is full after a reshuffle, but I got a small one last year and have pots waiting on the floor ready for the seed, just have to put them in! I have to keep it going a bit at a time or won't get them all sown! Arrrrgghh

Here is the Goldfinch(?)

Thumbnail by wallaby1
Lincoln, United Kingdom(Zone 8a)

Spot the Robin! He's camouflaged.

Thumbnail by wallaby1
Sheffield, United Kingdom(Zone 7b)

Hi Janet, I love your bulb photos, and the Queen of the Night helebore is wonderful. Must get one.

The garden is full of birds today, I think the weather is changing for the worse as the starlings and chaffinches seem to congregate for a good feed when it's turning colder. I saw a frog coming out of hibernation in the pond yesterday. I hope it waits a bit if it is going to freeze again.

It is a pity it is so cold and dull today, you have spurred me on to get my camera out. There were little hive bees on the naturalised crocuses yesterday which would have been a lovely shot. If I take any pics I'll post a thread.

Sheffield, United Kingdom(Zone 7b)

The ponds are still frozen and the garden covered in an inch or so of snow.

Lots of lovely colourful birds about and the two squirrels are very frisky - baby squirrels on the way?

The daffodils still haven't opened, but are covered in big fat buds, so they are just waiting for the weather to warm up a bit.

On Fridaynight/Saturday the temperature inside the greenhouse dropped to 22 degrees F ( -5 C) and all my potatoes turned black even though they were under two layers of fleece. Yesterday the temperature rose to 90 degrees F in the sun and I had to open all the windows. The poor plants don't know what to do. I wish it would start to warm up again.

I suppose we should be grateful really, my son has a friend in Estonia and they have had a good covering of snow continuously since October, and he says the temperature has risen this week to minus 11 degrees C.

Roll on Spring.

The song thrush has been in the garden a lot this week which is nice.

We have two pairs of blackbirds and they have started building their nests in the holly hedge and the conifer hedge which we managed to prune early enough this winter. Last year we had to leave it uncut as they had already built their nests very early.

One of the female blackbirds has been around for a few years now. She is quite distinctive with an apricot coloured bib, very much like their ring ouzel relatives' white one. It is good to see a few surviving when there are so many cats about. My neighbour keeps reporting his cat bringing all sorts of colourful birds home, and I suspect they are mainly from my bird feeders as I have to chase it away several times a day. I've been throwing water at it, but I may progress to stones if it persists.

Lincoln, United Kingdom(Zone 8a)

Patt such a shame if the cats are getting the birds, we have a stray the neighbour adopted the same time we adopted another, he is a nice cat but sometimes comes back here to try and secure his second food source! If you have a hose pipe and spray it with that it's a bit more scary for them.

We have had flurries of snow, days of 5C but chill winds, todays 8C so must soon get out and do something! We had -4 Wed, -7C Thurs, -4 Fri, -2 last night. Thats in the neighbours greenhouse, it's now getting a lot of sun and getting up to 30C, but that is likely less air temp. My 8 year old Mandora from a seed looks like the leaves are drying and curling a bit from the extremes, but it has never been anywhere but in a greenhouse over winter and is big, nearly hitting the roof, so should be OK. A bit of shade might have been better, but it got too big for my greenhouses.

I saw 3 Mallards in our beck the other day, they were 'ducking' their heads for acorns on the bottom. The extra male I have not seen before, we always get a pair. I wonder if it has lost it's mate, like swans maybe, pair for life? I think I saw a dead female on the road last year.

I got a picture from the upstairs window! Got 3 actually, this one the other male you can see in the dead iris leaves behind the others.

Thumbnail by wallaby1
Sheffield, United Kingdom(Zone 7b)

I tried to take a photo of all the birds on the feeders this moring, but every time I got close enough they flew away. The squirrels also looked very cute until I got the camera. Here is the only one I got of the squirrel, and there is the Song Thrush in the background. You would think they would co-operate in return for all the food I put out! Don't know why I bothered really. It should go down as one of my spot the creature shots.

Thumbnail by Patbarr
Lincoln, United Kingdom(Zone 8a)

That' the advantage of being able to zoom on the camera, then crop on the computer, you can bring them close!

I spotted the thrush, had to take a 2nd look to see the squirrel, I think I saw it by the bird bath!

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