Friday, December 29, 2006

Professor Yaffle

The green woodpecker has been some of my favourite birds for a long time, probably dating back to when I received a large poster from the YOC (or RSPB Wildlife Explorers, as they’re now known).

Across the road from here is a large area of parkland, which looks spot-on for Green Woodies, so it’s not really that surprising that at least two have come to our garden so far (one male, one female).

We see the Green Woodpeckers in our garden perhaps a couple of times a week, when they spend long periods hopping around on the lawn, digging vigorously.

Though they nest in holes in trees, like other woodpeckers, that’s not where they find the majority of their food. The green feathers are a clue that they spend a huge amount of time on the ground, foraging for ants. The long, strong beak is used as a chisel to dig in search of ant colonies, while the long, sticky tongue (which coils up inside the bird’s head) fishes the ants out.

They’re really beautiful, striking birds, with a pale grey-blue iris, which gives them a slightly reptilian look, grass-green wings, red crown and a moustache which is all black in females, but with a red centre in males.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Greedy birds

It’s a good job we’re not feeding (expensive) sunflower hearts to our garden birds. I filled up a 1.5 litre feeder this morning, and now, at 3.11pm, it’s very nearly empty! It’s a pretty impressive feat, as we don’t get many Greenfinches (which will sit at a feeder and gobble away until they’ve had their fill), with the vast majority of feeder-users being tits, which grab one seed at a time. Will we buy more feeders? Not sure - it could be a bottomless pit!

Tuesday, December 26, 2006


I’ve just watched the first Goldfinches (since we moved in) grace our garden. A trio perched in the bird bush for only a few seconds before moving on again.

It would be great to see them back again soon – Goldfinches do go for black sunflower seeds sometimes, as I found in my last garden. Lots of people put out niger seed (or nyger/nyjer, however you want to spell it – it’s teasel seed, basically) to attract Goldies, but it’s expensive stuff.

The specially-designed feeders exclude birds other than Goldfinches and Siskins so unless you pull in Goldfinches, you’re probably onto a loser. I have seen little sample-sized niger feeders in the RSPB shop, which seem like a good idea to start with.

It would probably be more fun – and more aesthetically-pleasing - to grow some real teasels in the flowerbeds. When they’re in flower, insects go wild for them, too, so you get a double pay-back.

Saturday, December 23, 2006


We’ve just had a real garden rarity. Small, streaked and brown, it skulked in the middle of the bush, revealing itself a couple of times only during its brief stay.

The identity of the bird? A female House Sparrow! The nearest sparrows are about a mile away from our patch, so I guess that it was swept along in a gang of Chaffinches (which are quite numerous at the moment).

It’s gone now – wonder when the next one will be, and whether it’ll bring a friend?

I would think that the reason there are no sparrows here is that there are no nest sites. We’re a bit lacking in hedges and I don’t know whether the eaves of the house are accessible. If we get more sparrows, we’ll buy a ‘sparrow terrace’ (three nestboxes all joined together – sparrows are colonial nesters) and see what happens.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Great Spot

For a few days now, we’ve been visited by a male Great Spotted Woodpecker a few times a day. He bounces over the garden, clings to the side of the [concrete] washing line post, and then makes the final leg of his journey to position himself on the seed feeder.

This woodpecker is definitely the messiest eater so far. There’s a constant shower of seed fragments while he picks out the bits he wants, and flings the rest all over the place. Hence the presence of Chaffinches, Robins, Pheasants and Collared Doves on the ground underneath.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Saving for a rainy day

The most popular food I’ve been putting out in the garden is sunflower seed. None of your pretentious ‘sunflower hearts’, just plain old, shell-on black sunflower seeds.

As a result, we’ve been inundated by tits. I’ve counted up to eight Blue Tits and five Great Tits at once, which suggests that up to 80 Blue and 50 Great Tits might be visiting during the day!

Those are pretty staggering numbers, but there’s no real way to check it out, unless we can tempt a local ringer up here to try and catch some of them. And I fear that it’ll take more than a promise of ‘lots of Blue Tits’ to do that – we need some Bramblings or something tasty to make it worthwhile…

The Blues and Greats aren’t quite as interesting to watch as the Coal Tits, however. At least two have been visiting so far (probably more). They spend all their time whizzing to and from the sunflower seed feeder, making lightning-fast raids to grab a seed and then flying off.

Unlike the Blue and Great Tits, the Coal Tits spend quite a large percentage of their time looking for places to hide their seeds. Watching them for a while reveals where they stash their booty: between wooden fence panels, in buddleia seed heads, inside flowers, among the twigs of small shrubs, in tree bark and in the ground.

Will they remember where any of them are, when the weather gets tough? I have a feeling that we’ll be seeing sunflowers sprouting in strange places in spring, but that’s all part of the fun.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Little Owl

Was just brushing my teeth when I heard the ‘yapping’ of a Little Owl. Had to yell for Darren so he could hear it too, and then we both saw it in the ash tree at the back. Bit surprised it’s taken this long to see one from the garden, really.

Sunday, December 17, 2006


Here’s the scene: I’m in, Darren’s out birding around the local area. While 'scoping from an upstairs window, I spot a pale blob in the middle of the field at the back of the house. It’s a falcon, on the ground, and on a kill.

Hmmm. That’s not a Kestrel – back not red enough. And I can see the ‘moustache’ on its face. Got to be either a Merlin or a Peregrine, but there’s nothing to give a sense of scale out there in the field.

Ah – here come some Canada Geese over low – will they spook the falcon? Yes, there it goes, up into the air for a few seconds, and it’s clearly a Peregrine.

If Darren’s not back in time to see this, I’m going to be in trouble!

Well, he missed it by about ten minutes. It took off with its kill (a Woodpigeon?) and flew right by the house, before heading off south. Too bad – you go out and you miss what’s in the garden.

It turned out that he’d trumped me by seeing a Curlew whilst on his travels, and that’s too bad, too, I suppose. Hmph.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Frosty day

Local residents: Corn Buntings
Took a walk from home on a frosty morning.

photos taken with Nikon Coolpix 995

Thursday, November 30, 2006


It's getting a bit late in the year, but this Garganey was still at Blunham today. In the past couple of years, a drake has turned up at Woodwalton Fen NNR in Cambs - are wintering Garganeys going to become more commonplace?

photos taken with Nikon Coolpix 995 + Leica Apo Televid 62 with 20x eyepiece

Friday, November 10, 2006

Speckled Wood - indoors

I was on my way outside to fill up the bird feeder yesterday when I discovered this beautiful Speckled Wood sitting quite happily on the windowframe - inside the building. It seemed a bit late in the year (though there are still butterflies on the wing outside at the moment) so I consulted Ian Dawson, insect guru, and he came to have a look.

We were puzzling over what the butterfly was doing indoors when he found its chrysalis stuck to the doorframe:

He told me that Speckled Woods are the only British butterflies which can overwinter in caterpillar or chrysalis forms, but not adult... They only last for five days anyway.

photos taken with Nikon Coolpix 995