Category Archives: Gardens

Pheasants, doves and all the usual suspects: feasting after Storm Bronagh

For years pheasants and doves have been regular visitors.  The pheasants, a cock and either one or two hens, have an ungainly waddle and are desperately foolish, apparently unaware of any dangers that might threaten, announcing their presence with loud cries.  They presumably nest somewhere locally. A bright, if somewhat intellectually limited addition to the garden. Remarkable how something so stupid can look so pompous.  I haven’t seen them for a couple of months, but the male was here today, unaccompanied.

The pair of collared turtle doves are the antithesis of the pheasants.  Elegant, shy and quick to alarm, they visit daily at about 5.30. Their tail plumage spreads into a perfect fan when they take to the skies. Any movement startles them to flight so I haven’t managed to capture them on video so far, which is a shame as they are incredibly pretty as they land and review the situation before picking their way towards the bird bath.  Before the 1930s they were unknown in Britain.  Their distribution was confined to the Balkans expanding into most of Europe in the following years and nesting in Britain only after 1955.  They can raise up to five broods in a year.

The garden was avian-central today – a blue tit, a great tit, coal tits, a robin, three female house sparrows and a male blackbird, as well as the pheasant and doves. The robin was ever-present, occasionally chasing off the sparrows, and he is increasingly vocal.  Not a pretty song, but unmistakeable.  The coal tits always announce their arrival by a highly distinctive peeping sound.

I assume that the bird feeders were a welcome source of fuel after three days and nights of gales and torrential rain.  It must be difficult to acquire a good lunch under those conditions.  Although there have been occasional showers, it has been mostly dry and the wind has dropped to a breeze, and it has been a joy to see the birds out in force.


Rain in Aberdovey. Lots and lots of rain.

Today it has been raining.  Not just a little bit. A lot. I remember when much younger over-using the word “awesome” a great deal, but today seems to call for its resurrection.  This torrential rain, this noisy, unending, full-on, day-long vertical waterfall has been truly, seriously awesome, transformed into something extraordinarily intimidating by vast gusts of wind that shake everything, knock over plants in their pots, and make me worry that I was a little rash to put out my bins for collection tomorrow.  Storm Bronagh in full swing.  I commented on an email to a friend that the advantage of sitting in the midst of it all is that I’m not sitting in Surrey Quays worrying about it.  However, it should be added that the disadvantage of sitting in the midst of it all is that I’m sitting in the midst of it all!  The first video is a very short one because I got absolutely drenched standing in the doorway for even the short period that I was there.

This second video, taken from the dry side of the window, has the added excitement of the down-pipe overflowing and travelling across the decking in substantial drifts.  The sheer amount of water has backed up the drain pipe and it is going everywhere in great, loud, heavy thuds and crashes as it hits my outdoor cupboard and my decking.  Again, awesome, but I really wish that it would be just a little less exciting!

I’ve been reading a book about the history of Wales in the early Middle Ages, and the thought of engaging in war with the English in this sort of weather, with nothing more than motte and bailey castles as protection and no gas-fired central heating and hot water really turns my blood to ice.  God knows what they were wearing, but I bet it didn’t keep out this sort of incessant weather.

I was also thinking about Dai’s comment that he wasn’t taking the boat out to do any fishing due to the weather forecast.  It is unimaginable what it would be like at sea on a any day of the last three days, but particularly today when rain and wind have joined forces to toss life on land around.  A staggering thought.

Another feast from Dai’s Shed

My father is visiting and I promised him fresh mackerel.  There were only small ones left at Dai’s Shed, so we took six and treated them like large sardines, oiling them, barbecuing them and serving them with a Greek-inspired salad.  My Greek salad is rather more extravagant than a normal Greek salad.  As well as loads of feta, capers and olives, and a good amount of diced tomato, I chuck in some finely sliced spring onion, shredded little gem lettuce and, from the garden, finely chopped giant chives, mint and lovage leaves.  It was accompanied by baby new potatoes boiled and tossed in Welsh Dragon butter, chives and flat-leaf parsley from the garden and the whole lot was served with chunks of lemon.

