Monday, 17 November 2014 22:01

Wildlife update


Those of you who have been following the blog since London times will know that I am keen to attract wildlife to my garden, particularly birds (except herons and magpies), frogs and toads, bees, butterflies and moths.

Unless you have the space for a wildlife meadow (which I don’t) the best ways to achieve this are to add trees and shrubs, lots of planting for cover, add water (preferably a pond or stream but any water helps), and plant lots of scented flowers in different colours so that the garden is scented throughout the year (especially with open bells and single, flat faced or open flowers that can be visited easily). Feed the birds and leave a bit of mess around somewhere (piles of logs, old bits of wood, old canes etc.) in a discreet corner for the smaller insects to nest in, feed on or hibernate in. You can also leave a few nettles and brambles because lots of butterflies and moths like to lay their eggs on them but I don’t need to bother with that. The farmer is doing it for me.

My new garden design and planting plans are designed to achieve exactly this but, even though there is nothing here now, ever since arriving I have been keeping a keen eye on what wildlife is around anyway, before I add my pond, trees, shrubs and flowers. And the great news is that it is already wonderfully busy.

Moths and butterflies

July was moth month. The entire house was filled with moths of an amazing variety most of which I had not seen before. I would have preferred them to be in the garden (they filled baths, covered walls etc) but, with the windows open and lights on, the inevitable happened.

Moth Black Arches

Butterflies too were abundant, especially red admirals, tortoiseshells and painted ladies. One of them died gracefully beside my bed and is still there – a colourful and delicate reminder of sunnier days.

The beautiful small tortoiseshell butterfly that died beside my bed

I suspect that the prolific brambles and nettles that are trying to invade the garden from the neighbouring field are responsible for this plethora of dainties but clearly I want to keep these spikey and stinging invaders at bay. I am removing them from the end of the garden because they are obscuring the view and wish to do the same at the side. It will be interesting to see whether I shall be visited in the same numbers next year.

Leggy things

In August I was thrilled to be visited by an enormous cricket. He must have been 5-6cms long, was beautiful colours, had huge eyes and legs and spent some time watching me through the glass on a French door. I’ve certainly never seen anything like him before.

The profile and undrneath of the huge cricket shot on and through filthy glass

In my London garden September was spider month but every month here seems to be spider month and most of them are indoors or around the windows. I think the cricket was after one of the flies trapped in one of the millions of webs that are spun in seconds.

September here was actually crane fly month – also inside not out. They were everywhere and often became trapped in the spider webs despite my clearing these on a very regular basis.

Frogs and toads

They are around because next door’s garden has them but the only one I’ve actually seen to date was a small male who found himself stuck in a watering can so was gently released into some cover in the field.


Despite removing most of the existing vegetation in the garden the birds are plentiful. My neighbours feed them well and have trees (as do I now - but more of that another time), so the garden is full of birds whizzing from side to side. Many are the same as in London. We have our resident robins, blackbirds – one of whom has a white feather, tits, goldfinches, sparrows and wrens. There is a pair of doves and a few pigeons, though thankfully fewer than in London.

However, apart from the white-feathered black bird, the birds I am not used to seeing so much are obviously most of interest at the moment. I’ve seen chaffinches, bullfinches, red woodpeckers (on a still day I can hear their empty knocking in the old oak trees at the other end of the field despite the rook colonies in the same oaks continuing their noisy chattering).

The horse manure and worms introduced to the beds have been a real attraction to ground feeders and the other day a stunning nuthatch came down to the ground near the house to feed. I have certainly never seen one before and they are a really lovely blue and orange. Not as brightly coloured a kingfisher but very pretty nonetheless. Sadly he was too quick for me to grab the camera.

Nuthatch photo source IBC and Cetin Ceki

I’ve also watched a real, live, murmuring of starlings at sunset – incredible – and my night walks with the dogs are normally accompanied by the sounds of many unseen (and unidentified) owls.

So it’s been ‘bird busy’ since I arrived which is wonderful. However last weekend I had two especially interesting visitors. On Saturday I saw an enormous hawk soaring overhead. It was too high to identify clearly, even with binoculars, but the ends of its wings didn’t have obvious ‘fingers’ (just little ones on the back edge), it had a fanned out tail as it soared and a pale underside  - so it was possibly a Peregrine falcon? It was magnificent whatever it was and if you are a “birds of prey from underneath” expert (which I am not), please suggest what you think it might have been.  I am having trouble identifying it in books. I can only really do buzzard, red kite and kestrel on the wing. I don’t think it was a sparrow hawk because it didn’t have black stripes on the underside of its tail (which was also the wrong shape).

And then, on Sunday, the dogs went bonkers by the kitchen French doors. On inspection it turned out that a family of six, Red-legged Partridges had wondered up the drive, hopped through the metal six bar gate, up the path (to be) and into the back garden to inspect the works therein. They “followed my leader” around the entire garden, climbed up every clay or manure mound and generally made themselves at home as I filmed them through the glass and the dogs growled and barked. They are the stars of this blog’s one minute video.


I have certainly never had the opportunity to see Red-legged Partridge this close up. I have eaten partridge (not sure which sort) and, until these guys arrived and I had to identify them, I didn’t even know there were two main sorts (Red-legged and Grey) and, according to my RSPB Birds of Britain book, an interloper called a Chukar which has been interbreeding with them to create a very similar looking Red-legged Chukar. Given the eye markings, throat and breast feathers I think these are the real McCoy ie bona fide red-legged partridges (apparently increasingly rare) – but again, game bird experts, let me know your views.

So, I hope you enjoy the very short video of their garden tour accompanied, on the guitar, by Dermot West, my landscape gardener.

The garden build is still on-going, and the next blog will update you on progress, as also on my planting plans and decisions.