Friday, 12 October 2018

leaf blowers, flimsy nests and windfalls ...


An oil slick has spread across the surface of uncovered ponds. Even the  rain water in an old tin bath is affected. A greasy thin covering. Wood pigeons have increased in number over the last weeks. Their communal bathing on the pond edge leaves the oily, dusty residue from their feathers. I have netted a couple of our smaller ponds that lie directly under trees to prevent them filling with leaves. The pigeons must bathe elsewhere.Yesterday four magnificent buzzards hanging above the trees, noisily mewing sending finches and pigeons up in alarm when they passed too low.This must have been a good year for breeding goldfinches. Many birds on the feeders have the scruffy look of juveniles transitioning to adult head plumage.Bucking in the wind, a lone rafter in heavy swell, our wood pigeon steers her late, flimsy nest of twigs to the safety of the morning harbour.Tonight an express train wind roars in the resistance of Scots Pine needles. I have misjudged and not picked our abundant apple harvest in time. The majority of the glorious, heavy fruits are now windfalls in the grass. I pick what I can reach with my wire-basket-on-a-stick contraption. Tomorrow I will collect windfalls in the knowledge that they won’t keep.God’s own leaf blower chases dried sycamore leaves across the lawn. In Camden during the week I shook my head in sympathy with a resident who failed to understand why a park worker was spending the best part of a working day using a petrol leaf blower to blow leaves off grass. The leaf blower brigade are out in numbers now. Will there ever be a time when we evaluate the impact of our activities on the earth? From questions around whether we can: justify the embodied energy needed to make then dispose of the leaf blower at the end of its’ life, let alone the petrol needed to power it; through to the shameful waste of HS2; or the shocking cull of badgers ....? 

Hugh Grant recently suggested that all owners of leaf blowers should be required to carry them rectally with the blower full on.
I saw Richard Wilson (aka the curmudgeon Victor Meldrew in vintage UK comedy ‘One foot in the grave’) reading a script in Regents Park in the week.
His catchphrase ‘I do NOT believe it..’ catches my mood perfectly.
Perhaps our planet is truly doomed, we should give up and just party like it’s 1999?

Monday, 8 October 2018

Goose Fair time

The lawn is a shining emerald lake, lapping its’ surrounding banks of perennials, grasses and shrubs. Heavy rains followed recent mowing - especially satisfying. A glossy carrion crow with distinctive paler flight feathers slowly measures the lawn in deliberate steps examining something within the grass, frequently pecking.
Scythed ‘islands’ in the meadow were further shorn when I mowed. The scuffed and open soil will receive seeds of yellow rattle. This little grass parasite will weaken its’ hosts so that the seed of harebells, cowslips and birds foot trefoil can take hold without being lost in the sward. Field poppies are plants of disturbed ground and so the meadow islands must be roughly treated to give these annual plants a chance.
Our work outside sees us tidying and mulching in readiness for winter. We are also planning ahead - tomato plants have been taken out of one side of the polytunnel and winter brassicas planted - white broccoli, kale and spring cabbage.
A punctuation mark in Nottingham’s year is our Goose Fair held to coincide with the first Thursday in October. It is now a huge funfair retaining the name given in a royal charter by King Edward I to the already established fair in 1284. The fair thrums distantly on calm evenings.
Horse chestnuts leaves have been shredded and destroyed by tiny leaf miners, but sycamores retain their spotted leaves - still green. The trees hissed with white noise during recent rain. I stood on the terrace in the dark of the early hours where rain fizzed down rain chains then chugged into the barrels. During the long dry summer the barrels’ staves shrank and now water weeps down their sides, slowly entering the wood and eventually closing the slats.
The return of small birds to the garden attracts a sparrowhawk. A magnificent female - marbled chocolate -sat on the bird bath long enough for us to admire her. The connection between our species and nature is so strong it feels physical. Whatever else we are doing stops to allow us to enjoy moments like this. Little wonder that claims are made about the power that nature has to affect our wellbeing.
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Tuesday, 2 October 2018

Autumn arrives ...

