It has not got unnoticed (by me if no-one else) that I’ve not blogged for some time, so I thought I’d write a quick update, for my benefit in months or years to some (if for no-one else), as Spring is well and truly underway.
We’re hurtling towards summer now (it’s less than a month until the “official start of the season on “Midsummer’s day” and therefore also less than a month until the longest day and shortest night, so what’s been going on in my neck of the woods?
We’ve had a windy few weeks. Quite April(ish) in terms of weather, with a bit of strong sunshine (I’ve a sandal tan) but also a little rain and regular windy days.
I hear that May has been wetter and cooler than average, ‘though I personally wouldn’t have moaned about the weather this month – I think it’s been fine really – and the plants have certainly appreciated the sun and rain.
The garden is looking superb – especially the pond, which I’ve fenced off to promote good cover (long grass and thick buttercups) for the frogs, newts etc.
The pond-side cuckoo flowers have done really well this year and have their compulsory orange-tip butterfly eggs already laid on them, as do the border hedge garlic plants – which I always leave in place… purely for orange tips.
Large red damselflies are emerging from the pond in relatively good numbers (using my newly planted yellow flag irises as a launching pad) and are mating already, but I’ve not seen any azure or blue damsels yet, nor dragonflies – I’m expecting southern hawkers later in the year of course and hoping for a broad-bodied chaser or two any day now.
The pond sounds superb doesn’t it – but we’ve had our issues with it this year. We have quite a few male frogs with herpes – that’s nothing new here – but what WAS new is that we lost 6 (or more?) frogs to a mystery virus (perhaps “red leg”) which at first I thought would wipe out ALL the adults and perhaps many of the tadpoles and newts too. Luckily (touch wood) that doesn’t seem to be the case.
I’ve finally planted red valerian (alongside the old white) for any hummingbird hawk moth that floats by. Been after red valerian for years – a weed in many places and not often sold in garden centres. It’s jusssst about flowering now and so will soon join the (very) established white blooms.
Yesterday I also planted some herbs (sage, thyme and my favourites – oregano, marjoram and chives) under my newly planted buddleja bushes, which are coming on well. Together with the herbs (planted for us in terms of food, AND the bees) I’ve also managed to get two salvia plants in the ground (blue and purple) – which the bees already are thanking me for.
As for bees – we have a garden bumblebee nest in the woodpile and my newly-created bee hotel (an old tree stump drilled with many holes) has at least been taken up by one mason bee – I’ve drilled it mainly for leaf-cutters though, as we get lots of them here, far more so than red or blue mason bees.
I hope (expect?) the later leaf cutters will enjoy their new home and I’ll add a shop-bought leaf-cutter home today if I get time.
May bugs have appeared in the garden this month (of course) and have also been joined by our rose chafers – fantastic big metallic beetles which are a delight to watch (and hear) zooming around the garden to settle and feed on our photinia flowers – they seem completely addicted to photinia!
In the last few still evenings, the first of the big stag beetles have been helicoptering around the garden (we have a colony in a buried eucalyptus stump and root system in one of our large borders) – always a sign for me that either summer is upon us, or is coming soon!
The elephant hawk moth pupa that I’ve kept for nine months now is jusssst about ready to emerge I think – with a few more warm days and humid nights, it’ll happen within a fortnight or so I’m sure… so I’m checking it each day now.
Most of the blossom is well over now (that goes for lilac, ceanothus, cherry and apple here), but we still have buddleja to look forward to of course and our copious amounts of golden rod (for the bees only!).
Swifts, like last year (unfortunately) have been regularly flying over the house, screaming in the last few days, but at height and not one has checked out my seven nest spots for them yet. I am really disappointed that despite me calling them down each year, they don’t seem to want to repeat their activity of two years ago, when two or three would buzz my boxes each day, all summer – in far worse weather. A re-think of tactics may have to be called for next year?
