Big Garden Birdwatch: The results

Having posted about my preparations for the Big Garden Birdwatch here are the results. Alice sat on my knees for most of the time checking through her binoculars or drawing the birds she saw. She surprised me looking through her bird book when she named the puffin. She’s taking everything in. We currently have building work going on so I thought the birds might be visiting less as there have been people in and out the garden all week.

Alice thinks the building site is great though with lots to climb and balance along.

Most of today’s photos are taken from previous days or the trail camera as I didn’t want to go outside during the birdwatch and scare any away. I watched early morning between 8 and 9. The garden goes through bursts of bird activity. A lot come in the early morning then more at lunchtime more at dusk

Results as follows:

    • Blackbirds 8

        • House sparrows 10 +

    • Robin 1

    • Dunnocks 1
    • Jackdaw 2
    • Common gull 1

  • Woodpigeon 2
  • Starlings 10+
  • Blue tits 1
  • Wren 1

Last year I had 10 species though not the same 10. I’m not seeing the finches as much. The goldfinches have been coming in but the greenfinches and chaffinches are non-existent. I know there have been problems nationally with a disease. So it’s important to clean feeders to stop the disease from spreading if they are going to recover.

The trail camera caught lots of the action on the ground.

Not too bad a variety coming in considering the disruption in the garden currently. Quite a few common visitors didn’t come in. No collared doves, great tits or goldfinches. The crows have been visiting lots recently, but none during my watch. But that seems to be how it goes. Hope you’re all enjoying your weekends and if you are doing your own count it goes well. We have celebrated my mums birthday with a walk out and a fountain candle. A good follow up to our contribution to conservation with the Birdwatch. Today we’re off to the garden centre. She’s been calling through again and again recently in the night. So in desperation, I promised a trip to the garden centre, see the fish, get a cake and a play in the toy area if she slept through on her own. Much to our surprise, she did. Though I don’t think we can afford to get her to sleep this way everyday.

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Cheerio bird feeder

This week we were sent ideas for feeding the birds from Alice’s nursery. This has made a good follow up to doing our RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch. She wanted to make the heart so a raid of the garden box and her craft box gave us all the materials we needed.

  • Garden wire
  • Wire cutters
  • Cheerios (other brands are available)
  • String

First, we cut a length of wire and made a bend so the hoops wouldn’t fall off.

Then the cheerios can be threaded onto the wire.

Then we added the string for hanging and bent it into a heart shape.

Alice seems happy with the result. A nice little ten-minute activity with the little one.

Six on Saturday: Big Garden Birdwatch

This weekend is the weekend of the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch. The Birdwatch is held over one weekend in January each year. The results from this little piece of citizen science that gives valuable data on the ups and downs of birds in the UK. In preparation for doing my hour watch I have been working for the last few months to have the garden ready and as bird-friendly as possible.

1. Cleaning the feeders

Bird feeders should be cleaned regularly to cut down the spread of infection from birds visiting. In preparation for the birdwatch, I got a new long-handled feeder brush and spray to give my feeders a good clean. I find the birds seem to like this and I often see an increase in bird numbers after feeding.

2. Increasing the feeders

During Winter I increase my number of feeders to help support the birds who may be struggling. During warmer months there is plenty of readily available food for the birds.

3. Increasing the variety

Different birds like different food. Some eat on the ground, some can hang from feeders, others need a solid stand. In order to accommodate this, I put out a variety of feeders and types of food.

Suet seems to be a good all-round choice. It gives a solid energy burst without the birds having to spend much effort.

A good quality seed mix is popular among many of the birds visiting.

Nyger is popular with the finches.

Sunflower seeds are again popular with the finches and many of the smaller birds.

The ground feeders are good for pigeons and blackbirds.

Meat brings in the corvids.

Just about anything brings in the gulls.

4. Water

While many people feed the birds not as many supply a drink. I’ve been having to crack the surface each day. A ball in the bowl can stop freezing but the gulls round mine fling them out.

5. The kit

No good doing a count without being able to see and identify. I’ve got my binoculars ready.

Alice has been out the last few weekends practising. After a year she has started holding them the right way round.

The cameras telephoto lens is ready. Then the trail camera is set up closer to the action.

6. The snacks

Time to put my feet up to enjoy a cuppa and snacks and see how many birds I can count.

Hope you have enjoyed my six. If you fancy taking part you can find details on the RSPB website. My results will follow later. Wish me luck!

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Alice is already making notes and drawing what she’s seen.


Six on Saturday: 19.1.19 Showing patience

I am getting eager to start preparing for this Spring and Summer, but I know it’s just too early for a lot of what I want to do. I’ve started seeing an increase in Twitter posts showing peoples seed trays as people start to get their tender annuals underway. But for me with no greenhouse or cold frame, it’s just too early. I start many of seedlings off in windowsill propagators in the utility room. But this is getting knocked down to be rebuilt longer. So for a little while, this will be out of action. If I start my tender annuals now they’re going to end up too big inside and end up outside too early to then suffer from cold weather. Then if I start digging ground I’m liable to hit bulbs. So I’m holding off. This week looking at doing nothing. Snow has come down this week so the bulbs that started coming up may be regretting it.

