Thursday, 24 December 2009

Merry Christmas & a Happy New Year.

Full House Of Thrushes. 23/12/09

With the Cotoneaster berries now frozen solid and as hard as ball bearings most of the feeding activity seems to have changed to ground feeding by the Winter Thrushes, the softer berries can be consumed easier and with large amounts of berries laying in the snow it's rich pickings. There's nothing unusual with seeing Blackbird, Redwing and Mistle Thrush around the garden but Fieldfare seem to be very scarce here at the moment, a few passing groups at the end of October and a few scattered flocks along hedgerows towards dusk on a couple of occasions recently and that's been it. Since the snow arrived last Thursday there have been a handful of Fieldfare hanging around, no doubt due to the cold weather and the activity of accumulating numbers of Winter Thrushes in the area.


At 11am a quick scan round the garden found Mistle Thrush, Fieldfare, Redwing and an amazing 22 Blackbirds all feeding together under a tree on fallen berries, I can't ever recall seeing so many Blackbirds at once before and it was interesting to watch them all feeding together with the other Thrushes, plenty of squabbling despite the abundance of berries. A lone Starling was sat in the top of one of the old Oaks chattering away to itself and both Magpie and Jay were further down the tree. Goldfinch, Greenfinch, Chaffinch, Blue, Great & Long-tailed Tit were all actively seeking food from any available source as were 2 Robins and a Wren.


Nearing lunchtime I was just heading down the driveway to clear some snow when I heard an unmistakable prruk-prruk-prruk sound, knowing exactly what it was I stopped in my tracks and looked skyward. The calls were getting louder and closer when suddenly a Raven appeared over the tree tops and flew straight over my head, it was quickly followed by another and continually calling they flew over heading west. Absolutely brilliant views of these huge Corvids. Long diamond shaped tail, broad fingered wings which were swept back as it glided over, the much used description of the "Maltese Cross" was very apt indeed.

I ventured out again after lunch to put some food out for the birds and at the same time digiscope them eating it, easier said than done as one tuff-ars*d Magpie accompanied by 2 Wood Pigeons flew down and after flushing everything else ate the lot. I tried again and scattered more than enough to keep them going, to be honest all of the Thrushes were interested in berries and berries alone, not even a few specialist mixes would change their feeding habits. I was looking through the many different types of Blackbird we had on show, Males, Females, 1st Winter birds and noticing their slightly different plumage tones and bill colours, I was getting quite engrossed when I noticed a Thrush hop through the view of my scope and behind a tree, quickly panning across I found a Song Thrush along with the Blackbirds meaning that I had seen all the 5 common/winter Thrushes in the garden in one go. Over the next hour or so I managed to see them all feeding together under the same tree, getting photos of them was going to be slightly harder as they constantly squabbled with each other which in itself seemed a bit crazy as there are so much food to go around. At times there were up to 30 Thrushes on the ground feeding together, the Fieldfares argued with the Redwings and the Song Thrush, the Mistle Thrush argued with the Redwing and the Blackbirds arguing with everything that came near.


Song Thrush

A walk across the nearby fields late afternoon brought sightings of Bullfinch and a few Tit flocks and surprisingly one Skylark singing from high above the snow covered fields. In truth it was very quiet with not a lot to be seen, hard to believe a few months ago I was watching Chiffchaff, Willow & Garden Warbler, Whitethroat and Spotted Flycatcher along these very hedgerows. A surprising find was a herd? of 6 Greater Rheas in one of the nearby farm fields, they certainly looked out of place searching for food amongst the snow and not the normal non-native species that is found in farms today. Pheasant, Partridge, Quail, Guinea Fowl and now Rhea's, god knows what carnage they'd cause if they got lose!

Greater Rhea

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Arctic Blast

Late on Thursday evening the snow arrived, it began failing lightly at first but in time became whipped up to a flurry as strong winds blew across the landscape, large snowflakes began to fall in blizzard fashion and soon covered the ground as far as it was possible to see. It continued on into the early hours when it was possible to watch through the window due to the bright white snow lighting the surface outside, once the eyes had adjusted to the dark almost everything could be seen.

By morning the snow had covered everything in it's path and the sun which was now just warming up shone down on the transformed landscape lighting it perfectly, the trees and shrubs glistened with trails of snow across their bows and branches and the once green lawns and fields were now covered with a good 5-6 inches of snow. The world seemed a very quiet and different place indeed, the usual hustle and bustle of passing motorists had fallen silent leaving the cold crisp but sunny morning to the birds and I.