In other ‘garden bird news’, we have had a goldcrest (or goldcrests?) singing in and around the garden, constantly for weeks and weeks now. I have no idea whether that means they ARE breeding nearby or one goldcrest is desperately (still) trying to attract a mate – but if you forced me to guess, I’d suspect the latter. If they WERE breeding – the birds’ energy would be better taken up searching for food and feeding young you’d think – rather than announcing a territory, constantly?
We also have a male great spotted woodpecker visiting the ground beneath our big poplar, a handful of times a day. I have no idea why this is happening either – there are no ants nests there – unlike in our lawns which used to (not for a couple of years now) attract green woodpeckers.
The local starlings have fledged en masse (like they always seem to do) a few days ago. The surrounding tall trees and TV aerials are now often resonating with the harsh chatter of young, pale-throated starlings. This excites our local hawks which buzz them regularly.
A week ago now I managed a first – a sighting of my first (EVER) honey buzzard slowly flying across the sky above the garden at dawn. Honey buzzards are very poorly named, they’re perns really – kites and because of our omnipresent kites here, I at first thought this strange kite which looked a bit like a buzzard was in fact a strangely-shaped red kite (no forked tail etc).
Within a few seconds though, I realised what I was gawping at – and was very excited about the sight. Only something like half a dozen honey buzzards have been reported over Berkshire in recent years – one of them being “mine” a week ago.
Our hens are fine. Well… I’ve had to take drastic (cold bath) action with regards to ‘Ttila, our “boss hen” who became VERY broody indeed a week or so ago.
I’ve never seen a hen so broody – sitting on nothing (I took eggs away as soon as they were laid by the other girls), going for me and acting very aggressively.
So I segregated her for a few days, banned her from the nest boxes and gave her regular cold baths – that seemed to do the trick although she’s still a bit edgy with regards to me removing any eggs from the nest boxes – she doesn’t seem happy about that and I’d not be that surprised if she becomes broody again soon.
One really good bit of news this spring is the return of hedgehogs to the garden – after a gap of at least one year – perhaps two.
I dig tunnels under our fences to allow the local hedgehogs room to come and go, establish a normal-sized territory (up to two football pitches in area I hear) and meet other hedgehogs.
This has worked in the past here, but unfortunately the local foxes ate both our adults a couple of years ago. I thought that was that until a couple of weeks ago, when I went into the garden to put our hens to bed and heard the unmistakeable noise of a male hog “courting” a female.
This is really excellent news – for not only are hedgehogs in terrible trouble across the UK (down from c.30M to c.1M in less than 20 years), garden hedgehogs make excellent pest (slugs etc) removers too!
I’ve been videoing the comings and goings of our new hogs, but not seen them now for two nights – I do hope they haven’t been found by the local foxes again…
I’ll end with a little local (rather than garden) news.
I’ve not managed to keep my eyes on our local (barn and little) owls much this spring (I always find that a little easier in the winter), but I DO know that we have a pair of barn owls (at least a pair – the only time I did managed to get up to the farm to check on them… I thought I heard three or perhaps even four shouting at each other from two trees quite close to each other) present.
We also have a pair (at least) of little owls at the farm (I filmed them raising young in 2012 remember?) which only this morning on a rare (these days for me) dawn drive, I saw perched on their old cattle shed, next to a new owl box (which replaced their old on the same tree).
I know they’ve not bred in this box since 2012 (when I filmed them) – for the last two years they’ve been nesting and breeding in hollow oak trees nearby – but it certainly appears to the case that they’ve returned to their box this year.
If they run to form, I’d expect young to leap out of the box in the middle of June – I maaaaay try to get a photo (or video) or two… lovely wee things I think.
Finally… I made a brief TV appearance a couple of weeks ago.
Didn’t see me?
Aw well… you didn’t miss much! (I was still quite ill at the time and recovering from an appendectomy after two years of undiagnosed digestive issues).
I actually thought the film I appeared on (BBC2) was a nasty little film produced by a TV company that was looking to portray people who liked to watch wildlife in their garden as obsessive at best and downright weird at worst. Virtually everyone I know outside the “online wildlife community” were pretty unanimous in that view also. Hey ho!
Catch you in June, grapple fans!