How did you get on in the Big Garden Birdwatch last weekend? My Wood Pigeons outshone themselves with a count of 16, and overall I counted 57 birds of 18 species. Of course there were the 'no shows' - where were my Grey Wagtail and my Coal Tit? And there was the surprise - a Starling! Woohoo! I almost never get Starlings (although it was hardly a murmuration).
Don't forget to post your results here. Low scores, no scores - they are just as important to build up the overall picture as high ones.
The first snows of the winter arrived last night here in coastal Sussex. In fact, to have any snow at all in a winter is not guaranteed here, so it is something of a Red Letter Day, and I found myself glued to the window yesterday evening watching the flakes drift down.
What a shame, therefore, to wake this morning to find that some of the snow had already gone, and the hoped-for wall-to-wall thick carpet was in fact threadbare..
Nevertheless, snow provides a chance to observe two things.
The first is to reveal the clear traces of who has been visiting overnight, and for me the patches of snow were pocked with Fox footprints, showing how much they had merrily been pottering back and forth.
The second is that snow helps demonstrate better than almost anything else how extreme the microclimates are in the garden. For example, I have two small and shallow ponds underneath a large oak tree, and yet they remain resolutely unfrozen in all but the most severe frosts. In contrast, the large pond in its very open position, which you'd think would be more stable in its temperatures given the sheer volume of water, freezes very quickly.
Here they are this morning, the shaded, frost-free ponds in the foreground, the large pond on its way to being an ice rink in the background.
Although I took this next picture a couple of years ago, I think it sums up microclimates rather nicely.
Research has shown how microclimates are actually very important to plants and to many types of invertebrates, including butterflies. In a flat lawn, the climate is effectively even across most of the area, unless it is shaded by trees, bushes, walls or fences. But just a small mound in the lawn will introduce both a warmer drier spot on the south side and a cooler, damper spot on the north side compared to the rest of the lawn. This might be all the difference a butterfly needs to warm up on the sunny side, or a beetle to resist desiccation on the shady side.
I've long been fascinated by the fact that so many gardeners seem to desire a garden that is absolutely flat, and so I'm doing some experiments, creating mini mountain ranges and valleys using log piles covered with the excavated soil from the ponds then sown with wildflower meadow seed. Already they have gained names such as 'The Northern Hills', 'The Mound', and 'The Valley', and they don't half make things more interesting for children when they visit. Here I am sowing the Northern Hills.
So far, the sunny side of the mounds are the only place I have recorded Common Blue butterflies laying eggs, despite the foodplant, Bird's-foot Trefoil, being in many places in the garden. But I will continue to monitor and see what other differences I can spot between the morning side of the mountains and the twilight side of the hills, and whether I am creating much more varied homes for wildlife as a result.
Hi Annette. It sounds like you are doing amazing things (and I love the fact that you know exactly how many trees and shrubs you have planted - 127 is going some!). One idea you might like to consider is using the spoil not only as the base for a mound, but as the mound itself. Infertile soil or even rubble makes a very different habitat to a pile of fertile soil, allowing you to grow different wild flowers and reducing the vigour of grasses. I'm currently making a scree garden using old bits of concrete from the garden that I am sledgehammering!
Hi Adrian I love this idea of creating artificial microclimates. We have a large sloping garden, which last year we left half of unmown, and have just finished planting 127 trees and shrubs. We already have two small connected ponds. We only moved here last March, but have seen a steady increase in birds and mammals, recording 16 species for the Big Garden Birdwatch, and also stoats, foxes, squirrels, and a host of small mammals. We will be undertaking some building work this year, and if we can use the spoil from excavations as the basis for some mounds, this will not only save us some money but provide the more interesting habitat that you describe. Thanks for the idea. Best wishes, Annette
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