May 212012

So, what have I been up to recently?

Well during the last few days I have been at Millbrook Garden Centre with Irene helping Malcolm and Sally with the Spring Birdwatch event.   This time with a photographic competition for those who wanted to take part, and a colouring activity for the children over the weekend.

Once again a great success with lots of old friends calling in to see what we were up to.   The Sampson family called and spent several hours taking some great photos which were then put on show near the cafe and in the hide.

The main stars of the show – as always – was the wildlife itself.   With the breeding season in full swing there were several song thrush and blackbird nests around the site, with robins also finding the oddest places to build their nests.

In the wildlife area itself the feeders were busy with chaffinch, dunnock, great tit and blue tit being the most numerous species, but great spotted woodpecker and greenfinch were occasional visitors as well.

The instinct of the parent birds drove them to constantly visit the feeders, and we were lucky enough to have a great insight into how hard they work by watching a nearby great tit nest.   The family were situated in a nest box near the hide and with the live pictures being shown in the hide we could watch the adult feeding on the seeds and nuts and then follow the feeding progress inside the nest box.   Seven eggs were hatched on Friday 4th May, and on my first visit on Thursday 10th the remaining six showed a massive growth and development with the tiny wings starting to show feather-like markings.   At this stage the hatchlings were blind and basically comprised a huge gape wobbling on top of a rather unstable body.

By Sunday 13th they had sprouted small downy feathers and looked like little punk-rockers, still a bit wobbly but there was a definite dominance starting to show.   Wings were being preened, and the occasional wing-flap took place.   It was only when the parents came back with food that all six were visible – a couple seemed to be permanently at the bottom of the heap.   The parents seemed to feed the young almost constantly until around 2.00 pm then one or other would take a few minutes to do some spring-cleaning of the nest and then settle down on top of their offspring for five minutes rest.   They looked exhausted, but after only a short break they would be up and off again, until the process was repeated perhaps an hour or so later – presumably by the other parent – but in all the time I watched, I only saw them settle three or four times.   Who’d be an avian parent!

Such was the interest in the young family we had people calling in several times during the week to check on their progress.   Given the opportunity, people love wildlife and birds in particular and our great tit brood were more than playing their part.

We spoke to nearly 350 people over the course of the week tiring (even for me) but very rewarding.   All had stories to tell of their own gardens, their successes and failures.   Much of the conversation was around keeping troublesome species out of the garden – feral pigeons and magpies being the most topical subjects.   Sometimes it is hard to persuade people that everything has it’s place.    Others wanted to share their ideas and designs.   It is amazing what people are doing to support nature, one lady has three wildlife ponds and over 20 nest boxes in her garden with at least 12 of them being used currently.

Millbrook, and Graham in particular, have done a great job in showing us all how we can make space for wildlife in our gardens.   With a little thought and a little less “management” we can all provide a haven for many species.   The more we treat our garden as another room in the house; the more we tidy up, the less space we allow for other species.

The week was a great success.    Well done, especially to Malcolm and Sally who basically spent the whole week supporting the event.


As for our Great Tit family, by Sunday 20th they were down to five young, but they have turned into handsome sleek youngsters, with fine feathers and just a hint of the down they were covered in a week ago.   There was much fanning of wings and it won’t be long before they are off out of the safety of the nest box and exploring their new world.

For the parents I suppose it could well be another brood for them to raise.   They have been extremely successful to only lose two of the chicks so far, especially given the heavy rain and cold weather from when the eggs hatched.   Nature’s way is to exploit every opportunity to maximise breeding success, so watch this space.