Grass was frosted as we set the ringing nets on Sunday; trousers sodden until the sun warmed the mid-morning air. Overhead, jets silently screamed north, trails littering the blue sky. Tree sparrow, blue and great tits, wren, chaffinch, greenfinch caught, ringed and released near the small pond. Mistle thrushes rattling their presence from berry-laden rowans induced us to put a net within a small copse. Mistle thrushes were too wily but a jay was caught. It's latin name Garrulus means noisy or chattering, and glandarius is "of acorns". Jays have been noisily collecting acorns in the garden for a couple of weeks: round-winged, white-rumped. They collect far more than they can immediately consume, 'caching' in readiness for winter. I have read that a single bird may store 11,000 acorns during the autumn.

Moles busy tunnelling in the Woodland Garden and beneath The Limes. Subterranean tube lines undermining paths and grass. Today the characteristic mole hills have appeared. Volcanoes in the grass.

I have replenished wood chip mulch along the length of the Birch Border. The mulch suppresses weeds, retains moisture in the soil - and provides a home for invertebrates. In the mulch, hardy cyclamen hederifolium have been waving flower flags of white through to deepest pink. Tubers planted in late spring have pushed out small pairs of leaves, characteristically heart-shaped and beautifully pattered with white lines on glossy green. The birch that give this part of the garden its' name are mature. Some have died but still stand, providing rich homes for fungi and specialist invertebrates. The trunks are a colander of holes from tiny to great spotted woodpecker size. The vacated woodpecker holes may be used by other birds, bats, wasps or bees. Standing deadwood is one of the least-abundant but most-valuable habitats for wildlife. 

Eurasian Jay - Garullus glandarius
We counted a 'charm' of around one hundred goldfinches as dusk arrived today. Yesterday was the first day when the feeders were mobbed. A couple of greenfinches asserted their rights among the squabbling goldies.

A wood pigeon sits on her late season raft of twigs, sailing above us in the thinning elder foliage. If her young can evade the magpies and carrion crows we'll hope to ring them. One of the previously ringed wood pigeons is especially confident. Ringo, Bingo, Bongo - or Paul? There is no way of telling our ringed pigeons apart.

A slender hen pheasant comes peeping to the terrace on most days. Not only is she especially slight, her eye markings allow us to tell her apart from her sisters. Jill feeds her with corn. Two pheasant poults have outlived their unsuccessful siblings, survived the summer and now are almost equal in size to their mother. Frequently heard but only occasionally seen.

In spite of our feeding regime, hedgehogs have not been seen for several weeks. They have possibly found a better food supply. Most nights I take a torch out to search.

With two mewing young, a buzzard circles above on afternoon hill-top thermals.

George's Pond has filled following recent rains but is home to an invasive ornamental pond plant called Parrots Feather. This inadvertantly escaped from the rain barrels through which rain travels from our roof on its' way to the pond. It is invasive and, as such, 'it is an offence to plant or otherwise allow this species to grow in the wild'. A man and his waders will be seen shortly, pulling out the offending vegetation. This must be done around every six weeks during the growing season.

I have begun mowing the meadow. On the outer edges of the meadow there are islands of long grass around which mown paths weave. These I cut each year and will transplant some of the abundant cowslip seedlings from the orchard. The exposed ground will provide an excellent seedbed for the seeds of native wildflowers I will sow. Small mammals need a thick sward to protect them from predators and so other parts of the meadow are managed to provide this cover and to support overwintering invertebrates as well as providing seed for finches. A fat vole escapes ahead of me as I complete today's scything.



Monday, 3 September 2018

courgette fear

Not a vintage gardening year for the kitchen.
The cold, wet and late spring turned immediately into the hottest summer on record. Our sandy soil was little more than dust.
And for me a knee replacement operation that took two months away.

So much didn't germinate, grow or thrive...

And, unlike our arable farming neighbours, we haven't done any supplementary watering. What was planted had to cope with what nature provided.

But, let's not dwell on the failures - apples, potatoes, tomatoes, beetroot, squash, courgettes and leeks have all done well..
Courgettes have been abundant. So much so that friends no longer make eye contact for fear that a courgette will be pressed on them. 'Are you sure one will do..?'
Our thanks go in part to our friend 'Poo Pete' who regularly delivers trailer loads of horse manure. This regular addition of manure as a surface mulch has improved our soils' ability to hold moisture as well as boosting fertility.

Trees have shown themselves to be surprisingly unaffected by dry weather with no evidence of drought stress. The heavy  spring rains must have played a part in this, boosting the water content of the soil down at deep root level.

Flowers in our meadows have been affected, as they have in the gardens. Flowers finished weeks early, denying insects access to pollen and nectar. There has been a limited range of butterfly species and only large white butterflies were abundant. Mysteriously, the honey bees have produced excellent amounts of honey - presumably from tree flowers?

