Blue tits - the final chapter

Its been 19 days since the first of the eggs hatched and today the last of the chicks have left the nest.

 It has been a busy time for the parents whilst they constantly fed them and kept the nest clean. The mother has been attentive and tried to keep them all fed and at times it almost looked like she was doing a head count, before then diving under the chicks and seemingly ensuring that none got lost under the brood. After all she did have eight to look after and in a nest box that has got to be a tight squeeze.

Initially the mother was sitting in the nest overnight to keep her brood warm, but as they grew and space became limited the chicks were left huddled together for warmth, as by this point they had a reasonable amount of feathers.

It was two weeks before the first of the fledglings left the nest, they were both of a good size and this freed up room in the nest for the others. It was also apparent at this point that one of the chicks hadn’t made it. A few more days past and she tried in vain to get the next two chicks to leave the nest. They obviously thought they were onto a good thing and made no attempts to leave.

Yesterday we lost a second chick and overnight we lost another. It is hard to believe that they can survive for so long and then die. I don’t know if it is just survival of the fittest, the others were bigger and stronger and maybe they got most of the food.

Today the last two chicks have left the nest, making that four fledglings in total. Whilst the nest now lies empty the fledglings cannot be too far away. I keep seeing the blue tits in the garden and they keep disappearing into the hedge at the back of the garden. All I need now is a glimpse of the new additions to the family.

A mixed bag in the kitchen garden.

What fantastic weather we have had over the past few days, especially over the weekend when I was able to get out into the garden and catch up on some jobs.

Now that the majority of the weeding in the garden borders has been caught up they will in the main look after themselves for the rest of the year. We have lost one or two plants over the winter period, but I suppose this opens up some space for new plants when visiting the shows this year.

The bulk of the work that needed to be done was in the kitchen garden.  The peas and the mangetout that were originally sown into pots and planted out a couple of weeks ago needed to be tied into their frames to help get them climbing. Once done I put some protective netting over the frame to protect them from the birds. I know from experience that sparrows in particular like to nibble at fresh peas shoots. The courgettes were also planted out as were the baby corn plants. It was probably a little too earlier for the latter, but I was feeling brave with the weather and I am giving them protection of a cloche on a night. I also managed to find time to sown some swede, turnips, beetroot and beet direct into the soil. So far this year I have not had much luck, one minute they are growing away fine the next demolished by slugs. Just in case, I have also sown some seed into individual plugs, not sure if it will work, but worth a shot. I also managed to get a wigwam structure in place for when the climbing beans are planted out.

Meanwhile in the greenhouse, the tomatoes, cucumber, climbing beans and peppers are coming on a treat. But all is not rosy as for the first time I am fighting against the aphids. Hopefully by keeping the plants under observation and regular squishing they are now starting to get under control.

Elsewhere in the plot, the autumn raspberries are starting to bulk up and the blueberries are showing promise of a good crop. Whilst the onions that were planted in autumn are starting to swell,  unfortunately the garlic appears to be showing signs of rust, which isn’t great news.

All in all a mixed bag of good and bad, that said perseverance generally pays off and it won’t be too long before the taste of some success.

Blue tit chicks part 3

Arrived home from work yesterday to find that the blue tits had become proud parents of four chicks. Looking very much naked of feathers they looked quite vulnerable, it appeared to take all of their energy just to lift their heads up and to open their beaks for food. This appears to then be followed by a general collapse back into the nest, to then summon enough energy for the next round of food. Mum was quite busy toing and frowing with food and after a short while decided to take a breather at the nest, where she promptly sat on the chicks. That surely can’t be comfortable for either party.

At some point overnight another couple of chicks had hatched and another busy day commenced in keeping the little ones fed. Thankfully this task was undertaken by both parents as they flitted in and out of the hedgerow in search of bugs and the like. Not once did they pay a visit to the bird feeder, not even to stock up on food for themselves.

