"To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour."

From "Auguries of Innocence"

by William Blake

Monday, 31 May 2010

Woodie Strikes Again!

A quick look at the outside of the nestbox this morning revealed that the male great spotted woodpecker has yet again been trying to make a hole - in the side of the nest box this time. The chicken wire may be preventing him getting right up to the box but it looks as though his beak can still reach the wood. Blue tits usually fledge 18 - 21 days after hatching which would mean they should leave the nest box around this weekend. Just hoping the woodie doesn't gain access before then.

Inside the nest box the 6 young blue tits are growing daily. They are starting to preen themselves and the three older ones are practising flying by fluttering round the nest box. One cause of concern is that the eldest four are much bigger than the youngest two who hatched one/two days later and the older ones seem to be outcompeting the younger ones for food.

The female wren is still busy taking food to young in the nest built in a hanging basket on the patio and there are still plenty of juvenile house sparrows being fed on the lawn.

Saturday, 29 May 2010

Castle Bromwich Hall Gardens - Part 2

Its been a dreary, rainy day here today so I will return to my stroll around Castle Bromwich Hall Gardens earlier in the week.

I'll begin in the less formal gardens which are known as the Extra Gardens.

This is the view we get as we walk through the doorway back in the main walled Garden.

High up on the North-west Pier is a figurine of Lamia - "a creature from Greek and Roman mythology, half woman and half serpent, preying on human beings and sucking children's blood" according to the rhyme on the Pier.

This is a view of the South Kitchen Garden with part of the roof of Castle Bromwich Hall visible in the background. This vegetable garden follows a plan by Batty Langley in his book the "New Principles of Gardening" published in 1728. Old varieties of vegetables are grown today in the Kitchen Garden.

I couldn't find a label identifying this pretty pink flower but it reminds me of bistort.

Another view of the South Kitchen Garden towards herb borders along the wall where the pink flower above was growing.

Beyond the vegetable garden there is a maze and then an area of the gardens known as the Lower Wilderness as shown below.

Walking along the West Claire-voie and across the Holly Walk and Archery Ground (which I will photograph on a future visit) we enter the Upper Wilderness where I came across a beautiful Golden Chain tree in flower.

There were clumps of French Lavender throughout the gardens; many flowers attracting bumble bees.

My Lady's Border is full of perennials and will be full of colour in the summer.

Finally, two pictures of a lily. The first shows a seedhead taken last week and the last picture shows the plant flowering when I visited on 22nd April.

Friday, 28 May 2010

Wren and Blue Tit Update

Adult blue tits are busy feeding the 6 young who look bigger every day. The older nestlings are now almost completely covered with downy feathers, with tufty bits on their heads and their eyes opened today - they are looking much cuter. Male great spotted woodpecker was seen several times today near the nestbox - so he hasn't given up. More worryingly he seems to be paying more attention to areas of the nestbox not covered by a metal plate.

The wren's eggs must have hatched recently as during the last few days, the female has been carrying small spiders and insects into the nest in the hanging basket. On one occasion a female house sparrow fed up with waiting for the next consignment of mealworms tried to "mug" the wren and steal the food she was carrying for the young.

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Surveys, Millers, Muslins and Pugs

Suddenly realising the deadline of 31st May was rapidly approaching, I decided to do my Early Summer Timed Tetrad Visit for the BTO Atlas this morning. The Warwickshire tetrad I am surveying this season comprises mainly farmland, with quite a substantial amount of woodland (mainly deciduous)and a small village. There are no real stretches of water just a few brooks and small pools. I managed to see 18 species (a poorer total than I had hoped for) with nothing particularly unusual - where were those crossbills that I had seen reported in this area a few months ago on a Warwickshire birding forum? Highlights included a calling cuckoo, a drumming great spotted woodpecker and a male yellowhammer singing a little bit of bread and no cheese. Part of the walk took me through a very pretty wood; the bluebells had faded but there were plenty of ramsons, yellow archangel and cow parsley in flower. Also saw several orange tips and small whites during the walk. Sorry no photos - decided to leave the camera at home!

A bit belatedly here is the Catch Report from Sunday 23rd May for my Actinic 15w Skinner Trap - Minimum temperature 11.9 degrees centigrade

Miller 1
Green Carpet 1
Shuttle-shaped Dart 5
Heart and Dart 2
Lime Speck Pug 1
Muslin Moth 1
Mottled Pug 1

The Miller, pugs and muslin moth are all new garden ticks.

