Sunday, 29 January 2017

Big Garden Birdwatch - 2017

As I settled down for this year's RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch, I kicked myself for not doing it in yesterday's beautiful sunshine. At 9am the light was so murky that I was afraid that I wouldn't be able to see the birds, let alone identify them.

Then two cheeky Robins flitted into the trees at the front of our garden.  As I watched their boisterous progress through the branches, I noticed a Song Thrush sitting quietly in the Robinia.

Notes from my Birdwatch.

Looking out at the back I noticed a Goldfinch on the old teasel seedheads.  In the next quarter of an hour, several different types of birds appeared in the garden. Great tits, Blue Tits, Robins and Starlings were all attracted by the food I had put on the  bird tables. 

Woodpigeon feeding on tiny crab apples.
Perhaps the most bizarre sight was a Woodpigeon tying itself in knots while gathering up the last of the crab apples.  When it finished, it stared glumly at the empty branch.

At about 9:35 a Jackdraw, a first for my birdwatch list, perched briefly on a conifer. I found myself glaring at a Herring Gull that seemed to be glued to my neighbour's roof and couldn't be counted.  My hour was rounded off by the reappearance of the robins.

One of our pair of Robins.
The final score was 17 individuals from 11 different species. Strangely many of the birds that usually come as a flock appeared in ones, twos or threes.  I didn't positively identify House Sparrows but there was a group of birds that I couldn't see properly in the poor light and wasn't able to include in the count.

2017 Great Garden Bird Watch Results.
Compared to previous years, the variety of birds was good. It has only been better in 2011, the first year I did the birdwatch. However the number of individuals counted, at 17, was well below the average of 21.  Results of this and previous years' counts are shown below.

  2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017
No of species 12 11 10 6 11 7 11
No of individuals 30 26 15 20 28 12 17
Blue tit 3 3 2 3 2 2 1
Blackbird 2 2 3 3 2 2 2
Collared Dove 2 1 1   1   1
Goldfinch     1   7   2
Great tit   1         1
Jackdaw             1
Magpie 2 2 2 2 1 1 2
Robin 1 1 1 2 3 1 2
Song Thrush 2   1   1   1
Starling 8 9 2 8 5 2 3
Woodpigeon 1   1 2 2 2 1
Chaffinch 2       2    
Coal Tit   1          
Carrion Crow           1  
Dunnock 3 1          
House Sparrow 3 4     1    
Pied Wagtail 1 1 1        
  Saturday, 29 Jan Sunday, 29 Jan Saturday, 26 Jan Saturday, 25 Jan Sunday, 25 Jan Saturday, 30 Jan Sunday
29 Jan
Start time 8.45 am 8.45 am 9.07am 8.50 am 8.45 am 8.55 am 9:05am
Weather dull, icy   cold, bright damp, misty bright, cold dull, mild damp, mild

Saturday, 7 January 2017

New Year Plant Hunt 2017 - Uckfield

For a number of years, the Botanical Society of the British and Ireland have been running a New Year Plant Hunt. I've taken part in 2015, 2016 and again this year.  I didn't expect much because we have had some proper winter weather in the run up to the plant hunt.  Some of our own garden regulars such as Gorse and Lesser Celandine were not showing any signs of flower.

This year, I started the hunt from the new seat in front of the shops in Browns Lane, which was installed by the Manor Park and Hempstead Fields Residents Association.

Start - Outside Browns Lane shops at 9:30, 2nd January.
If you wish to go straight to a full list of my New Year's flowers, scroll to the bottom of the page.  This year my list comprised 23 flowering plants, compared to 34 last year. I had a sense this year of normal service being resumed after last year's bumper list.  This time there were no proper spring flowers such as Wild Primroses or Cowslips and few summer stragglers.

As usual, I started by walking through twittens on Manor Park. I didn't find as many wild flowers as usual. Maybe this was because 2016's odd weather encouraged thick grass growth. This had two effects: First, the grass competed out the wild flowers that usually grow along the edges of paths, and second, people had cleared away the vegetation, which had become a nuisance. I did find the ever-reliable Groundsel and Petty Spurge. Groundsel was the 2nd most frequently recorded flower on the plant hunt's lists.

