Friday, 3 February 2017

Big Garden Bird Watch 2017

The net of bird food worked, so that despite the rain, my hour of birdwatching on Sunday 29 January proved quite fruitful.
Present and correct:
2 Blackbirds (male and female)
1 Dunnock
8 House Sparrows
1 Blue Tit (although I've seen 2 around)
1 Robin
5 Starlings (just a small delegation from the number locally)
2 Jackdaws (likewise)
1 Chaffinch (female, first time I've seen one in the garden)

Absent without leave (previously seen in the garden, but sadly not present to be counted):
Song thrush
A couple of Long-Tailed Tits which were working over the nooks and crannies in next-doors fence during the previous week
Collared doves
Woodpigeons (probably just as well - the maximum number I've seen in the fields behind during summer has been 18. Just imagine that lot descending on the brassicas!)
The local Rooks
Various gulls which visit the field behind me

By Monday afternoon, the bird food had all gone. After today's cold and rain, I'd better buy a lot more! I'm so glad the number and variety of birds has picked up since I moved in. I think I'd better add some nest boxes and a permanent feeding station into the garden plans!

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

January in the Garden

Some relatively calm, fine (but cold) weather recently saw me out in the garden for the first time in possibly a couple of months. The soil is too claggy to dig, it's rather cold to be potting up the last few plants from the ex-lawn. I didn't have the energy (or the bare soil) to turn over the compost heaps, so just had a look into them to see how things are going. The worms seem happy, and I'm happy to see lots of them. One day I pulled out a couple of tub-fulls of weeds, dead fern fronds and leaves. The free-standing compost heap is now cascading everywhere. On another day, I contemplated what I might do with the out-of-scale lilac, to bring it under control without just cutting it down to a level where it can regrow (still working on that one; internet research hasn't brought up any suggestions, either). For the time being, I contented myself with using it to support a netted string of fat-balls and peanuts, to see if I could attract more birds into the garden and stop the blackbirds pulling my potted plants to bits. If it works, I might even do the Big Garden Birdwatch this year.

Besides, the thing I perceive as the main obstruction (in my mind, at least) is the need to remove the privet hedge (and probably the old concrete posts and rusty chain-link between them) on the north side of the garden and replace it with a sturdy fence (the north side and back are 'my' boundaries). Which will need money I don't have (at the moment, at least). I decided I could take some steps towards this by cutting it back, so I could at least see what work will be needed, and that I should do this before any birds get the idea of starting nests in there. The local jackdaws and collared doves have been pair-bonding for a while. A pair of blackbirds, who were nesting in the hedge the year I moved, but nested somewhere in next-door's Kilmarnock willow and surrounding shrubs last year, I think, have been back and forth between our gardens. I hope they nest next door again, as my cats would be only too happy to break my stern injunction against bird-chasing, if they thought they could get away with it.

Top-heavy and tangled, the hedge sprawls drunkenly two metres or more out from the true fence-line, reaching out towards the sun. There is some fence towards the end of the garden, but discounting the patio, the hedge runs for about two thirds of the length of the garden on that side, reducing the width of my garden by 20%. A fifth of the width! It also protects the omnipresent brambles. I've also been digging out bramble again in the garden. I'm 8 inches down in one spot and still can't get the root up. No wonder it springs up all over the place. I had to give up when rain stopped play, but the blackbirds have been delighted to peck around in the hole once the cats and I went back inside.

I've had a couple of goes at hacking back and clearing up, punctuated by a bit of grooving to next-door's radio as the son of the house worked outside and chatting with him through the thinned portion of the hedge to catch up on some news. I missed being yapped at by their little Yorkshire terrier. She had cancer and they had to let her go late last year. Apparently, where the hedge gives way to fence panels on that side, there was an earthbank across the end of the garden, on top of which there were tall trees, which were removed and the earth dug away so that the back of the garden could be fenced and used. No wonder the soil at that end seems so thin and stony, and I've dug up rotten tree roots. I'd heard before that there was a Pembrokeshire bank along the back of the houses, but I wonder if it was, in fact, just an earthbank created by levelling the site when these houses were built in the '50s.

Also chats with the neighbour on the other side; they've been having some work done on their patio and side passage, and having had the back end of the latter demolished, found that the wall between us was on a thin raft of concrete and, not keyed into the buildings, was wobbling precariously. I had thought that there were walls between all the houses, because the walls on either side of my space were identical, but it now seems likely that the people who were in my house built both walls. The workmen have taken it down and replaced it with fence, but there's currently an uneven edge to the concrete where the wall started on my side, and a void beneath the fence panel through which I can admire my neighbours' new patio paving, which appears to be at the same level as the main part of my patio, but which is probably 20 cm/8" lower than the area outside my back door/side passage. Work was done to extend and renovate 'my' side passage in 2005 (?) and there are a couple of shallow steps up to come in through the side door at the front, as well as a height difference at the back, so I suspect it has to do with the drainage for things like the walk-in shower.

The sight of a flock of lapwings against blue sky also interrupted my fight with the hedge. The largest flock I've seen this year has been around 100, same as last winter, but (unlike last winter, when there were lapwings around earlier) although I heard a few at night in December, I didn't actually see any until January.

Now it's February. I've removed roughly half the hedge, but it's still a twiggy, untidy mess, still plenty to do. I really need to finish up and create some space to grow veg, but the weather has turned. Every time there's a clear spell and I put on work shoes and gloves, it starts raining as soon as I go back outside. It may be mild, but I would rather not work in the rain.

Looking along the north hedge, half of it now on the grass
Hedge hacking in progress
No wonder everything is so green! Some of the campanula on the patio has had occasional flowers throughout the winter, and there are now flowers on some of the primulas and rosemary. I thought I had a pot of snowdrops, but couldn't find it the other day. However, the many muscari (grape hyacinths) have little flower spikes just waiting to shoot up, and the ipheion next to the front porch has a flower on it too.

A friend commented that it was 'such a lot of work', but I like it. All I need is some better weather so that I can do a lot more!