Saturday, 14 December 2013

Lots of visitors

With the colder weather coming, we've seen an influx of interesting creatures into the garden. A green woodpecker yesterday and last week, the muntjac deer again.

The vixen, who we felt sure must be dead by now, as she's at least five years old and has reared four sets of cubs, suddenly appeared on the deck, sitting like a dog with her muzzle close to the patio doors, wagging her head this way and that as she followed the movements of my fork to my mouth. Of course, I soon carved a piece off my chicken fillet and threw it out for her. Now, we've laid in a stock of dog food as she is coming every day. She's in prime breeding condition with a beautiful, thick brush and we're sure we'll meet a new family of cubs next Spring.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Potted slow worm!

We have new neighbours and they invited us round to discuss their plans for the garden. Then they asked if I was scared of snakes. I said no, so they led me to a plant pot in which this lovely silvery-blue slow worm was dozing. Mrs Neighbour said she wasn't keen on anything snakelike, so I carefully carrying it home and released it next to the old butler sink that is sunk into the lawn, where I know a slow worm used to live. To my delight, it seemed to love its new home and whisked itself underneath in no time at all.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

The friendly robin

Every garden has one - a robin that stalks you whenever you're digging soil or raking leaves, its sharp eyes ready to spot the faintest wiggle of a worm or the scurrying of a bug. Today, this one sat on a twig watching as I picked apples. I put out some morsels from a bag of 'robin food' and after eyeing it for a short time, it flew down and helped itself.

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Magpie Moth

When I spotted this pretty creature fluttering against the window, at first I thought it was a butterfly. But when it settled with wings spread, I realised it was probably a moth. I had never seen one like it before, so I took a photo, then released it into the garden.

t wasn't until I zoomed in on the photo that I noticed the rust-coloured spots. This enabled me to identify it in my field guide as a Magpie Moth. Common in gardens and hedgerows, it flies from June to August and is disliked by gardeners as it likes to lay its eggs on gooseberry and currant bushes, which then get decimated by the hungry caterpillars!

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Swifts off soon?

Today, I counted a shrieking crew of twelve swifts, massing together then scimitaring through the sky, arcing between houses, flicking sideways through trees, then soaring back up into the blue.

I have noticed that the ants always pick a hot, thundery day, usually at the end of July or start of August, to swarm. I have just been out and they are swarming now, two weeks early. The swifts usually leave soon after gorging their fill on ants carried upwards on thermals, so I think we shall soon have to bid these glorious acrobats of the sky farewell till next May. The skies will seem quiet and empty without them.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

The birds and the bees

My partner was kneeling at the back of the pond, doing something to the pond filter, when his knee started vibrating. He shifted it and to his amazement, several bumble bees flew out from underneath. He had been kneeling right on the entrance to their nest which has been cleverly positioned in the roots of a plant. Last week, the white hebe bush was in flower and it was completely buzzing, absolutely alive with bees. Now the purple hebe is out, and the honeysuckle too, so the bees still have plenty of nectar.

Don't they have a splendid doorway?

Now for the birds. There is a huge flock of starlings roosting somewhere not far away. We often get more than thirty in the garden at once. The suet balls are very popular and they can strip the feeder in ten minutes. Here is a bunch of them queuing for their turn.

The collective noun for starlings should be a clamour, not a murmuration!

Last but not least, here is a cure ring-necked parakeet swinging on the peanuts.

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Bye-bye Butterfly?

When I was small, I used to listen to Nursery Singsong on the radio and there was one song that always made me cry. It had a plaintive melody which was repeated in a different key, and the words, sung by a lady with a very pure voice, were:

Bye-bye butterfly
Born in a bower
Christened in a teapot
And drownded in a shower

Tears would cascade down my cheeks as I thought of that poor butterfly, although I didn't understand what 'christened in a teapot' was all about. I still don't!

