birds garden photography garden wildlife gardening ornamental trees and shrubs shrubs Winter Gardening winter gardens

My Garden Journal – January

As promised I am creating a garden journal throughout the year to celebrate our garden and this is the first post looking at January. I am writing and painting in my personalised “Moleskine” notebook, a special gift from our daughter and son-in-law, and as the first photo shows it has been embossed with the name of my blog. A beautiful and most luxurious book which feels a pleasure to handle and an honour to write in and a delight to create drawings and paintings in.

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Early on in my journal I have written about the Avocet, the beautiful wader after whom we name our house and made an attempt at a drawing of one.

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I wrote about the scented shrubs that keep us company in the January garden.

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Daphne bhuloa “Jacqueline Postil” and Sarcococca confusa.

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Cornus mas, the Cornelian Cherry and our two Hamamelis “Diane” and “Jelena”.

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I moved on to write about our Winter Flowering Jasmine and once again got out the watercolours.

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We enjoyed a couple of magic moments involving birds of prey in January and I recorded them in my journal.

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What a pleasure to have a Merlin in the garden and a Marsh Harrier flying over – I don’t expect that will happen too often!

Enjoy reading a few pages ……

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Well, that is it for my January journal. February is here already so my journal is gaining new pages, which will feature in my next Garden journal post.



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Gigrin Memories

What a strange experience you get when you visit Gigrin Farm, a Red Kite feeding station in the Welsh Hills. Hundreds of them swirling overhead, hundreds of Kite, a bird which a sighting of a single specimen would set the heart pumping anywhere else. We get occasional glimpses of one passing over our heads when gardening and we regularly see an odd one or two as we drive around Shropshire. There are now signs that they are breeding in our county, but until recently we had to travel into the hills of mid-Wales to enjoy them.

When our children were young, a few decades ago now, we would drive for a few hours into the hill country of Mid-Wales, along a pretty inaccessible road into a valley where we knew we could find the Red Kite. Half a dozen were beginning to get established there and we revelled in watching them soaring in the thermals on the steep hillsides and feeding on the slopes. They came back from the brink, a handful of individuals, to a healthy and spreading population in the hundreds.

Visit the feeding station at Gilgrin, where the farmer feeds beef from the back of his tractor, and you will be able to watch them feed right in front of the hides. they are fed at the same time each day and know when that is. Travelling for miles to get here they stack up in the thermals on warm days or sit in trees and hedges and even on the ground in anticipation.

There is a definite hierarchy with the oldest birds coming in first as the others wait their turn in the pecking order. The youngest and most inexperienced wait patiently for three quarters of an hour or so for their food.

Buzzards come too, but they seem wiser. As the kite expend energy diving and swooping for a morsel of meat, never landing to grasp it in their talons, the Buzzards settle themselves on the grass amongst the meat and feed effortlessly, taking no notice whatsoever of the melee of feeding Kite around them. The odd Raven, Magpie, Crow and Jackdaw also grab an opportunistic lunch.

In flight above the feeding ground the colous of the Kites’ plumage becomes apparent, rich russets, browns, fawns and black. We were treated to a sight of an all-white individual.

With such close views we appreciated the graceful nature of their flight, we watch as wings and tails curled and constantly re-shaped themselves to aid manoevrability. They appeared to have fingers to give the finesse needed when flying in such large groups.

bird watching birds conservation photography Shropshire trees wildlife

A Chilly Stroll on Lyth Hill

Today dawned bright, Robins sang and the blue colour of the sky coupled with a forecast of a dry day ahead, tempted us out for a countryside walk. A short 10 minute drive along winding lanes saw us park up at the start of the walk. This car park must have one of the best views in Shropshire, a view presenting a huge panorama. Snow on the hills and iced water in the furrows of the ploughed fields below reminded us that whatever the day looked like it is still winter.

Beneath our feet the muddy track was frozen solid a few millimetres down and this made for a tense start. We walked slowly along the ridge tempted repeatedly to glance leftward at the hazy view. Thin clouds were building. The hedge to our right was mostly of Hawthorn and Holly over which Brambles clambered. Blackbirds aplenty sought out the last of the hedge’s berries, and a pair of silhouetted Carrion Crow gorged on Ivy berries as black as themselves. They went about their business in silence. Crows are rarely silent.

We enjoyed the view of Yellow Hammers, birds that are sadly declining so rapidly from our hedgerows. A trio flitted amongst the uppermost branches of the taller Hawthorns calling continuously. It was good to see them. Small noisy flocks of Linnets frequently passed over our heads. We were relieved to leave our frozen footway and enter a tiny coppiced area alive with the calls of Great Tits, Bluetits and Longtailed Tits. We attempted the sloping footpath down through the copse and slid our way down a few yards before giving up and were forced to carry on along a rough roadway alongside a few houses. The conifers in their gardens added Coal Tit to the titmice collection and Jays squawked in their topmost branches.

Our cold noses were subjected to the unpleasant odour of male fox which had crossed our path an hour or two before probably as dawn light was announcing the day. The odour hung in our nostrils for several minutes as we walked on.

We were glad that this hard man-made surface lasted such a short while because we were to enter a beautiful coppice of old oaks, dotted with occasional Rowan and Beech. Their under-storey was of Holly and Bramble and here Dunnock, Robin and Wren skulked, given away by their calls. Lichen and algae coloured the trunks of the old once-managed oaks. These would have been cut to the ground every few years to encourage rapid upright growth which could be harvested. But we are enjoying the habitat created after years of neglect, a habitat equally appreciated by wildlife. The oaks are gnarled and eccentrically shaped, covered in lichen, algae and mosses.

Sounds are carried freely through the coppice. The tapping of a Great spotted Woodpecker. The liquid whistlings of Nuthatches. The “chatting” of Wren. And an unidentified “churring” sound – we had no idea what bird might have made that call. Woodpeckers and nuthatches had been busy digging in the softness of rotting wood on dead trees. This chip of bark had been lifted by a Woodpecker’s powerful beak to extract a morsel of food, some beetle or grub which the bird had heard beneath the bark.

New leaves sprouted on the honeysuckles that entwined the lower trunk of the Oaks where there must be a little protection, a little extra warmth.

Little clumps or bunches of Ladybirds have managed to find refuges from the ravages of winter. By looking carefully shining wing cases of orange and red, spotted black could be spied. They looked so precarious but they must have some confidence in the security of their hideouts.

There was so much variety in the colour and texture of the tree trunks. Lichens and mosses clung to the roughness and painted over the brown  bark. Silvery blues. Hot flame colours. Gentle greens.

We followed the circular route through the coppice and made our way back down the track, the light weakening and the temperature cooling. We shall return in spring when the summer migrants are back, when the coppice should reverberate to the song of warblers and Swallows accompany us along the ridge.