Oh those little mackerel were divine!  Firm, moist and full of flavour, and they folded off the bone perfectly.  I am going to go into mourning when Dai shuts up the shed in October.

I grow my giant chives from spring onions.  When I buy a bunch of spring onions with the white roots still attached, I cut off about 3cm of the spring onion at the root and put it in water for a couple of days, until the roots start to grow and produce new white tendrils and then stick them in a pot of compost, with the top just sticking out.  Job done.  They start to grow immediately and within a couple of weeks you have a healthy crop – one giant chive per spring onion.  And by giant, I mean that the ones I have out there at the moment, which are about a month old, are now nearly 2ft tall.   The ones shown in this photograph were exactly two weeks old.


Videos: A round-up of some of the garden birds this week

Taking videos of birds has been an eye-opener.  They never stop.   There are all sorts of performances that surround eating, all of which look terribly energy consuming for such small creatures, which seems rather to defeat the object.  Some of it has to be concerned with keeping a look-out, but some of the moving around is difficult to explain.  The great tit video isn’t the best, but it’s the first time I’ve seen one this year, so is included for the sake of completeness.  The blue tit is a new and welcome addition.  They are all endlessly super to watch, and shocking time-wasters.

Lovely to see the robin enjoying himself in the bath on a regular basis, now that I have cleaned it and keep it stocked up with fresh water:

This morning he ruffled out all his feathers after a good old splash and sat in the sun, looking hopelessly untidy and somewhat squashed.





The female house sparrow has been working around the aggression of the robin, and has found plenty of opportunity to eat at the feeder, moving around between courses, and at one stage flying up and around the feeder:

The great tit was here only briefly, but was engaging whilst he was here.

I moved the big bird feeder with the anti-crow device onto the cherry tree, where it has been a hit.  Coal tits are the messiest feeders, with much of it going on to the ground, but I am spared having to wonder what to do about it by a pair of doves, which are picking up all the dropped seeds.  A newcomer this morning was a blue tit, a very welcome addition.  A blue tit taking the business of eating seed very seriously. There was a lot of beak work with whatever it was holding in its feet.



Video: Coal tit at the hanging bird feeder

Absolutely fascinating to watch the coal tit processing seed at the bird feeder, chucking things everywhere!  I thought at first that it was a great tit, but the little black flick of colour from the crown, the lack of a stripe on the chest and a slender beak are key differentiators from the great tit, as is the smaller size.  Although there have been some impressive aerobatics over the last few days there was none of that today – the focus was all on the seeds. I know when they are around because of the high-pitched “peep” that they utter whenever they are in the vicinity.

According to one of my books, the Reader’s Digest Field Guide to Birds, in old Icelandic the word tittr meant a small bird or anything small, and tit is a corrupted survivor of that word.


Video: The robin in my garden

This is my first attempt to use one of my cameras to shoot a video of anything in motion, and it’s all very amateurish.  The camera is a little Fuji, not designed for anything very ambitious, but it hasn’t done a bad job.  Apologies for the wobble and the clunky zooming in!  I want to do some videos in and around Aberdovey, so I am practising on the bird life in my garden.  The robin visits every day, and gives me endless pleasure whilst he eats at my bird feeder. As with many small birds at this time of year, his plumage has been a disgrace for several weeks (for reasons explained in an earlier post), but it is slowly beginning to sort itself out.  Two house sparrows and two coal tits have also become regular visitors, one presumably juvenile sparrow with a permanently bad feather day, but it’s the robin that has made the bird feeder a second home.  Robins are highly territorial and usually see off other birds.  This one was willing to share the bird feeder with a couple of sparrows for a few days, but things have become rather more tense in the last few days and there have been a couple of scuffles.  The sparrows are not deterred, but they keep a wary eye on the robin.

Apparently the male sings throughout the winter, except during the current moulting time.  I’ll have to wait and see whether mine eventually bursts into song.  I learned today that the robin became Britain’s National Bird in 1960.

Just click the arrow to  play.  The noise in the background is my printer.

