It’s beginning to look a lot like… the festive period. But there’s no rest for the wildlife gardener and photographer! While there’s less to do at this time of the year, there are still some jobs that you can do and photos to be taken!
Let’s get going!
Plant Trees and shrubs
Many plants become dormant at this time of the year, mainly due to the cold weather. This presents the opportunity to move bushes or small trees from one area of the garden to another if you so choose. These winter months are also the best time to plant new trees as the ground is cool and moist allowing them to get established within the garden. Very few trees will survive being planted in the summer because of the heat and lack of moisture.
Being ever the planner, I go for those that flower in the winter such as the Mahonia. It’s a spikey one but it flowers in winter and provides a much-needed meal for any pollinators.
Open up the Ice
Ponds freezing over is part of winter and generally isn’t an issue - unless it then snows. If you have a prolific pond, snow falling on a frozen pond surface poses the issue of blocking out the light. This will result in the pond rapidly losing its oxygen supply which may well kill off any fish or frogs in the pond.
The easier and less intrusive way to solve this is to put a hot pan of water in a saucepan (or something small depending on the size of your pond) and put it on top of the pond to melt a hole in the ice. This is better than smashing a hole which could shock some of the animals living in there and no risk of puncturing a hole in your liner.
I quite like cats, but I’m not a fan of what they can do to wildlife gardens. Whether it's fouling on my plants or killing the wildlife, they can be an issue. So, what can you do as a gardener to keep them out? Well, to be honest, not a lot. If they want to come in they’ll get in but here are a couple of ways to help.
Make sure you have lots of places for small animals to hide like bushes, rocks, log piles etc. so they aren’t exposed to cats. I have spikes on parts of my fish pond and fence to stop cats from lingering. The spikes won’t harm the cats but they’re just uncomfortable to sit on for long periods.
Despite their gardening-related flaws, cats are beautiful subjects to photograph so if you have a particularly persistent feline, perhaps make the most of it and snap some majestic photographs.
When we think of December and Christmas, what comes to mind? Robins. They’re one of the most common birds in the UK and can be found in almost every garden. Before humans, robins would have followed wild boars who would root in the ground, unearthing worms. Now, gardeners fill that niche, upturning the earth and exposing festive treats.
Robins are easy to take photos of. While easily scared, they’re also surprisingly brave. They can become fairly tame - so much so that I have seen photos of people feeding them from their hands! But, for something more achievable, you can set up the classic gardening fork-in-the-ground shot or better yet, wait for snowfall for that classic and stark contrast of that bright orange breast on the white background.
They aren’t long-lived birds, generally living no more than 18 months. But they make up for this short lifespan by being incredibly feisty, fighting off the competition with real ferocity.
Grey squirrels are a contentious subject among gardeners. They can damage trees, dig up plants and scare off more desirable garden visitors. If you live near a wooded area, you’ll like to see squirrels. To be honest, having a bird feeder will most likely attract them. One trick to deter them is to put chilli powder in the seed - birds can’t taste chilli but the squirrels can!
But we’re here for photography tips! While they can be a frustrating visitor, they are also very expressive and quite humorous subjects to capture. I approach taking squirrel photos much like I would the bird visitors in the garden - I like to get low and use a wide aperture to blur the foreground and background so the subject is the main focus. Of course, an action shot is also great. Use the natural daylight to your advantage and use a fast shutter speed to capture them running and jumping all over the garden obstacle course.
Ring Necked Parakeet
These exotic-looking birds are becoming more common in gardens across the UK, especially if you live in the southeast of England. You’d think that they wouldn’t like our climate - they definitely look like they’re from somewhere warm! But, they come from the Himalayas, so the cold isn’t an issue for them!
They’re quite a sight to see descending on bird feeders for food - the feeders that you’d probably expect to mainly see pigeons and blackbirds?! Of course, they make a fantastic subject to photograph. I try to wait for the perfect background to photograph them - you want to have bold contrasting colours to really highlight their vivid green colouring.
Grey Wagtails tend to be associated with water - you are more likely to see them if you have a large pond. I was lucky enough last year to have one visit for a few days.
Generally a winter visitor, grey wagtails visit gardens searching for any insects. They can be a bit skittish and easily scared - this makes them a difficult subject to get decent shots of. This is where a long lens and some patience will come into play if you’re looking to get the best shot. If you do have a pond which they are visiting, it might be worth putting a large log near it for them to rest on to get a clearer shot.
ConclusionMoving forward, it’s going to get much colder. Frosts become more common and the chance of snow increases. If you haven’t already, take the chance to protect any plants you have that may suffer in the colder weather.
As for photography, winter days are often overcast and dull. But, try to take the positives in that this overcast weather provides an even flat light on your subjects. Wild visitors may be fewer for the next little while, so be vigilant and take your opportunities where you can!