January 2010

I'd been waiting for this bird to come and visit our garden (like it did last year) for quite a while. So I was happy to see a tinge of orange up in one of the trees of our back neighbours. A while ago I was a bit afraid I might not recognize it straight away, afraid it'd look a lot like a female Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs, Vink in Dutch), but my bird guide showed me that was a pretty unlikely mistake. And indeed, when I walked into the living room this morning and looked out the window there was no mistaking, this was one of those gorgeous Bramblings! (Fringilla montifringilla, Keep in Dutch) It didn't sit on the bird feeder, just sat around in the Climbing Hydrangea (Klimhortensia in Dutch), the Peach tree and the trees in the garden of our back neighbours. But it went to pick up some seeds from the ground a couple of times as well. Beautiful bird, pity I only managed to take a couple of pictures through the windows.
Also, I sowed some seeds today. Weird time to sow seeds? Yes, for seeds of the plants most people want to grow in their garden perhaps. But some wild plants need a cold period in order to germinate. The Yellow Flag (Iris psuedacorus, Gele Lis in Dutch) growing in our pond needed it, and so do Hop (Humulus lupulus) seeds. The seeds I sowed today need it as well. They were the seeds of a Primula species, Oxlip (Primula elatior, Slanke Sleutelbloem in Dutch), which grows in the wild nearby, and Monkshood (Aconitum napellus, Blauwe Monnikskap in Dutch). The latter is not indigenous to the Netherlands, but it's such a beautiful plant. I saw it grow in the wild on excursion to the Eifel-area in Germany with the KNNV this summer. Speaking of the KNNV, I got these seeds, and a couple of other that I'll sow around March/April, from the KNNV division Hoorn (select Hoornbloem from the menu). The other seeds are Wood Melic (Melica uniflora, Eenbloemig Parelgras in Dutch), Berry Catchfly (Silene/Cucubalus baccifer, Besanjelier in Dutch) and Purple Betony (Stachys officinalis, Betonie in Dutch). Wood Melic grows in the wild nearby as well and is a very beautiful gracious grass species (rare in the Netherlands). I've never seen Berry Catchfly in the wild, though it's supposed to grow in this region in the wild as well (a very rare plant though). Purple Betony is a plant that is also very rare that only grows in the province of Zuid Limburg, though it used to grow in this region as well. We planted a cultivated Betony species in our garden a couple of months ago, but it'd be nice to have the wild species as well. Oxlip is a rare an protected plant by the way. Like I said it grows nearby in the wild where sometimes people dig them out to plant them in their garden. A very stupid thing to do as it's so easy to get their seeds from the KNNV if you just take the effort to look for them, and they only cost €0.90!


Working on the first bits of the January diary I realized I only had one picture to put in the 'slideshow' on the diary 2010 index page. I went into the garden thinking I'd just take a shot, perhaps of the Teasel rosette (Dipsacus Fullonum, Kaardebol in Dutch), but that turned out to be not all that photogenic. Then I realized I had photographed emerging Daffodils (Narcissen in Dutch) in January last year, so I went to look for those. And I was happy to find some. Some Daffodils in a dark corner where a nice fern grows and when I went to look for more I found some young Crocusses as well. Didn't find any snowdrops yet, though I'm sure they ought to be around. Maybe I'll search a bit better soon, but wearing a coat...


I went to look for Snowdrops (Sneeuwklokjes in Dutch) today, wearing my coat. Didn't find any though. Weird, I'm pretty sure they have to emerge around the same time Crocusses and Daffodils do. There was again some snow in our garden today though, so perhaps I just missed them. I know I already posted a Crocusses picture in the previous entry, but they just look so nice with a bit of snow covering them... :)
As I was looking for the Snowdrops the birds just went back to the bird feeder. So I just stood still and tried some photography with my new camera. The auto-setting doesn't always focus on the most logical thing (a bird in the centre of the viewfinder at full zoom (filling up most of the view). The P-setting (shutter speed selectable) isn't always fast enough with the pretty low amount of light there was. Too bad, I'm sure I could've made more nice pictures like the two below. I just need a lot more practise I guess... :)


I went for a little walk at the 'Wylerberglake' today. Snowy and pretty cold... But nice and quiet, so I had no trouble at all hearing the calls of Bullfinches (that I didn't immediatly recognize...). I first noticed the female, a somewhat odd coloured bird. It wasn't long before I noticed the male. Not very hard, as it's such a vivid coloured bird. What an incredibly beautiful thing... Too bad the best picture of the female I took has a nasty twig in front of her. And I couldn't decide which male picture I thought was best, so you're getting them both. :)


