Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Pretty Polly and nobbled Nutkin.

Since we bought a new squirrel-proof peanut feeder, the parakeets have colonised it and the blue tits and great tits hardly get a look-in. This one was particularly cute.

The feeder features a sliding metal tube. As the squirrel puts its weight on it, the tube slides down, covers the peanuts and deposits poor Nutkin on the grass. He just can't figure it out at all.

And talking of squirrels, this one looks related to a lemur! Wonder if it's suffered an injury to its tail?

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Coo, what a narrow escape!

Huge bang on the kitchen window this morning. The sparrowhawk, who regards our garden as his regular diner, had chased a pigeon that had been sitting on the power line going down to the workshop. Pigeon knocked itself out on the glass and fell down behind the watering can and the sparrowhawk veered off down the garden.

My partner went out to retrieve the 'dead' pigeon and as he put his hand down to pick it up, it shook its head, looked at him and flew away. Perhaps it mistook him for a giant sparrowhawk; he has got a bit of beak!

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Fine fox

We hadn't seen the vixen for weeks. I had had a tin of dog food decomposing in my fridge - it had been opened at least a week ago when we saw one of the cubs - so last night I decanted it into the fox bowl and this morning, not only had it vanished but the vixen was back, looking wonderful with her thick winter coat and full brush, a terrific contrast to the rat-tailed, mangy-looking sight of earlier this year.

February this year.


I noticed what looked like a brown, withered autumn leaf stuck to the kitchen ceiling this morning. On closer inspection, it turned out to be a beautiful moth. I couldn't find it in my Butterfly and Moth Guide so I posted the image on Facebook. A short while later, I found it on an online guide and it's a Herald Moth.

Absolutely beautiful, with its striped legs, glowing red outer wings with distinctive spots and wavy lines and serrated edges for extra camouflage.

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Vixen Vamp

The cubs have grown up and been kicked out. We've seen her threatening them, tail down, snarling and snapping, driving the adolescents off 'her' territory, our garden! Now she has ceased her mothering duties, her fur has grown back and her brush is looking quite resplendent, as if she has had it combed out and blow-dried.

Next week she will be a superstar as her portrait is appearing in our local paper as Picture of the Week!

Here is how she looked in February while she was feeding the cubs. Her coat looks rather mangy and her tail is like a piece of ragged string. Even though she needed the scraps we put out, she didn't have a go at Flad for trying to steal them. The two sit side by side in the garden and seem to be the best of friends. However, she does chase off Charlie, the stray cat, but perhaps that's because he's ginger and about her size, so she might mistake him for a rival fox!

Here is how she looks now. What a beauty! 

Apologies to those who have already seen this photo on Facebook... but who wouldn't want to look at her a second time?

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Great Spotted Woodpeckers

We had the delightful sight of a Great Spotted parent and youngster on the peanut feeder yesterday. The parent showed the fledgling the ropes, then sat on the cherry tree and watched while the young 'un ate its fill. Here are some photos of the youngster. What a pretty bird.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Jay and snail

This young jay was acting rather oddly. It swooped down and hopped about by the pond and I thought it was trying to get a drink and was foiled by the netting.

Suddenly, it flew up to the bush...

... and grabbed a snail!

What sharp eyes it must have had to spot it from the air. Then it flew to the cherry tree and sat enjoying its snack.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Blue Damsel Fly

I spotted this newly emerged damsel fly drying its wings in the sunshine while clinging to my rosemary plant. What a beautiful insect, with those iridescent turquoise 'eyes' on the top of its head.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

The Second Cub!

We were sure the vixen's second cub must be dead as we hadn't seen it for at least a fortnight. But my partner was up early this morning and took these snaps, proving that perhaps Cub 2 is alive and well, but perhaps just a little shy, hiding behind its sibling. I'm so pleased. 

I have often wondered how Mum summons her cubs, because we never hear her make a sound, and yet they suddenly appear. Apparently, on one of the recent programmes about foxes, it was revealed that the vixen emits a wine which is too deep for humans to hear. I'd always though animals heard sounds on a higher frequency than ours, so I was surprised to learn that they could hear sounds below our lowest frequency too.

