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autumn bird watching birds garden wildlife wildlife

Late Arrivals

Our winter visiting Redwings arrived the latest ever this year. These migrant thrushes usually arrive late October and into November sweeping in in huge noisy flocks. They are very obvious arrivals but this year they have been more stealthy. They just crept in during December with the first appearing in our garden on December 11th. One or two Redwings at a time dropped in to lunch on the berries we grow for them, the Cotoneasters, Crab Apples and Sorbus. They soon discovered that one problem with arriving at the restaurant late is that some of the items on the menu have all gone. The resident Mistle Thrushes moving in from the woods had already indulged on the Sorbus berries and our Blackbird population had made inroads into the crop of “Butterball” Crab Apples and started dining on the Cotoneaster bushes. You can see from these photos that they were taken during heavy rain! It didn’t stop the birds from feeding though!

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One male Redwing seems to dominate, being larger and sporting much brighter markings. His eye stripes are striking and his speckled chest is covered in the blackest and biggest streaks and spots. He is featured in the final two photos of the set below.

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One thing we noticed as the berries started getting in short supply was that some House Sparrows mixed in with the Blackbirds and Redwings to gorge on the berries.

 

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We still haven’t seen any Fieldfares this winter. These winter migrant thrushes usually arrive with the Redwings. There will certainly be few berries left for them when they do come!

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autumn autumn colours birds climbing plants colours garden photography garden wildlife gardening gardens grasses hardy perennials migration ornamental trees and shrubs poppies roses trees wildlife Winter Gardening

A Garden Bouquet for December

Already we are almost at the end of the year so here is my December bouquet from our garden,the final chapter in 2013.

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It is only mid-December and while in the garden we are treated to the beautiful repetitive piping call of a Song Thrush, already making his territorial proclamation. He must have found a mighty fine territory which he is making sure no-one else can take possession of.

The skies seem full of passing flocks of Redwing and their larger noisier cousins the Fieldfare on migration, escaping their cold food-less summer homes in central Europe. Below them exploring the trees and shrubs of our garden mixed foraging flocks of finches seek out the last of the seeds and berries while amongst them groups of Titmice, Great, Blue, Long-tailed and Coal arrive in hurried flight to explore every nook and cranny of dried stems, tree bark and shrub branches for insects especially spiders.

A few delicate looking soft coloured flowers still hang on determined to be the final blooms of the year. It seems amazing but the odd big bumbling Queen Bumble Bee appears to feed on them.

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Berries on shrubs and small trees add extra sparkles of colour but the resident Mistle Thrushes guard them from the migrant thrushes. They are the larder for the colder days to come. The red fruit of the Cotoneasters, Hollies and Rowans will be eaten first and most will have been devoured by the thrushes and Blackbirds before the month is out. The creamy-yellow berries of the Cotoneaster rothschildiana will stay longer being mere second choices. The last to go without fail will be the white berries of the Sorbus, so we can get to enjoy them against dark winter storm clouds before the birds eat them.

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At this time of year we can enjoy the dessicated seed heads and old flower heads that have managed to survive the wet times that autumn invariably brings. This year has been so wet that we seem to have fewer still standing than ever before. But a few are putting on a display for us and when covered in a frosty layer or when donning a hat made of snow will look even better. Within them are the remnant autumn leaves as yet to be blown from their branches by blasts of wind.

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Signs of next year’s growth are already in evidence like this adventurous bud found on a clematis snuggled between stem and petioles.

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Patterns become important in winter as they emerge from seasons hidden away behind plants. So that is the end of my year of garden bouquets for 2013. Perhaps they will return for 2014.

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arboreta autumn autumn colours Cheshire colours garden photography garden wildlife gardening gardens gardens open to the public ornamental trees and shrubs wildlife woodland

Telescopes and Trees – part one

Telescopes and trees do not normally go together but there is one very special place here in the Midlands where they certainly do. We drove northwards on the A49 making our way into Cheshire in search of Jodrell Bank famous as a space research centre created by Sir Bernard Lovell. He was a man with varied interests trees, cricket and space. Here in Cheshire he indulged in two of his passions trees and space.

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We passed through part of the information centre to get to the start of the arboretum trail and we tried to read some of the information panels and studied complicated diagrams. We were instantly lost – the realms of space are not within the realms of our understanding. We both find it fascinating but it all seems way beyond our understanding. At least we tried before moving into the arboretum – trees we can appreciate and understand.

