Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Spring: truly the most wonderful time of the year and not Christmas as previously asserted!

The expectation of returning migrants was something that I missed in Brazil as although there was some seasonal movements, we did not suddenly find the forests to be filled with old friends singing that we had not heard for half a year, added to which we were not hankering after warm, sunny days following a dreary and cold winter, life just pretty much continued without noticeable change.

One Swallow... and all that. A sure sign that spring at least is here.

But here, in the UK, when the sun warms your back for the first time for months, there is surge of joy and optimism which is enhanced when you hear the first warbler song, probably a Common Chiff-Chaff or a Blackcap, both of which are early migrants, some even staying over winter.

Blackcap singing outside our window.

But it is not just the first migrants that lift your spirits, the early morning chortling of a Song Thrush or the mellifluous tunes of the Blackbird interspersed with the chattering Chaffinch song join the tuneful tootling of the omnipresent Robin.

Even the Starlings look extra special at this time of year, just like this handsome male at our feeders, look at the intricacies of the colours in the primaries and tertials; beautiful.

Birds in the garden start to display and mate, the trees and shrubs join the early blooming flowers and burst their buds washing the countryside with a lovely fresh green hue.

First green flush of spring complete with Chiff Chaff

But this has been a strange spring for us, it took us until the other week and a visit to Norfolk to hear and see our first Cuckoo.

Cuckoo at Snettisham in Norfolk.

The variety of warblers we witnessed around the house last year (Willow Warbler, Common Whitethroat and Sedge Warbler) did not materialise. That trip to Norfolk added a few more summer birds of course, one of which was Lesser Whitethroat chattering away in a hedge at Titchwell, but a noticeable absence of Turtle Doves is disconcerting to say the very least but we did enjoy the springtime spectacle of breeding plumage Dotterels in a field back from the coast.

Dotterel at some distance on the brow of a hill.

More locally we have had the House Martins return in quite good numbers with some birds nesting in and area that they missed last year. Our fears that they would not return we unfounded thankfully. The funny thing is that the biggest colony is in the housing estate we pass through to get to the cottage which is relatively new whereas some of the more traditional houses have been abandoned.

House Martins building their nests

The quintessential sound of summer is the screaming of Common Swifts, and the day they arrive in town is always a day when we wear smiles on our faces, the sight and sound of them rushing up the high street ignored by all except us, is a real treat.

Swifts bombing through the air. If I were a bird, I think I'd like to be a swift.

Breeding in our garden has met with varied success. The early Robins hatched their eggs in the upturned vase but the young disappeared falling prey to a predator of some kind we supposed.

Our Robin clearly feeding young before the predator raid robbed the nest.

The Blue Tits are nesting again in the tatty old box on the garage wall. They have nested there for many years according to our landlord, but the box is now so badly damaged they don't even bother to use the hole any more, just one of the gaping holes in the roof!

Blue Tit entering the tatty nest box through an unplanned hole.

Another upturned vase brought a surprise for us, it was utilised by a pair of Great Tits. This was not expected, we had hoped a Robin or a Wren might use it as the hole seems way too big for the Great Tits and the young could easily be seen from outside; however they did OK as at least three birds fledged to our relief.

One of our fledgling Great Tits gets a meal.

We have also been visited by the Great Spotted Woodpeckers who have brought their youngster with them. We remember all too well the fate of the young bird last year when it ended up as a meal for the local sparrowhawk. We have seen this youngster a few times, but always with just one parent, sometimes the female and sometimes the male. We are not sure if it is the same bird and the parents take turns to feed it or whether we have two pairs where the male form one and the female from the other have met some sort of mishap, like a sparrowhawk for example. We know we had at least two male Great Spots earlier in the year due to aberrant marking on one of them.

Male Great Spotted Woodpecker feeding the young fledgling.

Blackbirds have arrived with four spotty youngsters and a couple of young Robins have appeared despite our nest failing; the Starlings have brought their first brown fledglings with them.

Young Blackbird

Young Robin

Young Starling; look at the size of that cake-hole!

We have seen the returning migrants some of which are passing through such as the Common Ringed Plovers but the Little Ringed Plovers will hopefully breed.