Mum and dad bought our grandson half a dozen goldfish which we put into the Dragonfly Pond. This is a small pond built out of sleepers and not accessible to amphibians. The fish got busy and now we have more than six...


Saturday, 25 August 2018

keystone brambles support sparrowhawk

Four wonderful days and nights in Dorset watching the satellite tagging of nightjars on Cranford heath. Late nights for an early bird but giving us the chance to see shooting stars that were part of the Perseid meteor shower, noctule bat. During the day we saw dartford warbler and sand lizard. Also, a night of mothing to take my mind off the student fridge that glowered every time I opened it..

Juvenile sparrowhawk
Then home and back to bird ringing in the garden. 
It's been a quiet time of late and this continued despite our early start. 
Our usual 'go to' mist net set beside the feeders unusually provided few birds. It was more encouraging in the area of the garden reclaimed from overcrowded commercial conifers that has now grown high with walls of fruiting brambles beneath silver birch, rowan, field maple and cherry saplings.

This area has become a special place for birds whose presence is frequently concealed by the dense blackberry bushes that now dominate the understory.

Brambles provide year round protection for birds, give thorny defences to nests and this year an abundance of juicy berries as well as being host to many species of invertebrates.

Our bird ringing shows that this jungle provides a home at different times of the year to: 
goldcrest, willow warbler, blackcap and chiffchaff; 
blackbird, robin, song and mistle thrush; 
blue, great, coal and long-tailed tit; 
dunnock; 
bullfinch and chaffinch. 

Great spotted woodpecker, buzzard, jay, woodcock, magpie and treecreeper are there but have avoided the mist nets so far.

A juvenile sparrowhawk showed how important the bramble is as a keystone plant in the food chain. It was hunting the small birds but was caught itself before being ringed and released.

Friday, 1 June 2018

Japan slaughter 122 Minke whales

KOJI TSURUOKA


Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary

Embassy of Japan in the United Kingdom


101-104 Piccadilly London W1J 7JT


Dear Ambassador Tsuruoka 

Killing of Minke Whales

I am writing to you following the recent reports that 122 pregnant Minke whales have been killed by Japanese Whalers in the South Antarctic. 333 whales were killed in total according to The Japan Times.

Whales are amazing, social, sentient creatures. In my view, whaling belongs in a byegone age. It is unbearably cruel and cannot be justified in the name of ‘science’. I am astonished and appalled that Japan is allowing such barbarism to go on in its’ name. 
In 2014, the International Court of Justice ordered Tokyo to end the Antarctic hunt, saying it found permits issued by Japan were “not for purposes of scientific research.” Meat from this group of killed whales will go onto be eaten in Japan.

I respectfully call on you to make the case with your government that this slaughter is not only inhumane and unnecessary, it results in the name of your great nation bring tarnished across the civilised world.

I do hope you can help stop this appalling carnage.

Yours sincerely



Rob Carlyle

Sunday, 8 April 2018

the furious glare of the little owl ...

To New Farm where Little Owls seem to have adopted at least one of the nest boxes we made and sited. Unfortunately, the boxes also provide bespoke accommodation for grey squirrels. So, innovation time - and ferret bedding placed in the bottom of the nest boxes. The ferret smell might deter squirrels and the owls need a layer of material onto which they lay their eggs. The eu d'ferret is no deterrent to the birds.
Little owls have a wonderful way of glaring furiously.

Moth light set down by the pond, the gentle call of male toads my night time accompaniment. I counted 26 males and a pair in amplexus on a quick torch lit survey. This may seem a paltry figure, but it is the highest since the pond was dug in 2016. Carnage on two nights on Lamins Lane in the week as we drove home. Jill with hazard warning lights on driving slowly and me walking ahead moving toads that had not been crushed into the hedge bottom. I've sited 'Toads Crossing' signs into the hedge this week thanks to Froglife.

Later in the week watching a peregrine pass over Lamins Lane. Sleek and efficient. My friend the farmer complained that others had seen peregrine but he hadn't. I suggested that he spent too much time looking down at his rhubarb crop rather than up into the sky. He suggested that was what paid the bills.

Eighty moths of twelve species caught and released last night - about 50% down on the same time last year, but this is probably because spring is so late. Bats have been late emerging - our first soprano pipistrelle bat was clicking last night. Also late have been hedgehogs but at last my cafes are attracting customers as the video shows.