At some point during today another egg has hatched bringing the number of chicks to seven. It looks like tomorrow is going to be another busy day, but what I can’t understand is, what happens to the eggshell once the chicks have hatched?

Blue tits part 2

It is just over a week now since the bluetit laid her last egg, counting nine in total. For the last week she has spent a lot more time at the nest keeping the eggs incubated and only leaves the nest to feed. Initially the male was going into the box to feed the female, but it has become apparent that the male calls for the female to leave the box so that he can feed her outside. On occasion the pair have been seen flying off together, but she never goes far as she will only leave the nest for a short period of time.

The other day we had a sparrow hawk land in the tree whilst the bluetit was out and about. Under normal circumstances we would admire such a bird. However, we have become protective of our blue tit and we quickly made some commotion in the garden that sent the bird on its way. After all she’s part of the family now and we couldn’t let anything happen to her.

I found out that during the incubation time the female plucks out her own feathers to line the nest. This was proven to be the case as the nest has become more snug and soft looking. I assume that that this is to help incubate the eggs and keep the fledglings warm when they hatch. I think there is an incubation period of 12-16 days, this would mean that come the weekend we could have the first of the bluetits starting to hatch.

Nesting Bluetits

In the corner of the back garden is a large cherry blossom tree on which there is a bird box. Since we moved into the house there have been a couple of years when blue tits have nested in the box and according to our neighbours, in some years previous. Last year we had some work carried out to reduce the tree canopy and decided that the bird box was looking a little worse for wear and decided to replace it, with one with a inbuilt camera. It wasn’t long before blue tits showed an interest and had it not been for the sudden change in weather and prolonged snow they probably would have nested in the box.

A year on there were no signs of any bluetits showing an interest and I was beginning to think that we would have yet another year with the box empty. When one morning bluetits were spotted going into and soon after leaving the box, in their beaks they carried moss. Later that same day I got the camera up and running, with some help as I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t getting a picture. In my excitement I had forgotton a basic thing, to turn on the plug. The bluetits had been busy, as there on the screen was the nest looking pretty much finished.

Nothing appeared to happen for a few days and I didn’t see much of the blue tits. So imagine my surprise one evening when I switched on the camera to find a nest with three eggs inside, and then minutes later saw the bluetit go into the box and settle down for the night.

Last night as she settled down there was another blue tit at the door of the box and she made a right racket, making a noise not too dissimilar to crows. Not quite sure if the other bird was her mate or another bluetit after the box, but the noise soon sent them on their way.

Today she has laid her fifth egg and every time she leaves the box she pulls the nesting material over them to keep them warm. Every time she goes back to sit on the eggs she rearranges them beneath her ensuring they are all well tucked in. It is said that she could lay up to 10 eggs, if this is the case I have no idea how all those chicks will fit in that small box once they hatch.


Spring has sprung.

I love this time of year. The days are getting longer, the birds are singing more, and the garden is wakening from its winter slumber.
I know that some people have fantastic winter gardens, but just looking outside the window now, the snowdrops and crocus have long since finished and the dogwoods have recently been cut back to about a foot high. That said the back border has looked fantastic in recent weeks. The hellebores have had masses of flowers and the primulas have been like large poses which stand out like beacons when the light is fading on an evening. There are clumps of narcissi flowing in the bottom border, which are under planted with blue anemones. When the sun shines the whole border is brought to life.

The garden is changing from one week to the next and on that rare occasion when the sun is shining, I love to spend five minutes in the garden before work, listening to the birds singing and to see what else has changed. Where the soil has lain empty for weeks, perennials and bulbs are now starting to grow and the ground is slowly becoming a carpet of green. There is promise of what is to come in the next few months.

