Early(ish) Morning Birdwatching.

A great morning’s birdwatching today – a large number of sparrows, young and adults, blackbirds a-plenty, chaffinches, greenfinches, bickering goldfinches, great tits, blue tits, a dunnock – the only thing missing was a robin and Walter the pigeon. Yes, these were all in my garden whilst I had my breakfast – I was so interested in the behaviour of the different birds, particularly the three young goldfinches, that I was nearly late for work (never mind).

One of the goldfinches was quite shy and was easily pushed out of the way, another sat inside the ground feeder quietly eating away at the sunflower hearts in there, ignoring the raucous sparrows, and the third, is the most aggressive of the lot, chased away nearly all the other birds that tried to evict him from the feeder. Most that is, apart from a male bullfinch, one of the highlights of the morning, looking beautiful against a rare blue sky, one of the prettiest birds, and one that hasn’t visited the garden for a couple of years.

Just in case anyone is wondering why I am constantly going on about the birds, firstly they really bring the garden to life, and, secondly, it stops me getting morose about all of the slug damage going down (they are picking on my beans and salad crops now that they have finished off the courgette, cosmos and sunflowers).

Time to fly the nest, for some anyway.

Well, it is bank holiday and it is raining again.  I say this despite the sunshine of earlier in the month, because it was raining this time last year.  I remember this specifically because we spent far too much of our day watching recently fledged blue tits, great tits and coal tits in the garden, and were thankful that they had chosen a rainy bank holiday because our neighbour had gone out for the day and left the little furry killing machine (aka Harry the cat) indoors.

I think that things are running a bit later this year as the blue tits don’t look as manky yet and do not seem overly interested in the mealworms.  The sparrows have, however, fledged, their youth betrayed by their awkward flights around the garden and their constant clamouring for food.  Life for an adult sparrow seems much akin to that of human parents really, particularly for the one female who spent some time gathering mealworms for the noisy offspring, popped out from the feeder to hand them over, then stood on the fence looking vexed and wondering where they had wandered off to.  Baby sparrow had popped over to the other side of the garden to investigate a different fence which looked more interesting!

Hopefully it will rain when the blue tits finally decide it is time for independence.

Spring has sprung.

OK, so maybe it is obvious to most people that it is now spring, but some of us have our own signs that the season has changed (for me Winter comes with the arrival of goosanders). So, the clocks have gone forward, the daffodils are out and, yesterday, so was the sun, and it was warm, but to me, the telltale sign of spring occurred this morning on my way to work. It was the sound of a chiffchaff calling. I stopped to listen and make sure, but there really is no mistaking the call of a chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita).

According to the Bird Guides website which has pictures and more information about the chiffchaff, the best way to distinguish this little brown job from the equally small and brown Willow Warbler is by its black legs. In my experience I rarely see one before I have heard it and the call is enough to distinguish it from anything else.

I have seen them in Winter, but they usually return to nest in Spring, the ones landing in these shores are thought to have wintered in southern Europe and Africa. So, the next time you are out and about listen for the call of one of the earlier and most vociferous migrants to these shores.

Peregrines – adaptable and evil!

I listened to a BBC Wildlife Magazine podcast this morning whilst eating my porridge and was fascinated to hear about a side of peregrine falcons that I had never heard about before.

It is a much-publicized fact that more peregrines are taking up residence in cities these days and feeding on those pesky pigeons. Apparently though these only make up around half of their diet. Other city dwelling birds such as blackbirds and thrushes also fall victim, but the surprising fact as far as I am concerned was that they are also rather partial to other birds such as woodcock, water rail and various ducks such as teal. I have visited numerous cities in my time and don’t remember coming across many of these (or any peregrines unfortunately). These are birds that spend most of the day in places that the falcon cannot catch them and tend to do most of their flying about at night. The crafty peregrines use the light pollution of the city to hunt by and catch these birds unaware.

Matters are tipped further into the peregrines’ favour by the light-coloured bellies of the wildfowl developed to prevent fish from seeing them easily from underwater which are nicely illuminated by the street lights!

Greenfinches – where did they go and why are they back?

When I first moved to Daventry my back garden was a barren wasteland with respect to little feathered friends. Eventually, after putting out peanuts and other bird foods, rather than the expected starlings and sparrows, our first visitors were greenfinches. We have welcomed these back every year, including some youngsters, numbers increasing as I tempted them in with sunflower hearts.

However, this Winter, there seems to have been a dearth of the little fellows with chaffinches being this season’s greenfinch. Where I had regularly seen 6 or 8 of them fighting over the feeders this year there were just one or two. I mentioned this to someone at the Northamptonshire Bird Club who knows more about such things than I, and he also seemed to think that the numbers were down. He thought they may have succumbed to a disease that has hit finches over the last couple of years.

This morning, I opened the blinds to look at the windy world and immediately counted 8 greenfinches in the garden. I don’t know where they went especially when the weather was cold and the bird numbers in the garden increased, but I certainly welcome the greedy little chap and chapesses back to fight over the feeders once more.

A birding first for me and my garden – are we in for a cold Winter?

Last Sunday it snowed here in Daventry (and in numerous other places in the Midlands). The snow settled, but had gone by morning. On thinking about this I cannot remember the last time I saw snow in November – it snows in April more than in November, and this time last year there were still Red Admiral butterflies about feeding on the ivy flowers.

The cold weather also seems to have brought increased bird activity in the garden. Although I am at work during the week my other half keeps me informed to the best of his ability (having only a beginner’s knowledge of bird types) of the number and varieties of birds that he sees during the day. This week he was trying his best to describe a bird that didn’t look like the other birds (his description was by necessity hampered by being colour-blind and I couldn’t decide what it was that he had seen).

Yesterday when watching a flock of 8 greenfinches in the tree I saw what I at first thought was one of the chaffinches that had been about earlier, but it didn’t look quite right. It flew away before I could confirm my suspicions, but came back later. Yes, said my beloved, that’s the one that has been in the garden for the last few days. As you may have guessed it was a Brambling (female I think) and the first time I have seen one (although I have always been hopeful as there seem to be a lot of sightings around). As this is the first time I have seen one in my garden, and it is November and the food out in the fields should not yet be too scarce I am wondering if this is a portent of cold weather to come this Winter.