Mallards are ruining my small ponds. Whatever high-velocity laxative these creatures use is mightily effective. Each latrine/pond is now mushy pea green. My mother complains that the ducks are tapping on the lounge windows with their beaks. She is discouraging them with handfuls of muesli.

Himalayan Birch border
Thanks to the forty-five folks who joined us the see 'The Messenger' documentary about migratory birds at The Bonington Theatre on Easter Sunday. Not my ideal choice of date, but twice the audience they normally get. Everyone who came and spoke to me told me how powerful the film was. Thanks to the Friends of Bestwood Country Park for ensuring that all under 16's came in free.

Snowdrops have now finished but golden domes of wild primroses glow in the Woodland Garden. I'm  lifting and dividing snowdrops to get an even-more spectacular show next year. Propagation of primroses has been slower as we only brought a handful of plants with us from our old garden. I'm hopeful that each mature plant will yield a dozen or more divisions next month and I've also bought fifty plug plants to speed up colonisation. My memories of doing the BTO Common Bird Census up at Treswell Wood near Retford are of my ears throbbing with dawn chorus bird song - and the glory of the wild primroses. Such special flowers.

A hundred bluebells 'in the green' planted in the Cedar Walk. Bluebells planted by Crimea Plantation continue to thicken and spread and a third, small colony grown from seed is building up on the Cut Through Path. Self-sown bluebell seedlings are being transplanted into the Crimea Boundary hedgerow too.

Another mini-mountain of chippings has been delivered by a tree surgeon friend. More hours of shovelling and spreading, this time to mulch the Himalayan Birch border where the sweet violets (viola odonata) are at their exotic best. What about a man who washes the trunks of Himalayan Birch with a cloth to ensure that their snow-white trunks gleam? Counselling may be an option.

At least three bramblings (big, old gold and black northern chaffinches) still with us. Our kitchen window is turning into a stunning bird hide. Siskins remain too, although their numbers are falling as they return north.

Our first WWOOOF volunteer joins us later this month. If you fancy a bit of gentle exercise in a beautiful wildlife garden to the accompaniment of bird song let me know. No experience needed.


Friday, 30 March 2018

In praise of the bramble ....

Not sure of the pearly gates access protocol but think it'll be a short interview with St Peter, clipboard in hand, asking questions.
And in answer to 'What do you wish you'd spent more time doing?' my answer will NOT include digging out brambles. Today it's top of that list sir.
The peppered moth lays its' eggs on bramble
They're beastly. They're vigorous and can turn a neglected garden corner into a dense bramble trap in little time at all. Their thorns have an ability to viscously whip and tear the skin of any unsuspecting face. They ruin workboots and practise a malign magic on laces. And, due to their trick of being able to anchor two points with a hidden trip-wire sometimes metres apart with a continuous bramble they're treacherous. There he goes again! Got him! Ooomph.

Having said all of that, I'm very pro-bramble.

In the 'Nature Reserve' part of the garden we've given large parts of it over to brambles (or wild blackberries). Although I hate their recalcitrance, they really are wonderful plants for wildlife and I'm delighted we have them. There are hundreds of different kinds of brambles (Rubus fruticosus agg.) and it takes an expert eye to tell them apart. Their white or pink flowers are loved by insects and their glossy black berries are equally loved by birds and mammals. We've planted native trees and shrubs into the bramble thickets and they rise from their natural nursery protected above the thorns: rowan, hawthorn, silver birch, holly, field maple.

White/buff tailed bumblebee enjoying July brambles 
In Tudor times the brambles' wild raspberry cousin was more highly valued than the wild blackberry. This has now reversed and we eagerly await the ripening of their fruits for our first crumble.

In our garden, woodcocks are sometimes flushed from beneath their cover. Winter blackbirds are thick in numbers amongst their prickly tangle and flocks of tits and goldcrests frequently move through them as their leaves and stems harbour many invertebrates. We await our summer visitor warblers - blackcaps and chiffchaffs use the brambles for their tiny, well-concealed nests. Brambles  provide excellent cover for all manner of wildlife. The caterpillars of over thirty five species of butterfly of moth feed on them. Common and soprano pippistrelle bats include the brambles in their 'beat' hunting for fluttering moths.

Brambles are said to have many medicinal uses. Their use to cure haemorrhoids came as a surprise; presumably on the 'no gain without pain' shelf. 