Little Ringed and Common Ringed Plovers at Manor Farm.

Another returning migrant was the Common Sandpiper.

Common Sandpiper

Both Lapwings and Oystercatchers are again breeding locally which is good, but there are so few of them...

A Lapwing and an Oystercatcher dispute breeding rights on a small island at Stony Stratford Nature Reserve.

...and so many dangers it will be a lucky pair that fledge their young.

One of the dangers that ground nesting birds face.

We also managed time for a twitch or two and caught up with the long staying Hudsonian Godwit not a bird we have seen many of anywhere in the world and more recently another couple more "Yank" waders; Hudsonian Whimbrel and Greater Yellowlegs.

Hudsonian Godwit in Somerset (darker bird in the middle of the Black-tailed Godwits).

Greater Yellowlegs (the one with yellow legs among yet more Black-tailed Godwits) in Hampshire.
We also bumped into a trio of captive bred Cranes that had been roving the countryside earlier in the year.

Skye, Oakie and Cotton (not necessarily in that order) the three roving cranes at Gallows Bridge Farm.

Other garden highlights included the occasional visit from the local Jay.

Jay on the bird table

To finish this blog the Woodpigeons and Collared Doves have been making a racket with all their billing and cooing.

Collared love.


Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Coal Tit returns and Mother gets a tick aged 92.

A Coal Tit has visited the garden for only the second time, whether it is the same bird or not I am obviously unable to say, but its behaviour was almost identical. The last sighting was on 16th October last year when it was first seen on the feeders. It then flew off to a position where it was out of view returning a few minutes later to take a second sunflower seed. It never returned. Until (possibly) today, when the same happened. It was again first seen on the feeders, it took a sunflower seed then flew to a nearby tree where it devoured the seed, this time in view. It then returned to the feders where it attacked the peanuts eating for a few seconds enabling this photo (the first was not photographed) to be taken. It then sat in the Ribes bush, flew to the sunflower seeds, took one and then disappeared altogether not to be seen again up to the end of the day nor in subsequent days. Strange business.

The 'occasional Coal Tit' finally captured.

We have also had other activity in the garden, the Chiff Chaff that has been singing away for the last week finally put in an appearance sitting outside the window.

Common Chiff Chaff

A Jay a rare visit too, We get Carrion Crows and Magpies every day, the Jackdaws that were regular have apparently deserted us and it has been ages since we saw a Rook down the field.

Eurasian Jay helping himself to the mealworms.

Changing the subject a little, although I'm not sure how she has achieved this feat, my mother had managed to get to her 92nd year without seeing a Long-tailed Tit! This must surely count as a bogey bird! Admittedly she is not an active birder and admittedly they don't visit her garden, but she is the mother of an active birder who has them in his garden on a daily basis! Anyway, she and Dad came over to visit for a cup of tea and a Belgian bun and finally she got to see her first Long-tailed Tit. I wonder what tick I'll get when I'm 92?

Long-tailed Tit

The Great Spotted Woodpeckers have been seen a couple of times as a pair, they don't come to the feeders as regularly as they did last year but they do seem to have formed a pair. We know that at least one great spot was taken by a Sparrowhawk last year but whether it was one of the pair or the youngster we are not sure; however we are inclined it think it was the latter.
Great Spotted Woodpecker

The other day we came across this unfortunate Starling in the car park at Tesco. Its bill was grotesquely distorted and it had to tilt its head to one side to feed. Reminded me a bit of the Wrybills we saw in New Zealand, but its bill turned to the left not right and it was a lot more colourful.

Deformed Starling doing an impression of a Wrybill.

We also saw some 'Starlings with normal bills, they rally are an incredibly lovely looking bird close up.

Eurasian Starlings feasting on cat food. Gorgeous birds. Male at the front, female in the middle and one or the other behind that.

And to think I twitched one of these back in the 1980s! We see them from our cottage window now.

Little Egret

Finally, the toads are at it again, a sure sign that spring is here.

Common Toad love in the long grass.


Monday, 23 March 2015

The last thing a Blue Tit wants to see - but often does!

A sparrowhawk locking-on to it!

Not a sight that will make your day if you are a passerine I think!