The Utility Room set for losing a wall
Foundations hole dug

1. Patience

I have been stockpiling propagators, yoghurt pots and toilet rolls ready for planting seedlings. I’ve talked about these before, this year I’ve gone for a couple of solid options that will last. It is very tempting to get them filled, but it’s just too early for most of my planned plants. The exception being sweet peas. Once I have a time frame on the utility room extension I may look at starting my sweet peas. But if I start now I’ll be looking at a house filled with seedlings in the way with months until they can go out.

2. Potting tray

In preparation for the sowing ahead, I have bought a portable seed tray. I normally pot up on the grass leading to lots of compost ending up on the lawn. Having watched lots of Gardener’s World I have grown envious of potting sheds. I don’t currently have space to set up a potting bench but at least having a tray will catch some of the compost and make the job a bit easier. As with the previous post I am resisting using it though as it still feels too early to start sowing.

3. Diary

In order to try and organise my seed box, I’ve put some of the key dates for sowing into my diary to remind me to start them going. I have a bad habit of missing sowing dates, so I’m trying to organise what will be coming up.

4. Not pruning

Again, I am resisting doing more work. I gave a handful of trees and shrubs a prune a few weeks ago. I have a few more to do once the risk of frost has gone. The dogwood is due a hard prune, but I will leave until Spring as the red stems still look attractive. But the temptation to put my new Niwaki secateurs to work is strong.

The hydrangea mopheads have gone over fully. I won’t prune these until Spring as they offer protection from frosts and I like the look of them.

5. Not tidying

There are a lot of perennials looking untidy that could do with cutting back. But again, I’m leaving. Some of the taller perennials provide stems for insects to hibernate in and I don’t want to disturb them. Then some of the ground cover is again providing hibernation spaces.

6. Not planting

I have a number of plants to go in the soil but until the soil warms up I’m keeping them in their pots. I’ve got a mass horde of discount hostas and the fern from last week to go in the soil. It’s tempting to get them in the soil but they won’t benefit from going in. They won’t root well and I want to order some more sheep wool to act as a barrier to get them established initially. So, for now, I’ll keep them sheltered and wait.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my week of doing very little. There is a bit of weeding to do today, but we’ll see how the weather is. So far it’s freezing inside so not sold on working outside. Hope you enjoy your weekends and have more productive gardening weeks ahead.

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Six on Saturday: 12.1.19

The days are getting longer now. I’ve travelled home during daylight a few days this week. The first day back at work with the children has been nice, though we now have building work in the classroom and at home. No escaping. Good to be the weekend now and have some time to check over the garden.

1. Primulas

I’m not a massive fan of primulas. I mainly see them in Council bedding schemes with a lurid range of colours. But I’ve kept a few yellow and white varieties close to the wilder varieties. I considered removing them last year, but blog readers encouraged me to divide them and leave them in. I still can’t say they excite me, but it is a few flowers at a point where little is happening.

2. Crocus

With the building work going on I’d moved a few pots off the patio and onto the border. I’ve a suspicion that I may have crushed some of my existing croci. So I’ve added a few cheap ones from the local florist.

3. Fern-Dryopteris Affinis

Another purchase from the florist, I found this fern discounted as it has browned a bit. But once new fronds come along it will be fine. I currently have one patch of ferns under the Acre. I want to add some in the opposite border along with a few hostas. This will add some cohesion to the borders. Then with the planned ferns and hostas on the patio, this will hopefully tie the two layers together a bit. I won’t plant this yet though. I’ll let the weather warm up a bit first. Golden shield fern has the traditional look of ferns fronds and grows about a metre long. An attractive foliage plant that should look good combined with the hostas wider leaves.

4. Camellia buds

The established camellia is awash with buds. This is a white-flowered variety. It suffered from frost last year and many of the flowers had rather unsightly brown edges. It probably needs protecting with fleece, but I don’t really want large plants that aren’t hardy enough. We’ll see how it goes this year and decide it if gets the chop.

The less established I think was called Christmas Rose. It has red flowers. But it hasn’t produced any yet. It is looking a bit scruffy, but it does have buds this year. Again, I’m looking to see if it pays its way or whether it also faces the chop. I’m not a massive fan of them, so wouldn’t miss them much.

5. Lychnis Coronaria-Rose campion

Having cleared some ground over the last few weeks I can see the mass number of self-seeded Lychnis. Luckily, I like this plant but I will need to move some around the border. The mass of pink flowers kept going for a long period through last Summer and attracted lots of insects.

They are pretty well covered in dust from the render coming off, but a bit of wind and rain I’m sure will remove some of this. Once they put on new growth I’m confident they will look a bit healthier.