A favourite shrub of mine is the camellia and I wouldn’t have a garden without one.  Despite them only flowering for a few weeks a year they have, in my opinion, flowers that make up for it. We have two that stand almost side by side down by the house, they both bear white flowers and they are currently covered in buds. They won’t flower for a few more weeks yet and I am hoping the weather stays mild and they put on a good show.
Deciduous trees and shrubs are also awakening with fresh buds waiting to burst and the cherry tree that stands in the corner of our garden is covered. I can hardly wait for it to flower and be buzzing with bees like last year.

Ready, get set, sow...

It’s the time of year when the house window sills are filling up with small pots of seedlings and young plants, but not this year. With the cold wet start to the year I decided it best to delay matters in the hope that once done, things would very quickly catch up. I found this to be the case last year when for instance the tomato plants sown in April were no further behind than those sown in February.  But time is ticking away.
So far, the tomatoes and peppers that were sown in February are doing well and it won’t be long before they are individually pricked out and potted on into individual pots. I have recently sown the seed for spring onions, cabbages, managetout and peas. These were given a good watering and put into the unheated greenhouse. I would have preferred to get the peas done a little earlier as I find that this helps to avoid problems with the pea moth.
As well as sowing in pots, seeds have been sown direct in the ground for the leeks and parsnip. Given the adverse weather conditions, cloches were placed over the area these were to be sown for a couple of weeks. As a result the soil was able to warm up a little and any further rain prevented from soaking into the soil. Once the seeds had been sown the cloches were used to protect the seed until the weather improved.
It isn’t just seed that needs sowing at this time of year, if you are growing onions from sets now is the time to get them into the ground. If the soil is still cold and wet you can plant these in plug trays to get them growing, planting them outside at a later date. However, the easiest method for me is to plant them direct. The quickest way would be to push each bulb into the ground at about 12 inches apart, but a drawback of this would be for the soil underneath the bulb to become compacted and as the roots grow, result in pushing the bulb out of the ground. The best way would be to plant the bulbs in a trench, pulling the soil back over the bulbs to cover. This not only prevents the soil around the bulb becoming compacted, but also covers the tips of the bulbs making it more difficult for birds to spot and pull up.
At the end of last year I filled the greenhouse borders with a different kind of bulb, daffodils and tulips. The daffodils have put on a good display providing cut flowers for indoors for the last couple of weeks. These have just about finished now, but the tulips are now started to flower. Hopefully these will put on a good show and provide a bunch or two for indoors also.

A Garden Full of Promise

I would not be exaggerating if I said that it had been a very wet winter. Unless you never listen to the news or do not live in the UK, most people will be aware of the flooding that parts of Britain have endured. It has been weeks since I was last able to spend some time in the garden and it felt good to get out in the fresh air for a few hours.   The herbaceous borders have now been cleared and the garden is looking quite empty and open in places. There is very little in the way of colour, although the dogwoods are looking good as always and there are plenty of snowdrops now in flower. In the back border the hellebores are flowering as are the primula vulgaris and cyclamen. Closer inspection of the other borders show that daffodils, centauria and aquilegia amongst other plants are starting to grow. Surely this is a promising sign that spring is not too far away.
The kitchen garden is looking rather on the empty side, as I haven’t yet attempted to grow much for harvesting over the winter months. Today I dug up the last of the leeks and a couple of week ago we had the last of the parsnips. Talk about saving the best until last, well maybe not the best in quality, but it was certainly the largest parsnip I have ever grown. There are only the onions and garlic left now and these will not be ready for harvesting until June/July. However, the rhubarb that has been relocated is throwing up some decent stems, so maybe I won’t have to wait as long as the onions before I get a taste.

Whilst it has been cold and wet outside I have been looking through the seed catalogues deciding what to grow in this coming season. It would come as no surprise for me to say that I was basically going to grow the same as last year, although I have decided after three years to call it day on the celeriac. This year I am going to give baby corn a go and maybe a cucumber or two.

It is difficult to imagine what the weather will have in store for us and what challenges we may face in the garden. One thing I do know is that I am already looking forward to longer days and eating fresh produce from the garden.