Garden Visitors

Gardening is a fine job


Collared dove

and as an added bonus I see plenty of wildlife (as if I needed an added bonus).  Here’s a little of what I’ve seen recently.


Some of the visitors to the Priory are aloof.  I see buzzards regularly wheeling and crying above the valley but only very rarely close up and personal – and never when I have my camera in my fist.


Equally standoffish are the Chinook flyboys clattering low and noisily overhead; despite my waving and hallooing, they never stop for tea.


The mallards not so.  They used to fly off at my approach but over the years they have become accustomed to having me around.  During the first spring or two, a mallard mother would lead a long, single file of mallard babies from one pond to the other.  It is a Priory scene that I miss; they breed still but there are no cute ducklings with which to charm you.  I often find broken mallard eggs on the lawns and I suspect mink are the culprits – which, unfortunately, are present at the Priory too.


Otherwise the ducks seem content; they can stand below the bird-feeders pretty much with their bills open and catch the scattered waste from above.


Sometimes they have a not so welcome companion.  I can’t abide grey squirrels.


The Old Forge has a rabbit epidemic and they do a lot of damage – I have lost so many new plants to their digging fun.  Thank goodness, the Priory gardens are surrounded, gulag-like, with rabbit-proof netting.


It doesn’t make it 100% rabbit proof of course.  Young rabbits are small enough to squeeze under the gate and this fellow really sought my patience by scampering into a greenhouse.


I was inclined to pop him under a pie crust.  But I didn’t – I released him into Margaret’s field, with a final wag of the finger.  (He probably sprinted straight round to the gate again).

I quite often find birds in the greenhouses.  Wrens, robins, blue tits and on one recent occasion


a moulting great tit.  I usually leave these birds to find their own escape but this one seemed exhausted and I managed to gently shoo him out of the door.


Talking of moulting birds, I felt so sorry for this female blackbird.  To raise a brood is hard enough but to do so whilst moulting must be truly miserable.


She even looks itchy.


Both she and her mate worked non-stop


to feed their chicks high up in the rafters of an outbuilding.  (When the doors were closed they entered through that hole in the door.  That one, there).


A pair of wrens also raised a brood in the same building and


a robin family squeezed in too.

I’ve started work in a new garden and was tidying up near an old door, when something in the leaf litter moved – didn’t half make me jump.  A rat?


Thankfully not, just a sleepy hedgehog – always a joy to see.


I do wish I had these at the Priory but the rabbit netting keeps them out too.


Back at the Priory, I need to be vigilant whilst mowing.  There so many froglets about – I’m forever carrying them away to safety.


Some visitors are more unwelcome.  Like last year, birch sawfly larvae were stripping the leaves on my Himalayan birch.  They did a great deal of damage before I noticed and, perched on a step-ladder, collected several dozen.


The three trees recovered somewhat but then I noticed a new batch of tiny larvae.  I’ve squished them but more may show up.  It is annoying; there are plenty of other birch that would survive a concerted sawfly attack and to which the caterpillars are welcome.


Another real pain are Solomon’s seal sawfly.


In the past, I have suffered them but this year I decided something had to be done.  I picked them all off but once again the damage was mostly done and, unlike the birch, these won’t regenerate this year.  I’m hoping that I have broken the sawfly’s life cycle.  (After sating themselves, the grubs fall to the ground, pupate and hatch out the following year, lay their eggs and repeat the same sorry process).


May 2013

The leaf stripping doesn’t stop the plants from flowering but I suspect there would be more stems if the plant died down in its own good time.


But what to do with all those grubs?


I tipped them out under the bird-feeders but only a passing moorhen showed any perfunctory interest but didn’t eat any.  Ingrate – they must be unpalatable.


Now that we are having a ‘proper’ summer, I am heartened to see so many butterflies


and relieved to see honey bees – there have been few these last couple of years.


Sometimes it can take me a while to identify an insect.  This is a longhorn moth (Nemophora degeerella) apparently.


But after a long, hot day one 16-year-old visitor has had quite enough of gardens, gardening and all things wild.

Time to go home.


30 thoughts on “Garden Visitors

  1. I gave up trying to grow solomon’s seal. It was just too dispiriting to see it stripped every year. The galling thing was that on local walks we’d see it growing without so much as a nibbled leaf. Oh that poor blackbird she looks like she needs to put her feet up and be pampered.


