Mourning Cloak butterfly, appeared in the garden last week after overwintering in a sheltering crack somewhere

We spend a lot of our lives doing gardening things and watching the wildlife regardless of whether the virus and the government allow us to wander further afield. Despite that, however, there is a slightly different feeling to our “keep away from the world” tendencies just now. But spring is in the air and regular reports from friends in Europe and California etc where spring has been under way for ages replete with photographs of spring flowers and even some tree blossom has been making us twitchy and eager to get out and get busy.

Had the world been better organised we would be packing our bags this weekend in preparation for flying to Spain next Tuesday for three weeks of peripatetic birding and botanising. Big disappointment not to be able to get there as we have been planning this trip for almost two years but there’s always the future to look forward to. Meanwhile there is at least one bottle of Spanish wine in the kitchen waiting to be opened.

In a week or so the pond will require attention. Most years we just put the pump in, get the waterfall in and step back to enjoy the display and the birds it attracts but this year, not travelling as intended, will be the five year major clean out. The pond plants will go into buckets, the water will be pumped out and the sludge removed. We suspect a small and slow leak somewhere so hopefully that can be found and dealt with at the same time.

This is being written around noon on Saturday and already there have been 15+ species of birds in the garden plus much activity from the ever-present squirrels, three rabbits (see below) and a skunk. Never short of something interesting to share the day with.

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrows came back from the south a bit more than a week ago and have started to claim territory and warn off other encroaching members of their species with loud singing. It’s curious that they are famed for the songs which are memorialised in their Latin name (Melospiza melodia) because while welcome at this time of the year it is loud, repetitive and thrown out for all hear from dawn to dusk. More of a challenge to all-comers than a song. A Hermit Thrush also passed through a day or two ago – almost two weeks earlier than we usually see them.

Dark-eyed Juncos are still about but should soon be going north again if they can only tear themselves away from the seed they find here so easily. Small groups are forever scratching around on the ground and swooping around in low-altitude short chases. European Starlings are collecting nesting materials and many birds are now evidently paired off.

One gray squirrel stands out – he/she has the usual gray (agouti) body colour but a bright ginger tail which is very attractive … and it’s not often you can say that about the species.

We still have snowdrops and in the last few days the crocuses have started to flower – briefly enjoyed before the bunnies eat them.

There seem to be three Eastern Cottontail Rabbits (aka bunnies) who have taken up residence in the garden. One was seen a few days ago collecting dry grasses and leaves and taking it round the side of the house into a quiet corner before coming back for more. Undoubtedly nest-lining materials so there may well be baby bunnies in the not too distant future. These rabbits do not burrow but make camouflaged scrapes in grassy areas so we need to be careful where we tread – especially as it seems the nest is somewhere round in the area where we keep barrows and tools.

Two members of our rabbit family

We like having the bunnies with us and we know it’s “our fault” as we try to make the garden not just pleasing to the human senses but also welcoming to wildlife. Unfortunately, we are also repurposing part of a neglected corner on the southern side of the house to create a new vegetable patch and we can be pretty sure who will be watching carefully to make sure we do the job right to ensure nice, tasty green shoots for a bunny’s snack luncheon in the weeks ahead.

Oh – and one good gardening thing coming out of the lock-down. Garden “landscapers”, otherwise know as noisy guys with lawnmowers and leaf blowers, have been declared non-essential businesses and banned from the town. We even have patrols from the council making sure they don’t sneak in. This is good, very good, because of the decrease in noise pollutions of course but also because their customers just might be encouraged to think about better things to fill their open spaces with than short grass lawns.

À la prochaine.

Hermit Thrush

Striped Skunk below the bird feeders checking for snacks