Monday, 4 February 2008

Nature's Minstrels

Ever the optimist, not even the darkest days of Winter, which brings its mixed bag of rain, hail, sleet and snow, can ever dampen my spirits as long as I can be part of the silence and observe the wonderful array of birdlife which visits the Barleycorn garden.
A garden without birds is like a garden without flowers. There is nothing better than to be serenaded by beautiful birdsong at any time of the year, though it is in Winter when I am able to identify the birds most clearly.
This is partly due to the fact that the deciduous trees are bare and offer no hiding place to the birds, whereas in Summer with an abundance of foliage on the trees, I have to rely very often on identification by song, which requires a different skill.
That is not to say that there is nowhere the birds can find shelter at Barleycorn in Winter, for we have ivy covering both eaves of the barn in which sparrows, wrens, blackbirds and starlings like to roost.

Our beech hedge affords some temporary respite also, as it retains its Autumnal coat right through till Spring.

Of course, there is the barn itself to roost in, as we have removed the odd pane of glass; and a large gap above the doors also allows the birds freedom of access to come and go as they please.
Best of all, however, are the large number of mature evergreens we have planted over the years, for beneath them the earth is always dry enough to shelter ground-feeders such as dunnocks and blackbirds; and their thick-set branches offer copious perches, as well as the added bonus of a handful of empty nests left over from the previous Summer.

A strange anomaly is how the birds and the cats manage to live in harmony in the garden without the cats depleting the numbers which come to bathe, feed and make nests in the garden.
Part of the answer to this puzzle, of course, is that the birds use their wings to escape from prowling cats. As an added precaution, we make sure the feeding stations are well out of reach of any would-be predators, for, each time the birds visit, they also search the nooks and crannies for their natural food, which is a recompense to us as it ensures our flowers and plants are safe from the ravenous hordes of aphids and insects.
In Winter there is less of a problem as we have the containers hanging high enough in the bare trees, thus ensuring the cats have no camouflage and can therefore do no damage.
In Summer when the trees are covered in foliage, we move the feeders higher still and make sure they are away from obvious hiding places such as walls or perches from which the cats could gain access.
As cats like to have regular feeding times and sleep for a good part of the day, it is advisable to ensure the cats have been well-fed before letting them out, especially in Summer when the birds are feeding broods of chicks.
To further assist the success of the birds we also wait until the cats have come back indoors, usually for a catnap, before the feeders and the bird-table have been replenished.
The positioning of the feeders is of paramount importance both to the birds for reasons of safety; and to us so that we may have visible access for a spot of bird-watching.
From my vantage point through the patio windows overlooking the garden, I am able to sit in comfort and photograph the birds which come to satisfy their hunger from the banquet table, attracting them like a magnet, groaning with copious amounts of seed, fat-balls and scraps with which my husband tempts our feathered friends.

The little edges my husband has added around the tray help to prevent the food spilling over onto the ground and also act as an added perch for the smaller birds which have to compete in the pecking order for the food.
The dictionary defines ‘symbiosis’ as ‘a living together of two different organisms to the mutual benefit of both.’ Since my dream was to create a garden for wildlife, I would say that was a fair description of our relationship with the birds.
I would further add that we are the main beneficiaries, for in return for their food, we are blessed with the beautiful dawn chorus each Spring; exquisite birdsong throughout the Summer and Autumn to sweeten the rainiest of days and enhance the sunniest, not to mention having Nature’s most efficient and natural deterrents to counteract the effects of the swarming populations of insects.
But, superceding all of these, is the sheer delight in renewing our acquaintance each season with the wonderful variety of birdlife proudly wearing their technicoloured dream-coats.
What better way to while away the time when the weather dons its Winter overcoat, than to fetch one’s camera and record the passing show?
Each little flower that opens,
Each little bird that sings,
He made their glowing colours,
He made their tiny wings.
Cecil Frances Alexander
Click on the photos to enlarge them and find the names of the birds.
Click here to see our unexpected visitor.


Cheryl said...

Hi wildlife gardener
Lovely lovely lovely, you lifted me high with your beautiful words and restored a very weary soul. Please visit my blog to see the difference between our gardens with the weather, Global warming is bringing everything out way to early. I have birds going in the bird boxes...and magpies are building a nest in one of the conifers.
If they have their broods too early what will they feed them on?

Sandy said... the bird shots!!


Libbys Blog said...

Birdies are lovely! We had a Brambling on our feeder the other day!

Leigh said...

