Tuesday, 9 December 2014

All about the birds

Well the weather has most definitely taken a much cooler turn of late with chilly frosty nights. These drop in temperatures will kill off any insects that are not already overwintering by now. So with all the insects all tucked up for a long sleep, my attentions turn to other pursuits, mainly birds. 

Now you may remember, I was amazed at how quickly the fat balls on the inherited bird table feeder that came with the property, were disappearing. Then, one morning, I saw a Great Spotted Woodpecker hammering away at the fat balls and thought mystery solved. I was wrong. One evening, whilst doing some washing up, I looked through the window by the kitchen sink and saw absolutely nothing except blackness of an unlit countryside. I then noticed my torch on the window ledge, picked it up and turned it on pointing it straight at the bird table and there staring back at me looking rather surprised were two rats, each one holding a fat ball feeder and mouths wide open as if to say, 'Bugger, I think we've been found out!'.

Needless to say, first thing in the morning, I dismantled the bird table and built a new one, which I've placed in a more open site where the rats won't be able to get to it. The new site for the bird table is opposite the french doors now, where it can be viewed from the living room. This has been very nice as the past week has seen me suffering from a bout of man-flu. So whilst sitting all weak and feeble like on the sofa, I've been able to do a little bit of bird watching. This led me to spot a first for me, a Bullfinch. Yes, I've always wanted to see one but they never seemed to frequent my garden in Ipswich and yes, they are as beautiful as I imagined. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to get a photo yet, because as soon as I see it, it's off! But here's hoping that I'll get a picture for you soon. 

In the meantime, I have set up my video camera on the bird table,
Video camera set up on new bird table
which caught an image of this beautiful Starling showing off his amazing winter plumage.

Beautiful Starling

One picture I did get however, was that of a Sparrowhawk. I admit, it's not going to win any prizes but it was the best I could do with a phone, from a distance and not trying to make any sudden moves.

Female Sparrowhawk (honest).
I was sitting on the sofa when I suddenly noticed a flash past the french doors. I looked up to see a female Sparrowhawk sitting on the water butt. The last Sparrowhawk I saw was a male, so it's good to know there's a pair around, lets hope they breed in the new year. She didn't sit there for long and soon swooped of into my orchard scaring the blackbirds in the process. Flash, the Blackbird with a white streak on his side, flew out of the orchard like a bat out of hell. I then watched the Sparrowhawk fly off across the fields towards Horham.

Talking of breeding birds of prey, tawny owls are heard all around during the night and one of my ideas to try and help move the rats on, is to place an owl box on top of the wifey's workshop with a fitted cctv of course. I plan to convert my MKII moth trap that I built earlier this year as the lack of patio means that the wheels on it are now useless and it's a bit cumbersome to carry about. What will I use to replace my moth trap I hear you ask? I've written a very nice letter to Santa telling him what a good boy I've been and that the only present I would like for Xmas is a Robinson Moth trap, or monies towards it. So, hopefully, that problem is solved, fingers crossed.

Fieldfares still continue to be seen from time to time and with sightings of Waxwings along the Suffolk coast, I'm hoping one or two these might turn up soon (more finger crossing).

The pond

Work started on the pond last month with us getting a Mini-digger in and wifey enjoying herself.

Wifey gets diggy with it!
The pond went in where there used to be a Strawberry patch with hundreds of plants and a bumblebee nest. The nest was carefully removed and many plants given to good homes. The pond measures about 5 x 5.5 metres and is about a metre deep. A lot of the dirt that comes out of the hole will be used to create the waterfall, a good way of getting rid of most of the spoil, the rest my neighbour is happy to take off my hands as he's a landscape gardner and has a current project which involves some filling in. 

We also wanted to create a wildlife pond. This won't have any fish or filtration in, it's just a small body of water aimed at attracting wildlife. The problem with fish ponds, is that they don't suit all type of wildlife, such as newts, water boat men, diving beetles, daphnia, etc because the fish are likely to eat them up or they get sucked up into the pond pumps. The addition of fish food to a pond means an un-naturally added element/nutrient which causes an un-balanced ecosystem of sorts (the reason for a pond filter). This causes waste products in the form of fish faeces and uneaten food which create poisonous ammonia in the decomposition process. A wildlife pond however, doesn't have any un-natural elements entering the ecosystem and it is therefore able to balance itself out. We are creating our wildlife pond at the from of the property at the bottom of the garden. Apparently, there used to be a natural pond here stretching over both gardens, but it was all filled in many years ago by the neighbours because they had small children. So by me re-instaing the pond back in its original position, the wildlife should return.

I lined the pond with thick clay I found at the bottom of the dug out fish pond and filled it with water.

Filled wildlife pond
Yet, come the morning...
Where did the water go??
And it seemed that no matter how much I trod the clay in and patted it down, the water wouldn't stay in it. Yet the fish pond, which was yet to be lined had no trouble collecting water.
Natural water filling the fish pond.
I even pumped water from the fish pond to the wildlife pond, but to no avail. So once all the water was pumped out of the fish pond, I lined it with carpet from the lounge that we had removed. This is so no sharp stones pierce the liner causing a leak. Then I put in a PVC liner which has a 25 year guarantee, so should do us in to our dotage. 
Liner in place
Unfortunately, there was still some clay water in the hose when I started filling, but that will settle out eventually.
Almost filled.
So, all I need to do now, is set up a pump, uv (to keep the water clear) and a filter and the pipework. Need to add some marginal plants too as well as some lilies in the middle. Thankfully, they provided me with more liner than I actually need, so I will cut this off and use that to line the wildlife pond. That will stop the water disappearing, I hope!

Just 17,000 more things

Getting back to the Starling as pictured above, this time of year they begin to murmurate. This is where they begin to gather in their thousands and fly in close formation creating huge displays over a roost site. If you've never seen one for yourself, I suggest you try and seek out your nearest one now. 
For anyone living in Suffolk, especially West Suffolk, there is a murmuration at SWT's Lackford Lakes. Its size varies from 10,000 - 17,000 birds and two years ago actually reached 30,000 birds. They fly back and forth, swirling around and diving into their roosts from around 3pm. The beauty of this place is that it happens right outside the visitor centre, so you can sit inside with a nice cup of hot chocolate and a slice of chocolate cake and watch the display from the upstairs viewing gallery, it really doesn't get much better than this! Don't delay though, these murmurations don't continue all winter and often by Xmas, they have gone.

That's it for now, but until next time, keep safe, keep happy.

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