Tuesday 29 January 2013

Blast from the past. Rufous-tailed Jacamar.

Looking through some old photos today I came across this sequence of photos Elis took of a couple of Rufous-tailed Jacamars in Brazil.

Rufous-tailed Jacamar

These birds seem to fill a niche similar to that of bee-eaters which of course they resemble. They inhabit similar habitats but can be found in more forested areas than their old world counterparts. The male sports a white throat while the female's is rufous.

Male showing off to female.

This female caught a fly and sat for ages holding it in her beak before finally swallowing it.

It was always a joy to see these birds. They were pretty rare along the coast although we did see them in Ubatuba, but the nearest place to be sure of a sighting was Perequê where the famous Black-hooded Antwrens could be found, the Jacamars were always along the track deep into the woodland where these pictures were taken.

Always a sight for sore eyes.

I saw my first ever Rufous-tailed Jacamar on a barbed wire fence in Matozinhos in Minas Gerias when Elis and I were visiting her mother. They make quite an impression when you first see one, I seem to remember punching the air (whilst no-one was looking of course!)

Thursday 24 January 2013


For what it is worth, in Brazil we used to get through huge numbers of bananas feeding the tanagers, so as an experiment we put a banana out to see if anything would eat it.

Predictably I suppose a Starling was the first to try it and took great chunks out of it with gusto but soon lost interest.

The Starling that tucked into the Banana first;
(and the Pied Wagtail that didn't).
Shortly after several Starlings were seen setting about the banana we put out the front.

Not quite tanagers but pretty enough birds in my view.
Later, as the evening was drawing in, a Blackbird helped herself.

Female Blackbird helping herself to the banana.
The problem is, bananas are not as cheap as they are in Brazil! They are unlikely to become regular items in the menu for our birds I'm afraid they have to make do with apples.

Sunday 20 January 2013

More blackbirds than you can bake in a pie!

I woke up this morning to the sound of a Blackbird chacking outside in the garden. As I lay in my warm and cosy bed I began to get pangs of guilt. It was as though the bird was chiding me for my selfishness, goading me into action. Wearily I arose from my pit, bracing myself as I did so against the cold air, shivering slightly I waddled over to the window and pulled back a corner of the curtain. There, spread out across the lawn like a box of chocolate biscuits spilled on a fluffy white carpet were not one but THIRTY ONE Blackbirds. News had spread about our garden it seems and the entire local population had come for their grub. Sadly it was still too dark to take a photo; flash was not an option due to the glass in the window. Had we opened the window  they would have all flown off and I would have frozen my balls (as in brass monkeys) off for no reason.

Four Blackbirds with the  back garden Fieldfare
During the day birds come and go, studies have shown that individuals rarely stay put in one spot and have a circuit of feeding stations (try telling that to our resident Fieldfares) thus they are never all in your garden at the same time, misleading you into thinking you have less individual customers than in fact you do. You may see a good percentage of them causing you to underestimate the number of individuals you are actually supporting. Obviously overnight all of our visitors had been planning their strategy for surviving the next day, and they all had the same bright idea; 'Let's go and wake the Simpsons up, they're a soft touch, always loads to eat there!' in much the same way that I carefully select a 'greasy spoon' for a fry-up to set me up for a long, hard day ahead.

The raisins are particularly popular with the Blackbirds

Due to the number of bird visitors we have had we found our food stock depleted. We put out what we had left and then set off to a well known supermarket to buy, in addition to our own requirements: apples (40); bread (four loaves); mixed dried fruit (4 packets), after all 'every little helps'. We then went to the garden centre and bought: a hundredweight of mixed bird seed; a million meal-worms; a bucket with more fat balls than you can find in 3 Rugby Union teams (including subs); enough suet blocks to build a house; my own weight in sunflower kernels! (OK I may have exaggerated slightly). Fortunately we still had a sufficient supply of nijer seeds and peanuts, so the total bill, including the supermarket, remained under 200 smackers... just! A least the water is free... no, wait a minute, the water butt is frozen, we have to use tap water. Not free then but relatively cheap even so, considering the small quantities involved (less than the amount of beer it takes to be over the limit).


We now have two resident Fieldfares, one out the front and the other out the back. They are very argumentative for flocking birds (if you'll excuse the expression) and need the house between them to avoid fights. Every now and then a flock if their kind will descend, only small numbers, three or four at most, and the resident birds will take a break from beating the hell out of the Blackbirds and see them off. It turns out Fieldfare are not a caring, sharing sort of a bird.

Front garden Fieldfare keeping watch for intruders.

Front again.
Back garden Fieldfare standing guard over 'his' aplle which is half covered
in snow but just about visible in this shot.

Other highlights today (highlights being relative, I doubt this will excite many folk) were a Rook in the garden and a Dunnock.

The number of Starlings has apparently risen with a maximum count at of 28 out the back and 16 out the front simultaneously; total 44.

Much bird activity in the garden, mostly Starlings here.
The two Pied Wagtails we have are also rather belligerent and they cannot co-exist, one will always chase the other out of the garden if they both appear at the same time. This is happening more frequently now their stays are getting more and more prolonged in nature.

Pied Wagtail

Elis has been heroic taking a spade to the snow on the lawn clearing a patch so that the Starlings can probe about in it looking for all the world like a small flock of waders (Obsessed? Me? Nahh!). Elis noted the way they insert their beak and then force it open, presumably opening up a gap from which they can pluck a tasty morsel should they find it. She also cleared a section of the flower bed exposing bare earth that has been permanently poked at by a succession of Blackbirds.