Which reminds me... Years ago, I shared a flat with a guy I'd been to university with. He got a bee in his bonnet about decoding bird song (too much wacky baccy) and would play his Ludwig Koch birdsong album at 16 rpm on his old record player, to see if he could hear what they were saying. As he often did it at four in the morning, I was not very pleased to be woken by the sound of a blackbird croaking like a stoned frog!

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Murder in the Garden

There were two pigeon slaughters recently and in both cases, it didn't take much detective work to find out who the killer was. I stumbled on the first scene as I went down to replenish the bird feeders. There at my feet were a tail...

... and the wings.

These were sure signs of a sparrow hawk strike. This was so fresh that the blood was still wet and the flies had begun buzzing around. (Sorry if I've put you off your breakfast!) The bird of prey swoops in, grabs the bird, wrenches off the inedible wings and tail and carries off the meaty body back to the nest.

The second kill was made by the fox. No doubt about that.

No bits were neatly severed here. She just leaped up, caught it in mid-air and carried the whole carcase off to the cub. Yes, sadly it is cub in the singular. For the past three weeks, we have only seen her with one. Both cubs had seemed big and healthy, so I can only assume one of them was killed by another fox, or died of some kind of illness. It certainly didn't starve to death. She is a very successful mum. Once she has stopped feeding the cub, I shall recommence her anti-mange fox drops. At the moment, I don't know who is eating the food I put out, her or the cub.

Thursday, 31 May 2012

Fierce competition

Suddenly there are an awful lot more starlings and the sparrows don't like it at all. This poor little sparrow tried to get a meal and there IS room for two at the feeder...

"Cheep, cheep, leave some for me, please."

But the starling wasn't having any...

"No. Bugger off or I'll give you a peck!"

King of the Castle

Hang on, photographer... here's my best side!

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Competition for the fox food!

We've had Flad, a hedgehog, ravens, jackdaws, starlings and other cats sticking their heads and beaks in the bowl to see what was left, but this was the first time a herring gull has ever swooped down for a snack!

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

More cubs

These were taken last night. It was almost dark when the vixen decided she trusted me enough to suckle a cub while I was standing at the window with the camera. She knew I was there. She stared straight at me, but didn't move. She knows where her next meal is coming from, doesn't she?

A cub drinks from Flad's water dish (well, plant saucer).

I call this picture Small Cub, Big Garden.

Doesn't he pose beautifully?

Wonder what's in this pot? (This morning, the pot was on the lawn so they must have been using it for football practice.) 

The cubs are so big now that there was only room for one at the milk bar!

Monday, 14 May 2012

And then there were... two? Three?

I was sitting in the kitchen chatting to a friend when something moved quickly in the corner of my vision. I turned and saw two fox cubs chasing each other across the lawn.

They ran, jumped, tussled...

...then drank some water from the birds' saucer.

Then they scooted through the bushes...

...and suddenly a lone cub that looked smaller and scruffier sauntered across the deck, stared at us through the glass and trotted off. I think this may be the runt, the one that scratched on the patio door the other night to try and get Flad to play. He was sleeping on the mat on the other side of the door. So my theory is that the two larger ones have teamed up and the runt gets left out. Aaah!

Sorry about the poor quality of the photos. It was nearly 9pm and they were at least 70 feet away. Oh, for a paparazzi lens!

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

On full alert

Something spooks Flad and the fox.

Danger over, back to normal.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

The early bird...

A few days ago, this fledgling robin started appearing in the garden. He was much too tame, of course. He was really enjoying himself, perching on the handle of the fishing net and spade, splashing in the bird bath, hopping about on the decking... How long before a cat got him, we wondered, or even the sparrowhawk?

Well, I'm pleased to report that he is still alive and perfectly capable of fending for himself, as we discovered when we saw him pounce on this big, fat, juicy worm!

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Jackdaw on the feeders

I could hear the jackdaws making their familiar chack-chack sound, which always takes me straight back to my friend's cottage in Cornwall. In fact, the first time I heard them here in West London was a bit of a shock and made me think for a moment that I had been magically transported back to St Agnes. So anyway, I took the camera out of its bag and right on cue, this jackdaw landed on the nearest set of feeders. It was my first opportunity to see one close-up, with that dusting of powdery grey over the head and shoulders. What a handsome bird. That pigeon doesn't look as if it approves at all!

