Sunday 20 December 2015

So shaken are we, so wan with care, find we a time for frighted peace to pant... Wm. Shakespeare.

Anyone who knows me will be aware that I am rather tied up along with Elis in making Wader Quest, the charity that Elis and I founded to support wader conservation, a success. It has been all consuming in 2015 with lots happening, but I'm not going to bore you with that now, if you want to know more go to suffice to say that a lull in the charity's urgent needs has allowed me the luxury of cogitating upon the birds in and around our garden in the last year.

The year list for the garden for 2014 was 74 (from March onwards) and in 2015 it was 73. The funny thing is that we had some new birds with the garden list rising from that 74 to 83 by the end of 2015. Those additional 9 species mean we didn't see 10 that we had previously seen. The missed birds were; Gadwall, Great Egret, Common Sandpiper, Red-legged Partridge, Willow Warbler, Sedge Warbler, Whitethroat, Mistle Thrush, Bullfinch and Lesser Redpoll. Of these Great Egret is not a surprise as it is still a rarity and the Red-legged Partridge is the weirdest as there were actually seen in our garden but we have not seen one since, not even in the field where we often see Pheasants. The non appearance of the others disappointing to say the least.

'Garden' Bird of the Year for 2014 has to be the Great Egret.

Great Egret flying to roost.

Close runners up are the Red-legged Partridges, Lesser Redpoll, Sedge Warbler and Whitethroat.

One of the mysterious disappearing partridges in among the primroses.

Lesser Redpoll for just one day on the feeder.

Sedge Warbler in the field and often singing outside the kitchen window.

Whitethraot giving voice outside the lounge window.

The 9 new birds seen that make up for these are; Pink-footed Goose, Teal, Goldeneye, Green Sandpiper, Herring Gull, Barn Owl, Tawny Owl, Sand Martin and Redwing.

Of these the Pink-footed Goose would be the bird of the year except that it is probably an escape, the Barn Owl cold have been, but only Elis saw it, so, as a wader enthusiast I'm going for Green Sandpiper for 'Garden' Bird of the Year 2015.

Green Sandpiper on a puddle in the field.

Pink-footed Goose with Greylags and Canada Geese.

Until recently there has been just a trickle of stuff, nothing particularly exciting in terms of novelty although it is lovely to have the occasional visit by both Great Spotted Woodpecker...

Great Spotted Woodpecker taken earlier this year having a drink taken through the lounge window.

and Green Woodpeckers. The former on the nuts (or birdbath in this case) and the latter on the lawn.

Green Woodpecker on the lawn taken through the front door window.

I assume this paucity of birds is due to the unseasonably mild weather we're having this winter. But something has changed in the last few weeks, and it isn't the weather as it is 14°c outside as I write.

This week there have been dozens of Blue Tits coming to the feeders, I have not seen aggregations of these tiny jewels like this since I was a kid when they would appear in our garden in good numbers or at the feeders in Salcey Forest which I believe are sadly no longer there. At none of the addresses in which I have lived have I seen numbers like this, even here at the Cottage last year it was not so well attended by these birds. With them come many more Great Tits than I have seen together in a long time too.
Many more Blue Tits are visiting the garden now.
Every now and then the garden is decorated by a throng of Long-tailed Tits who constantly amuse us and leave us with a smile on our faces.

Like lollipops stuck to a post, always a joy; Long-tailed Tits.

I am particularly smitten by the way in which they will pluck a sunflower heart from the feeder, swing around under the perch, take the sunflower heart from their beak with one foot while holding on with the other and then eat the seed suspended in this way, much like a parrot would.

Such an excellent way to feed!

We get the occasional visit from a Marsh Tit and also from a Coal Tit. The latter was absent except for two one off visits until recently, on one occasion there were two of them.

Marsh Tit

These two don't often come at the same time but seem to arrive with Long-tailed Tits so maybe there are two groups of Long-taileds each carrying a different stranger with them.

Coal Tit.

We also recently had up to 6 Reed Buntings and a Goldcrest visit us.
Reed Bunting in the Ribes bush outside the lounge window.

Sparrowhawks continues to terrorise the garden from time to time, there are at least two and possibly three individuals that visit, one of them a stunning male although he is the least frequent.

Sparrowhawk having just missed its potential lunch by the log pile.

We are also treated to occasional flight views of Red Kites and Common Buzzards.

Red Kite from the bedroom skylight.

Common Buzzards from the garden.

Outside the garden too it has been quiet. The field isn't suitable for Lapwings this year so we have to content ourselves with flyovers, the max being 27 so far. This is particularly galling as it means my ever fervent hope of a Golden Plover with them is much diminished.

26 flying Lapwings over the field and lake.

The number of finches has also increased. The Goldfinches have been much the same in number as they have since the spring, around five or six, but recently they have been joined by the same number of Greenfinches at any given time and double figures of Chaffinches. This, unlike the situation with the plovers, gives me hope that they will drag in some Siskins this year, or even better a Brambling or two and we may even get a return visit from a Redpoll that stopped here just once before.

Part of the finch flock Goldfinch, four Chaffinches and a Greenfinch under the feeder outside the kitchen window..

We also find it hard to believe how few Bullfinches there are these days. Living on the edge of a field with a copse, a lake and plenty of hedgerows you'd have thought they'd be a given along with Yellowhammer perhaps, but these days neither lives here any more. Our garden has been graced by Bullfinches just twice and then only for a very short time. The chances of a Yellowhammer are close to nil, but if we ever get the hard winter they suggested we would get (so far nothing could be further from the truth) you never know.

Bullfinch from one of only two visits in nearly two years.

Thrushes though are few and far between. We haven't seen a Song Thrush since they stopped singing, not one since the 13th of July has put in an appearance in the garden although one was seen in both August and September nearby. We also noted a lack of Blackbirds, very few around since August however one or two are now appearing. We have seen one huge flock of Fieldfares over the field and a heard Redwings at night, Elis also saw some fly over one afternoon in November. The Mistle Thrushes that turned up between the 2nd and 9th of December last year have not returned since.

Blackbirds have been unusually scarce this autumn.

An occasional visitor is the Jay, it doesn't come very often, perhaps once a week n average, but it is always a delight to see when it does.


And finally some more shots starting with of one of my favourite birds.

Long-tailed Tit.

Green Woodpecker
Goldfinches outside the kitchen window.

Blue Tit outside the lounge window.

Greenfinches from the kitchen window.

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.