Pugs are incredibly difficult to identify as so many look the same but I think this is a mottled pug?

Here is one of the few pugs that is relatively easy - a Lime-speck Pug

I think this is a really cute moth - a male Muslin (the female is white)

And finally, this is a Miller

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Stroll around Castle Bromwich Hall Gardens - Part 1

I went a quick stroll around Castle Bromwich Hall Gardens, Solihull at lunchtime today. I rediscovered these gardens early this year and have tried to visit at least once a month to keep a record of the gardens as they develop through the year. The gardens are usually lovely and quiet and its like wandering around my very own "secret garden".

The gardens were discovered in 1982 totally overgrown and derelict but retaining the basic structure of how the gardens would have appeared in the early eighteenth century. They are a rare example of an English Baroque garden and since 1988 Castle Bromwich Hall Gardens Trust has been aiming to restore the gardens to the period 1680 - 1762.

The walled gardens extend over 10 acres with over 600 species of plants from the period together with a holly maze, orchards, wilderness and vegetable garden.

I began my walk in the less formal part of the gardens which include ponds, New Orchard (pictured below) and a wildflower meadow.

Cow parsley and speedwell grow along the wall

I walked to North Pond which used to house fish to feed people living in the main house but which is today home to the great crested newt

and walked through the Nut Ground back into the main gardens

Looking back into Nut Ground

Lupins flowering in the main garden

The Green House was originally built around 1729 and the Coat of arms seen at the top of the building belonged to Sir John Bridgeman II and his wife Ursula Matthews (1672-1720), the then owners of Castle Bromwich Hall

This would have been a nice place to sit if I had rememberd my book!

The gardens are not too tidy or over manicured as can be seen from the photo below of an ornamental shrub with foxgloves, forget me nots and garlic mustard nearby.

The stroll around the gardens will be continued in Part 2 soon.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Blue Tit Family Update

Six young blue tits are still thriving and growing well. Feathers are starting to appear on their wings and heads and parents are busy feeding with female only doing an occasional spell of brooding. Had to chase off great spotted woodpecker again today who was having another attempt at breaking through the metal plate.

Sunday, 23 May 2010

More Moths

Friday, 21st May

Catch Report

Minimum temperature 9.4 degrees centigrade

Waved Umber 1 New Garden Tick
Shuttle Shaped Dart 2
Common Pug 2 New Garden Tick
Common Wave 1 New for year

Common wave photo below

Magical Moths

At long last much warmer overnight temperatures have resulted in a far higher catch. I use a 15w Actinic Skinner trap to catch garden moths.

Catch Report for Thursday, 20th May, 2010
Minimum temperature 11.4 degrees centigrade

White Ermine 1
Green Carpet 1
Oak Hook Tip 1
Small Phoenix 1
Shuttle Shaped Dart 2
Heart and Dart 1
Flame Shoulder 1
Light Brown Apple Moth 2
Epiblema cynosbatella 1

All species are new for 2010 and all, except light brown apple moth, are new garden ticks.

I have posted below a few images to show the wonderful variety of moths. The photos are all heavily cropped as I do not have a macro lens for my digital slr and have to make do with the macro option on the standard lens. I am full of admiration for bloggers who get perfect images with moths posing on leaves and twigs. I just don't know how they do it. I rarely manage this as despite, chilling in the fridge, they become very active almost as soon as I get them out and can't wait to flutter off so some moth photos are taken when they are still in the container - not very aesthetic but at least I get a poor record shot!!

Flame Shoulder

Small Phoenix

Waved Umber

White Ermine

As mentioned in a previous post I have only been trapping garden moths since last August so if any of the above identifications are wrong, please feel free to correct me.

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Surprise lurking in the pond

Had a nice surprise lurking in the shallows of the pond today. Spotted two common/smooth newts slowly moving around. Although we have had the very occasional sighting in the pond and also found common newts hibernating in nooks and crevices in stone walls, this is the first time we have seen two together.

Young blue tits are thriving and, although male great spotted woodpecker has been on fat feeders, I haven't seen him near the nest box.

Added small white to list of garden butterflies seen this year. Five species seen in 2010 - brimstone, orange tip, holly blue, speckled wood and small white.

Details of moths seen over two trapping sessions will hopefully be posted tomorrow.

Friday, 21 May 2010

Quick update

Just a quick update tonight.

