Garden Journal - March 20th 2006

Wildchicken Garden Journal - Miranda Hodgson


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20th March 2006 - Nesting blackbirds and some digging

The temperatures have carried on going up and down like a yo-yo this last month. Some days it’s minus something with snow, the next you can be outside without a coat. It makes you wonder how the wildlife figure out what they’re supposed to be doing. Hibernating or breeding?

"The females are all busy collecting the wherewithal for the nests, as it is they who build whilst the males keep look out"

Something must have registered because the blackbirds, at the very least, have stopped chasing one another around constantly and have started nest building. That is, the males and females have stopped chasing each other; males are still chasing males. The females are all busy collecting the wherewithal for the nests, as it is they who build whilst the males keep look out.



This year we have the pleasure of a pair nesting in one of the conifers in the front garden. The first I noticed was one morning when, drawing the bedroom curtains and looking down, I saw a female blackbird forcing her way into the foliage of a conifer. For that day, and some of the next, she was in and out with strands of rough grass, jumping clumsily from the ground into the hole she’d made.


Then her mood changed and a couple of days later she started all over again, in a different conifer. This one seems to have something better about it – it’s probably easier to get into because there are fewer obstructions - as she’s almost finished building. The nest is started with a framework of grass, leaves, rootlets, moss and twigs and finished with an inner layer of fine grass and more rootlets. The two layers are held together with mud, though I’m told that in times past it more often used to be a mixture of horse or cow manure and mud. It on was seeing the female several times collecting mud from the pond edge, and making off with it, which let me know that she hadn’t much left to do.


Blackbird's nest

The nest, what you can see of it.


From our bedroom we can peer down through binoculars and see right into the nest. This morning I watched her as she turned round and round, just like a dog getting comfortable. I’d see fanned out tail feathers sticking up from the nest as she scratted about, then she’d sit and fidget for a moment, with her head held high, before turning again. I saw her eye quite clearly through the lens. Meanwhile, her mate sits on the apex of next door’s roof and keeps watch.


Even sitting here at my desk, I can tell what’s going on out there because, each time the female leaves the nest and flies alongside the house to the back garden, she chatters an alarm call – a loud ‘chick-chick-chick’.


The nest building is a wonderful reward for our work in the garden but also puts me in a bit of a quandary as I really want to get on with the changes I’ve planned, but don’t want to disturb the birds at this important time for them. It’s especially bothersome as the nest is close to the area when I do want to make a lot of changes.


Yesterday, I took the risk of going out while the blackbird was busy building and started taking apart another of the small raised beds in the area where I want to replant with grasses and perennials. Whilst working slowly and quietly, I was aware of her still coming and going behind me, though without announcing herself, and felt relieved that she hadn’t been scared away. Hopefully, we can share for a while.


Two of the three square foot beds are gone now and there is a surprising amount of space where they used to be. The area around them had been covered with plastic sheeting and covered with bark. The bark had pretty much rotted away so I dug it into the soil along with the compost that had been in the beds. The soil itself is lovely now, dark and crumbly.


Having got those two beds out of the way – the third is currently used as a holding bed for plants being moved – it was time to tackle the grasses. I’ve been putting it off, mainly because of the snow and freezing temperatures, also because of time constraints because of the business.


As it turned out, it wasn’t that tough a job; well, not as tough as I’d thought it would be. There was one Stipa calamagrostis two and Calamagrostis brachytricha to be removed and divided. All clumps were planted at the start of 2003 and had got quite large, but having dug all round with a spade and then divided each clump into four, using forks, I managed to heave them out of the ground without needing to ask Karl for help.


As soon as they were divided, one small clump of Stipa calamagrostis and two small clumps of Calamagrostis brachytricha went straight into their new places on the other side of the driveway. The space where they’d been was dug over, had some compost added, and in went the Sambucus nigra ‘Black Lace’ and a Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’. Three Sedum 'Herbstfreude' were quickly taken out, divided and put in their new homes with the grasses, along with Geranium phaeum and Uncinia rubra. To keep them company I’ll put in Crocosmias ‘Lucifer’ and ‘Dusky Maiden’ a tall aster of unknown name, some Eschscholzia californica and some Anemone x hybrida 'Honorine Jobert'. There will be more to put in – isn’t there always? – bulbs and the seeds of whatever perennials take my fancy, along with some annuals maybe.



Eschscholzia californica


It was a good day’s work. Not even a day, it only took about four hours. The weather was dull but not cold, just enough to let you work up a comfortable sweat. And I didn’t get stiff or acquire any blisters.


Now that spring is starting to think about getting going, finally, it’ll be good to see all these plants coming on. I’m especially looking forward to seeing the black elder, with its pink flowers.


A final phenological note. By the 17th of March last year, we were already keeping an eye on the frog spawn, but there is none yet this March. Looking into the pond yesterday, I saw the first sign of frog movement so far this year. Maybe these frogs are just awakening from hibernation and getting ready to breed. I don’t know how long they need be awake before the urge to breed takes them so will be keeping a watch out.


frog with spawn

This time last year

© Copyright Miranda Hodgson 2006


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