We've carved paths through our bramble patches and manage the burgeoning summer growth with loppers. The path edges and new growth may provide refuges for our harvest mice, along with the wood mice and voles that we've spotted. We've planted native bluebells and cowslip seedlings are colonising the grassy paths. Red campion was introduced a few years back and is establishing itself.

The brambles give a wonderful sense of enclosure and place to hear bird song. They play a tremendously-important part in our eco-systems and are a keystone species for wildlife - so, treasure 'em.  






Friday, 16 March 2018

a delicious scent of pineapple chunks around the garden

Female blackbird recaptured last weekend
There is a delicious scent of pineapple chunks around the garden: local tree surgeons have answered our call for chippings which are now forming steaming mini-mountain ranges. Conifer shreddings lend the pineapple aroma to the air.

The garden is sodden.  I edged the lawn by the foraging border and this now resembles a ditch. The lawn squelches. George's Pond is splendidly full. Plants planted on what I thought was the pond edge are now submerged. No sign of amphibians yet even though they queue to get crushed crossing the nearby Lamins Lane (Old Coach Road)*.
For the first time since our arrival, a fox is seen in daylight on the lawn. I've captured them on the trail cam at night on many occasions. Rural foxes often lack the daytime confidence of their urban cousins. It has already learned how to turn the hedgehog cafe box over and eat the meal intended for its eponymous customers. Foxes have cubs in March. We think this is a vixen but she doesn't appear to be lactating. Possibly a subordinate member of a group out foraging? No more food on the lawn for birds. We're on red alert for the hens.

An adventurous stoat has also put in an appearance. Eggs are being eaten in the hen house. Circumstantial m'lud?

Our moth surveying has been mired in the rain, but in one notable nocturnal session we caught twenty one moths of six species. A big 'bag' for us so far this early in the year.

Garden flowers seem to have slowed their advance, daffodils and crocus being the exception. One hundred native bluebells 'in the green' and fifty cyclamen hederifolium have been bought and planted in the meadow edge and Birch Border respectively.
We've also been lucky enough to collect hundreds of winter aconites and snowdrops which have been planted along the drive and in the Woodland Garden. The wet weather must surely have settled these in: the new plants stand 'like soldiers'. Fifty purple loosestrife plugs have been planted around George's Pond (generously gifted to us by my favourite uncle and aunt).


The garden remains busy with birds: thirty garden species recorded using the BTO BirdTrack app last week. Blackbirds seem specially numerous but a surprising number are still without rings. In one of my silly moments I named our first-caught wood pigeon 'Ringo'. As others were caught they became 'Bingo' and 'Bongo'. I asked a friend to name our most-recently caught wood pigeon following the established theme. She chose 'Paul'. The forgotten power of lateral thinking.
Siskin, lesser redpoll brambling are still with us amid the flocks of greenfinches and goldfinches - the chatter and buzz of the birds in the trees is marvellous. Cleaning bird feeders is a necessary chore.

The Vegetable Garden is still yielding treasure like this final crop of Autumn King carrots station sown by WWOOF guests in the summer. Flavour unlike anything in the supermarkets. Next season's seedlings are being nurtured in pots beneath plastic covers. Our first 2018 WWOOF volunteers are already lined up.

*I am in search for crossing signs..

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

The Messenger'

This is my first venture as a film promoter!

I saw the film ‘The Messenger’ at a small screen at The Broadway and watched people being turned away as it was full.

As someone passionate about birds and our our natural environment I was determined to give the folk of Nottingham another chance.

So,I’m looking forward to the screening of 'The Messenger' on Sunday 1 April at 2:30pm at The Bonington Theatre Arnold 

Thanks to the Friends of Bestwood Country Park Under 16’s go free!!! 

Synopsis
'Su Rynard’s wide-ranging and contemplative documentary THE MESSENGER
explores our deep-seated connection to birds and warns that the uncertain
fate of songbirds might mirror our own. Moving from the northern reaches of
the Boreal Forest to the base of Mount Ararat in Turkey to the streets of New
York, THE MESSENGER brings us face-to-face with a remarkable variety of
human-made perils that have devastated thrushes, warblers, orioles, tanagers,
grosbeaks and many other airborne music-makers.
On one level, THE MESSENGER is an engaging, visually stunning, emotional
journey, one that mixes its elegiac message with hopeful notes and unique
glances into the influence of songbirds on our own expressions of the soul. On
another level, THE MESSENGER is the artful story about the mass depletion of
songbirds on multiple continents, and about those who are working to turn
the tide.
In ancient times humans looked to the flight and songs of birds to protect the
future. Today once again, birds have something to tell us’.

