Wednesday, 30 May 2018

The perfect plant to keep bees happy

I have a mauve Erisymum. Two years ago it was a tiny twig and just look at it now! It has bloomed throughout the winter and is a magnet for butterflies and bees. I actually counted seven different types of bumble bee on it, including a coal black species which I still haven't been able to identify, plus the honey-bee.

And as for butterflies, I have seen commas, peacocks, cabbage whites, painted ladies and orange-tips adorning its blossoms. Every garden should have one!

Friday, 11 May 2018


I was away for a couple of days and as I was plodding up the street with my bags, I heard a welcome screeching above my head. They are back - the acrobats of the sky, bringing summer with them.

Thursday, 4 May 2017

First swift of 2017

I happened to glance up at just the right time yesterday lunchtime, and saw a swift flying over the house. Usually they arrive in this area between 7-9 May so this one was a bit early. I hope the rest of the group that nest locally won't be far behind - and I hope their nesting sites will still be there and not destroyed due to house renovation or new building.

Sunday, 3 July 2016

Young blackbird or young song thrush?

It's often difficult to identify a fledgling because they can look so very different from the adult bird. Take starlings, for instance. The adults have dark plumage which gleams purple and blue when the light catches it, and they are covered with speckles. The adolescent birds, on the other hand, are pale and look more like thrushes.

You can see the spots quite clearly, and the bluish tinge on the breast of the adult bird on the second left of the picture.

This youngster, above, is a pale buff and its speckles are only just starting to show. With its chestnut wings, it looks like a different species altogether.

We are all familiar with the blackbird, the male with its egg-yolk-yellow beak and the browner female. When I saw this chestnut brown bird on the lawn, I thought it was a song thrush at first. Then I saw the dark flight feathers coming through on its tail and realised it was a young blackbird, though, with its speckly breast, it does resemble a suntanned thrush! What a handsome bird.

And here is its dad, who I have just this minute spotted on the lawn and managed to grab this shot before he flew off into next door's apple tree.

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

The chiffchaff and other boring birds!

I have heard a chiffchaff in the garden for the first time in 19 years. No prizes for guessing how it got its name. It's completely onomatopoeic: all it says is 'chiff-chaff' over and over again. It certainly wouldn't be top of the garden birdsong charts.

The great tit has an equally boring song. My name for it is 'the creaky gate bird' because it sounds exactly like a gate with squeaky hinges swinging in the breeze.

My mother's least favourite bird, as far as voices are concerned, was the collared dove. She cursed the woman from three doors down who had a bird table and encouraged the doves, which then sat in the surrounding trees, making their three-note booming call.

Unlike Mum, I find their song quite interesting. In fact, there was one that I christened 'Bastard Bird' because it sounded as if it was shouting, "You bastard!" over and over again. And that's the thing about collared doves; they do go on... and on... and on. They must bore themselves to sleep!

From time to time, various bird organisations ask us to pick our favourite songbird. The nightingale, song thrush, blackbird and robin are often mentioned but I have never seen the wren featured on the lists. I don't know why, because it has an amazing song. Piping, piercing, melodic, and syncopated with a regular chirring sound. And then there is the sweet piping of the goldfinch, like someone plinking on a faery xylophone.

It's about time someone launched a competition to find Britain's Most Boring Bird! I'd vote for the chiffchaff. Sorry, mate!

Saturday, 7 May 2016

We have swifts!

The swifts are back. I noticed a group of five yesterday, wheeling and screaming over Marlborough Road in Hillingdon - always a good place to spot them.

I don't know why they like this particular area but my partner tells me that there used to be an old farm there, before they built the council houses, so swifts have probably been nesting there for centuries.What a shame that planners didn't realise this, and build swift nesting places into the roofs of the houses.

I have seen swifts flying into what must be a ventilation space in the loft of one of the houses. Who knows, perhaps a barn that was a good swift home used to stand on that very spot.

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Bug Box

We've bought a bug box. There was a bit of a disagreement about where it should be put. "At ground level," I said, 'so that things can crawl in."

"At eye-level," said my partner, "so things can fly in."

He won. It's now on the wall of his workshop, beside the window. And he had the last word, too, with, "Anyway, the crawling ones can crawl up the wall and get in that way."

We shall see. Nothing has taken up residence yet but I will report on the first arrivals.