Friday, 22 April 2011

Damselfly, butterflies

I saw the first damselfly of the year today, a scarlet one, scooting like a ruby streak over the pond and coming to rest on a projecting twig. I also saw something I had never witnessed before - pond skaters mating. They skittered around the water surface, dancing so fast and so erratically that I could not get a clear photograph.

In previous years the swifts have arrived in this area around 7th May. With such an abundance of insect life due to the warm weather, I wonder if they will arrive earlier this year? I have already seen far more butterflies than usual, though there is a strange absence of Peacock butterflies, normally the first to be seen. Instead, we have a lot of Orange Tips and some blue ones that I have yet to identify, though with the silver underside to the wings, I suspect they are Small Blues.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Mummy Vixen

If ever proof was needed that the vixen visiting the garden has cubs, then it's here in this picture I managed to take just before she jumped up and ran off down the garden. You can see all her teats in close-up, her mini-breasts full of milk. Last night, just before I went to bed, I heard the sounds of cubs yelping and squabbling. I hope she brings them into the garden soon.

Hornet power

There I was, sitting at the patio table, drinking coffee and gazing into the pond, when something large and yellow streaked past me with a deep, loud buzz. I instinctively flinched, but it wasn't interested in me. Instead, it settled on the fence where it began chewing wood into pulp for its nest.

We have had hornets on the garden for some years now. I named it the Lone Hornet, because I never saw more than one. It has marked out its own distintive hunting territory, down the side path where midges and moths, congregate, then across the lawn to hoover up some hover flies. One year I saw a pair mating by the pond, but I have never found a nest, though there are some old sheds down the bottom, so it could be in there somewhere.

I went indoors for the camera, approached as close as I dared, and took this photograph. What a handsome beast it is!

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Thirsty vixen

The young vixen who has been visiting the garden for the last few months now has cubs. I was surprised because at no time did she look as if she was expecting, but now her teats are distended and she is obviously feeding babies and while I was away in Devon, my partner actually saw two of them through the hedge.

She knows by some kind of osmosis exactly when I am sitting down to eat and trots onto the deck, sits on the other side of the patio doors with her head cocked, looking at me beseechingly with her bright, gold-rimmed eyes and when I get up and rummage in the biscuit jar, she backs off down the lawn. I walk forward, biscuit in hand, eyes down (I've found that making eye contact as I approach is too confrontational and causes her to run away), put it down on the grass and as soon as I turn to go back indoors, she rushes forward and grabs it.

She has a particular fondness for peanut butter sandwiches and has had two today already. I worry that she might be getting too dependent, but I feel sorry for her as she has mange and her tail is down to bare sinew with a pompom of fur on the end, and also I admire her for her cleverness in working out that if she sits around and looks cute, these daft humans will throw her some food. I am looking forward to meeting her cubs.

Here she is, having a drink from the pond. The photo was taken through the kitchen window.

Bathtime for Robin!

We keep this plant saucer on the deck for the cat to drink out of, but this robin decided that Flad's drinking bowl made a good bath. His 'go away and shut the bathroom door, please' expression really made me chuckle.

Friday, 15 April 2011

Devon v Hillingdon

I have just returned from a short trip to Devon. The house I stayed in used to be advertised in nature magazines as a B&B for birdwatchers and indeed there is a very good view of the various bird feeders from several windows.

I decided to list what I saw and compare it to the species that visit my own feeders. To my surprise, they were exactly the same. Chaffinches, sparrows, long tailed tits, blue tits, coal tits, robins and beneath, hoovering up the spilt seed, collared doves and wood pigeons. Interestingly, the collared dove had a more distinct neck ring and frilly-looking black and white feathers poking from beneath the wings, something I haven't noticed on the Hillingdon birds, where the darker feathers are a uniform grey colour.

However, the Hillingdon feeders scored over the Devon ones by attracting goldfinches and greenfinches, too, neither of which I saw in Devon. The Devon garden has a visiting great spotted woodpecker; so has our Hillingdon one, and we frequently have a green woodpecker drilling for ants on the lawn. There was a pheasant in the Devon garden which had flown in from the neighbouring field, but I don't think anything beats our Hillingdon sighting of a grey partridge on the deck, right outside the patio doors, two Christmases ago.

A definite win for Hillingdon, I think!

Saturday, 9 April 2011

The sparrow tree

There's a tree in the next street that I christened the sparrow tree about ten years ago. It's a conifer of some sort but it's swathed in thick ivy and the sparrows love it and the entire tree is always alive with cheeps and chirps. I used to wonder how the house's inhabitants coped with having a big, dark tree so close to their front windows, and I dreaded the day when they would decide to chop it down and rob the merry band of sparrows of their habitat.

I hadn't walked that way for a week or so and today I took the long way round to the corner shop and oh woe, the ivy had been chopped off at the roots and the brown leaves hung dying in the tree. Only one or two sparrows were still cheeping. I don't know if they have nests there or if they just use it as a roosting place.

At least the tree is still there, but the cover will soon be gone and that is what sparrows need. I think the reason why there is a healthy population here is that so many people have kept their privet hedges, complete with sparrows' nests. If only the gardening magazines would decide that privet hedges were trendy again. Nothing nests in Leylandii!