Monday 27 January 2020


Wildlife is simply wonderful, whether out in the wilds or better still, in our gardens. As our regular readers might know, Sue and I have been living in our lovely little two acre patch of sunny Dorset for thirty nine years and since moving in we have spent most of our waking hours trying to turn it into a haven for wildlife.

However, even after all this graft, as anyone with a garden will confirm, we find we still have so much to do to improve it, like we've hardly started, which is good news because we love gardening and all the rewards this brings into our lives.
We love it in the spring and summer of course, though almost as much in the autumn and winter, so we thought we might just celebrate some of the wildlife characters that have honoured us with their presence over recent years, especially those that have trusted us so much that they allow us to share their space. There's a whole lot of magic out there, whatever the weather or season and making our wildlife welcome is the ultimate reward.

First up we've chosen our tame cock pheasant which stayed around for more than two years before disappearing, maybe into a casserole, though not ours I hasten to add. Yes, I know they are non-native birds [along with his friend the exotic mandarin duck] but pheasants are really colourful and when he trusted us enough to eat out of our hands we had to give him a name … “Prince Wilhelm the Second”!

No, don’t ask me why but he was so regal that it seemed appropriate … and he was number two because we had another tame cock pheasant before him who eventually went awol. Both were great characters, befriending all our other visitors and roosting in the garden trees.

This latest one was demanding for if we didn’t supply his food on time he would tap on the conservatory windows and if we didn’t respond quickly enough he would walk into the house looking for his dinner. I trained him to jump up onto the garden table to feed off my knee but didn’t quite manage to get him to perch on it!

One summer he managed to ‘pull a bird’ and his displays were most impressive, walking beside her with his gorgeous plumage spread out fan like in its finery. She didn’t seem too impressed, eating instead our precious snakes-head fritillaries in the wild flower meadow. I called her "Princess" but Sue was so incensed that she gave her the name “Dinner” and she nearly did end up in a casserole. However, we were very sad when they both disappeared one Autumn, just after the shooting season started on a nearby estate.

We have dug six ponds through which flow a stream so next up are some water loving mallards that have also earned names, two males that go by the names of what else … “Bill and Ben” along with their lady “Betsy”. They’ve been a trio for years, happily living together from Spring to Autumn, though during the mating season it's a bit of a bun fight. They sometimes raise a brood of ducklings that are like the ten green bottles, disappearing one by one.
On one memorable year, several survived and like our pheasants, would tap on the windows at tea-time if their seed wasn’t delivered quickly enough.
We loved them, especially when one took its first flight, crash landing on the top lawn. We called him ‘Ling Ling” … as in duckling … but embellished in honour of the great Chinese pianist Lang Lang!

One of the most amazing birds that came to live here was a male sparrow hawk that was remarkably confiding and which, by careful stalking to train him to get used to me, became so habituated that I could walk to within six feet of him. It struck me as quite disconcerting that most of the time he completely ignored me, seemingly convinced that I was of no importance whatsoever.
A female spar paired up with him and she was also remarkably tame, allowing me to take happy snaps while she collected sticks, having decided to build a nest in the middle of our woodland garden. The nest was viewable by Sue as she laid in bed with her early morning tea and I found this almost unbelievable because I have filmed sparrow hawks for several TV programmes around Britain and they are always extremely shy, fleeing at the first sign of humans.
Our tame pair eventually raised a youngster, sadly the others dying in the intense heat that summer.
Our male spar loved to have at least one bath in our streams every day and would then spend ages up on a sunny birch preening his plumage, so we called him “Fancy Dan”, the smartest hawk in Dorset.

We've had other predators in the garden this autumn and winter, several otters thanking us for having wildlife in our ponds, tasty fish!

It's a privilege having them visiting us, particularly when they are bold enough to come fishing during daylight hours, the downside being the killing of our fishy wildlife and trashing the ponds, spoiling it for the dragonflies, damselflies and newts. But as I do admire these amazing animals we are learning to put up with them, though giving them names might result in some impolite choices!

Any story about favourite garden birds surely has to include a robin and we have two such red breasts at present, trained initially to feed out of our hands. No, I don't have any pics as I didn't want to spoil the moments when it happened and frighten our new recruits.

Their behaviour suggests they are mother and daughter, cooperating at first but then competitive and they have now set up separate territories in the garden, still almost hand tame and responding to my constant chatter to them by singing loudly close to our faces. When digging, the little female suddenly appears a foot or two away, even landing on my arm a couple of times and sings at us even more vehemently when I keep asking ‘how are you little one'.

It's one of many rewards for making all our wildlife welcome and talking to the animals doesn’t get any better than when they answer you back! Here's our 'Little One', chattering away to Sue in the veg plot.

We'll keep on working hard to attract yet more species into the garden, especially the bees and butterflies that we so badly need in our lives, then we'll sit in the sunshine with a cup of tea ...