I just found your lovely blog for the first time -- what a joy! Your interweaving of words and photos gives me the feeling of reading a poem. Thanks so much for sharing your paradise. I too garden for wildlife (and veggies) and find the greatest joy is to be accompanied in the garden by the birds and creatures. Keep up the great work -- I'll be a regular visitor! Leigh from A Larrapin Garden (Arkansas, USA)

Sally said...

I realize that you being in Scotland and me being in Iowa will afford us different species of birds, but I must admit a bit of confusion. The bird you call Robin Redbreast looks *nothing* like our Robin Redbreast! Ours is the size of a pigeon and yours is tiny. It looks more like some kind of finch. I, too, love standing at my kitchen window and watch the birds feed. It does sooth the soul, doesn't it?

Sheila said...

What a glorious safe haven you have created at Barleycorn. A job well done, and judging by the amount of little visitors, a job well rewarded..hugs

Gardener Greg said...

I love birds in the garden as well. We usually have several that nest in our yard.

Bimbimbie said...

You'll know how much I loved seeing your feathered visitors. I agree a garden without birds would be a sad place. Perhaps your cats are planning on returning as birds one day and don't want to mess up their karma Smiles *!*

A wildlife gardener said...

Good afternoon and a warm welcome to our little corner of paradise.

We are also having surprises in our garden too, Cheryl. Earlier this morning I saw a pair of bramblings and two bullfinches as well. I only wish they had stayed long enough for me to take photos of them :)

I'd like the bramblings to come to the feeders, Libby, but they prefer staying nearer to the field :)

I'm glad you liked the birds, Sandy. They were a fair bit from the house so the photos are not as close up as I'd have liked them to be :)

Lovely to meet you, Leigh. The best thing about the garden is watching the wild creatures bringing it to life :)

Our Robin Redbreast is the little bird in the second last photo, Sally. The names do not correspond to the order of the labels, even though I typed them in the correct order. If you enlarge each photo you will see the correct names. I love all the birdsong we are having at the moment with Spring just around the corner :)

Mostly the birds flit in and out, Sheila, affording me very little time to focus the camera, so it's only the ones which stay for long enough at the feeders that I manage to photograph :)

It's great when they nest in the garden, Gardener Greg, because you then get to observe their life cycle for a few weeks :)

I'm thankful for the miniscule evidence of foul play by the cats, Bimbimbie, over the 17 years we've been here. Otherwise I'd need to play 'bell the cat' :)

Miranda Bell said...

You look like you've been having a snowy old time up in Scotland recently - I hear this from my husband's family who're all in East Scotland nr Dundee - we've not had any snow at all in Britany this year so far but the birds have been in their flocks to our bird tables - eating me out of house and home!! I don't mind as to be honest all the many blue tits especially are a great help with keeping things like greenfly and caterpillars at bay as I never seem to need to use any sprays to keep them down. We've had a beautiful sunny day here and I've been planting up an area which I'd cleared earlier and sorting through all my seeds and trying to decide on what to plant this year. Lastly I love the verse that you've written - it's amazing how every little detail on every living thing has been thought of even the tiny green veins in the snowdrops - Amazing doesn't really describe it well enough! Hope you'll get some respite from the cold weather v. soon... Miranda

Cheryl said...

Hi wildlife gardener
Thank you for coming back to me. Have watched your butterfly video, thank you for your help on that one.
You have such a wonderful way with words.....have you ever written a book? If you havn't you should. You have a very calming effect.
Yes there are bluebells planted in my private space. Also aconites and many beautiful wild flowers. I shall take some photographs when they are in bloom and put them on my blog.

A wildlife gardener said...

A warm welcome back to you, Miranda, on this beautiful Sunday, glowing with the promise of Spring. I agree with you that the birds are a joy to watch, none more so than the titmice with their amazing if someone had just been out with their paint palette...

Cheryl, Bless you for returning to make a second comment on this post. I feel quite honoured. The story of the garden is my book...I just hope a publisher agrees :)

In the meantime, I print out each little episode and add it to the ongoing story which I keep in a boxfile so that family and friends who are without computers can follow the latest instalment :)

Barbara said...

How good to be on your blog again. I lost your address due to a PC problem. So I am glad you made a comment on my blog. I like to see your lovely bird pictures. Do you still have snow in Scotland?

A wildlife gardener said...

We had a beautiful day today, Barbara, which gave the feeling that Spring is just around the corner :)

Layanee said...

