Saturday, 30 January 2016

Big Garden Birdwatch - 2016

Once again, I've been doing the RSPB's annual Big Garden Birdwatch. I stopped rushing round trying to get everything done and counted birds.

Some of my notes from this year's birdwatch.
It seems that every time I do a birdwatch, I see something new. This time it was a huge wood pigeon and a shy female blackbird sharing the tiny crab apples from one of our trees. The blackbird had been haunting the garden for some days and now we know that the crab apples were the attraction. I also enjoyed seeing two robins, who appeared twice:
  • At 9:25 one robin flew to the base of the bird table, while the other sang in our conifer.
  • At 9:53, one was searching round the base of the bird table, while the other perched in the cotoneaster nearby.
To be honest, I didn't see very many birds compared to previous years. The Guardian's article Mild winter means lower numbers for annual garden bird count, RSPB warns says ...

RSPB wildlife adviser, Ben Andrew, said: “If the UK experiences a continuation of these milder temperatures, those taking part in Big Garden Birdwatch may notice their gardens quieter than in other years. The milder weather means that there is more food available in the wider countryside, with birds being less reliant on garden feeders.”

After my hour was up, I had seen 12 individuals, which is the lowest in the years that I have been doing this. On the up side, one of the local crows actually landed rather than just flying over so I was able add crow to my list for the first time. 

Here are the results of this, and previous years' birdwatches:

Saturday, 29 Jan
Sunday, 29 Jan
Saturday, 26 Jan
Saturday, 25 Jan
Sunday, 25 Jan
Saturday, 30 Jan
Start time8.45 am8.45 am9.07am8.50 am8.45 am 8.55 am
Weather dull, icy
cold, brightdamp, mistybright, cold dull, mild
Blue tit33232 2
Blackbird22332 2
Carrion Crow      1

Starling89285 2
12 22

Coal Tit

Collared Dove211


Great tit

House Sparrow34

Pied Wagtail111
Song Thrush2
No of species 12 11 10 611 7
No of individuals302615202812

Saturday, 2 January 2016

2015's Garden Visitors

Once again, I've been using my Bushnell Trail camera to record wildlife that visits our garden. I missed a little bit of January because I needed to repaint the box. For most of the year I kept the camera in the same position. Average number of visits was well up on 2014, which had fewer visits per night than 2013.
Two regular visitors - sadly the dark buck hasn't  visited since 6th August 2015.

How many visits in 2015?

In 2015:

  • Fox visits peaked in March/April - there were regular encounters between two individuals, maybe the youngsters we saw last year.
  • We had badger visits through late spring, summer and autumn
  • The fallow deer came in Spring, August and December.

How does this compare to previous years?

For the year as a whole:

  • Fox visits are up by about half c.f. 2014 although we had far fewer visits in the latter part of the year. We are seeing more occasions when there are two foxes in the garden.
  • Badger visits are up by about a quarter.
  • Deer visits are down. This may be due to us removing a tree at the end of May 2014 and/or the possible loss of one of the regular visiting males.
I have spotted a few patterns over the 3 years I have been recording:

  • In all three years that I have been recording, there is a dip in the number of fox visits in May - perhaps due to the birth of cubs.
  • Badgers are always absent for a period in winter, when they are dormant:
    • 2013 - November to January (2014)
    • 2014 - October to April (2015)
    • 2015 - November to ?
  • Fallow deer are:
    • absent at the beginning of the year first appearing in March (2015) and April (2013/4)
    • appear at various times during the late spring and summer months
    • absent for part of the autumn around October, presumably for the rut
    • often return in December enabling me to make predictable Rudolf jokes.

New Year Plant Hunt 2016 - Uckfield

The Botanical Society of the British Isles regularly runs a flower hunt. I did my first hunt in Uckfield, Sussex last year and found 19 natives and 3 naturalised garden flowers. To my surprise, very few of my finds were in nature reserves and other 'official' places for nature. Instead I found most of my flowers in the scrappy edges: near shops, on walls and under hedges. So this time, I decided to focus my attention on these sorts of areas.

I was a little pessimistic because I haven't been seeing wild flowers in some of the places I usually see them. On the other hand, it has been very mild so maybe I could expect a good haul. Then on the very morning of the hunt, a frost - just enough to make flowering plants drop their petals and sulk.