My gardening friend suddenly appeared from nowhere as I cleared some of the more delicate shrubs of snow, sat on a branch next to me it puffed up it's red chest and ruffled it's feathers as if to say "bit chilly this morning isn't it". There was little chance I was going to unearth any worms for it but it didn't deter it from following me all around the garden for at least an hour, it's impossible to imagine what birds have to go through during these cold spells and just a small offering to our feathered friends can go a long way.



A frenetic energy seemed to building up amongst the Winter Thrushes until it consumed them and the berry frenzy began. Redwing, Blackbird and Mistle Thrush were soon busily flying to the Cotoneasters in sorties, they were joined by a few Fieldfare which in truth didn't hang around long and had departed by mid-morning. The majority of the Rowan trees have few berries left and it certainly seems that these have been targeted first, most of the Thrushes have now turned their attention to the Cotoneaster's which have grown so large they are no longer bush size but full grown trees which hold thousands of berries from almost every branch, I had hoped that they would remain for a longer period just in case we had a waxwing invasion but no such luck! A Red Kite was circling the fields and a rufous underwinged Buzzard flew over North and an hour later flew back over heading south, I've had good views of the local Buzzards and this is not an individual I recognise. Common Pheasant, Green Woodpecker, Blue, Great & a single Coal Tit, Nuthatch, Jay & Magpie all in the garden.


By lunchtime a few snow flurries had passed through and the sun was now shining brightly across snow covered roof tops and fields, the wind had dropped completely and although it was still chilly the sun brought life back to what looked like a stark white wilderness. I'd learnt from my earlier photo attempts of the Redwing that I needed a bit of light on them and the sun behind me so I wandered off to find a decent position, I found a spot and after clearing some snow from around my feet I positioned myself in good view. The Redwings took a bit of time getting used to me nearby but after a number of Blackbirds flew in and started feeding it was too much for them and they soon joined in the melee, 2 Fieldfare returned and a Mistle Thrush soon followed and entered the feast. It was incredible to see this activity up close and with little time to loose they devoured berry after berry in front of me, a few squabbles in-between mouthfuls from the Blackbirds seemed the only interruptions as they gorged themselves as quickly as possible.


I got some really good views of them feeding and in turn managed a few good photos, I usually find them quite a wary bird and often difficult to photograph due to the fact they fly off at the slightest movement. With the snow, blue sky, red berries and of course the Redwings themselves it all came together quite nicely and I was really pleased with the results. The Thrushes continued to feed long after my feet went numb and my camera batteries went dead, the cold was too much for both us and the camera and I went off to recharge.


Mid-afternoon the skies became overcast with a slight pink glow and I was sure we were in for more snow, a walk across the footpath and out in to the fields founds areas much deeper with almost 8 inches of snow. There was little sign of life and apart from a few small Tit flocks and a couple of Bullfinches calling from the hedgerows it was extremely quiet. The snow didn't return and as night fell temperatures plummeted leaving a very cold night indeed.

Saturday was similar but without snowfall, blue skies and sunny spells highlighting the surrounding countryside but the cold temperatures now leaving hidden icy patches that became treacherous underfoot. The Thrushes remained busy in the Cotoneasters all day and the majority of the garden birds were present, I am concerned however by the fact that I haven't heard a Goldcrest in the garden for the last couple of days as we usually have 2 that are always present, these cold spells can have devastating effects on this species and many succumb to the cold weather. A Red Kite that drifted over was the only other bird of note. By the end of MOTD on Saturday evening snow was beginning to fall again, a light flurry continued into the early hours adding to the covering that was already present.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Blast From The Past - Finches & Buntings

Chaffinch-Skirmett, Bucks.
Brambling-Lavell's Lake, Berks.
Greenfinch-Skirmett, Bucks.
Goldfinch-Skirmett, Bucks.
Siskin-Skirmett, Bucks.
Lesser Redpoll-Sonning, Oxon.

Yellowhammer-Aston, Berks.

Blast From The Past - Sparrows

House Sparrow-Portland Bill, Dorset.

House Sparrow-Mill End, Bucks.
Tree Sparrow & House Sparrow-Mill End, Bucks.
Tree Sparrow-Mill End, Bucks.