Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Frog spawn, rescued bee and bird courship

I opened the curtains this morning to discover a quiet and peaceful pond. The frantic diving of frogs that usually greets me when I open the curtain is over and the frogs have vanished as quickly as they appeared. One loan frog bobbed at the surface.

I went out to take a closer look and noticed a large bumblebee on the path (possibly a queen). One of its wings was out of place and the bee was struggling. As I got near to the bee, it lifted its legs on the side nearest to me, either as an attempt to ward me off or a half hearted attempt to defend itself. It is liklely that our cat has been 'playing' with the bee. Unfortuantely, before we took the cat on it had been kept indoors all its life and had honed its hunting skills on invertebrates to perfection (and to my annoyance). I managed to get the bee to climb up onto a twig and I placed it on a plant in a window box. I checked on it later in the day and the bee had gone, so hopefully it was okay. I have seen bees and wasps use their legs to clean their bodies and wings, so hopefully she was able to push the wing back into place.

In Easthill Park the bird courship is hotting up and the territorial calls of black bird and robin are very evident. Solitary goldfinches were at the top of different trees singing and chaffinches chased each other around the shrubs. The calls of great tits could also be heard from the far side of the park. I noticed a blue tit checking out one of the nest boxes in the park.

It had a good look in through one of the holes then hopped around in the branches as if checking out the area for its suitablility. The blue tit checked out the box 5 times while I watched. I will keep a special eye on this box, which I pass most days, as I am hoping the blue tits will move in and nest.

Monday, 25 February 2008

Croaks and frog spawn

Last night the frog chorus started up and continued on an off throughout today. There are now 10 clumps of frog spawn, three small the others medium sized clumps. Still impossible to get close enough to count the number of frogs as many dive while still a couple of metres or more away. There is also a lot of oxygenating weed in the pond, which I left end of last year instead of thining, because of the large number of damselfly larvae. It does however mean that you can only count the frogs when they are on the surface.

Sunday, 24 February 2008

First frog spawn

As I opened the curtain this morning the pond surface erupted into a series of splashes as frogs struggled to hide. The two frogs that arrived earlier in the month now had company. There was already two medium sized clumps of frog spawn floating at the far end of the pond.

A while later I crept back to look at the pond (which is only about 1 metre from the conservatory widow) and again many of the frogs disappeared even before I reached the window. I did manage to count 3 pairs and 3 single frogs.

By early afternoon another two clumps of frog spawn had been laid, a medium clump and a very small clump. I counted about another 6 single frogs during the day. A few frogs live in our garden all year round but the pond is visited by many others, I counted about 45 last year. A large number even come throught the front gate, along the side of the house to the back garden. On very rare occasions they are already paired together and it looks a bit like some bizzare three legged race.

Monday, 18 February 2008

Frozen pond and first butterfly

I awoke this morning to find our garden pond frozen for the second day in a row. Yesterday, the pond thawed by early afternoon and a frog was visible in the deep end. Later yesterday afternoon I saw the first butterfly in our garden this year - a red admiral.

Thursday, 14 February 2008

Woodpecker, goldfinches and Jay

Walking our daughter to school this morning I noticed a great spotted woodpecker on a tree, very low to the ground, in the Horse Sanctuary field next to Easthill Park. It was foraging in its usual manner.

As we carried on further I noticed that another woodpecker was again inspecting the holes in the tree (see previous observations below). I am hoping that they will nest as they are in a perfect spot to observe without disturbing them. Watch this space!

On the way back from dropping our daughter off, just before I reached the park I noticed a flock of goldfinches in the top branches of a tree. It was their constant chatter that alerted me to the presence. These really are delightful birds. I walked back through the park and as I passed a local school I noticed a very sleepy looking jay in the branches of a tree.

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Spotted woodpecker, finches, tits and redwing

Yesterday, I thought I would take advantage of the warm weather and walk through Easthill Park to see what bird activity was going on. As I walked through the park I noticed a woodpecker fly overhead. I followed as best I could and caught up with it on an old tree not far from the park. I watched the great spotted woodpecker taping as it made its way around the tree. It was a male (because of the red patch on the neck). A second woodpecker flited around in an adajacent tree, possibly a female but not close enough to confirm. The male woodpecker started to investigate a couple of large holes in the side of the tree. They looked the right size for nesting and may well be the site of old woodpecker nests.

The second woodpecker flew off and the male followed. I walked back to the park and along the northern end where it is lightly wooded. Hunting in the leaf litter where several blackbirds and a song thrush.

There was also a group of about 6 redwing which flew up into the branches as I approached. As I walked along through the trees I noticed numerous blue tits, great tits, chaffinch and one goldfinch.
This is a great time of the year for learning bird song, so if you have a local park nearby then now is a good time to visit. The birds are very vocal at this time, I could hear blackbird, greenfinch, blue tit and great tit just in this one area. I also noticed the redwings chattering away in the branches. As many of the trees are still without foligae it is much easier to match the bird song with that is bird vocalising. Very soon you will be able to identify the bird song, even when you cannot see the actual birds. As I walked back out of the park and onto the high street a sparrowhawk flew overhead and over the park.

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

Spotted woodpeckers, woodland birds and frog

As I walked our daughter to school I passed a great spotted woodpecker at the top of an old tree. This was about 300 metres away from the previous observations around Easthill Park, no photographs this time thought. As we reached the park, I could hear the drumming of another woodpecker (there are several in the area and the most I have seen in one place has been three). As I walked back home afterwards I noticed several great tits in the trees near the entrance to Easthill Park. As I passed two great tits flew up in confrontation fluttering together beaks and legs outstretched for about 15 seconds before breaking apart as they neared the ground. (I could not focus the camera in time so no pics). I carried on walking home and at the top of the tree (where the woodpecker had been earlier) a song thrush now sang from a high perch.

I arrived home just in time to rescue a frog from our cat. It was in the garden border and our cat had cornered it. It was the noise the frog made that caught my attention. As I got near to our cat, she picked the frog up in its mouth (by one of the frogs back legs) and dropped it on the grass. Frogs, luckily are not complete defenceless and can emit a surprisingly loud screech when attacked. The screeching sound does seem to put a lot of cats off and certainly made our cat warry. The frog also uses its front limbs and toes to protect its eyes from damage (see below). A slightly anthromoporphic observation, last year two cats had cornered a frog in the alley beside our house. They were taking it in turns patting it and the frog emitted a screech. It was almost as if they were using the frog as a musical instrument and the cats were playing a duet.

I managed to seperate frog from cat and put the former in the vegetation on the edge of the pond. I looked out the window about half an hour later and both frogs (todays and yesterdays first arrival) were locked together in the pond.

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Sparrowhawk and frog

As I live close to the Downs, kestrel and sparrowhawk frequently fly over our garden. I often watch them spiraling upwards on the thermals. Usually, by the time I manage to grab my camera, its too late and the bird has already become just a dot it the sky. Yesteday I managed to get a photograph as a sparrowhawk circled overhead.

Today it is raining heavily and so there is not really much to see. However as I look out the window at our pond I spot the first frog of the year has arrived. I caught a glimpse of movement yesterday which I thought could have been a frog but could not find it. Today I noticed it quite happily at the surface in the middle of the pond, possibly attracted by the rain drops.

After the rain, I watched the frog sitting just beneath the surface of the pond. This frog probably lives quite nearby, either in our own garden or possibly nextdoor. I have suspected for a while that a few frogs may hibernate underneath the decking. Later in the year we may have 30 - 40 frogs visit the pond, many appear to travel some distance. They suddenly appear coming up the front garden path and make heir way along the side of the house and eventually to the pond.