Slow and steady

Moving slowly through the UK countryside


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Potato planting and a frogspawn update

I planted my birthday potatoes today.  The potato bag is a natty design with flaps (it reminds me of old-fashioned flap-bottomed pyjamas) so you can extract a few potatoes without digging up the whole plant.  Not sure it’s really all that useful (I’ve always dug several plants up at once anyway, as they keep) but fun anyway.

Potato bag

Flapped potato bag (flap at bottom left, velcroed shut)

The potatoes had already chitted (sprouted) themselves in the packaging. Nice strong shoots.

Potatoes

Chitting potatoes variety ‘Apache’ which are red and white in patches.

The frogs have been very busy all week, and the pond has masses of spawn. Last week’s spawn is already showing signs of developing heads and bodies – the newer batch is still small and spherical.

Frogspawn

Week old spawn on the left, fresh spawn on the right

And these are just because they’re cute and pretty.

Goldfinch and Greenfinch

Goldfinch and male Greenfinch eating sunflower seeds

Long-tailed Tits

Long-tailed Tits


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RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch 2014

The RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch is apparently “the world’s largest wildlife survey”.  I’ve been doing it every January for several years, and now also often do a weekly birdwatch for the BTO too.  It’s a lovely calm way to start the weekend.  Though it seems it has been so popular that the website is now down (maybe because there’s a mobile phone app for it now).  I’ll put my results up later.

This year was, I think, the best total I’ve ever had on one day – sixteen species.  I made sure the feeders were filled last weekend and checked them through the week, as I know that in previous years I’ve often only remembered to top them up on the day, and not all the birds found them in time for the count.

A few of our visitors:

We have sunflower heart seed mix, peanuts, ‘buggy’ fat balls and a fat block.  There are two feeding stations, with the seed mix and fat balls in both places.  The feeders near the road are less popular with the shyer birds, as walkers with dogs go past only a couple of yards away.  I also sprinkled some seed on the drive again, in the hope of tempting in a pied wagtail – and this time it worked.

The long-tailed tits were back, just two of them, and I had a song thrush sitting at the top of the pear tree for a while.  We don’t see the thrush very often, so I was very happy it is still around.

Right at the end, when I was thinking I’d seen just about all the regulars (apart from collared doves), I realised I’d got a little brown bird that wasn’t a sparrow – it was a female blackcap (confusingly, the females have brown caps).  I’ve been looking out for them all winter, as we had a pair of them visit us quite regularly year when it was snowy.  It was very kind of her to arrive just in time for the Big List.

Final list: great tit, blue tit, house sparrow, starling, blackbird, dunnock, chaffinch, wood pigeon, greenfinch, jackdaw, long-tailed tit, robin, goldfinch, song thrush, pied wagtail and female blackcap.

Edit: Now I know why the blackcap was here – we’ve just had a short sharp hail/snow/thunder/lightning storm – it only lasted ten or fifteen minutes.  She clearly likes to visit when it’s snowy – though it was sunny and fairly mild earlier on.

White road with hail/snow

Hail and snow


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Early birds through my kitchen window

Early bird survey
Yesterday morning and this morning I got up earlier than usual for me at the weekend, and did the Early Bird Survey  for the BTO (British Trust for Ornithology).  All it involved was recording the time that I saw different birds at our bird feeders, from the first bird onward, up to a maximum of ten species.  It also fits in tidily with the weekly photo challenge of ‘Window’.

We have a sunflower seed mix, peanuts, ‘buggy’ fat balls and a fat block, and I’d scattered some seeds on the drive to see whether I could attract any ground-feeders (I don’t usually do that to avoid attracting rats – yuk).

We have streetlights about 50 metres from our house, which may or may not affect the time that the birds begin feeding – investigating that, is the idea behind the survey.

Earlier start
Yesterday, I’d heard the first bird singing (a robin) before I was ready to start recording, so I was downstairs a bit earlier this morning.  There was a lovely red glow in the sky, but it was still very dark inside.

Before dawn

Before dawn

1: Robin – 7:37
Sunrise is about 8:15, but I’d heard the robin at about 7:20 yesterday.  This morning he was singing at 7:10, but didn’t visit the feeder until 7:37.  (Photo taken later on when it was lighter.)

Robin

Robin

2: Blue-tit – 7:45
A blue-tit was next, at 7:45. Later on, I saw up to four blue-tits in the garden, but only two visiting the feeders at once. On average, a blue-tit visited every five minutes between 7.45 and 10.30, with most visits (7) between 10 and 10:15. They ate seeds, fat from the fat balls or fat-block and sometimes peanuts.

Blue-tit

Blue-tit on the buggy fat balls

3: Chaffinch – 7:37
A female chaffinch came along at 7:37. Yesterday she didn’t appear until much later on. She only visits the seed feeder, or hops around picking up bits others have dropped.

Chaffinch

Female Chaffinch

4: Dunnock – 8:05
The fourth visitor, at 8:05 was a dunnock, or hedge sparrow, picking up seeds from the drive. They don’t sit still much though – fuzzy photo.

Dunnock

Dunnock about to hop off

5: House Sparrow – 8:05

Three house sparrows arrived at the same time, 8:05, on the seed feeders. Later on, there were up to six of them feeding or just chirping and watching. Sometimes they feed on the fat balls or fat block, but mostly they eat seeds.

House Sparrow

House Sparrow

6: Goldfinch – 8:12

Sixth species was a goldfinch at 8:12. It returned a number of times, with a friend or two. Very dashing outfits they wear. They eat the seeds; I used to put out Niger seeds for them, but they seem just as happy with the sunflower mix.

Goldfinch

Goldfinch

7: Great-tit – 8:15

At 8:15 a great-tit visited. It came back a couple of times, once with a partner, but all three visits were very speedy, just long enough to grab a peanut and go, but not long enough for my camera.

Sun-arise
Here comes the sun…

Sunrise

Sunrise through kitchen window

I carried on watching for several hours (it’s a good long meditation session), recording every bird that visited. I suspected that was all I was going to see (though we do sometimes get greenfinches on the seeds and starlings on the fat).

Prowler
A neighbouring cat was lurking under the car, but didn’t catch anything today, thank goodness (fewer blue-tit visits while the cat was there though).

Cat under car

Predator on the prowl

8: Long-tailed Tit – 10:12

Then ages later, at 10:12, a pair of long-tailed tits came for the fat block. Hurrah! I think they are my favourite birds, and I’ve only seen them a couple of times this winter, so I’m so pleased to see them back.

Long-tailed Tit

Long-tailed Tit – didn’t stay long, this was the best picture I got

Not quite ten today
Eight different species used the food we put out, and all the different foods were visited. Blue-tits were the most frequent visitors, and they ate all the different foods. I also saw a male and female blackbird, a male chaffinch, a starling, jackdaws, collared doves and wood pigeons, but not at the feeders.

I don’t usually note down the time that different birds visit, so it was interesting to notice how different the feeding patterns were. I’d definitely recommend doing a survey like this – though maybe just do half an hour or so for starters!