This arboretum holds two National Collections, crab apples and rowans. Malus and Sorbus to be more botanically correct. These are two of my favourite families of trees, if only they had Betulas as well! I would have been in my element!

We had read on the website before coming that the paths can get wet so sensible footwear was advisable. We wore our walking boots and we were so pleased that we had. The paths were so wet often the water was almost to the top of our boots, but it didn’t spoil our enjoyment of a wonderful collection of trees set amidst a natural woodland setting.

A collection of deciduous Euonymus welcomed us as we passed through the wooden gate, their wild coloured berries and bright autumnal leaves were a treat for the eyes.

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We wandered through woodland towards a fairly recently created garden designed by Chris Beardshaw. Before entering his garden we found a little collection of Berberis clothed in their waxy red berries which hung in long racemes.

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Chris Beardshaw’s garden was designed to reflect the creation of space itself and was a strong design based on spirals and circles with a gentle mound at the centre affording us the opportunity of appreciating these shapes from above. The main planting was willows, grasses and perennials.

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Soon after a circular walk around this garden of circles and spirals we discovered the first of the Crab Apples and they were laden with fruit, their miniature apples in sizes varying from tiny beads up to golf ball size.

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This golden fruited variety in the two photos below are “Comtesse de Paris” and the red fruited variety below them with fruit reminiscent of the haws of our native Hawthorn is “Mary Petter”. Close by the stump of a felled old tree had been carved into a proud looking eagle. Upon the eagle we spotted a ladybird sunning itself perhaps finding extra warmth on the wood of the stump. Better camouflaged was the Shield Bug we found just inches away.

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Malus “Indian Summer” was one of the newly planted specimens probably a cultivar newly developed although some of the old original crab trees were now being replaced as they died off.

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But there was much more to this part of the arboretum than the wonderful crab apples, and we discovered interesting trees at every turn in the path and around every clearing, birches, walnuts, whitebeam and maples. In this area of the garden migrant thrushes were busy feeding up after their long journeys. All these crab apples, sorbus and other fruiting trees and nut bearing trees provide a wonderfully rich restaurant for them.

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Two trees caught our attention but we didn’t particularly like either of them and they both seemed so out of place in this natural feeling woodland. They were more “novelty features” than attractive trees. First photo is of a strange weeping conifer and the second a columnar Whitebeam.

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I shall finish part one of our visit to Jodrell Bank Arboretum with a photo of a lovely golden crab apple with blushed cheeks. My next post will be part two when we shall be on the look out for the second featured group of trees, the Rowans or Sorbus.

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birds garden wildlife gardening hardy perennials trees wildlife

Agapanthus – a plant for winter?

On my early morning wander down to feed the chucks today I was accompanied by the usual Robin who followed me, flying from post to post down the fence line stopping off to treat me to a burst of his gentle transparent winter song. He does this every day except when the rain is torrential when he never shows. If I take the grass path past the slate bed, the Secret Garden and the Chicken bed he takes the fence route, but if I take the concrete central path he flies along the cordon pears and plums stopping to sing on each tree. Today was different for I had the added benefit of the first song this winter from the Song Thrush. The first signs of true territorial song mapping out his patch and letting others know. Sadly recently he just sings for us for there seem few rival males to want his territory. Here in Plealey we seem to have far more Mistle Thrushes than Song Thrushes.

As usual I wandered around the garden to see what was happening and today felt warmer so a slow aimless wander was on the cards. I was impressed by the Prunus subhirtella autumnalis, the centre piece of our little Japanese Garden, which is littered with its delicate white blooms. And at last new spears of bulb leaves have made their way to the surface to show us their intent. But a plant that struck me as an unusual “winter interest” plant was the Agapanthus.

Agapanthus, a striking summer flowering plant, is growing in our “Chatto Garden”, a gravel bed we made after visiting Beth Chatto’s wonderful garden and being struck by her gravel garden created on her old car park. When there we bought a few agapanthus and on our gravel bed we grew a deep dark blue flowering variety. I wrote two earlier blogs about the amazing buds and how they open. ( see “Bud Burst” published in July 2011 and “Bud Burst Part 2” published in August 2011.)

Now in December it is still giving interest on our “Chatto Garden”, but not blue this time but the absolute opposite – a rich yellow. The foliage and stems are yellow and the seed heads are like delicate sculptures.

Until now I had not considered the Agapanthus to be a plant for winter interest. They always say that a good gardener is one who never stops learning!