The old song sprang to my mind today as I stood in the garden lamenting the lack of butterflies. Back in 1997 when I first started spending most of my time in Hillingdon, there were so many of them that for a season I kept a Butterfly Diary, logging all the species I saw. Peacocks were always the first to appear, followed by Orange Tips, Brimstones, Holly Blues, Gatekeepers, Commas, Meadow Browns, Cabbage Whites, Red Admirals, Fritillaries...the list goes on.

Well, the plants in the garden are still the same. The farm fields at the bottom are still there. Yet the butterflies have gone and I can only blame the dreadful winters. After the freezing cold one of 2011-2012, we counted five dead Peacock butterflies in the garage, frozen to death whilst overwintering. This spring I have only seen one, a very battered specimen. I have seen a couple of Orange Tips and a few small blues. That's it. I can only hope that a few more will appear during the summer, but I fear that those that didn't freeze during the winter have been 'drownded' in the extremely wet spring showers. I am very sad as, along with dragonflies, I find butterflies the most delightful and magical of all the insects.

(Photo taken in July 2012 of Red Admiral sunning its wings on a paintbrush on the windowsill)

Saturday, 15 June 2013

A helping hand for the fox family

The cubs race around the garden so fast that it's hard to take a decent photo. But it's good to see them both doing so well. The odd thing is, a second vixen, whose coat is a darker colour, seems to be helping their mum bring them up. There's no sign that she is feeding cubs of her own. I wonder if she's a sibling of the cub's mother, or one of last year's cubs who failed to found a family of her own? She is so shy that the moment you raise the camera, she's off, speeding into the bushes.

Often, the second vixen is the one who appears first, like the lookout, checking that it's OK for the cubs to appear. Then you see a cheeky little face and the bolder cub ventures onto the lawn, followed by cub number two and Mum. Haven't seen Dad for a while. Perhaps, knowing that the family are being helped, he has gone on his way.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

This year's fox cubs

The other night, Moma Vixen brought her cubs into the garden to introduce them to us. The first time I looked up, I just saw this one...

Suddenly, it looked round...

And up trotted its sibling.

One decided to inspect the fox food bowl. Although there was food in it, it wasn't sure how to get it out. It peered in, sniffed and gave up.

They were making such a noise, chasing and yipping, that the larger birds came down to decide just how much of a threat these small furry creatures were.

The nearer cub decided it didn't like the magpie staring at it and chased it off.

I have a feeling we might be seeing a lot more of this playful twosome. And who knows, there might even be a third, lurking shyly in the den. One year, we thought there were only two and in fact there were four!

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Thieving magpies!

The magpies have cottoned on to the fact that we feed Charlie, the ginger cat, outside and are now helping themselves to any leftovers in his bowl. They sit on the privet hedge and survey the area to make sure the cats and fox aren't around, then swoop down and pick up what they can. They love cat biscuits, which they fly to the birds' water dish with, then dunk them to soften them. They're pretty bright, those magpies, and beautiful, too, with that glorious kingfisher blue on their wings. A couple of days ago, the parent birds took their youngster to the water dish and were teaching him how to drink. I expect he or she will be joining them soon on their cat food raids.

The vixen is weaning the cubs now. She eats a little food herself, then stuffs her mouth with as much as she can carry and scoots through the hedge with it. I dread the day the house next door sells. It needs renovating, so will probably go to a developer who will fill the garden with building gear. I hope she has a safe place to remove her family to. The fox path that she has worn in the grass goes down and across our garden, through the hedge, across next door's lawn and down to the bottom, but whatever happens next door, she will still be able to access our garden from the field at the bottom. Let's hope that never gets built on, as the local wildlife would really suffer. Hopefully, the old oak trees have preservation orders on them so any building would be beyond the tree-line. Fingers crossed...

Friday, 10 May 2013

Great Spotted Woodpecker seeks new home!

