Sunday, January 31, 2010

The doves from above

Collared Doves

It may seem amazing to you, dear reader, but to see Collared Doves in the garden is a rare treat for me. We're just that bit too far out into the sticks for them to consider our garden suitable habitat. They turn up occasionally but never stay for long.

These ones (well, I assume they're the same ones) have been visiting the garden sporadically for two or three days now, so maybe 2010 will be the year they colonise this remote outpost. It's only 54 years since they first bred in the UK.

I am actually enjoying watching them.

photo taken with Apple iPhone 3GS + Leica Apo Televid 77 with 20x eyepiece

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Big Garden Birdwatch

Did my Big Garden Birdwatch this morning. It's bitterly cold today, clear and breezy, and I went out first thing to top up the feeders, scatter seed and oats on the ground, and put out some water.

I was thrilled to count a whopping SIX Reed Buntings hopping around with the Chaffinches. One of them was [presumably...] the bird we ringed last weekend. So that was good, but where were all the Great Tits? And why didn't any of our Marsh Tits turn up?

The totals...

  • Chaffinch, 16
  • Jackdaw, 11
  • Reed Bunting, 6
  • Blue Tit, 5
  • Greenfinch, 4
  • Great Tit, 3
  • Robin, 2
  • Blackbird, 2
  • Dunnock, 2
  • Pheasant, 1
  • Great Spotted Woodpecker, 1
  • Carrion Crow, 1
  • Magpie, 1
  • Coal Tit, 1
Annoyingly, I've just seen a Marsh Tit. Too late now...

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Wot no Marsh Tit?

Reed Bunting

Did a bit more ringing in the garden this morning. With a total of 37 birds caught (of which 8 were ones we'd ringed before), it wasn't one of our most impressive sessions.

A tactical error (of leaving a fat block out in the bush where the birds hang out) meant we had a slow start. Moving the fat block over to where the others feeders were sorted that out.

We even failed to catch a single Marsh Tit, when last time we'd caught one before we'd even finished putting the net up!

So the adult male Reed Bunting we did catch helped to make up for that disappointment. He's a nice example of feathers and how their wear affects a bird's appearance. See, all those browny-buff bits on his head will wear off in time for the breeding season. Like this. Weird as it seems, the Reed Bunting will look dapper once his feathers have worn away a bit more.

People get confused when they see birds that don't match exactly the illustrations or photos in their books. But feathers are constantly changing and wearing away, so birds hardly ever match the books. After all, nobody's told them what they're supposed to look like.

The scores on the doors:
  • Blue Tit, 10 (+ 7 we'd ringed before)
  • Great Tit, 8 (+1 retrap)
  • Chaffinch, 5
  • Greenfinch, 4
  • Dunnock, 1
  • Reed Bunting, 1
photos taken with Canon EOS 30D

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Friday, January 15, 2010

Fantastic Mr (or Mrs) Fox

Fox sketch

A fox came into the garden this morning to eat some of our birdfood. It stayed so long it seemed stupid not to sketch it. So I did.

When it arrived, it was only just getting light outside. It's horribly foggy today as well. I watched through the telescope and it looked like a black and white fox.

The fox sat down and ate, and watched Darren making his cup of coffee in the kitchen. And stayed and ate some more. Its luxuriant white-tipped tail brushed the ground. And eventually, there was enough light to see that it really was red and - of course - very beautiful.

I got my sketchbook and a pencil and started work. Fortunately, foxes have vaguely triangular faces, and triangular ears. So I'm quite pleased with the sketches, since I haven't done much drawing for a long time.

Just when I was embellishing one of my fox-doodles, I looked up and it had gone.

photo taken with Canon EOS 30D

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Times are hard

Snow and wire

...especially if you're a bird. In case you haven't noticed, it's flipping cold outside.

I've been doing my bit to help at home. Garden birds here have been offered a full variety of foodstuffs, including apples, table mix (includes wheat, oats, sunflower hearts, maize etc), black sunflower seeds, fat balls, fat block things and, best of all, porridge oats. Porridge oats are dirt-cheap and loads of birds eat them. Even Reed Buntings, as I've discovered.

Much of the water locally is frozen up. It's hitting birds like Kingfishers, wildfowl, waders and herons especially hard, as they simply can't feed.

From the Bedsbirds email group:
"Sadly a frozen dead Grey Heron was seen by the bridge still standing in the water tight up against the bank and still in hunting posture"
There are plans in place to help Bitterns, amongst other things; they're getting sprats put out for them at key locations. Which reminds me - stay off the whitebait.

Perhaps things will get better this week, as it's due to get up to about 3 degrees C on Friday!

Despite - or perhaps because of - the terrible weather, there have been interesting things to see. The garden list for 2010 (if there was such a thing) got off to a good start with our regular Marsh Tits putting in an appearance, plus the rarer species House Sparrow, Starling, Sparrowhawk and a female Bullfinch briefly. The latter is a garden mega!

We've had up to three Reed Buntings coming to feed, too. I've even seen them seeking out the seeds from the long grass surrounding the pond, which was nice to see. Now the garden's untidiness is justified entirely.

I visited my parents on New Year's Day. This was a very pleasant experience, but tinged with jealousy. They have two Fieldfares coming to their windfall apples. We don't get Fieldfares in our garden, only in the big tree briefly. If that was not bad enough, one came within three metres of the house to eat pyracantha berries. And I had left my camera at home.

Next morning I saw a female Blackcap coming to bathe in their pond. Haven't had a wintering Blackcap in my garden. Grrrr,

On Thursday lunchtime I watched a flock of 30 Redwings burrowing into snow-covered leaf litter in search of bugs to eat. They were getting right among the leaves, so must have dug through the snow to expose the leaves and their inhabitants. I like to think that birds are tougher and more adaptable than we give them credit for...

photo taken with Canon EOS 30D

Sunday, January 03, 2010

The pain, the pain...


The first ringing session of 2010 in our garden yielded lots of interesting things, but the pain was all mine.

We caught a whopping 39 Blue Tits, and my fingers still sting from their frenzied pecking... 14 of those were birds we'd caught before (known as 'retraps').

The three Robins have appeared from somewhere - we hadn't caught one since March. I've seen four at once in the garden in the past week, alternating between an uneasy truce and all-out war.

We trapped another three juvenile Marsh Tits - they just keep coming!

Starling (adult female) and Great Spotted Woodpecker (adult male) have been infrequent visitors lately, so it was lucky to catch them. I received a good pecking from them both, with the woodpecker drawing blood and leaving my fingers covered in pock-marks.

One of the Greenfinches (pictured) was already ringed, but not here! Del had caught it in his garden, 6 km away. That means it's a 'control', the first for the garden!

We missed a female Reed Bunting, which dodged the net, and a Sparrowhawk that's been hanging around for the past few days. Just seen it this afternoon, though - you can't catch 'em all.

The totals:
  • Blue Tit, 25 new ones and 14 we'd caught before
  • Great Tit, 12 new and 8 retraps
  • Robin, 3 new
  • Marsh Tit, 3 new
  • Dunnock, 3 new, 1 retrap
  • Coal Tit, 1 new, 2 retraps
  • Starling, 1
  • Great Spotted Woodpecker, 1
  • House Sparrow, 1
  • Greenfinch, 2 new, 1 control
  • Blackbird, 1 retrap
- a total of 79 birds caught in 50 feet of net - our biggest-ever catch.

photo taken with Canon EOS 30D