Oh no! A frost!
I checked out the area near Tesco Express and found various little weeds tucked away in sheltered spots by walls and under hedges. I found more plants than last year. New finds included Herb Robert and Ivy-leaved Toadflax.  I like the story that Ivy-leaved Toadflax came to Britain with Italian statues that young gentlemen brought from their grand tours in the 1600s. I have no idea if it is true but it is a pretty story for a pretty flower.
Ivy-leaved Toadflax near Tesco Express, Browns Lane.
I also found the same resilient little weeds that I found last year.

Detail of Common Groundsel, which I also found last year.
As I made my way through the estate I found a fairly large group of Red Deadnettles at the foot of a wall. This seems to part of a pattern - this year I have found many more substantial groups of flowers rather than ones and twos of last year.

Swinging into Southview Drive, I found large numbers of flowers and berries on the large ivy on the corner. Once in the High Street, I eagerly examined the old wall at the top of the town and found Wall Bellflower and Yellow Corydalis, just like last year. The flowers were more numerous and in better condition than before.

Wall Bellflower, High Street.
Our town has many little treasures tucked behind the high street. The previous day, I had popped into Parade Radio to pick up light bulbs and chanced upon deeply coloured violets just outside. I couldn't believe they were Sweet Violets but their leaves were much rounder than the Dog Violets that are familiar from our own garden.

After checking Holy Cross's walls and graveyard I cut down ancient Belmont Lane. I drew a blank last year but this year found Holly flowers and Bush Vetch.
Bush Vetch in Belmont Lane.
The Holly wasn't the only plant showing flower alongside its berries. On the bypass, the Hawthorn hedge surrounding the allotments also had a scattering of bloom. I definitely identified it correctly as I was able to trace the stem back to the still green leaves. Once again I found Yarrow and Black Medic by the fire station.
Yarrow near the Fire Station.
I cut through the bell walk shopping area to the river bridge. The hazel catkins over the river are lengthening and getting very yellow unlike those in our North-facing garden, which are still tight and green.
Hazel catkins in front of Bridge Cottage.
I had timed my route so that 11 o'clock saw me outside the Station pub, just as it opened. So I was able to take a break and warm up.
Taking a break.
By the time I left, quite a few people were filtering in and I reluctantly left the friendly pub to go back into the cold for my final lap.  As I was out-and-about I decided to check out Uckfield Town Council's Bridge Farm Wood, which overlooks the new station car park. I didn't find any flowers there but there was a variety of ferns and mosses as well as a lively squirrel.
Bridge Farm Wood.
I had to get home quickly as I still needed to check the garden. Taking a short cut through one of the twittens (alleyways) I found Green Alkenet, False Brome and naturalised Yellow Strawberry.
Green Alkanet, Manor Park twitten.
Finally, in our own garden, I found several different wildflowers including an out-of-season Cowslip giving me a total of 30 native and 3 naturalised plants in flower.
Cowslip, Manor Park garden.

The Science Bit

Location: Uckfield, East Sussex.  Start point: TQ479219

30 wild plants flowering on New Year's Day:

Achillea millefolium Yarrow
Bellis perennis Daisy
Brachypodium sylvaticum False-brome New in 2016
Capsella bursa-pastoris Shepherd's Purse
Cardamine hirsuta Hairy Bittercress
Corylus avellana Hazel New in 2016
Crataegus monogyna Hawthorn New in 2016
Crepis capillaris Smooth Hawk's-beard New in 2016
Cymbalaria Muralis Ivy-leaved Toadflax New in 2016
Euphorbia peplus Petty Spurge
Geranium robertianum Herb Robert New in 2016
Hedera helix  Ivy
Ilex aquifolium Holly New in 2016
Lamium album White Dead-nettle
Lamium purpureum Red Dead-nettle
Lapsana communis Nipplewort New in 2016
Medicago Arabica Black Medic
Pentaglottis sempervirens Green Alkanet New in 2016
Poa annua  Annual Meadow Grass
Primula veris Cowslip New in 2016
Primula vulgaris Primrose
Ranunculus ficaria Lesser Celendine
Senecio vulgaris  Groundsel
Sonchus oleraceus Smooth Sow-thistle
Stellaria media Common Chickweed
Taraxacum officinale Dandelion
Ulex europaeus Gorse
Vicia sepium Bush Vetch New in 2016
Viola odorata Sweet Violet
Viola riviniana Dog Violet New in 2016

4 naturalised plants flowering on New Year's Day:

Helleborus foetidus Stinking Hellebore New in 2016
Campanula portenschlagiana  Wall Bellflower
Corydalis lutea Yellow Corydalis
Duchesnea indica Yellow-flowered Strawberry New in 2016