This time of year is always good for spotting frogs in the garden. This one was hiding in the front garden last weekend, behind some bags of sand. At first its beautiful markings made me think it was a female but its powerful front legs show that it’s a male.
What a beauty!
The lungwort (pulmonaria officinalis) in the garden is beginning to come into condition, with the leaves looking good and flower buds beginning to show. But one of my plants is even beginning to flower, which is about three weeks early.
Despite the mild winter it has been relatively cold recently and there’s not much chance of seeing any bumblebee queens in the next fortnight so hopefully the rest of the lungwort will remain in bud until then.
Elsewhere there are a few crocuses in flower but no sign of the bulbs I planted last autumn…I think they may have rotted in the sodden weather!
This male Blackcap was an unusual winter visitor in the garden this weekend, appearing on the feeder periodically on both days. Presumably it’s an overwintering bird that has been blown in from somewhere else on the strong winds last week.
It is my first record of a Blackcap in our new garden and was a fantastic surprise. In 2014 my first Blackcap was not sighted until very early April! It will be interesting to see if he sticks around for a while or moves off somewhere else.
Not the best photo but it was taken through the window, from the comfort of the house…and the light was poor…
After damaging muscles doing some heavy lifting I have not been very mobile of late. The sunny weather this weekend lured me out into the garden though, where there were still lots of insects on the wing.
There are still butterflies out and about, including this ragged looking Speckled Wood. I have also seen many Red Admirals on the wing or nectaring on ivy flowers over the last week.
I did manage a quick look in at Holywell Pond today which was busy with geese, as it was the last time I was there. Amongst the Greylags and Canadas was this lone Barnacle Goose – what a smart bird!
At this time of year there are loads of european garden spiders (araneus diadematus), seemingly on every shrub in the garden and getting fatter by the day. As the autumn progresses these are most likely to be the female spiders, as once mating is over the males tend to die off.
The spiders spin the classic orb web that people associate with all kinds of spiders and either sit in the middle of the web waiting for prey, or else spend time just beside the web where they spin silken shelters round themselves.
With the damp weather we have been having lately, the extent of some of the webs in the garden becomes obvious as they are covered in fine droplets of moisture – some of them are rather large! And recently I discovered possibly the biggest garden spider I have ever seen – here is a picture – her body is about the size of a 50 pence piece.
I suspect she has successfully mated, as rather than spending much time on her web, she hides underneath the lip of our brown recycling bin where it looks like she is protecting a silken egg sack. To get this photo I had to go out at dusk as this is the only time the spider actually sits on its web.
The colouration and patterns on these spiders is superb, varying across all shades of brown. They are also sometimes known as garden cross spiders due to the white cross shape on their backs.
The females will die in late autumn but the spiderlings will hatch next May time. They look different to the adults at that stage and group together in one mass of tiny spiders, before moulting and then separating to live individually whilst they mature.
This spider is enjoying a meal underneath the cladding on the kids’ playhouse – yum!
As I mentioned in my blog last week, I was planning on creating some possible nesting habitat for Wrens in my back garden. I managed to get at least part way done at the weekend so I can now share a picture.
I need to add a little height to the pile with some grass cuttings and then some more sticks and branches for structure and protection from the elements.
There was no reason for me choosing to help Wrens really, other than the fact that they are known to build nests in unexpected places such as loosely built compost heaps (like mine!). In spring in some parts of the UK the male Wren will build a number of different nests and the female will choose one of them, often settling on the most cryptic nest site – possibly as these sites are less likely to be predated. Further north the male Wrens build fewer nests but tend to be more attentive partners, so we will see whether my slightly off-the-wall compost heap cum nest site will be any good for them.
One of next door’s cats has already been studying the pile so it’s obviously good for something…possibly wood mice, although maybe some birds have been prospecting the area too, you never know.
Signs of spring are definitely becoming more noticeable here in the north east, so I’ll need to get my nest box built quick smart if I want it to be used this year. The Skylarks have been singing in the fields close to the coast for over two weeks now and it’s been great to hear many other species of bird in full territorial song. Blackbird, Song Thrush, Great Tit and Chaffinch have all been vocal during the last week or two. I have also spotted quite a few Black Headed Gulls sporting their summer hoods and have been watching Wood Pigeon and Magpie constructing nests ready for use since the end of January.
Spring highlight of the year so far though has got to be the frogs I found spawning in the small pond at the Northumberland Wildlife Trust (“NWT”) nature reserve round the corner from work. Not really on my patch but a wonderful sight and sound nonetheless.
I am slightly late with this post but last week (14 – 21 February) was National Nest Box Week designed to encourage people to put up nest boxes, monitor which birds use them during the breeding season then report back to the British Trust for Ornithology (“BTO”).
Now is about the time of year when some of our resident breeding birds begin to prospect for potential nest sites. That means it’s a good idea to build or buy your nest box and get it put up in the garden as soon as possible if you want to attract any tenants for this year’s breeding season. Of course it doesn’t matter if your nest box goes up late; it may not be used this year but it could still provide birds with a place to roost over the winter.
A good place to find out more about nest boxes and how to build them is the BTO’s website. This year I am really keen to build my own but I fear I am running out of time to have it up and ready for the breeding season. So as well as a nest box I am planning to create a potential nesting site for Wrens in my garden by piling up some old branches, twigs, leaves, grass clippings and other detritus in a quiet corner.
Hopefully I will be able to share some pictures of this some time next week. In the meantime, I hope you are able to check out National Nest Box Week on the BTO’s website.