Gardening with Nature on the Edge of the Atlantic

The Birds

Despite, or maybe because of, the bad winter my garden has been full of birds all winter. This year I have a large flock of House Sparrows and an abundance of long tailed tits and green fiches as well as the usual motley crew. My resident flock of Goldfinches numbers about nine but last year they were supplemented by a large flock of over 40. These may have come from Cornwall as one was ringed there the previous October. I suspect that this year they looked at the weather forecast for Ireland and headed for the South of France instead.

Peanuts seem to be the food of choice along with my ‘super’ homemade suet mix. I have three peanut feeders placed in different parts of the garden and one is emptied every day. I have many pictures of male Greenfinches – but all are of their backs. However, their feathers are particularly beautiful so I like this one. They mix well with the Goldfinches but I miss the squabbling of the latter when there are more around.

A more accommodating female Greenfinch.

While the birds are thriving, there has been a mixed response to the weather in the garden. This viburnum hedge is usually awash with flowers but I had to struggle to find these and even they seem to lack their usual zest.

At first, I thought that this bird was a thrush although it was unusually silent. Closer examination indicates that it is a Redwing on a visit from Scandinavia or Iceland. I know that they are common visitors in winter but I was particularly thrilled to see one in my garden for the first time.

I think that I have two Redwings but they are easily spooked. As they keep returning to the ivy each day, and need to feed up for their return home I have decided to leave them in peace and not try to get a better photograph.

The last frosty day – I hope. I have seven pheasants coming to the garden to feed. The females tend to be very shy and scuttle up the side of the driveway until they reach the feeders and are easily startled. The biggest male saunters up the centre of the driveway as if paying a formal visit but has yet to do so when I have my camera with me. He certainly does it with style though.

I have been focussing on the birds recently as the garden is literally a washout. This is a rather jaunty looking Salix gracilistyla ‘Mount Aso’ catkin. These have been rather late to appear and in fact this is the only one so far. This theme is repeated throughout the garden and my Ceanothus has refused to produce even one flower after flowering every Christmas for over eight years.

My Witch hazel has also only just started to flower and appears to be later than others in the area. But it is well worth the wait.

Against all the odds this tree mallow has been producing flowers all winter. The only sign of the cold it has endured is the slight blue rim on the petals which I think is rather attractive.

All of my successful Hellebores (i.e. those not eaten by rabbits) are planted in spaces where they are difficult to see both by myself and the rabbits. This one is placed at the back of shrubbery and is thriving so I am content if I have to fight my way to get to see it properly.

The hidden Helleborus Orientalis looking very healthy in its dark corner.

I continue to be fascinated by the effect of the cold weather on the colour of the pink and white camellias. This reminds me of some of the early paintings of flower arrangements. I could easily imagine on of the Dutch Masters choosing this for one of their masterpieces.

Another hellebore Harvington Double Pink Speckled thriving under shrubs in the garden. It is at risk from the birds who sometimes leave the nearby feeders to have a nibble of the tender petals. The birds in this garden have a better diet than I do.

This Collared Dove has only recently arrived in the garden and for the moment is alone. He usually shoots around the garden at high speed picking up all of the seeds that fall from the feeders but posed nicely for this shot. The bad weather has allowed me to spend much more time observing the birds and spending some time to get better photographs. The bonus has been a glimpse of what is likely to be a woodpecker. This is the second time that I have observed it but it is far too skittish to stay in the garden once I and the dogs go out. I have only managed to catch it as it heads for the trees at the bottom of the field. Even if the garden is too slippery and wet the birds will provide interest for a long time to come.

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