WG: I love your wildlife pictures and all the frost. I am ready for spring though! It is 7 F here this a.m. with a howling wind! Hard to believe that snowdrops will be blooming in a month or so. Tucker said to say hi! He would love to watch your birds and chase your cats! (Don't worry, he can't catch them)!

Layanee said...

WG: I love your wildlife pictures and all the frost. I am ready for spring though! It is 7 F here this a.m. with a howling wind! Hard to believe that snowdrops will be blooming in a month or so. Tucker said to say hi! He would love to watch your birds and chase your cats! (Don't worry, he can't catch them)!

Marie said...

Nice photos from your beautiful garden. Beautiful birds too.

New post on my blog by the way.

I wish you a nice evening :)

Benjamin Vogt said...

We just moved to the edge of town last summer, and already the variety of birds is breathtaking compared to where we lived before: blue jays, robins, yellow and red house finches, cardinals, chicakdees, woodpeckers, and many more. It's been terrific just with our one feeder. Seeing a cardinal on a snowy morning sure does make the garden look better! (do you have those in Scotland? I don't even know the differences.)

joey said...

A lovely post ... I agree that there is 'no better way' than 'fetching' one’s camera and recording the passing show.

kate said...

Your garden is beautiful, WG, at this time of year too. It is teeming with life. I loved seeing all of the different birds that visit your feeders.

The last photograph was beautiful with the stained glass window.

Somehow winter doesn't seem so bad there.

Wanda said...

Thanks for your words of comfort and love on my post.

Love the last picture. Wonderful.

Naturegirl said...

I loved viewing all of natures wonders visiting your feeders! We are kindred spirits as I also feed and lure a variety of visitors to my winter garden and like you have experienced some surprises!What a happy ending to your surprise guest!

Ruth Welter said...

WG, I just love your winter photos, what a gorgeous landscape. Thanks for sharing them with us.

I answered you question on my blog, under the original post.

A wildlife gardener said...

Welcome back, layanee, to our little corner of paradise. We have had three lovely days with sunshine and blue skies though we have had a severe ground frost and frozen ponds as we'll just have to be patient for Spring :)

Lovely to have your company, Marie. I'm glad you like the birds which come to our garden :)

We don't have the chickadees or the wonderful red cardinal in Scotland, Benjamin. but we do the others you mentioned in common. Simple pleasures... such as encouraging the birds...make life much richer :)

Hey, Joey, nice to see you again. From the moment I wake up till I go to sleep I can never tire of the beautiful birdsong in the garden. Having them for company is a huge part of the pleasure of gardening :)

Winter can seem long and hard, Kate, especially on dark, rainy days, with little light. But, the secret, if there is any, is to find pleasure in the beauty of the bare bones of the garden...and the birdsong, for company, helps too :)

A warm welcome, dear Wanda. The stained glass in the last photo is the top half of my back door. When we first came here the house had a wooden door...but I love the light and needed to see through that door somehow. So, when we could afford it, we changed the door :)

I know we are kindred spirits, Nature Girl, as you have many things in your blog which resonate with mine. I'm glad I was able to return the ferret safely to its owners :)

Great to have your company, dear Ruth. We are very fortunate in being surrounded by beautiful landscape, though, being 225 metres above sea level, the weather can bring us fierce gales, freezing temperatures for long spells and weeks of dismal rain too. The birds don't seem to mind...they just keep on singing :)

shirl said...

Well hello again, Wildlife Gardener :-)

Nice to see you back again. What a beautiful post - you are certainly a master of matching words to images. Quite masterfully done :-D

Your part of Scotland looks like it has much more snow than we have had so far this winter! Great to see the birds that visit your garden too :-D

Ruth Welter said...

WG, you sure do have a gorgeous landscape. These pictures that you showed were beautiful nature photos.

To answer your question on the painting, you have inspired me to show my dog painting, probably in the next week or so, I will blog about that piece, where it came from and dedicate the post to you. : ) Thanks for the idea and suggestion, I love them.

A wildlife gardener said...

Lovely, as always, to have your company, Shirl. I thought you would enjoy the post, with your specialist interest in birds.

We've had lovely sunshine these past few days but a landscape completely covered with heavy frost till after 11am...whereas, a friend in London said that on Sunday the sun was so hot it felt as if it was burning a hole in his back!

I would urge anyone with an interest in birds to pay a visit to

to see delightful videos and exquisite photos of the birds which come to visit her beautiful garden :)

Dear Ruth, I would love to see the paintings of your dogs and look forward to that post with baited breath. If they are anything like your other paintings I will certainly be in for a treat :)

Yolanda Elizabet said...