£5.50
Concessions £4.50

For anyone looking to get tickets here’s the link!

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

without end ...?

Snowdrop - Galanthus nivalis
Winter aconite- Eranthus hyemalis
The winter stretches on without end.

Innumerable days when we have been unable to work outside due to poor weather.

There have been times over the last week when we've worked in the rain and snow and must have resembled an open prison work party. More of a gulag than a garden. I don't think that prisoners would work in such conditions.
Viburnum tinus

Rain has filled the barren pond which frequently lies frozen. Our local farmer-friend has given me another IBC (large 1000 litre water storage cube) and I need to site this so that I can harvest the plentiful winter rains for summer vegetable and fruit garden irrigation.
Viburnam bodnantense

Frost waits for us as we open the curtains. Stored apples have frozen.
Hellebore
Carrots, celeriac and leeks lifted from the Vegetable Garden are determined to make us pay for ripping them from their winter beds and maliciously numb the fingers.

Wind has prevented us from bird ringing and our moth recording has also been affected. The arrival of a bewitching grandson has been a glorious distraction.

Although winter keeps a tight grip, there is lots happening.
Gorse- Ulex europeas

Crocus chrysanthus
Hazel Coryllus avellana 'Nottingham cob'
Cyclamen coum
The bird feeding we have been doing has resulted in hundreds of finches including goldfinches, greenfinches, chaffinches, lesser redpolls, siskins and bullfinches. The garden trees ring with their songs. My sister had a record 24 chaffinches feeding beneath her feeders in the week. We have a small community of tree and house sparrows using the drive seed feeder that is planted snugly against the tightly cut privet hedge. The musical chirrup of the tree sparrow - such a treat. They are prospecting for nesting sites.

Red dead nettle Lamium app
We hope to ring birds this weekend and I have placed a newly-constructed bird table trap beneath Judith's feeders in the hope of enticing chaffinches to enter. Only pheasants have shown interest so far but Judith sends frequent updates as small birds become more bold. The trap is humane and the occupants should feed without stress until being ringed.
Sarcacocca confusa

Lonicera fragrantissima
Stock doves are taking an early interest in the large nesting box in the Woodland Garden. I avert my eyes and keep my head bowed as I visit the hens - stock doves are highly sensitive to disturbance at the nest.

Snowdrops
No bumblebee or butterfly records yet although honeybees have been active around their hives. A stoat paid an electrifying visit. Manic. Energised.

Witch hazel - Hammamelis x intermedia
Kestrel and sparrowhawk too: the number of small birds an obvious attraction.

Primrose - primula vulgaris
But last years tawny owl nest box has been occupied by grey squirrels. I'm hoping they only have a short term let.
Galanthus elwessii

And flowers are appearing.


























Saturday, 30 December 2017

bird box resolutions ..

Providing artificial sites for hole nesting birds is one of the easiest ways to help our feathered friends.

Juvenile tawny owl in nest box
I've been nest box making since childhood and here I am, still at it.

Bird nesting boxes are great gifts and can be bought reasonably cheaply.
  • Site them away from where birds are fed - to avoid conflict when birds attempt to set up a breeding territory that is frequently visited by competitors. 
  • Make sure that the box can be opened in order to clean it out in the winter.
  • If cats are present, site the box above the height at which the cats can reach.
Then  sit back and watch the fun!!

I try and use recycled materials wherever I can. Mix together warped wood and my rudimentary carpentry skills ... and the result is frequently something quite eccentric. Fortunately, birds don't seem to mind.
Juvenile tree sparrow 

In 2017 I had 42 nest boxes sited in the garden. They ranged from small boxes with 25mm (1") entrance holes through to whoppers big enough for tawny owls.
I'd over-provided nest boxes in some parts of the garden so that blue and great tits couldn't possibly occupy all and to give choosey birds like tree sparrows choice. This inevitably meant that some boxes wouldn't be used.

