March, 2015

Homes for Wildlife

Homes for Wildlife
If you love the creatures in your garden, you'll love our Homes for Wildlife project. This is the place to ask and answer questions about making your backyard wildlife-friendly.

Gardening for wildlife

Follow the adventures of Adrian Thomas, our wildlife gardening expert, and be inspired to create your own wildlife haven on your doorstep. Adrian posts here every Monday and Friday without fail, so make it a date and drop by!
  • In awe of nature's master homebuilders

    Birds have always amazed me, but there's something about what happens now in spring that, for me, defies belief. Prompted by the gathering day-length and guided by their complex internal genetic coding, they set about creating artistic masterpieces - nests.

    This week, my Robins, Dunnocks and Blackbirds have all been on the intense hunt for nesting materials, but I was thrilled to see that my Song Thrushes are too.

    All I have for you is a grabbed photo through the lounge window but I hope you can make out the beakful of dried grasses.

    She is building in a small Bay tree, a plant I don't normally rave about from a wildlife point of view, and while its evergreen cover is providing her with some protection, I do think she is very vulnerable to the squirrels.

    Nevertheless, just to see her in action as she wanders the garden fills me with such wonder. As she searches, you get the sense that she is absolutely clear what piece of bark or twig or rootlet she needs next. Many times, she will pick something up, maybe shake it a bit, then drop it as clearly substandard.

    But then she spots what she needs. "Ah, yes, this is THE crinkled brown leaf I've been looking for!" It's as if there is no doubt. Up she flies to add it to her creation, something she may never have built before and yet which must provide a nursery of strength and durability and perfect proportions.

    Nature, eh? Astonishing!

  • Me versus the Squirrel: guess who's winning!

    Last week I received a very interesting phone message from a lady who had had a bad experience with a squirrel-proof feeder. (My apologies to the lady concerned for being so rubbish with mobile phones that I accidentally deleted her message and so was unable to ring her back to thank her. Those who know me would not be surprised at this latest technological mishap!).

    Her problem had been with the same feeder I have, which appeared in this blog with a Blackcap and Blackbird in residence. It has a stout, green-wire outer cage surrounding an inner tube that is designed to carry fatballs.

    The top of the inner tube is open so that you can get the fat balls in, and this lady found that a young Starling had got into the outer cage (as it is supposed to do) but then climbed inside the inner tube and couldn’t get out.

    It was only because the lady spotted the problem that the Starling was saved. Now that I’m aware of this, I will be rigging up a cap for the inner cage to stop this happening on my feeders.

    With regards to their squirrel-proofness (is that a word?), my determined rodents have been pretty persistent. They tried chewing through the wire...

    When this didn't work, they found that reaching through the top of the feeder they could juggle a fat ball up to the top with their front paws and then hold it there while they demolished it.

    So I now only half fill the feeder. But then they found that the holes around the base of the outer cage are wide enough to stick their head through and gnaw at the fat balls at the base of the inner tube. So I’ve taken the unusual step of putting a rock at the base of the inner tube: I’m hoping chewing on granite will put them off.

    The squirrel proof feeders I’ve always been most happy with are the Squirrel Buster design, large and small, in which the weight of the Squirrel causes the feeding ports to close. They are expensive, but not as expensive as the cost of kilo after kilo of birdfood disappearing down into a Squirrel’s belly.

    I’m sure many of you have had your own Squirrel Wars – are you winning?

  • Stand back, it's Frog Rescue!

    One of the things I inherited in my new garden is a swimming pool.

    "Wow! That's so posh," people say to me. But then they see it!

    It was apparently built in the 1970s, but the problem was that Frogs (and other things) fell into the chlorinated water and died.

    So they stopped using it and, by the time I bought it, it was a green stinking soup where the only option was to cover my nose and pump it out.

    The plan is to turn it into a wildlife pond, but my first problem is that Frogs and spawn are in the (now) unchlorinated puddle at the bottom. So it was time to undertake a Frog Rescue before the puddle dries up.

    Here is our intrepid hero at work (that's me!). (You can see in the corner some of the planks and other structures I'm using in the short-term to help any wildlife that falls in to get out, but I check it daily just in case).

    Up came nine Frogs and giant blobs of spawn, transferred into the small ponds elsewhere in the garden.

    But this is where the story turns rather sad, for one of the Frogs turned out to be affected by some kind of disease. Terribly emaciated, I was astonished it was still alive.

    I am not expert enough to diagnose whether it is affected by one of these terrible Ranavirus-type diseases, thought to have been imported from abroad in the pet trade, that have been ravaging our Frogs and Toads.

    But it does lead onto a serious message, which is that I would normally not advocate the moving of amphibians and spawn. It is so tempting to raid an existing pond to stock a new one, but the basic advice is to let nature come under its own steam rather than risk moving these diseases around.

    Unless, of course, you have an emergency like mine and have to resort to orange buckets and, (drumroll), Frog Rescue.