They are not all the same breed but they act as a group. Earlier this morning they all came in at once and started pinging round the garden, like muted but unruly tennis balls. There were about 20 birds in this little flock and they finished off what was out for them. I then refilled some of the feeders before the rain started, and this lot braved the shower.
In the recent hot weather I’ve been especially diligent about keeping the bird bath topped up and clean. I’ve seen far more birds using it, including smaller ones who prefer it to next door’s pond. The birds have been drinking from rather than bathing in it, though, and today I saw something I’ve never seen before. It was raining steadily. Not the hard rain of a cloudburst but just a steady stream of fairly heavy rain. I was thinking about how that would be better for the garden than a sudden dump of water on hard ground, and wandered over to the back door to see what was going on out there.
A spherical sparrow was standing on a giant flower pot, ruffling his feathers and opening his wings. Then he flew down to the patio, which follows a slope and so had already developed a puddle. He took a bath in that, got properly wet up to his neck, and then flew back up to the container. He then shook everything out and extended his wings, so they would get washed by the rain. He looked like he was taking a shower. While this was going on, I became aware of something in my peripheral vision, and glanced up at the feeding station.
A pair of collared doves were perched on there: not hopefully looking to see if they could get at the seed feeders (and for seed on the ground) as usual, though. No, they were both awkwardly balancing while extending their wings just like the sparrow. They were deliberately taking a shower. I didn’t want to move away in case doing so ruined the moment. Just seeing that was a first for me, and I was so pleased to see different parts of my garden being useful to wildlife. I sometimes (annually) wish for a new patio which is more level, but the slightly dipped slabs clearly have a use. 🙂
I’m glad I got the feeders refilled before the heavy rain started. Between showers they were covered with the usual suspects: blue tits, great tits, greenfinches, house sparrows, hedge sparrows, and the odd starling (the flock appears to have dispersed and I’m no longer mobbed by them). Speckle, the robin, sometimes joins them because he’s young and foolish and has learned how to cling on to suet feeders and cages that aren’t meant for him. He’s hardly starving: I keep the ground feeder well supplied and he’s always got plenty of options, including the suet, at ground level, as well as a hanging table. He’s just weird, robin-wise. He’s a post in himself, Speckle…
Between showers I’m also getting to see the thing I enjoy the most: seeing the birds poking about under leaves, pulling out bits of vegetation and generally foraging in a more natural way. I’m sure the blackbirds will be coming in soon to get any worms which have surfaced from the downpour. For now, lots of small brown birds are hopping about beneath giant courgette leaves (not interested in the courgettes) and under hollyhocks, presumably after insects and bugs. Talking of which, the bees and other things are emerging with the sun and are all over pretty much everything with a flower. Between showers the sun comes out and steam visibly rises from the shed roof in clouds.
I’ve only really been actively trying to encourage birds to come to my garden for just over a year. Before that, former neighbours had actively hunting cats, and brief attempts at hanging stuff from branches failed because I had no understanding of how birds behave with new food sources. I thought they would see it – I didn’t realise they would only look when a usual source was interrupted, and then have to trust it was OK.
It actually took 4 weeks for them to add my feeding station and bird bath to their maps, although starting to feed them when food was presumably plentiful may not have helped. The first lot of whatever goes out will probably go mouldy before anything eats much of it, so don’t put out a full feeder. My sister wanted birds in her garden and had a similar experience: we binned a load of mouldy seed. It was only pound shop stuff but you obviously don’t anything in your garden likely to harm the thing you’re trying to help. Better to put out a feeder with a small amount of whatever and change it as needed. She now has a load of different birds visiting her place too. Numbers for both of us, and varieties, have increased over time. Ground-feeding birds such as robins and the blackbirds appeared first, although the thrushes and wrens have always liked my garden.
I’m reducing the amount of suet that I have out, given the weather, and am increasing dried mealworms, seed and water. I mentioned next door’s pond as a water source, but, actually, the slightly quirky bird bath my Nan gave me has turned out to be an enormous draw. It is visited all the time now by all the birds who feed in my garden, as it’s safer for them than the pond, depth-wise.
Since it quickly goes horrible in this weather, I’ve been cleaning and refilling it twice a day, to try and avoid anything nasty breeding. I’ve added Citrosan to the water which is supposed to help kill off bugs but still be safe to drink. Either the birds really like it or they’re so hot they don’t care, because they are definitely drinking more. I often stand at watch them, and in the sun, evaporation does make the level drop considerably over the course of just one day. I’m using a measure of the liquid every day, but it seems less gross.
Only use tap water for bird baths and hedgehog water bowls – I checked. (Actually, having looked inside my water butt, I can quite see why: I’m sure that what ever nutrients domestic mains water lacks, are more than compensated for by the lack of bacteria. I’m feeding them seed appropriate to their breeds/the season anyway, so I’m sure it’s fine. Unlike ponds, which should be topped up only with rainwater where possible.)
Talking of water butts: today my water barrel cleaner arrived. It’s magic blue liquid designed to clean manky water butts or even soapy bath water, and it has good reviews. I’d got the odd whiff of sulphur when drawing the first can of water on hot days and thought I should probably do something about that to prevent disease in my plants.
It suggests that you empty and clean the barrel before using it. Joining a number of people on Amazon who thought life was infinitely too short for that, I prised open the lid ready to chuck it in and immediately changed my mind.
What greeted me was not some nearly empty thing that had got a bit smelly in the heat, but a full barrel of water. Black, nasty-looking water with things in it. Presumably this is stuff which has washed down off the roof. I didn’t think we’d had that much rain today, even if it is a small one – it holds 110 litres and isn’t nearly enough to keep pace with my gardening efforts.
I drained the water into my 10 litre watering can and then realised where I might have been going wrong. The water going into the can had really slowed, and going by sound and the flow alone, I’d have thought the butt was nearly empty and turned off the tap. With the lid off, however, I could see there was at least a third more water to go, though – it’s just lack of pressure. I switched to buckets which could be left for longer, and realised it probably hasn’t ever properly run dry. I now know better.
Following the instructions, I used the hose and cleaned it out as best I could, given that I wasn’t prepared to turn it upside down and blast out any sludge. I then poured in the liquid, mixed into a watering can of water, as suggested. We got more rain and given that it seems to collect water so fast, I’m hoping it gets topped up fairly quickly. I’ll check inside before I apply any to plants, and will use carefully until I see how things react, but it’s meant to all be fine. At the moment it looks dark, sinister and toxic…
That was as far as I got yesterday. There wasn’t as much rain as was forecast and I missed the best of it, so the water level was still quite low. It did look much more blue than black, and definitely had less gunk floating on it. It does says it takes a few days to work but it’s obviously started doing something. I’ve topped the water level up with the hose, just a bit more so it’s not too concentrated in there, and the bottle says to add it weekly, so I will. (I’m not posting pictures because it’s still grim.)
The child-proof lid of the water butt is a pain in the arse to remove, obviously, but I’ve remembered the tiny catches no human fingers can release. My dibber is the perfect thing for reaching and releasing the clips, even the back two, so it’s rather less of a pain now I’ve realised that. The water still smelled a tiny bit but was infinitely better than before. I still wouldn’t want to water plants with it, but it does seem to effectively digest all the gunk, or whatever it does to get rid of it, according to reviews.
That problem handled, I’m now going to investigate the mystery of the leek thief, because apparently there is one in my garden…