This beauty spent some time sitting on our bird bath beneath the feeders today...

before moving off to the fence and then away empty taloned.

Fantastic prolonged views of this handsome fellow that as a youngster I could only dream of.  Mind you having these birds around may be good for us, but not so much fun for the other birds in the garden.

Here are three victims starting with what is for us a very rare bird; House Sparrow. Since January 1st we have been visited by sparrows on just three occasions, however on one of those 8 individuals were present. It was two months after we moved in that we got our first House Sparrows visiting. They then got quite regular with 9 visits in June and 10 in July, however since then we have only had a total of 8 occasions when they have been seen in the garden. Pretty amazing really since we are talking about what was our beloved and ridiculously common House Sparrow.

Sparrowhawk with House Sparrow Passer domesticus.  (Not taken in our present garden).
Another victim we caught on camera was a Collared Dove. They are daily visitors now but again it took two months to find us. When I was a small boy they were newcomers to the country and I remember well the excitement of seeing my first in my local neighbourhood in southern Hertfordshire. Quite exciting to get a lifer like that especially as it was a bird that was seldom shown in the British Bird Books that I had (they were all rather old). We also know these hawks have taken a starling, a tit (probably blue) a female blackbird, a greenfinch and most distressing of all, a Great Spotted Woodpecker!

One less Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto in the world.

As I was writing this blog incredibly a sparrowhawk struck again. This time sadly taking out one of our garden robins. We have, or had, a pair feeding together and they were beginning to build a nest in an upturned pot in a bush. The male is singing away forlornly now. Tough gig this living in the wild thing is it not?

Sparrowhawk with Eurasian Robin Erithacus rubecula prey. Shame it couldn't take out one of the dozens of tits and not one of our robin pair!

It is amazing how times have changed, sparrowhawks in the garden and Common Buzzards overhead...

Common Buzzard Buteo buteo.

not to mention the Red Kites that drift over from time to time.

Red Kite Milvus milvus.
When I was young these raptors were rare around where I lived, Red Kite was non existent outside Wales but Kestrels were common everywhere however these days we rarely see them or at least not nearly so much as we did. Along with the House Sparrows they are one of the many British species in decline.

Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus.

Hobbies are still rare now as they were when I was young, so it is always a pleasure to see one, especially when it is on the garden list. We had just one fly over last summer; I was expecting more.

European Hobby Falco subbuteo.

But I would be happy to swap that single sighting for one of these one day an adult Red-footed Falcon; magic bird.

Red-footed Falcon Falco vespertinus.

While on the subject of wished-for falcons, I wouldn't mind seeing one of these scythe by one day, that really would be a sight for sore eyes and not impossible since they nest in some of our towns now like Aylesbury for example; here's hoping.

Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus.

Friday, 20 March 2015

Goldeneye in eclipse!!! And it's only March!

Not eclipse plumage then obviously. Today we were lucky enough to witness a partial exclipse of the sun here in Newport Pagnell where the sun forever shines. Here is a photo Elis took of the event.

Solar eclipse 20/03/2015 from Newport Pagnell, Buckinghamshire, England. Looking like a big happy smile!

As if this wasn't exciting enough upon deciding to check out the lake as there seemed to be a fair amount of duck activity, I espied our first Goldeneyes, a pair. This brings our Cottage total up to just one short of the magic 80. (Not sure why it is magic actually but it is a sort of landmark).

Common Goldeneye pair. Snittisham, Norfolk, England30/03/2013

This month has seen a surge in new birds for the Cottage year list with five added. Including the two new birds, Green sandpiper and Common Goldeneye we have added Eurasian Oystercatcher, Northern Shoveler and Eurasian Skylark bringing our year list to 56.

Eurasian Oystercatcher. Cley next the Sea, Norfolk, England. 25/06/2012

Northern Shoveler. Slimbridge, Goucestershire, England. 03/10/2012
Eurasian Skylark in song flight. Newport Pagnell, Buckinghamshire, England. 26/05/2012
Here are a couple of the duck species that were on the lake today.

Tufted Duck. Slimbridge, Gloucestershire, England. 04/02/2013

Common Pochard. Slimbridge, Gloucestershire, England. 04/02/2013

Happy days!