It’s the fourth week of April and the garden is a hive of activity. Now that spring is underway, the garden is reacting to the warm and rainy winter by racing into growth and the things look incredibly different to this time last year. The spring of 2013 was one of the coldest I remember and garden plants were set back by at least five weeks, not catching up until the end of May.
This year, the aphids are here early so there are insects for the birds; honey bees and butterflies appeared early last month to make a meal of the early pollen and nectar and many young birds are being seen in the garden.
Can this be the same garden border? Both pictures were taken exactly a year apart, on the 21st of April
The robins (Erithacus rubecula) hatched a couple of weeks ago and we’ve seen a single parent being followed by four young ones, which is more than I’ve seen before. The young birds look lively and healthy and the parents are clearly being kept very busy. Looking out of the window yesterday, I saw an adult robin bathing in the tray of water under the magnolia – it was being watched by a young robin and I was interested to see that as the adult bird got out of the water, the young one jumped straight in after it and started fluttering its wings in the water.
Fresh water for wildlife - young trees in the background
The robins have also taken to sitting in the two young apple trees that we planted in the lawn. From there, they sit and watch the ground and flit down to catch the unwary insect before going back to their branch.
Apple 'James Grieve' about to flower
Relaxed looking blackbirds are being seen scuttling along pathways and through garden beds with their beaks full of worms, to find their hidden offspring and feed them up for summer. The blackbirds (Turdus merula) have also been kept busy chasing magpies, which predate the young in the nest. Considering that blackbirds are a lot smaller than magpies, weighing in at 80-125 g (3-4½ oz), compared to a magpie’s (Pica pica) 200-250 g (7-9 oz), they are brave birds. A few times now, I’ve seen a pair of blackbirds mobbing a magpie until it leaves the area. Our resident blackbird, the one we think is the son of the previous resident, is possessive of the bits and pieces we put out for him. Slices of apple, fat balls and the occasional suet-filled coconut shell go under the bench in the courtyard and he stands there pecking away quite happily as we go about our business nearby. On hearing a fearful commotion one day, I looked out to see an outraged blackbird scolding a jackdaw that was eating the suet. On opening the window, the jackdaw took off, with the blackbird in fast pursuit.
In the pond, I’ve had one sighting of an adult newt – the tail of a male smooth newt (Lissotriton vulgaris), showing smudges of blue on his tail, waggled near the surface and then disappeared from view. Newts are shy creatures and are not often seen in the daytime. The tail-waggling behaviour of this one (tail-waggling is part of the courtship) suggested that there was a female nearby so hopefully we’ll be seeing young newts (known as efts) over the summer.
Lastly, I saw a queen bumblebee of the species Bombus lapidarius go in through a gap between the house and the garden wall. I waited a few minutes but she didn’t come out again. Bumblebees nested in that same spot last year so maybe the same will happen this year.