6. Dahlias-Naomi Slade

It’s time to rest now and dream of Summer. In preparation for that, I am reading Naomi Slade’s beautiful book. With lots of stunning photos it acts as a catalogue of dahlias to buy. But on top of the eye candy it has lots of information to go alongside. I’ve never grown dahlias before so this will be my first year. I’ve got a collection Sarah Raven sells to grow in pots on preorder. They are shorter varieties that don’t need as much staking land and can handle the confines of the pot to go on the patio. After reading this I’m sure I’ll want to add some to the borders as well. What dahlias are you planning this year?

So now it’s just patience of waiting for the weather to warm up to get started on the dahlias and other seed sowings. So enjoy your weekends and good gardening!

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Six on Saturday: 5.1.19 New Year New Ways

Happy New Year Six on Saturday readers. It’s a new year and I thought it would be a good time to look at a few new growing methods I’m trialling this year. As has been well documented in the gardening media over the last year gardening produces a lot of plastic waste and a lot of gardeners are concerned about this. Alongside this, I’m looking at cutting down the peat products to help sustainability. So this weeks six is looking at ways I can cut my plastic impact.

1. Propagators

While the propagators are plastic I have built a collection of robust propagators that should last me a good many years looked after carefully. I’ve bought cheap before that have then ended up in the bin. While some were recyclable black plastic is often not recycled by some councils.

One of the reasons for using propagators is to grow more of my plants from seed and from cuttings. This cuts my waste from buying plants at the garden centre meaning I will not end up left with lots of black plastic pots.

2. Fibre pots

I bought a stack of fibre trays to start off some of the seedlings this year. These trays are biodegradable, cutting the plastic waste. You can start seeds off in these then cut the sections to plant them straight into the ground.

I’m placing them within a plastic box to act as a cold frame. I saw the idea on Twitter and it seems like a good solution to my lack of greenhouse or cold frame.

3. Recycling

I’m saving toilet rolls as the perfect tubes for starting my sweet peas in. Sweet peas root deep, so the long thin toilet roll should be ideal. Alice eats through a lot of yoghurts. I think these will probably be suitable for starting off some seedlings in as well.

As a lot of the houseplants have been potted on I’ve got a supply of small plastic pots to reuse for seedlings. I’ve also got a small number of mini terracotta pots I bought from Asda last year. These seem to work quite well for getting cuttings started.

4. Coir Pellets

I’ve bought a pack of these coir pellets to test out for seedlings. They come as small discs. When you add water they grow up. This variety uses coir rather than peat. So as well as cutting down plastic it also means peat bogs aren’t destroyed. While sold as environmentally friendly I do wonder whether these have hidden costs though of deforestation elsewhere in the world. But they are cutting out the plastic pot, but sadly despite advertising as an eco-friendly alternative, they came within plastic packaging.

5. Paper Pots

As I’d mentioned in a previous blog, I’ve bought a paper pot maker. These paper pots are only really suited to seedlings with quick germination periods as they will start to disintegrate.

6. Alice’s seed choices

I took Alice on a trip to the garden centre to look for a birthday present for my dad. We looked along the seed packets and her eyes lit up when she spotted the cauliflower. She also felt he’d like some sweet corn. So I think she’s expecting a return on her allotment investment later in the year the little Indian gift giver. I also let her choose which sweet peas we’d try and grow. I bought a pack of cauliflower seeds for us. I don’t have a proper veg patch, but quite like keeping some form of veg growing in pots so Alice still gets some idea of where food comes from. She enjoyed growing cut again lettuce and tomatoes over last year. She’d pick and eat the lettuce from the garden, but won’t eat the bought packs. Then she was also very taken with the passionflower seeds pack and wouldn’t let go of it. So she’s developing a taste for the exotic as well.

For those looking to start taking part check the founder’s participant guide. As I’ve gone a few weeks with no plants I’m going to break the usual rules and add another. My amaryllis has finally come into flower and looks pretty spectacular. Worth the anticipation and wait.
Hope you’ve enjoyed my six. How are you cutting your waste? I’m tempted with a soil blocker┬áto cut my need for plastic pots further. While I’m still using a lot of plastic I’ll hopefully cut the single use plastic down further.

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Grow Wild: free wildflower seed

It is time for registration with Grow Wild to see if I can get a wildflower kit. Grow Wild is an initiative through Kew Gardens to grow native wildflowers. It brings people together to create community┬áspaces to help the environment and bring cheer to spaces. By growing wildflowers, it offers food sources for pollinators and can help people’s mental wellbeing through planting and maintaining or just through seeing and enjoying.

The previous packs have been excellent. Grow Wild put together different seed mixes depending on your location in the UK. They then have different packs for different situations: woodland wonders, sensational, field flowers, nighttime bloomers and pollinators. This is an excellent project for teachers. Even if you can only provide a small space, a few planters or pots, it all adds up. Teaching children the significance of the individual plants will help prepare a new generation to take better care of our world. Vitally important work.

Previous mixes did well. The cornflowers brought in the bees and the goldfinches. Registration is open and people will find out if they have been successful next month. So if you work as a teacher or have a community space to grow it is well worth checking out.

Registration open here.

Even if you are ineligible it is worth browsing the website for ideas on collecting seeds and how to help pollinators.

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