Sunday, 25 January 2015

Big Garden Birdwatch - 2015

Every year, I do the RSPB annual Big Garden Birdwatch. The idea is to spend one hour noting the birds that land in the garden. It's a rare treat to spend such a solid chunk of time simply watching what is going on outside without running round fixing this or tidying that. I found myself tuning in what was happening, peering into the leaves and trying to detect tiny movements in the foliage that would reveal the presence of a bird.

My scribbled notes.
I did my bird watch on a crisp, sunny Sunday morning and had the good fortune to start with a flock of goldfinches investigating the foliage and tiny cones in our conifer. Later, they had moved on to cascading birch twigs. They were accompanied by a surprisingly vivid male chaffinch and round little blue tits. As usual, I was amused by the antics of the starlings on the bird table. They were so busy squabbling, they hardly had time to get at the food.  A robin posed prettily amongst the lengthening hazel catkins. Later two others appeared and they left the garden in a flurry of feathers and angst.

Near the end of my hour, one robin returned, its orange breast blending surprisingly well with the few remaining oak leaves. A movement in the tree revealed a lone house sparrow. As I scanned the twigs for the rest of the flock, I saw a lovely song thrush who must have been sitting there unnoticed for some time.

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

Saturday, 29 Jan
Sunday, 29 Jan
Saturday, 26 Jan
Saturday, 25 Jan
Sunday, 25 Jan
Start time8.45 am8.45 am9.07am8.50 am8.45 am
Weather dull, icy
cold, brightdamp, mistybright, cold
House Sparrow34

Blue tit33232
Great tit


Collared Dove211
Pied Wagtail111
Song Thrush2

Coal Tit


No of species121110611
No of individuals3026152028

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Lime aid - A break from the train

After weeks of tough commuting courtesy of the London Bridge problems, what could be a better stress buster than tidying unwanted growths from the bottoms of ancient lime trees? It is just lovely to spend some time in the sun, in the company of other volunteers and appreciating nature psyching itself up for spring.

Before and after trimming.
I did about 7 trees this time. There must have been much less growth than the two I trimmed in the work day described in a previous post. The cow parsley, primrose, wild arum and other leaves are growing fast. Nestled in the feet of one of the trees, some of the cow parsley is in flower just as it was when I did my New Year's day plant hunt.

Cow parsley nestling in the feet of one of the Lime Trees
We did all the trees in the South half of the Avenue and some at the top end too. The others will wait for another day.

Friday, 2 January 2015

2014's Garden visitors

I've been using a Bushnell trail camera throughout the year to find out more about the wild animals that visit our garden. This is similar to the recording I did in 2013 but a bit more systematic. This time, I kept the camera pointed at one area of the garden and put it out for nearly every day and night of the year. Average number of visits appear lower than last year but this is because I wasn't 'cherry picking' the best conditions and locations.

Fallow deer on the 25th of August.

How many visitors?

The following graph shows how many wild animals were "seen" by the trap camera per 24 hours.

Fox visits peaked in 3 months:
  • February, just like last year
  • August, again like last year - this is due to young foxes appearing in the garden as well as the adults
  • December, which is new - in December 2013 we had few visits, maybe due to the incessant rain we had over that winter.
Badger visits were occasional treats in Spring, Summer and Autumn but not in the Winter when they would be staying in their setts. 

Deer visits were more frequent than last year due to a delightful pair of males, one light and one dark, who sauntered in and out of gardens in the area from April to August. They even appeared in daylight. After they disappeared for the rut, one returned in November and December to take advantage of the tasty leaves in our garden.

When do they visit?

This graph shows the times of these visits.

Again, patterns were difficult to discern:
  • Foxes visit between sunset and sunrise but without any real pattern.
  • Badgers visit between sunset and sunrise - this year they were more likely to come after midnight whereas last year they mostly came before midnight.
  • Deer were much cheekier than last year - coming in the day as well as the night and often staying for long periods.
Although I haven't been able to draw any real conclusions, it's been lovely to keep opening up the camera and discovering new treats and surprises. In 2015, I intend to start experimenting with video.

Month-by-month historic weather data - I looked at the Eastbourne figures.
Monthly averages - I searched by Uckfield, which gave me the nearest (unnamed) weather station.
Fallow deer rutting season.