18 boxes had been occupied in 2016 but with scant records of how many had been successful. In 2017, 16 were occupied and 64 young were ringed.  Tawny owl, tree sparrow, stock dove and wren used the boxes as well as the usual blue and great tits.
For people who like tables: 

#1 GRETI 5 ringed

#3 BLUTI 9 ringed

#4 GRETI - 7 dead eggs
Woodcrete box BLUTI - 2 dead eggs 1 dead young
#10 BLUTI 8 ringed

#11 GRET! - 1 dead egg
#13 BLUTI 6 ringed

#16 STOCK 2 eggs nest unsuccessful
#17 BLUTI 5 ringed

#20 BLUTI 6 ringed

#30 BLUTI 8 ringed

#32 GRETI 3 ringed

#34 Colony box 1st brood TRESP 4 ringed

#34 Colony box 2nd brood TRESP 2 ringed 3 young
#35 WREN 5 ringed

#37 TAWOW 1 ringed

#42 GRETI -





Ground nest ROBIN

3 eggs predated
Ground nest MALLA

10 eggs predated





6 species attracted to boxes 64 ringed


The abbreviations are BTO ones.

I was really pleased to have a box adopted and used by tawnies even though it faced onto the meadow into which we'd introduced harvest mice. Snack-sized fun. I'm told that once tawnies have bred successfully, there is a good chance that they will return. I certainly hope so as we all loved watching the fluffy chick after it had left the nest box.

I had placed what was intended to be a colony nesting box for house sparrows on the gable above the kitchen door. House sparrows showed no interest whatsoever - but the box (in four des res apartments) was used to raise two broods of tree sparrows - seven young in total. When we set the mist nets up on the adjacent farm, imagine the overwhelming sense of parental pride when the first birds we caught were ones we'd previously ringed as babies in the nest box above the kitchen door.. Come to daddy!!
Examples of starling and little owl nest boxes ready for siting

Stock doves laid in one of the larger boxes but the eggs were taken by a predator. Perhaps a magpie or a squirrel? Adult birds have been seen around the box again this week, so fingers are crossed that young can be raised successfully this year. Stock dove nests become filled with their faeces and so are especially fragrant in the summer.  I've been detailed to check stock dove nests as a penance for having a fondness for these sweet little big-eyed pigeons.

Now is the time for me to check boxes, to clean them out or repair. If boxes aren't used in successive years I move them, so several will be re-sited.

2017 was my most successful year in terms of the numbers of species using boxes and the evidence of young that were successfully reared.

In 2018, I am attempting to attract little owls and starlings to use garden nesting boxes. Both species are in decline.
Little owls really are little - no bigger than a starling. They are said to stomp around wet ground at dawn and dusk hunting earthworms. A BTO study on their diet concluded that Little Owls favoured mice, voles and large invertebrates.  This owl's numbers are declining but they get no protection as they are an introduced species.  Their eye stripe gives them a furious appearance at times. The little owl box design is more complicated than is usual as the birds like to travel in a tunnel with a 70mm entrance to the inner compartment which must have little light penetration. The box must also have a door that allows the checking of contents and access to the young for ringing. Thanks to Rob Hoare for sharing the design with me. We know that little owls bred successfully on the neighbouring farm last year and its only an avian hop, skip and jump to our place.

Little owl boxes are also potentially bespoke grey squirrel residences. I have been told that stinking ferret bedding can be placed in the bottom of the box as little owls like a bed and don't have a sense of smell. Squirrels do - and live in fear of ferrets, so their bedding is a great deterrent. I have some of the most-noxious vintage ordered.

CBC/BBS England graphWe see once-common starlings infrequently - a measure of their decline. We haven't had any starlings on our lawn. In our first garden (late seventies) I counted 30 on the small patch of lawn there.  The graph (from the BTO website) tells the sorry story. I recall a day in the summer last summer when I placed live mealworms in a feeder. Quite how so many starlings found these and so quickly I can't imagine. The subsequent frenzy has only been exceeded during the excesses of Black Friday. So, we know they're around.

Starling boxes are medium size and have 45 mm entrance holes. Starlings will happily nest near to each other so I'm hoping to find a quiet part of the garden where a little group of them can breed.

In addition to the boxes, I'm hoping to site shelves within some covered outdoor parts of the building with the hope of attracting house martins or swallows. These 'outdoor parts' coincide with the porch and covered areas of my parents' annex. I feel sure they'll understand ..

Perhaps putting up a box could be a New Year's resolution? Bird nest box week falls in the week of Valentines Day - that's plenty of notice. What better gift for the love in your life..?