A very clear advantage of my new camera is the more than double amount of megapixels. My old camera has 5.0, the new one 12.1. Today I took a close-up picture of what I think is called a bract in English (schutblad in Dutch), a 'flower petal' of a hopplant's female flower, a hop (hopbel in Dutch). The picture below is a crop but has kept it's nice quality thanks to the large amount of pixels. You can clearly see small yellow grains at the base of the bract. Those have the bitter taste for which Hop is used in the brewing of beer. Hops are composed of these bracts, as can be seen clearly on the beautiful drawing in the book 'Nederlandse Oecologische Flora' (Dutch Ecological Flora) (part 1 of 5) and on several pictures in the diary of the summmer of 2009 (like this one, that can be found in the entry of August 29th 2009. Though they're nothing like Orchids or Roses which are commonly regarded to as beautiful flowers, I think most people think hops are beautiful as well. Perhaps most people don't realize these are flowers as well though. The Flora also writes about the use of Hop for brewing beer of course. It says the use of Hop was mainly promoted by monasteries starting from the middle ages, perhaps to reduce the use of Bog Myrtle (Myrica gale, Gagel in Dutch) because of Myrtle's wicked action. Myrtle is treated in the same part of the Flora and there it says this plant was used, in spite of bans, for centuries to add spice to beer. The plant's aromatic oil is toxic and can make you feel high, something the Christian church doesn't approve of of course.
There are still quite a few hops on the plant in our back garden, though most are evidently falling apart. Those bracts can be found pretty much everywhere in our garden. No wonder, as the Hop (had I mentioned it's scientific name is Humulus lupulus yet?) flowered quite abundantly last year. The back neighbours have a male Hop growing in their garden, which flowered quite abundantly as well last year. I don't know if they planted or sowed it, but for some reason I don't think so. I guess it's very likely our Hop has set seeds, as fertilization only needs a bit of wind and the plant of our neighbours is only a couple of meters away from ours. Not that we need more Hop plants...
The string the Hop climbed along to the iron tube between our shed and garage (for beating mats) has broken. But that's ok, as the old Hop liana are still strong. The fresh plant will be able to grow along those this summer.
Something very different... There was a plant growing beside our house that, according to a plant expert friend was either a Goat Willow (Salix caprea, Boswilg in Dutch) or an Apple tree. Either would grow into something too big for the place where it was growing, so I re-planted it in the back garden. It'd be nice if it was a Goat Willow, as in that case we might have a couple of Willow species in our garden that flower more or less successively in the early spring. Goat Willow flowers in March/April as does the Grey Willow (Salix cinerea, Grauwe Wilg in Dutch), when exactly depends on the weather, but I think Goat Willow flowers first, followed by Grey Willow. Both are very important for early flying insects. I'm also trying to get White Willow (Salix alba, Schietwilg in Dutch) to grow in our garden, which flowers in mid spring, around April/May. All these Willows are very important insect plants. Their nectar and, for male plants, pollen, are very important food sources for the first insects that fly around and for their larvae. The leafs, which for Goat and Grey Willow appear after flowering, are important food sources for all kinds of insects and their larvae. In short, great garden plants if you like to see some life in your garden!
But what I actually wanted to say about that possible Goat Willow is that after re-planting it, it has grown about 10 cm. Very curious to see what it'll become. An apple might be nice as well of course, though I guess that might be a bit harder to keep small enough for our garden. We'll see! It's the twig in the last picture by the way. :)