Multi-species harmony at my Aberdovey bird feeder

My bird feeder is visited daily by two sparrows and a robin.  Today they were joined by a great tit, a beautiful, gymnastic little thing that moves like lightening and performs wonderful acrobatics. It barely settles for long enough to grab a beak full of seed and take off, but hopefully it will become a return visitor.  It’s a little too close to the house (and the floor) for a tit, but all my tree-based feeders are targeted by crows so at the moment it’s this or nothing.

So far, there is no conflict between my visitors and everything is in harmony.  Endlessly distracting, and they are a shocking time-waster!


Explaining the absence of birdlife in my garden

The robin that visits daily, with his plumage in transition.

It was lovely to see the frog the other day, but I have been so disappointed that there were no birds.  Seagulls and crows are around, although not in huge numbers, but there are no small brown jobs.  There were plenty only a month or so ago, including a robin who wouldn’t stay out of the house.  I thought when I raked up the garden cut grass and leaves that that would bring out robins and blackbirds, but not one appeared.  The bird feeder is completely neglected.  I tried putting seed down to lure them in, but nothing appeared.  The BBC provided the answers with a fascinating little article on the Springwatch section of the BBC website.  This informs the reader that birds do vanish at this time of year for a number of reasons, and that they will be back soon:

  • Parents are no longer feeding chicks, and chicks have left for new territories
  • Plenty of fresh berries are available in hedges and fields
  • Moulting takes place at this time of year and the replacement plumage is a huge drain on a bird’s energy, causing them to remain fairly sedentary under safe cover (the moult is visible in my photo of the robin, above)
  • With the need to attract a mate at an end for the summer, male birds no longer need to be visible or to sing their heads off to draw attention to themselves

In spite of that, I have managed to lure a robin onto the decking.  He’s shy, and as I only put down food when I can watch it due to the crows swooping in and consuming whatever they can, it has taken him a while to become confident that I am not going to engage in any swooping of my own.  At first when I appeared with the food he would fly away, but now he simply backs off a little and waits.  He keeps a wary eye on me but he is less nervous every day.  It feels like an achievement, although I am not quite sure why.  A small sparrow has also discovered the feeder, and there is currently a truce in progress but it looks like a somewhat fragile contract.


The genuine wonders of plant feed – spectacular growth between 1st and 19th August 2018

Spring onions / chives

Just for fun, this is the difference between my mint and my spring onions just over two weeks apart is extraordinary.  On the 1st August I used Miracle-Gro plant feed (irritating name, brilliant product) on my tiny collection of herbs on the decking, and it has really given a massive hit of energy to my pot plants, seen here on the 19th August.

The mint had suffered awfully when I was unable to get away from London during the move, and was ragged.  Water and Miracle-Gro combined to revolutionize it!  When I first arrived I had bought some spring onions.  When the white roots survive if you stick them in water for a few days they start growing, and can be transferred to a pot to grow what look and taste like massive chives.  Again, they were sad little things when I went away, but on my return they are substantial!  Bent due to wind and rain, but perfectly usable.


I am rather missing all the flowers in my London garden.  Although the raised decking is in full sunshine, my garden here is largely in shade, so although I am about to engage in a major project to cut down a lot of the overgrown trees, the decking will probably remain the best place to bring on herbs and I have some stored at my father’s house to bring over in the next few weeks.   Funny to be working with such small pots – my London ones are great tall things, which retain water beautifully.  These will have to be upgrades as soon as I get my act together.


Silver Hydrangea

The hydrangea is beginning to go over.  It thrives here in Aberdovey, a marvellous phenomenon, great bushes of it.  I have several.  Two dead heads looked at me in a particularly inviting way so I chopped them off and brought them indoors for a few days to dry out.  My mother always used to spray-paint teasels gold at Christmas but although I’m not particularly creative, which she was in abundance, these screamed out for some spray paint.  A few days later they had fully dried out, and silver spray paint had been acquired, so I laid lots of newspaper on the decking, got out my canister and went for it.  The result is remarkable.  I would stop well short of calling the effect attractive, but there is something about them that’s rather a lot of fun.  I have no idea what I am going to do with them!