Elis doing the top up.
Water is still very popular but I still see some birds taking beaks full of snow from time to time. I'm not really sure why they would choose to do this as the energy involved in melting the snow would have to be replenished somehow.

Full house!
This bird appeared to be catching snowflakes!
We had a couple of brief visits from a Long-tailed Tit and a Blue Tit. The tits must have somewhere else that they are feeding as they only stop here for a very short time. I expected to see more of them to be honest, and a little disappointed we don't get more visits from these little beauties.

As I sit here now in the gathering gloom, the day is finishing much as it started with a albeit smaller number (10) of blackbirds hopping around gathering some last minute calories and chacking quietly to themselves. The Starlings have all gone off to some communal roost, to whirl around in their hundreds, if not thousands before turning in for the night, creating an enthralling spectacle; another trait that adds weight to the 'honorary wader' claim.

So there you have it, let's see what tomorrow brings. Can't wait, this is better than... well, you know! (Not true, but you get my point I'm sure.)

Friday 18 January 2013

More snow and more excitement in the garden.

We had to replenish our feeders and water bowls six times today. We had continuous procession of birds in the garden, and a couple of new ones too; Wren and Song Thrush. We tried to record events as much as possible as we fear that once the snow has gone our feathered friends will largely dessert us.

Photography through the double glazing is not always successful so
sometimes it means donning outdoor gear and opening the door!
The snow started at about 08:30, very fine at first, we took the opportunity to go out while we could and by the time we returned at about 10:00 it was snowing properly and continued to do so all day and into the night.

Starlings drinking from water bowl. It is very important to keep fresh water
available in freezing conditions.
Large numbers of Starlings stayed in attendance all day, squabbling with each other most of the time. The other bird that we had in big numbers was the Blackbird at one point we had 14 of them together, a mixture of females, 1st winter and adult males. I can't recall ever seeing so many Blackbirds in one spot before.

Gathering of Starlings
We still haven't seen a Redwing, but there's still time, with all the commotion that goes on around our house at the moment any passing flocks will be sure to see it and come and take a look. The Fieldfares certainly found us that way.

Although the flock only put in a brief appearance today, one bird remained all day on our front lawn, venturing only once to the back of the house. He tucked in to the apples and defended them against all comers, but at times he was swamped by the sheer numbers of the starlings.

Fieldfare enjoying the apple unchallenged... for now.

It remained by the apple nearly the whole time.

And came at it from all angles.

Later in the day when the snow had got deeper.

It defended its apple with gusto.
At one point it tried to have it away on its toes with the apple but it
proved too heavy in the end.

The Song Thrush was a brief visitor to the front garden, he didn't stop long, but we hope he'll return.

Our brief visit by the Song Thrush, the first we have seen in the garden.
The Song Thrush seemd to have a taste for the bread mostly while the
Starling behind is tucking into the sultanas we put out.

The Wren was seen on the back fence, it snuck through from the neighbours garden and then searched for something to eat in the small plants we had planted earlier this year, he didn't find much I don't think and soon flew to the top of the fence and over into the alley behind.

We had two Pied Wagtails today, both came to the back garden and drank from the water bowl there. A single Jackdaw came down too into the back garden for the first time, but he didn't feed before flying off.

Chaffinches and Goldfinches continued to come and go most of the day, the Chaffinches at the front of the house the Goldfinches at the rear for the most part. I still have my fingers crossed that something rarer may drop in, such as a Siskin, or a Redpoll or even a Brambling, maybe even the Nuthatch we heard calling not half a mile from here recently.

A few Black-headed Gulls spend the day scavenging in the neighbourhood and come down when new supplies of bread are provided.

We have a resident hedgehog that lives in a little house that Elis made for the purpose, we hope he is snug in there.

The palace of hogminster.


Wednesday 16 January 2013

More snow birds in the garden...


Water is as important, if not more so, when everything is frozen. This Blackbird drank a good amount from this water bowl provided.

A very thin layer of ice had formed on this water during the day, it was enough to support the weight of the dove, but it was still able to peck a small hole through it. Pigeons and doves are able to drink without raising their heads to swallow. This bird made full use of this ability by puncturing a small hole in the ice and 'sucking' water up through it. Most birds would not have been able to drink in this fashion.

We have stacked our tables and covered the floor with food and have been amazed at the transformation of our little birdless garden due to the weather. All these bird photos were taken through old and grubby double glazing, hence the poor quality, I don't need to sack the photographer.

One big success has been the apples, the Starlings, Blackbirds and, to our delight, Fieldfares loved them and they were soon reduced to empty skins.

The Fieldfares are new bird for the garden (number 23!), when I saw them fly over I was delighted with the tick, they then landed in a neighbour's tree and that was better still, imagine then my excitement when they came down to feed in the garden!


The Long-tailed Tits have returned several times today, they have only passed this way once before, but they have been three times already today.

A single Blue Tit also visited several times.

Loads of Chaffinches are feeding at the front of the house, but they don't seem to want to come to the back, strange.

At the back the commonest birds are the delightful Goldfinches, at one time we had eleven in the garden at once.

The other big surprise, again in the front where it is more open were the Jackdaws and Black-headed Gulls.

The other corvid we have seen is Magpie.

House Sparrows are thin on the ground, we only had one female come to the front garden.

Woodpigeons put in occasional appearances and dwarf most of the other birds.

Last but not least, we were pleased to see that the Pied Wagtail returned for its second day.

We had a bimble out in the car and admired the frozen countryside, this weather may be bad for wildlife, but it sure produces some beautiful scenery.