    • It’s like I was saying about the birch saw-fly, WW. There are three other much bigger birches in the garden which aren’t affected at all. Yet these three young, vulnerable trees get attacked every year. As for the solomon’s seal – it is a horrible sight when they are stripped but it doesn’t seem to affect the flowering and as mine live under a tree in a quiet corner, I have till now not bothered too much about the ‘fly. The plants do come up again every spring. D


  2. I am entirely with you on rabbits, squirrels and caterpillars but deeply envious about the hedgehog. We get so much wildlife up here and so many fantastic birds but in all the time we have lived here I have never seen a hedgehog. Sigh.


    • I’ve only seen three in the past ten years, Elizabeth and then a couple of weeks ago we discovered one in our own garden. We’ve made a hedgehog house to feed him/her in (and stop the foxes getting the food). Dave


  3. As always so fab photos, such a lot of garden visitors, loved the hedgehog, I’ve just recently discovered they’ve been visiting my garden. Lovely to see as I’d not seen them in years. Yuck those sawfly grubs were grim. Not a nice job picking them off. Yes nice to see some butterflies again.


    • Hi Annie, yes we now have a hedgehog visiting our garden too. I’m thinking of contacting a hedgehog charity to see whether I could release a couple of injured ones into the Priory. I’m just worried about the strimming that I do. Dave


  4. Some great pics there…I particularly like the ducks huddling together and the poppy. Beautiful! You must be so busy there keeping everything under control.


    • I’m so busy, Bridget. I’ve been meaning to take photos of the gardens this week but we’ve been cutting hedges plus the usual watering and general upkeep – so precious little time for that! Dave


  5. I don’t remember saying it was OK for you to let loose your unwanted rabbits in my fields. You can keep them, thank you very much. My resident rabbits eat quite enough grass, without adding to their numbers! As to your young ducklings disappearing, it could well be rats. They are very fond of day old chicks. Also moorhens are well known to drown baby ducklings, according to my late husband, Geoff, who was a fount of knowledge about all things concerning the countryside. But then Geoff was also very non PC because he did not subscribe to the fluffies’ (townies who have a romantic idea of the countryside) view that all things wild are also wonderful!


    • Cheeky Farmer, where do you think the rabbit came from in the first place? Pimlico? On the bus? I was returning the ‘unwanted’ bunny whence it came. It may be rats or moorhens killing ducklings but I’ve never seen the former at the Priory (though they must be there of course) and there were moorhens there when the ducks bred before. I should have thought I’d least see a duckling before they were drowned. But perhaps not. I still suspect mink. Dave


      • Now that is a good question! I’m not to well informed on what is a sawfly and what is a caterpillar. I have sprayed it on anything that was long and wriggled and was devouring my leaves. Something very nasty was devouring my Poplar trees, had almost totally defoliated a small one a few years ago. I treated the last few leaves and saved it and then repeated the treatment the next year and seem to have got rid of it from the garden. They looked like the web photos of sawfly – there were masses of them.


    • Interesting Amelia. I’ve never heard of BT – but a quick search online would suggest that it isn’t available here in the UK (as Roger says). I’ll keep picking the caterpillars off as and when – it is satisfying (sort of) and I check the birch daily at the moment which seems to be keeping them in check. Every year I’m hopeful that the ducks will breed – perhaps next year. Dave


  6. A baby bunny in the greenhouse is about as Peter Rabbit-ish (or El-Ahrairah-ish) as they come. Makes the gardener in you gasp, even while the rest of you is saying, “Awww.” The ABQ Zoo has a hedgehog (named Cholla, for the cactus) which they photograph on Groundhog Day. Very odd all the way around. Glad to see Solo still being herself.


  7. I’m not surprised those grubs were left alone, they look utterly revolting! Fascinating looking moth, and a wonderful portrait of it too, I never seem to have my camera with me when I see any interesting insects. Of all your visitiors it is the hedgehog I envy you for the most though, wonderful critters, and it is years since I saw one. Will we get to read more about the new garden?


    • I’ve only seen two hedgehogs in the last ten years or so, Janet. This one is pretty fortunate as it lives in a walled garden – it is often seen wandering about in the evenings by the owners. The new garden is pretty lovely and interesting – I’ll see what I can do. Dave


  8. Wonderful quality of images as usual David. Visitors are always lovely but some do more damage than we would like. Yesterday the day was spent trying to make our boundaries Badger proof!


  9. Your photography never ceases to amaze, great wildlife shots (ok maybe not the chinook but still a good one!). The little rabbit looks rather adorable, it’s sweet you released it (and the song Bright Eyes came into mind too!).


  10. Delightful shots – it must brighten your day to see so much in the gardens – you must have your clicking finger ready at all times to be able to photograph as much as you do.


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