Birds are such an important part of the garden, aren't they? All year round they delight us with their song and their, often colourful, presence.

It's good to see your garden teeming with wildlife even in winter!

Hypertufa Gardener said...

Great wildlife pictures and beautiful landsape photos. Yeah birds definitely help enhance a garden.

I know I don't mind them at all as long as they don't eat my koi and goldfish in my pond :) I had problems with the black birds and heron this past summer. Had to put a net over my pond.

I love the winter pictures, I know Naturegirl has some nice winter pictures on her blog as well.

Love your blog.


Jamie Boyle
Hypertufa Gardener

A wildlife gardener said...

I do like your little icon, Yolanda Elizabet...violets are so appropriate for your name :)

We gardeners all love the birds and their cheerful songs :)

Welcome to our little corner of paradies, Hypertufa Gardener. I know what you mean about hungry herons...we had one last year who gorged himself on the frogs in both I hope he left some for this year :)

Anonymous said...

I love to see all your beautiful bird photos. The weather looks cold, Norway is cold too, I`m waiting for spring :)

A wildlife gardener said...

Good morning, Helen. Lovely to have your company. It's still cold enough for gloves, hat, scarf and warm coat hereabouts..and I'm looking forward to Spring too :)

smilnsigh said...

What a lovely entry.

I want to share this with another blogging friend who also loves her birds. In case she has never come across your blog.

Happy Valentine's Day to you!


Q said...

I enjoyed your birds and your winter garden tour. Thank you. So nice to see the birds of Scotland in a beautiful garden.
Mari-Nanci introduced me to your journal. I am so delighted she did too! I am looking forward to reading your past posts. I have some catching up to do.
I also garden for the birds and the butterflies. Sometimes the rabbits and the deer will leave a few lettuces for my supper table.
I am still far from Spring but like you I find joy in the winter garden with the birds.
Thank you again,

Kari & Kijsa said...

Happy Valentines Day from our hearts to you!

kari & kijsa

Jeanne said...

How very and lovely is all that you share.
Love Jeanne

shirl said...

Hi again, Wildlife Gardener :-)

I hope you are well and have had a good weekend. I've just popped by to say that I have nominated you for a Blog Award if you want to pop by and see :-D

thepowerguides said...

i do love your photography thank you so much for sharing


Dawn said...

Beautiful Symbiosis Indeed!
You've created such a lovely wildlife garden. Something that feeds both the birds and your own soul. And now you're sharing it with the rest of the world. Thank you!


P.S. When I was looking at your inspiring photos the song "You Are the New Day" by The King Singers kept going through my mind

Ki said...

Lovely bird photos! At first I thought the monochromatic landscape photos were black and whites. Beautiful with the subtle coloration. Almost like the old hand-painted photos.

Gowri said...

It's wonderful to see the many of them are found here in India too..the robins, tits, sparrows and robins! Lovely!

Gowri said...

Dear Wildlife gardener,

I have changed the web address of my blog, so I thought I'll inform you of the new address since you are so kind as to frequently visit my blog.You can now read my blog at



Green thumb said...

Hi W.G, What a caring and considerate attention you have paid to the winged visitors in Barleycorn; if ever in some life i am to be a birdie, i know where to nest myself in.

A wildlife gardener said...

A warm welcome to our little corner of paradise on this snowy day in March.

Good morning, smilnsigh. thank you for your good wishes and for sharing my post with your friend. I really appreciate your generosity :)

Thank you for introducing yourself, Q, through Mari-Nanci's blog. You are most welcome. I see that we have a great deal in common :)

Thank you for your good wishes, Kari & Kijsa :)

A warm welcome to you too, Jeanne. I'm glad you enjoyed the post :)

That sounds very interesting, shirl. I must pop over and find out what the surprise is :)

Lovely to meet you, Steve, from thepowerguides. Thank you for the lovely compliment :)

What a lovely song you introduced me to, Dawn. I enjoyed it very much. I did feel it resonates with my philosophy on why I garden for wildlife :)

My hubbie thought the same thing when he looked at the post, Ki. The monochrome look of the garden made the colours of the birds even more outstanding and amazing :)

Lovely to hear from you, dear Thalia. Thank you for giving me your new web address. I shall be over soon to drink in the beauty of your landscape, rich in colour and wildlife :)

You say the sweetest things, dear Green Thumb :)

Crafty Green Poet said...

what a wonderful haven for the birds...

A wildlife gardener said...

Thank you so much for the kind comment, crafty green poet :)