Blue Tits

6 nestlings are growing already and female is spending less time brooding and more time searching for food. Female great spotted woodpecker returned today having been absent for a month or more. She and the male seem to be feeding young as they were flying off with mouthfuls of homemade birdcake. Unfortunately, the male turned his attention to the nest box again and seemed to be trying to hammer a hole in the roof - managed to chase him off.

Saw 2 house sparrow juveniles (first of the year) being fed by parents on the lawn today, a blackbird collecting nest material and the wren still seems to be incubating eggs in a nest in a hanging basket on the patio.


Caught quite a few last night (certainly a great improvement on previous weeks!). Will print full list and a few photos tomorrow - an unexpected theatre trip tonight meant I have only had time to identify a few macros. Only bought the moth trap last August so most of the species I am catching are new for the garden list. It is also taking me quite a time to id species as you can catch something which looks really unique only to find when checking the field guide that there are a lot of superficially similar moths and quite a few that look identical - it is a steep learning curve!

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Birds, butterflies and moths

Garden butterflies today - speckled wood and holly blue. Photo of speckled wood above - only a record shot I am afraid as the butterfly kept flying away whenever I got too close and this is cropped version of the original photo.

Blue Tit Update

Pleased to report that the chicken wire seems to be keeping the great spotted at bay and, although, he has visited the feeders, he seems to have lost interest in the nestbox. Blue tit nestlings are thriving - some very funny scenes today as the male bird kept appearing with massive green caterpillars and couldn't understand why the nestlings seemed unable to swallow them!

Garden Moths - Will be running my moth trap tonight (at long last a warm, cloudy evening)and hoping to improve my dismal total of 30 moths of 8 species over 15 trapping sessions since the start of the year!

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Nestbox Dramas

As I have only just started this blog and am bound to be rambling on about blue tits nesting in the garden, I will just give a quick overview of events to date.

We bought a nestbox with camera in February and erected it in a whitebeam tree to replace an old box which had been used most years by blue tits. A pair of blue tits showed immediate interest and this intensified when Spring arrived.

18th - 24th April

Blue tit regularly entering box taking in and then removing small pieces of nest material.

24th April

Blue tits seen mating and the female started to take large quantities of nesting material (mainly moss) into the nest box. Feathers were added as lining two days later and the female roosted in the box overnight for the first time.

28th April

First egg laid and covered with feathers. Over the following week female laid an egg a day. She covered the eggs with feathers during the day and incubated them overnight.

4th May

Female began incubating the eggs day and night and laid one more egg on 5th May. Seven eggs in total.

9th May

DRAMAbegan to unfold as noticed in the morning that the entrance hole to the box had been enlarged. The culprit - a great spotted woodpecker - soon appeared to continue with his dastardly deeds. Whilst the female was absent we managed to fix a metal plate to the entrance hole - yes, I know we should have done it earlier but the woodpeckers have been regular visitors for several years and we have never previously experienced problems. All nestboxes will have metal plates surrounding the entrances in future!

10th May

Woodpecker continued to return even though he was unable to enlarge the hole thanks to the metal plate. Female blue tit seemed visibly distressed and disappeared for several hours - we thought she had deserted but she returned in the evening to incubate the eggs overnight and thankfully the woodpecker seemed to give up.

17th May

9.00 in the morning the first egg hatched and by 10.00 3 eggs had hatched. Interesting to see female eating the eggshells and male bringing in tiny green caterpillars for the female to feed the young who are already begging for food.

18th May

Fourth egg hatched early am. Then the great spotted woodpecker returned and started attacking the metal plate with renewed vigour. I kept chasing it off but everytime it appeared on the nest box the female left the nest for hours. By evening we were convinced she had deserted the nest. Male kept bringing food but seemed unable to feed the young himself and kept calling (presumably for the female). As dusk approached the female actually returned to the nest and started brooding the young. Will they survive all those hours without food?

19th May

Blue tit diary is up to date at long last. Unbelievably, the nestlings had survived overnight and the final two eggs hatched today. Whilst the female was away we managed to fix some chicken wire a few inches away from but surrounding the nestbox. Holes are big enough for blue tits to access the nestbox but too small for the woodpecker. The woodpecker has returned several times but seems unable now to access the nestbox and the adults have been feeding the young all day.

GARDEN BUTTERFLIES Three species in the garden today - female brimstone, holly blue and speckled wood.

Tame garden robin who happily takes mealworms from my hand