It's interesting to see how the population of big black birds has shifted over the 15 years I have been spending time in Hillingdon. For twelve of those, the crows ruled. Then a few months ago, the ravens arrived and now there is not a crow to be seen. And now the jackdaws have moved in, too. What could be next, I wonder?

Thursday, 5 April 2012


Now, I wasn't sure if the vixen was expecting or not. I think the general consensus of opinion was that she did look rather bulgy. But since then, her teats haven't looked particularly obvious. the way they did last year, though she and the dog fox have been begging for food several times a day, which is a significant behaviour change, as usually they vixen only appears once, in the evening, and we hardly see the dog at all.

Last night, I was just turning the kitchen light out at around 11pm when the garden security light came on and there was the vixen, nose pressed to the glass to see if there was anybody up. She then sat down on the deck and that's when I saw that her teats were indeed full of milk. So she HAS had cubs and hopefully, in a few weeks' time, she will bring them into the garden like she did last year. She is such a good mum.

Here's a photo I took yesterday, of her eating stale chocolate cake. I didn't think she looked as if she was feeding cubs. Perhaps her undercarriage is a bit saggier than it was last year!

Bird porn!

"Quick, quick!" I called to Him Indoors. "There's two Great Tits having a terrible fight." One forced the other down onto the ground and I thought it was killing it. But no. They were mating. A very risky place to do it, in a garden full of cats!

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Not a red robin!

This wee chap who visited the garden was definitely not red, but vivid orange. Perhaps he'd been Tangoed!

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Is she or isn't she?

You know I said the vixen wasn't pregnant? I took these pictures yesterday and now I'm not so sure. There does seem to be a slight bulge, doesn't there? Ooh, how exciting!

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

No cubs this year?

If the vixen was pregnant, I would surely see signs by now as the cubs are always born in late March, early April. I thought at first that she looked a bit bulgy, but her shape hasn't changed and I think I was wrong. Shame! I really enjoyed having those four cubs around the garden last year.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

A pair of ravens

I had thought our visiting raven was a singleton, but a few days ago he brought his mate to the garden. I have no idea where they are nesting, but it would be wonderful to see a baby raven in the spring.

Handsome swain

The vixen has paired off with this dog fox. Isn't he a handsome fellow? Just look at that thick brush! He made short work of the bird food, which I put on upturned tins so that the birds wouldn't have to flounder in the snow.

Monday, 30 January 2012

My RSPB Garden Birdwatch Results

It was just my luck that none of the more exotic visitors like the parakeets or the raven, or even the jays, put in an appearance. But between 12.30 and 1.30pm, this is what I saw. You had to count the greatest number of a particular species that you saw all together at one time, so one robin followed by another half an hour later, would still be entered as one robin, not two, even if it was a different bird! Here goes:

1 Blackbird; 7 Blue Tits; 1 Chaffinch (great, I hadn't seen one for ages and didn't know they were back!); 1 Collared Dove (usually there is a pair but I think its mate was caught by a fox recently as we found lots of pale grey feathers); 2 Dunnocks; 7 Feral Pigeons, aka Town Pigeons; 3 Goldfinches; 1 Great Tit; 7 House Sparrows (they're really making a comeback round here); 2 Long-Tailed Tits; 4 Magpies; 1 Robin; 2 Starlings; 1 Wren.

Sunday, 29 January 2012

RSPB Garden Birdwatch

Later today, I am going to sit at the kitchen window, RSPB form in front of me and binoculars to the ready, to do the Big Garden Birdwatch. Wish I'd done it yesterday when it was clear and sunny and the garden was a-twitter with sparrows. Today, it's gloomy and misty and there's not a bird to be seen except for two mouldy old feral pigeons. 

There's a bit of news on the raven. A few days ago, it appeared with disarranged feathers sticking up like a mohical on top of its head and a big white patch over one eye. We feared it had been in a fight and lost an eye. However, it's now looking sleeker again and a close inspection through the binoculars showed me that its right eye is fine and the white patch - scar from a fight? - is above the eye, not across it. It must be keeping a close watch on the garden because yesterday afternoon it swooped down after I had fed some dog food to the fox, and picked the remnants out of the bowl. I hope it appears while I am doing the Birdwatch. I think I know a way to tempt it...