My blog reporting on “A January Wander around the Allotments” was all about the cold, as my wander then was on a bright, sunny but cold day with the thermometer registering minus five. Today my wander was a real treat, with temperatures of plus seven, it felt so mild. The sky however was grey and produced the occasional bout of drizzle. The bird life definitely appreciated the improvement, with so many to see and hear.
My walk over to our plot was halted by the whoosh of wings and the sight of a Kestrel in full hunting mode, its grey and rufus back curling low through the plots in search of its favourite prey, Field Voles. In a matter of a few minutes it had covered half the site, stopping occasionally to peer from a post or shed roof. The birdsong didn’t diminish with its presence but later when a Sparrow Hawk appeared, in threatening mode over the plots, silence reigned.
As I went to open up the shed I noticed how the recent freezing weather had shattered the little orange glazed dish I keep shells in on our coffee table, exposing the white china below its glaze.
The feeders on our plot needed topping up before I set to work. My first task was to prune the Autumn fruiting raspberries, so pulled back their hay mulch and cut each stem down to just a few inches above the ground. Then their warm mulch blanket was replaced ready for the next cold spell.
After tidying the edge of the plot where Calendulas had died down messily, I cut down perennials in the “Bug Border” alongside our central path, Sedum spectabile “Autumn Joy”, Linaria and several different Marjoram, all grown for the butterflies and hoverflies. As I pruned down the Sedum a few “slips” came away which I popped into my trug to be potted up at home.
A coffee break was called for to rest an aching back. A chance to do some bird spotting and listening out for their calls and songs. It was noticeable how some had moved on from calls to songs with the changing light of February. The Great Tit was giving a good performance repeatedly calling out “Teacher Teacher” just as it says in the books, but I often think it sounds more like the squeak of a tyre foot pump in need of lubrication. Its smaller cousin the Blue Tit sang gently from all around the site.
The peace was shattered as soon as the Rooks from the rookery on the northern boundary lifted as one and poured overhead, a cacophony of “cawing” and “rarking”. They are busy now restructuring last year’s nests. When one returned to the tree tops with twig in beak all its neighbours objected vocally craning their necks threatening and warning others to keep their distance. They live together in huge nesting groups but argue all the time! Their little corvid cousins, the Jackdaw, are quieter and more social. They pass overhead without any argument.
Signs of things to come! New growth is appearing at the base of perennials and the Globe Artichoke plants. Disappointingly the green manures have grown very little but just manage to cover the bare soil.
Buds are fattening on the Black Currants and the Blackberries. Promises of autumn bounty.
So once the work on our Plot 37 was completed I wandered off around the site, with wheelbarrow loaded – secateurs for pruning the roses in the Summer Garden, camera to take shots, surgical gloves and step-ladder to clear out nest boxes. As I walked along the established hedgerows flocks of chattering finches moved away, keeping close top the hedge and to each other – Goldfinches, Linnets and Greenfinches. A surprise sighting was a flock of about 15 Yellow Hammers, the first time they have been seen here. Unfortunately one of the loudest noises was the dry screech of my wheelbarrow’s wheel! A quick detour to the shed for a squirt of penetrating oil cured it.
Where the hedge has been left uncut for several years (where the council flailing machines can’t reach) the bushes are tall and busy with finches and tits. A Song Thrush was throwing leaves and under-hedge debris out onto the path searching for its lunch. The calls of Nuthatches and Great Spotted Woodpeckers echoed around the allotments all the time I was on site, but one call was unexpected. It stopped me in my tracks. I had never heard the piping call of a Bullfinch up here before. It wasn’t hard to find – a male with its pink, almost cerise breast glowing from a tall Hawthorn.
Nestbox cleaning can be a painful business if the nests have been colonised by nest fleas, hence the surgical gloves. Luckily none in residence today! Four of the five tit boxes had been used last year. The open-fronted Robin boxes were ignored by our population of redbreasts.
This photo shows how the Great Tits who nested here used their tails for added balance when feeding their young through the hole. The wood stain has been worn away.
The box in the photo below was used three times in 2011, but the third attempt was thwarted by cold wet weather in the early autumn, so the clutch of eggs remains. When I emptied out the nesting materials I could see the three layers of nesting material. When I had emptied all the boxes the old nests were put in the compost heap.
In the meadow areas seedlings cover the ground, so our plan for self seeding meadows seems to be working out. In one meadow area a lone cornflower continues to throw up an odd bloom of the most beautiful blue.