Thursday, 1 January 2015

New Year Plant Hunt 2015 - Uckfield

The Botanical Society of the British Isles regularly runs a New Year Plant Hunt. So instead of curling up on the settee with a nice warm laptop, I spent New Year's morning hunting for wild flowers. I was rather pessimistic. After a few days of hard frosts, what would be left? I was surprised by how many flowers I found. Mostly they were the little 'weeds' that we ignore. Just for once, I paid attention to them and appreciated their quirky beauty.  There they were, battered by the weather but still standing. 

If you wish to go straight to a full list of my New Year's flowers, scroll to the bottom of the page.

Before I really started, I nipped over to Tesco Express to get a newspaper. In unregarded in-between places, such as those where a wall meets the ground and the edge of the grass nearby, I found plants of my childhood memories including groundsel and shepherd's purse.  I have vivid memories of opening the tiny purse-like seed heads with my little fingers and finding the "money" inside.

Shepherd's purse
I threaded through the twittens between the houses of our estate. On my way, I found smooth sow thistle, petty spurge and some naturalised red valerian.

Tiny green flowers of petty spurge

Turning into Lime Tree Avenue, I found a few early sprigs of cow parsley.

Cow parsley
I was a little disappointed not to find primroses blooming there but was charmed to find a wren flitting about amongst their emerging leaves and the ruby buds of lime tree twigs. Passing by Osbourne hall, a rather grandly named hut, I found daisies at the edge of the path.

I expected to find loads of flowers in the Hempstead Meadow Nature Reserve but no, just one glum looking meadowsweet. On the way out, I had a lovely encounter with two mums, with rosy cheeked toddlers on their backs, coming into the reserve for a walk. In the Waitrose car park, I had better luck, and added white deadnettle and hairy bittercress to my list.

white deadnettle
After crossing the High Street, I inspected some yarrow leaves under trees outside the main Tesco car park. I didn't find any flowers but I did find a ladybird. Further along the wall, I found the tiny flowers of common chickweed. The soft green leaves made a vivid contrast with the smooth, red brick.

Harlequin ladybird
Checking some scruffy-looking grass protected by the hedge dividing Tesco from the fire station, I found a dandelion and black medic flowers. Nearby, on the verge between the road and the pavement, the long, tussocky grass contained yarrow flowers.

Black medic.
Belmont Road takes me past the oast house and up to Holy Cross, where I find red deadnettles nestling at the church's feet. Looking up, the old walls are festooned with yellow corydalis.

Yellow corydalis in the church wall

Turning out of the church yard, I finally find some weather beaten primroses in bloom.

Heading home via the High Street I spy some stray tussocks of annual meadow grass, which have colonised out of the way nooks and crannies by the shop fronts.

Annual meadow grass.
Just past the shops, the High Street takes me past an old wall partly covered with long established clumps of naturalised corydalis and wall bellflower.

Wall bellflower.
On the way home, I passed a swathe of ivy flowers. Finally, I checked our own garden and was able to add lesser celandine and gorse to the list.

My lists

Location: Uckfield, British National Grid TQ4721

Wild flowers flowering on New Year's Day:
  • Achillea millefolium (yarrow)
  • Anthriscus sylvestris (cow parsley)
  • Bella perennis (daisy)
  • Capsella bursa-pastoris (shepherd's purse)
  • Cardamine hirsuta (hairy bittercress)
  • Euphorbia peplus (petty spurge)
  • Filipendula ulmaria (meadowsweet)
  • Hedera helix (ivy)
  • Lamium album (white deadnettle)
  • Lamium purpureum (red deadnettle)
  • Medicago Arabica (black medic)
  • Poa annua (annual meadow grass)
  • Primula vulgaris (primrose)
  • Senecio vulgaris (common groundsel)
  • Sonchus oleraceus (smooth sow-thistle)
  • Ranunculus ficaria (lesser celandine)
  • Stellaria media (common chickweed)
  • Taraxacum officinale (dandelion)
  • Ulex europaeus (gorse)
Naturalised flowers:
  • Campanula portenschlagiana (wall bellflower)
  • Centranthus ruber (red valerian)
  • Corydalis lutea (yellow corydalis)