I went into the garden to look for the first signs of Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis, Sneeuwklokje in Dutch) again today. I first looked for them around the trunk of a conifer we cut down right after moving into this house. There was quite a group of Snowdrops growing there last year, but I couldn't find anything there yet. I looked at a couple of other places and found some near where the Bittersweet (Solanum dulcamara, Bitterzoet in Dutch) is growing. Still very small, but pretty easy to recognize. Near these small Snowdrops grows a small grass plant. I think it first appeared last year and I'm hoping it's Wood Millet (Milium effusum, Bosgierstgras in Dutch). I sowed some seeds of this grass that's growing in the wild in the forest nearby. The flower panicle is very gracious and beautiful. It would like nice near the Wood Ragwort (Senecio nemorensis, Schaduwkruiskruid in Dutch), which is growing near this grass in the forest nearby as well. Fingers crossed...
Looking around for other small plants and interesting things I noticed a beautiful small fungus on one of the smallest treetrunks. It wasn't very hard to find in the mushrooms-book by Gerhardt, it's Candlestick fungus (Xylaria hypoxylon, Geweizwam in Dutch). A very common species on dead wood, usually trunks according to the book.
I tried once before to take a picture of a branch of the Grey or Eared Willow (Salix cinerea or aurita, resp. Grauwe or Geoorde Wilg), but wasn't satisfied enough with the to put it in an entry. Took a new one today and this time I am satisfied. Not sure what it shows yet though. It's probably the work of a gall midge. The midge lays an egg in the twig and growth hormones excreted by the larva cause the plant to grow the gall. The larva feeds on the gall tissue until it becomes the adult midge. As long as the larva is inside the gall, it will continue to excrete hormones, so the gall won't stop growing untill the larva has left it. I've posted the picture below on a forum as well, hoping to find out what species of midge (if indeed it was a midge) has caused the galls on the willow in our back garden.
Later today, as I was sitting behind the computer, I noticed there was a Brambling (Fringilla montifringilla, Keep in Dutch) in our garden again. After watching and photographing it from inside for a while I went outside and waited for the Brambling to return (it had just left by then). As I was standing there I heard lots of birds, mainly Great and Blue Tits (Parus major and Parus caeruleus, Kool and Pimpelmees in Dutch) calling, mainly in gardens behind ours. I looked up as I expected a Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus, Sperwer in Dutch). It took a couple of seconds, but there it was. It was fast though, so I wasn't able to take a picture unfortunately. The Brambling didn't return (soon enough) either, so, too bad.


Signs of spring are still emerging in our garden. Last week I had to search for Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis, Sneeuwklokje in Dutch), but by now they're getting hard to miss (see last photo below). I found something far less conspicious as well though. A grass-like leaf has emerged from the ground in the 'flowerbed' near the terrace. No idea what it is yet. To be continued?
I love seeing Lesser Celandine (Ranunculus ficaria, Speenkruid in Dutch) emerge in our garden. One of the plants is looking pretty good already, others are only just emerging from the 'bulbils', small bulbs that came from the axil of the leaves last year. Strange place to grow bulbs you might think, but it's actually quite clever. The bulbils can rolls off and create new plants next to it's parent. Continue this process and there'll be a nice patch full of Lesser Celandine. Quite a sucessful way to spread as can be seen in many places these days. On my way to work I pass by at least two places where patches of several square metres of Lesser Celandine are growing. Just another three weeks or so and they'll be a yellow carpet. :)
I'll count the birds in our garden for half an hour tomorrow for the National gardenbird count (www.tuinvogeltelling.nl (in Dutch)). I hope the Brambling (Fringilla montifringilla, Keep in Dutch) will turn up tomorrow like it did today so I can add it to my list. I'll let you know what the results were!

On another note, I'm pretty sure I know who caused the galls in the willow (see January 16th entry). On the forum where I posted the photo it was first suggested it was a small moth (micro) called Cydia servillana (Wilgenspiegelmot in Dutch). I asked about the possibility of this being the case on a special forum about micro's and got a reply this was very unlikely. More likely was that it was the work of a sawfly from the Euura family. I searched the internet and came up with a very nice document (in Dutch) showing several galls on willows. A species called Euura atra showed strong resemblance in my opinion (figure 2 in the document), but on the first forum some are suggesting it's probaly a midge called Willow Shot-hole Midge (Rabdophaga saliciperda, Wilgebastgalmug in Dutch, figure 16 in the document). Having looked at a couple of pictures on the internet as well, I think the galls of this midge are more round than the ones on our willow, so I still think Euura atra is a very good candidate. Hopefully someone will be able to give a conclusive answer sometime soon.


I've just counted the birds in our garden for half an hour for the National gardenbird count (www.tuinvogeltelling.nl (in Dutch)). The Brambling (Fringilla montifringilla, Keep in Dutch) showed up, but the amount of Greenfinches (Carduelis chloris, Groenling in DUtch) was a bit disappointing, but that's just the way it goes. The instructions were to count the largest amount of a species you saw at the same time, to prevent double counts. The score:

  • 4x Great Tit (Parus major, Koolmees in Dutch)
  • 4x Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs, Vink in Dutch)
  • 3x Blue Tit (Parus caeruleus, Pimpelmees in Dutch)
  • 3x Jackdaw (Corvus monedula, Kauw in Dutch)
  • 2x Blackbird (Turdus merula, Merel in Dutch)
  • 1x Greenfinch (Carduelis chloris, Groenling in Dutch)
  • 1x Robin (Erithacus rubecula, Roodborst in Dutch)
  • 1x Brambling (Fringilla montifringilla, Keep in Dutch)