Tag: spring

Notes from a riverside garden – April 2021

Sunrise over the water meadows on a frosty, April morning

The garden is a hive of activity with nest building in progress or completed in numerous locations. A pair of starlings have found an opening under the eaves of our garage roof and are busily darting in and out. This space has been used by bees in the past.

Adjacent to the garage is a Robinia pseudoacacia ‘Frisia’ where a pair of blue tits have taken up residence in a nest box affixed to the trunk of the tree. Close to the mill pool ivy has completely covered a pollarded, dead ash tree and this provides an excellent nesting site. We are suspicious a duck is nesting in there. It is a sizeable area of dense habitat, with a pigeon nesting, and probably other birds we have not noticed as yet.

I have been watching a pair of goldfinches building their nest in the top of a small Holm oak from our bedroom window. The pair fly off together each time searching for nesting material but only one returns with a blade of grass or a small feather (the materials I have observed so far) and disappears into the tree, while the male sits waiting in a prominent position close by. I have read that the females construct the nest so I assume she is the one conveying the nesting materials. Within a very short while she flies out and off they go together in search of the next item. They are back and forth within minutes. Such industry is admirable.

Evening at Henny bridge over the Stour

Evening at Henny bridge over the Stour

The pair of swans were mating in the mill pool during the Easter weekend. Such an elegant and rather beautiful bonding ritual takes place prior to mating with mirrored neck movements. I have observed this several times over the years, and I am always stopped in my tracks if I am fortunate enough to see this delightful display taking place. The aggressive and territorial nature of the cob swan has also been on display with two or three violent confrontations taking place in the mill pool with an interloping cob. The necks being used as a weapon as they entwine and beat each other with their wings in fights that can continue for some time. Eventually the loser manages to extricate himself from the relentless pecking and pounding of the resident male and makes a hasty retreat, usually across the island and to the river above the mill pool sluice gates. The female circles around the battling males giving the interloper the occasional peck too! We think it is the same cob trying to take over the mill pond territory but so far he has always been driven away minus a few feathers!

We were so thrilled to see a kettle of eight swallows swooping and circling over the river early on Easter Monday. Snow was in the air! Their visit was brief but a fabulous way to start the day. Other sightings in the garden include the blackcap, reed bunting and several chiffchaffs filling the air with their song. A pair of Egyptian geese also made their presence known for a few days as they surveyed the island as a possible nesting site. Being of an aggressive nature they chased off the mallards from a wide area around them. Calm has now returned as the geese seem to have moved on.

The paving on the terrace outside the kitchen window has been there for many years and gaps have appeared in places adjacent to the low brick wall and these are where the bank voles access their underground world. They dart out and make off with any seeds that fall from the bird feeders above. Recently we saw a stoat exiting a larger gap with a rodent in its mouth! It happened so fast it was impossible to identify the rodent, most probably a vole but maybe mice live under the terrace too.

In the same area, only two or three yards from our kitchen window, and where we walk past several times each day is a clump of long established thyme. It has become quite woody and about a foot high. I just take the flowerheads off with shears once they have finished flowering later in the year. The low brick wall extends around behind it. We have had ducks sheltering in the middle of this clump with their ducklings in the past. They are so well camouflaged and can sink down into the slightly open middle of the clump but still be hidden from view. This year we have discovered a duck nesting in this spot! She currently has six eggs. It is so hard to see her as the excellent camouflage her feathers provide merge completely into the stems and thin foliage of the thyme. In some ways it is the perfect nesting site. We put out grain and there is a water tray where she washes and drinks. She is also safer regarding the drakes who will chase any female that ventures from the safety of her nesting site. She is tucked away so not so visible to them. Yesterday she flew up onto the wall and within seconds was in flight being pursued by three or four drakes. When she does leave the nest the eggs are all carefully covered with a mossy layer so completely invisible to any predators from above. Nesting at ground level is a danger however, as we have badgers, foxes and a domestic cat as nocturnal visitors plus, of course, the resident stoat. We shall have to wait and see what happens. It is a hard time for the females, laying and sitting on eggs, avoiding the unwanted attentions of the opportunist drakes and later trying to raise their broods.

Thirteen tiny ducklings were on the terrace with their mother over the Easter weekend. They haven’t returned again but some ducklings have been seen in the lake on the island so hopefully the family have found a safe place there.

This morning there were four mallard ducks sitting on the ridge of the house roof. A good spot to keep an eye on all that is happening around them!

This morning there were four mallard ducks sitting on the ridge of the house roof. A good spot to keep an eye on all that is happening around them!

Notes from a riverside garden – March 2021

Helleborus Orientalis in bloom.

The remaining pools of flood water on the water meadows are slowly disappearing but are still attracting large flocks of seagulls, Canada and Greylag geese amongst others, to the area. It is a joy to observe the abundance of wildlife in the valley. Of particular note was the sighting for a few days of a Great White Egret along the riverbank. A stately bird, of a similar size to a Grey Heron, with a slow and deliberate flight as it progressed across the meadow. A birdwatcher walking the footpath was keenly watching it with his binoculars on one occasion. More birdwatchers are seen on the meadow due in part to the variety and number of birds present at this time, we suspect. It is good to see people appreciating the wildlife in our area.

