Notes from the garden shed - October 2016

Let us consider the birds of the garden – one of organic gardeners greatest allies in the fight against pests.

Birds when feeding their young during the breeding season can catch a caterpillar every 30 seconds – surely better than spraying with pesticides. So which birds are we talking about?  We’ve chosen six insect eaters that we’ve seen in or near the Skip garden.

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Wrens are one of the most charming of our small garden birds. It’s quite rightly said that it’s the smallest bird with the loudest voice. They can be mistaken for a mouse as they scuttle through the undergrowth but even a glimpse of that little upright tail gives it away.  Pity the poor male who has to build a number of nests to attract a mate and believe me they’re complicated little nests.

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The old name for Dunnocks was Hedge Sparrow and at first sight you can see why but on closer observation there are many differences. Firstly the bill is a slender affair compared to a true Sparrow as they eat insects rather than the Sparrow heavier bill that is designed to crush seeds. The plumage is very elegant with a bluish head and chest.  You’ll see them hopping around on the floor. Their spring song is wonderful!

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Finally everyone’s favourite - the Robin.  This time of year the males have taken up territories that they’ll defend ferociously in advance of next years breeding season.  But most delightfully, now that most of the songbirds have headed south, is that they’re still singing, mostly little soft under-songs often in the middle of the night! 

Great tit

Another group of birds to delight us is the Tit family (old name ‘tittle mice’). This family of birds often join forces in winter to form roaming flocks that scour gardens for food.  Most likely to be seen is the Great Tit unmistakable with a yellow chest and having a black stripe down the middle, it sings a wonderful ‘belling call’. 

Blue tit

The smaller Blue Tit a very acrobatic little bird that enables it to check in every tiny crack and crevice.  They are regular visitors to bird feeders in the cold months.

Our students made some simple feeder by drilling shallow holes in branches then filling the holes with nuts.  If you feed birds over the winter months they’ll be more likely to nest locally and help in the fight against garden pests next spring.

 If you have a nesting box now is the time to clean them out after this year’s breeding season use.  Take out all the old nesting materials and replace with some sawdust. Often birds’ use nesting boxes as winter roosts before the spring breeding season starts – occupation is 9/10th of the law!

Now’s the time to sow some green manures if you’ve some empty spaces in the vegetable patch. My favourite is still Phacelia although there are quite a lot of others types on the market. I don’t do any of the Rye grasses, as they can be hard to get rid of next year.

 I was delighted to read that the Viper’s Bugloss Mason Bee (Hoplitis adunca) has been spotted in Greenwich. This new arrival to our shores feeds on one of my favourite flowers the wonderfully named Viper’s Bugloss – also an introduction.  So the flower now has its pollinator!

Happy autumn colour spotting!