Sometimes it’s nice to be a victim of one’s own success…. Sometimes less so! Having just planted out our spring bulbs at the wildlife garden, imagine our chagrin at finding many of our crocuses and tulips gobbled up by naughty little voles… Well, I hear you say, it IS a wildlife garden… Touché!
The ecologist in me says (once the impotent rage has subsided) that nature will soon redress the balance, and predators such as weasels and owls will soon capitalize on the abundant food source. (Believe me, it really is abundant, especially after last year’s mild winter, and this one looks no better.) To this end, last week the volunteers and I put up owl boxes out the back of the garden at the edge of the water meadow locally known as Skaters’ Meadow, and we also built several ‘weasel lodges’ – substantial log piles designed with a central cosy space, hopefully a des res for local weasels. Fingers crossed!
Although the garden is closed for winter, we do have a few open weekends at the garden - the Big Garden Birdwatch on 24-25 January, and Snowdrop Weekends on 14/15th and 21/22nd February. As usual, we’ll have family-friendly activities on the go, as well as plants for sale and advice on gardening for wildlife in winter & spring. Hope to see you there!
Well, now the Big Garden Birdwatch is over, and we all know what birds and other creatures share our gardens with us, (https://www.rspb.org.uk/birdwatch/ ) let’s look ahead and see what we can do to help them all through spring…. Hopefully you already have plans for putting up bird boxes for when those little blue tits get broody, but there are other creatures which also really need our help in the next few months.
Some of our most common garden butterflies (I’m thinking commas, peacocks, small tortoiseshells, brimstones, even red admirals) get through the winter by hibernating as adult butterflies. When they eventually wake up in the spring, they are desperately in need of sustenance, which takes the form of nectar. However, there is not always much in flower so early. This is where you come in. If you can choose nectar-rich plants which flower nice and early in the spring, you can really help these beautiful creatures. Some ideas for you: primroses, violets, wallflowers, violas, honesty, cowslips and Chionodoxa (also known as Glory of the snow) all flower really early, and will not only help the butterflies, but also queen bumblebees which have slept away the winter, pregnant with next summer’s brood of worker bees.
Those of you who have compost heaps, if you mulch your borders now, you’ll be providing a happy hunting ground for those insect eating birds, like song thrushes, dunnocks, robins and blackbirds. The can often be seen, rummaging around in the fallen leaves and mulch, looking for worms and other morsels at this time of year. In the dead of winter last year, I was lucky enough to spot two song thrushes rustling around in the fallen field maple leaves, looking hopefully for worms… No doubt in my mind that they would not have been there if we’d raked up those leaves in autumn.
So, who’s seen a fieldfare yet this winter? I personally haven’t seen many, probably due to the strong south westerlies keeping them at home in Scandinavia, and also perhaps due to the mildness of the winter so far. (They’re just not that hungry yet) Those of you who have been lucky enough to spot fieldfares, redwings or other thrushes – I bet they were feasting on berries! I’ve seen them on rowan trees, pyracantha (also known as firethorns), cotoneaster of all shapes and sizes, holly, and of course on apples. Such an easy thing to do in your own gardens – plant a tree or shrub which produces berries or fruit.
Speaking of gardens, the Big Garden Birdwatch is set for this coming weekend, 25 and 26 January – I hope you are all poised to record your birds for an hour! If not, take a look here: https://www.rspb.org.uk/birdwatch/ to see how you can help us with Europe’s biggest wildlife survey.
I have been keeping an eye on what the birds are up to in the garden at the moment, and this is what I have to report:
- The blue tits are exploring the dense shrubs, looking for hibernating insects to snaffle
- The goldfinches are flocking to our mammoth teasels, which we’ve staked to keep them high and dry for the birds. The seeds are a great source of winter food.
- The dunnocks are hopping around on the ground, apparently picking up teasel seeds. They always disappear into the dead hedge when they realize they’ve been spotted
- The moorhens are very furtively sneaking in to eat the apples I put out on the bird table for any thrushes that might be around!
- The rabbits are nibbling my wallflowers, but that’s another story….
Why not take some time to see what creatures in your garden are up to? They will often give you clues as to what you can do to help them through these lean months, just watch and learn….