MysteryBulbShoots

You may recall that I found some bulbs of unknown type in the soil of my garden whilst digging around a few months back, and planted them in a pot to see what sprang up. See the original and follow-up instalments for the exciting story so far and photos of the bulbs themselves.

Now leaping from my pot I have a verdant array of green leaves, some stretching over 20cms tall and flopping over, but no sign of any flower stalks amidst those leaves. I can see from the pattern of plants that pretty much every single bulb has sprouted, so now I'm a little concerned that I packed them rather tightly into the pot, but we'll see what happens.

Any guesses as to what they are yet? Some people have suggested Grape hyacinth, but with just green leaves there's not much to go on. Do I need to do something special to get them to flower, or just wait?

MysteryBulbShoots2

Despite all the new articles about how wildlife is suffering in this cold weather new research has shown that pond life may actually be doing the opposite and benefiting.

It has generally been thought that if a garden pond has frozen over in cold weather then the best thing to do is to break a hole in the ice to allow oxygen to get in. The charity Pond Conservation's latest research shows that actually the opposite may be true and leaving the ice in place will not reduce oxygen levels, and in some cases they may actually increase. If a pond has clear water and enough pond weed then it seems that left alone oxygen levels may naturally rise, increasing the amount for wildlife living below the surface.

According to their press release you do need to take some action though if your pond has a large amount of sediment or leaves at the bottom and you also have fish in the pond. These fish will require oxygen, and so not only is a hole in the ice required, but the water needs to be agitated in some way so that the deoxygenated water keeps coming into contact with the air (as the natural diffusion of oxygen through water is to slow to take effect fast enough). A pond pump or fountain will do this, but a low tech solution is just to stir the water with a stick.

One final message is that even if you decide to leave the ice covering in place, you should ensure that you carefully remove any snow that is on top of the ice. This is quite simply because lying snow will block sunlight from getting to the plants in the pond and hence they will be unable to produce oxygen.

MoorhenWithChick  

Moorhen and chick

The snowy weather over the last week or so has made spotting bird activity in the back garden so much easier – with everything white the one little blue tit moving through a bush is much more obvious. It's good to use this opportunity to get used to recognising the birds that you do get visiting your garden in practice for this year's RSPB's Big Garden Birdwatch

This year the Birdwatch is taking place on the 30 – 31 January and all you have to do is spend one hour counting the maximum number of each type of bird that you see at any one time, either in your own back garden or in a local park. For RSPB members there should be a survey form with your February edition of Birds magazine that should be dropping through your letter box at any time (weather permitting!) or you can go online and submit your results on their website.

The Birdwatch is very much something that can be done together as a family and there are other bird related activities that the whole family can get involved in – making bird feeders from recycled materials or making bird cakes to put out on your bird table. Instructions for both of these can be found here on the RSPB website.

This year there is also a Big School's Birdwatch running from the 18 January to the 1 February and a Little School's Birdwatch especially created for the under 5s. Teachers can get resources to support this involvement in these school's birdwatches by contacting the RSPB, again via the relevant page on their website.

SnowyFeeder  

Following the UK's harshest winter for 30 years the BBC have commissioned a special Snow Watch programme to look at the impact of this weather on our country's wildlife. Brought to you by the team behind the BBC's Autumnwatch and Springwatch, including Kate, Chris and Simon, they'll be taking a look at how all of the wildlife around us has been adapting to cope whilst us humans have been struggling.

According to their press release the programme is due to go out on Wednesday 13 January at 8pm on BBC2.

The Snow Watch team are also looking to hear your stories of the wildlife that you've been seeing during the snowy weather. You can either go to their webpage, or upload photos to their BBC Snow Watch Flickr group. We'd also like to hear about your sighting so please use the comments to tell us about your sightings or e-mails us with any pictures you may have taken.

GreySquirrel

The BBC reports on new research by the British Trust for Ornithology and Natural England, which has concluded that grey squirrels probably do not have a significant impact on woodland bird populations.

It was thought that grey squirrels were impacting severely by eating eggs and fledglings, but the research has not appeared to bear this out. In some limited cases there were localised effects, but overall impact was not evident.

The BBC has a fantastic satellite photo of the whole of the British isles, showing how not one corner has escaped the icy white covering.

I stumbled across another cracking UK wildlife blog just recently, that's definitely worth a trawl for the variety and excellence of the photography and information: Wildlife in a Suburban Garden. To be honest the chap's either got one hell of a garden or the title doesn't strictly define the limits of his nature hunting. Anyway, he clearly knows his nature and puts a great deal of effort into studying and recording it. Bravo!

LoftInsulationBirdBox

Keep your garden birds warm this winter by ensuring the loft insulation in their bird boxes is up to scratch. In this case I've used 5 inches of fluffy snow to add insulation just at the time when its most needed. Perhaps I should fit a draught excluder to that hole at the front though, otherwise those blue tit energy bills will be colossal!

In other news, my mother got us this delightful red bird box for Christmas which has just gone up on a fence post in the garden. Apparently the following basic rules should be followed when positioning a bird box, though there are variations for different species:

  • At least 1.5m off the ground
  • With a clear flight path into the box
  • Sheltered from harsh weather (rain, wind and sun)

More information on types of bird boxes and siting is available courtesy of the BBC. Having read the full breakdown I'm worried that ours may not be sheltered enough, nor offer sufficient nearby safe perching for fledglings. Still – let's see how it goes over this coming year. This is a great time of year to put up a bird box so why not buy one and do just that.

Here's a great set of photographs of UK wildlife from 2009 that I came across, courtesy of Neil's UK Wildlife Blog.

There really are some cracking examples, and he clearly gets about a bit in his pursuit of nature. I shall have to up my game for 2010!

Happy new year from UKNB! I'm personally looking forward to spring arriving and the burst of greenery and life that brings, but in the meantime I got a great Christmas present in the form of the RSPB's "Wildlife of Britain" book, quite accurately subtitled "The Definitive Visual Guide".

Published by Dorling Kindersley, this is a weighty hardback tome of over 500 pages. Most of those pages are smothered with photographs of wildlife, and that's what really stands out about this book. The sheer number and quality of photographs makes it indispensable as an identification guide or for joyous browsing. As well as the endless pages on individual species (covering mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, invertebrates, plants, trees and fungi) there are sections on six major habitat types of the UK, though I wasn't so fussed about those bits.

It doesn't cover every last exotic species to be found, and the amount of text for each individual species is relatively limited, but if I was allowed just one UK wildlife identification book then this might well be it for the sheer coverage and all-round quality.

If you've got Christmas money burning a hole in your pocket, you can buy it from Amazon (amongst others):