Groundsel - 2nd most recorded flower
I moved on to the sunny corner where Southview Drive meets Beeches Close and found Ivy still in flower as well as some Yarrow.

Ivy flowers
At the top of the town, I managed to find a little Wall Bellflower in bloom but nothing like the numbers of flowers I had seen in previous years. The church walls also yielded very little - just some clumps of Common Field Speedwell, with tiny blue flowers. However, I had better luck in the car park, with a neat clump of Sweet Violets.

Sweet Violets
I didn't find anything in Belmont Lane. In a change from last year's route, I walked along the path that runs parallel to the bypass. Although I didn't see any flowers I was delighted to spot a Tree Creeper in a splendid old oak. Once I had reached the Meads Doctors' Surgery, I crossed the road to the Bellbrook Industrial Estate. This is new to my route and yielded some wild flowers that I had never recorded before.  One was Annual Mercury.

Annual Mercury
Another, the Guernsey Fleabane, is one that I had seen in various places but had never previously got round to identifying.

Guernsey Fleabane
After exploring the industrial estate (and surprising three Pheasants) I hurried to the warmth of the Station Pub.  After a break and glass of wine, I hurried back home to catch a few final stragglers before I ran out of time.  These included a Daisy, just across the road from where I live and a bedraggled Dog Violet in my own garden.

Daisy - On more lists than any other flower.

The Science Bit

Location: Uckfield, East Sussex.  Start point: TQ478219

What was missing?

Flowers that I had seen in both 2015 and 2016 but were missing this year were:
  • Wild Primroses
  • Cowslips
  • Yellow Corydalis (on the church walls)
  • White Deadnettle
  • Black Medick.

21 Wild Plants Flowering on 2nd January 2017

Achillea millefolium Yarrow
Bellis perennis Daisy
Capsella bursa-pastoris Shepherd's Purse
Cardamine hirsuta Hairy Bittercress
Centranthus ruber  Red Valerian
Conyza sumatrensis Guernsey fleabane New in 2017
Corylus avellana Hazel
Euphorbia peplus Petty Spurge
Hedera helix  Ivy
Lamium purpureum Red Dead-nettle
Mercurialis annua      Annual Mercury New in 2017
Poa annua  Annual Meadow Grass
Senecio vulgaris  Groundsel
Sonchus oleraceus Smooth Sow-thistle
Stellaria media Common Chickweed
Taraxacum officinale Dandelion
Ulex europaeus Gorse
Urtica dioica Common nettle New in 2017
Veronica persica Common Field Speedwell New in 2017
Viola odorata Sweet Violet
Viola riviniana Dog Violet

2 Naturalised Plants Flowering on 2nd January 2017

Bergenia cordifolia  Elephants ears New in 2017
Campanula portenschlagiana  Wall Bellflower


Sunday, 1 January 2017

2016's Garden Visitors

While I've been running round the country for work, my trail camera has been keeping an eye on our garden visitors.  First - a confession - the battery was low for January and most of February so I didn't get night-time shots for those months.

24 June - Badger family
How many visits in 2016?

Mammals recorded on the Bushnell Trail Camera in 2016

This year, the badgers were very much the stars of the show. They visited every month from February to October and the number of visits was approximately double that of 2015.  I was delighted to see a group of three appearing on camera together. They appeared twice:
  • on 24 June, two of the badgers were smaller than the third
  • on 23 July, they were all about the same size - the youngsters were clearly growing fast.
On 25 July, I found that they had dug up a wasps nest.  So they are providing a free pest control service as well as photos!

Fallow buck, 17 May 2016
Sadly, we saw much less of the Fallow Deer. Last year, I noted that the darker, older buck stopped visiting in August. It appears that the magnificent light-coloured buck was less inclind to visit without his companion. We had just a few visits in the middle of the year.  In this shot, he has recently shed his antlers.

Fox - 27 December 2016, 1:40 pm
The number of fox visits (190 between March and December) is significantly down since last year (284 over the same period). We had spikes in March and August.  We usually expect increased visits in August as this is when the youngsters are active.  This August was very dry and, for the first time, I put a dish of water out for our wild visitors.  

Fox and cat - 11 August 2016
The camera occasionally captured a fox and cat together. In this photo, they look a little suspicious of each other. In others they didn't appear worried.