Birds at the Sir Harold Hillier Gardens
There have been over eighty species of bird recorded in the Gardens. The wide range of habitats provide a haven for a broad variety of species, many of which can be spotted on a walk around the Gardens. Do not forget to bring binoculars with you if you want a closer look, or keep an eye on the screen in the Visitor Pavilion. Live feeds from the Gardens’ bird feeder are broadcast throughout the year as well as a number of nest box feeds during the spring breeding season.
In the spring, a wide variety of common garden and woodland birds can be seen collecting nest material and bringing up their young. Birds such as blue tit, great tit, nuthatch, treecreeper, blackbird, pied wagtail, moorhen, mallard, pheasant, robin, and tawny owl all regularly breed in the Gardens alongside a host of other species. Whilst house martins are suffering in the wider Test Valley due to a lack of suitable nesting sites, they still thrive under the eaves of Jermyn’s House. Other spring migrants include the chiffchaff (with its distinctive call), the blackcap and the cuckoo, which can often be heard from Rhodedendron Woodland. The distinctive drumming of the great spotted woodpecker and the laughing “yaffle” of the green woodpecker are frequently heard during spring.
It is always worth having a quiet walk through the Pinetum where goldcrest and even the more elusive firecrest can be seen. If you continue down into Lower Meadows you may surprise a heron in the stream. The Pond, meanwhile, is a focal point for many birds. In spring and summer, it is worth pausing to appreciate the resident moorhen population: often they will have multiple broods during the spring and summer with the fledged “teenagers” helping to bring up the new hatchlings. If you are very lucky you may catch a rare glimpse of a kingfisher. Down in the Himalyan Valley grey wagtails may be seen by the series of smaller ponds and streams. Despite their sober name, these restless birds can be recognised by their vibrant yellow underparts. Due to its proximity to the Woods of the World, the Gardens also see sightings of crossbill throughout the year, though this species has a notoriously variable population due to natural fluctuations in their available food supply.
The end of summer is marked by the departure of the migrant house martins and swallows. However, the plentiful supply of fruit and berries throughout the Gardens attract a host of autumn and winter migrants to take their place. In particular, gregarious flocks of redwing and fieldfare can be seen, along with large mixed flocks of finches in winter, including chaffinch, greenfinch, goldfinch, siskin, and bullfinch, along with the occasional lesser redpoll or hawfinch.
A number of different species of birds of prey have also been noted within the Gardens including sparrowhawk, buzzard, kestrel, red kite and an occasional flyover appearance by a goshawk. Barn owls have been seen previously, whilst tawny owls are often heard and sometimes even visible.
Butterflies at the Sir Harold Hillier Gardens
Some 25 species of butterfly have been recorded within Sir Harold Hillier Gardens. This have for butterflies is due to the availability of nectar from a wide range of native and non native cultivated plants, the wild flower meadows and the close proximity of Woods of the World.
The season starts with the garden offering nectar sources to butterflies which hibernate as adults, including Brimstone, Small Tortoiseshell and Peacock. Following on are the species which overwinter as a chrysalis, such as the Orange Tip and Green-veined White.
By July Meadow Browns, Ringlets, Marbled Whites and Gatekeepers, which overwinter as caterpillars can be seen to nectar from wild flowers in the meadows. Butterflies also need plants on which to lay their eggs. To mention a few Peacocks and Small Tortoiseshells lay on nettles, which they find beyond the boundaries of the garden and the previously mentioned meadow species all egg lay on grasses.
The rarest butterfly in the garden is the White-letter Hairstreak and butterflies passing through include the Silver-washed Fritillary and the White Admiral.
Our range of native and non native flowering plants, some of which are watered during periods of drought, offer a continuous source of nectar to butterflies, to include those from our own meadows, the wider countryside and migrating species such as the Red Admiral and the Painted Lady.