With the warmer weather the number of folks out walking their dogs on the water meadow has increased. Most stick to the footpaths but a number wander wherever the fancy takes them, with their dogs usually off the lead. We witnessed one of the well known resident swans in the village so nearly being mauled or worse by two large dogs, off the lead. The dogs streaked away from their owner, oblivious to his frantic calls for them to come back, heading straight for the swan who was grazing on the riverbank. By some miracle the swan just managed to get back into the river as the dogs slid to a halt at the waters edge. For a moment it looked as if one of them was going to plunge into the river after the swan. I have to say I was so angered by what we had witnessed that I yelled across the river and the noise of the weir at the owner to keep his dogs on a lead, in fairness to him he did put them on leads after the incident.

On a cold February day I was most surprised to see two ladies, only clad in swimming costumes, not wetsuits, swimming past the house! It was some while before they came swimming back, climbed up the bank and left the meadow wrapped up in warm coats. I admire their mettle!

The wet and muddy area along the footpath on the meadow brought a smile to our faces when a young woman, faced with getting muddy shoes, pulled a carrier bag out of her rucksack and then stepped inside the carrier bag. What happened next was so hilarious as she tried to take minute steps, her feet confined in the bag, across the muddy section of footpath! Of course, the bag soon fell apart, she had almost fallen over several times and despite her ingenuity she still got muddy shoes/wet feet!

Reedmace (also known as bulrush) in the river

Reedmace (also known as bulrush) in the river

A clump of reedmace (commonly known as bulrush) is looking rather impressive as the brown seed heads have “exploded” resulting in a froth of soft, cottonwool like seeds hanging in readiness to be blown away on the breeze.

Most of the female ducks are on their nests now (early March) and the drakes are idly passing the time of day. We have a pure white duck resident in the garden, who patiently sits in the same area of river for most of the day. We assume his mate is not far away on her nest and periodically we see them briefly together when she emerges to feed. This morning when I was looking out of the bedroom window a duck flew down from our roof onto the high Leylandii hedge, the top of which is on a level with our bedroom window. She looked around for a moment or two and then disappeared into the top of the hedge. She must have a nest tucked away inside. We have seen ducklings tumbling down from the top of this hedge in the past. Ducks tend to nest off the ground hidden away in tree stumps, log piles, on the pillbox in the ivy and in the Leylandii hedge.

At night the otters can be seen in the river, silently making their way through the water. Geese fly overhead in the pitch dark, calling to each other as they progress. Tawny owls are frequently heard communicating through the darkness.

We have coppiced our hazels, taking a few branches from each to be used later in the year as runner bean poles and the tops for pea sticks and plant supports. The tops make excellent plant supports as they soon merge into the border and have many twiggy branches for plants to grow through.

Puschkinia Libanotica in full bloom

Puschkinia Libanotica in full bloom

The garden is bursting into life with exuberant daffodils, crocus and anemone blanda lifting our spirits. One of our many willows was alive with large bumble bees all feeding from the catkins of the hoary willow, Salix elaeagnos, on a recent sunny day. I also had a fleeting sighting of a Brimstone butterfly – a sign that spring has arrived. SB

Notes from a riverside garden, January 2021

 

There are indications that the autumnal signs in nature of a harsh winter to come might be born out with the current cold spell we are experiencing. I am writing on the 8th January so perhaps by the time you read this it will be milder again! The frost is lingering in sheltered spots with a gloomy, grey sky overhead. Snow is falling in some parts of the country.

In November we were amazed to see two broods of fourteen ducklings appear in the garden! One of the ducks brought her brood up to feed on the spillage from the bird feeders outside our kitchen window. We quickly put duck food out for them and were delighted to watch them during their regular visits, such an unusual sight at this time of year. Sadly, as is normally the case, the brood reduced in number on a daily basis, until only four remained. This was also the case with the family that didn’t come to the house for food. We have watched the remaining ducklings mature and they are now fully fledged and have become part of the large flock of ducks residing in the garden. The ducklings have survived sharp overnight frosts, snow and cold conditions generally. Plus several large floods. The river in flood seemed a major peril but even as small ducklings, faced with the very strong current to cross the river, accomplished the crossing with apparent ease. We feared they must surely be swept away. Amazing how strong small ducklings are!

The floods have been very dramatic with my husband and I raising and lowering the sluice gates several times over the past weeks. Parts of our garden were underwater and the flood plain water meadows opposite us a sea of water as far as one could see. On one occasion a lone canoeist was paddling about on the water meadow and waved as he came past our house. Vast flocks of seagulls and other birds descended creating a scene of true wilderness. The Canada and Greylag geese increased in numbers present too. The sunrise looking particularly fabulous reflected in the expanse of water. The straw protection placed over the Gunnera Manicata was swept away but now we have the replacement straw held in position with a ring of bamboo canes, we hope!

The owner of the water meadow has left a pile of tree trunks close to the river for wildlife. A colony of rabbits has taken over the area and can frequently be seen sitting on the trunks or in the vicinity. We wondered what would happen to the rabbits during the flood as the whole area was underwater. To our amazement we have seen at least four rabbits since the water has subsided, so somehow at least a few have survived! Molehills have appeared on the island where the water was at least three feet deep. How do moles survive a flood? There are many unanswered questions!

Signs of spring are appearing. Snowdrops are out in the shelter of a hedge and bulbs are pushing through. Spring is on its way! SB