For those of you who didn't see my post on Facebook, the other day I was lucky enough to be able to grab my camera in time to snap this woodpecker checking out the nest box which hasn't been occupied since it was put up three years ago, apart from one cold night when some blue tits took shelter in it. I do hope something nests in it this year. It would be thrilling if it was the woodpeckers!

Friday, 26 April 2013

The Thieving Magpie

There was Flad, tucking into some chicken that had been thrown out for the fox. The magpie decided it wanted to share the feast and was sizing up the distance, wondering if it could snatch some from under Flad's nose - or rather, claw.

Now, Flad is an elderly cat. He's 16 and is very stiff and arthritic, poor old beast, but that doesn't stop him making a show of being a big, bad, bird-eating beast! The magpie rapidly changed its mind and flapped off.

Saturday, 30 March 2013

Birthday girl

I wasn't the only person who enjoyed my chocolate mousse birthday cake. As it had fresh cream in it, I had to consume it within three days, and even my belly couldn't manage that amount of chocolate, so I put it on the lawn and someone else shared its delicious, gooey taste. Just look at her licking her lips!

Friday, 22 March 2013

Adult goldfinches

The adult goldfinches have much brighter, more distinct markings than the juveniles. I'm quite pleased with this photo I took a few days ago.

Goldfinches did well last year. We have had as many as eight juveniles visiting the feeder, queueing up and trying to barge one another off the perches. It's quite funny to watch them as they get ever so cross when forced to wait their turn. Their markings are paler and more blurry. I reckon it's time I got a second niger seed feeder, don't you?

Friday, 15 March 2013

She's back!

I hadn't seen 'our' vixen for so long that I thought she might be dead. She must be at least four, as she has produced three sets of cubs that we know of, and foxes in the wild often die before they reach the age of four. In fact, in the London area only 3% make it to five years old, although in captivity they can reach fourteen. So I was absolutely delighted when, three days ago, she suddenly appeared in the garden again. Not only that, she must have recently given birth again, as you can see from her teats.

She had two cubs last year, and four the two previous years. I wonder how many she's had this year? With any luck, by the end of April we will have seen them emerging from the den in next door's garden - the very house that I am currently trying to buy. Once I get it, I plan to set up a camera and capture a lot more detail of the foxes' lives.

Here is her mate. He looks really feral, doesn't he? He has a bigger mask than her and the tip of his brush is darker.

Friday, 8 March 2013

Dunnock in the hedge

I had never been sure of the difference between a sparrow and a dunnock, but now I know. At first glance, I thought this little bird was a wren, but it lacked the sticky-up tail. It was smaller, rounder and altogether more compact than a sparrow and the plumage was in regular patterns, with a spotted chest and zigzag, chestnut-brown stripes on the back. I had never seen one in our garden before, so this little fellow rooting for bugs in the hedge was a real first for me!

Sunday, 17 February 2013


I have never been lucky enough to spot a goldcrest, but my partner saw this one searching for insects on the privet by the side doors and grabbed his camera just in time. Goldcrests are about the size of  a wren, which is what he thought it was until he saw the distinctive gold flash on its head.

Monday, 21 January 2013


I am guilty of putting too many of my wildlife photos on my Facebook page and ignoring my blog. Time I rectified this. I put out some pieces of apple two days ago, in the hope of luring a fieldfare into the garden. Yesterday, we saw one sitting in a tree casing the joint and today - oh joy! - it actually came down and stayed long enough for me to take several pictures. I had never seen one so close-up before. Close-up through a telephoto lens, that is. It was actually a good thirty feet away, which is why the photos aren't as crisp as I'd like.

It was interesting to see the fieldfare next to the blackbird, to get an idea of their relative shapes and sizes. The blackbird is longer and slimmer, while the fieldfare is rounder and more like a song thrush and is in fact a member of the thrush family, which goes by the unfortunate Latin name of Turdus. Thefieldfare is Turdus pilaris. They are natives of Scandinavia but visit the milder climate of Britain in winter.