Monday, July 26, 2004

New roost

Have been a bit busy recently with moving house, so birding, blogging and photographic activities have been curtailed. However, when I've had the chance, I've been building up my new garden list.

The definite star birds so far have been two Hobbies which have passed over. I'd probably have missed them entirely were it not for the House Martins that are breeding in the neighbourhood. When they're up in the air over the houses (which is most of the time), they have to be constantly vigilant for predators. So when they spot a Hobby, they go beserk and start alarm-calling. That's my cue to go outside (or stick my head out of the nearest window) and scan the skies.

The other day, a Sparrowhawk went over. It was quite interesting how they recognised it as posing a lesser risk than a Hobby. Though they gave the hawk a wide berth and made sure everyone knew it was there, they were far less concerned about that than the falcon. That fascinates me. Obviously, they are far more skilled at raptor recognition than most birdwatchers.

Sometimes I hear the alarm calls (a high-pitched 'ziiu, ziiu') from some birds, while others continue feeding. Maybe these are young birds getting over-excited or it could be a learning process.

The martins are still showing a bit of interest in nests, including an artificial cup fixed under my neighbour's eaves. I think I'll get one of those. There's also a barely-started nest on the end of the same house which receives attention every now and then. Perhaps they're thinking ahead for next year? I'd imagine that House Martins must have problems finding mud in urban situations like these. There aren't rutted cart-tracks or ponds to gather nest material from, so there must be a fair bit of travel involved in building their own from scratch. How many beakfuls of mud does it take to build a nest? Where are they getting it from?

What's also interesting is that they aren't always around. Sometimes the air is full of their calls, and other times they're nowhere to be seen. Where do they go? My guess is that they're hawking for insects over lakes and the river, or just out of sight high up. After all, they have to follow their food supply. The same goes for the Swifts which are usually - but not always - visible nearby.

House Sparrows are numerous in gardens here, but I have yet to tempt one onto the feeder hanging from the washing line post. They do forage on the [very scruffy] lawn, but I don't know whether it's for seeds or insects (there are a lot of flying ants about currently).

The crowning glories of the garden are the non-cherry-producing cherry sp. tree in the front, and a big Ash tree in the back. The Ash is the biggest tree in the street so I'm hoping it will 'grab' birds flying over. I'm annoyed the cherry won't produce any fruit (don't ask me why not) but its dense tangle of branches and twigs seems to be popular (for perching purposes) with House Sparrows, Starlings, Blackbirds and Goldfinches.

A Common Tern flew over carrying a fish on the first day so I'm obviously under a flightpath between breeding and feeding sites. Canada Geese have flown past every day so far and there's a constant stream of Black-headed Gulls going over.

On the other hand, I've had to work hard to see a Chaffinch and Dunnock from the house and there's still no sign of Song Thrush, Greenfinch, Robin or Great Tit! But things seem promising, so far...

What's in my CD player: I Hope You're Sitting Down - Lambchop