Saturday, 31 January 2009

Rook Balancing Act

I watched for quite a while as this Rook balanced perfectly without any movement on these thin branches at the top of a tree. You would think that such large talons would not be able to grip so easily. Although there was a strong breeze blowing the only thing moving was the bird's head as it surveyed the countryside.


Later it moved to the very top of a Leylandii which was just as thin but was waving around in the wind. Although the branch was rocking back and forth the Rook looked quite comfortable and settled.

Friday, 30 January 2009

A Murmuration of Starlings

Yes indeed, murmuration is the term for a group of Starlings. It really doesn't give an indication of how noisy they can be especially when they are squabbling over food. Starlings constitute the largest group of all the birds which visit my feeders at any one time. There can be any number up to about sixteen at once. The next largest group in my garden being the six Chaffinches which feed quietly together on the lawn.

Coming in to Land

The Starlings expend so much energy squabbling I'm not surprised they are so greedy and take such a large share of the food I put out. They must use up half of what they eat in keeping others away from their favourite food.


All this noise and flapping of wings doesn't put off the smaller birds though. They bide their time, choose their moment and swoop in to grab a tasty morsel and are away again before the Starlings notice. Even the tiny Coal Tits dive in to get their share.

Thursday, 29 January 2009

The Ups and Down of Birdwatching

In the kitchen, as usual, photographing some birds at the feeders when I happened to look over towards my pond. There to my amazement was a Kingfisher. The first I have seen anywhere for over fifty years and the last sort of bird I expected to see around here. There was no mistaking the bright orange - red breast and brilliant blue head and back. I slowly turned the camera towards it and just as it came into the viewfinder it flew off. All in all I was really pleased to see it but really disappointed at missing the chance to photograph it. I can but hope that it will come back another day. Now to see what food to put out to attract it and place a feeder near where it was perched on a dwarf weeping tree only three feet above the ground and right next to the pond.

Having looked around it would seem that the only things to attract the Kingfisher back will be small fish (they tend to breed well in the pond) and plenty of aquatic insects (which also do pretty well).

My First Jackdaw Sighting

Wandered into the kitchen yesterday and carefully looked to see what might be feeding on the lawn. Amongst the usual Pigeons, Collared Doves, Chaffinches and Blackbirds were two Jackdaws. This is the first time I have ever noticed a Jackdaw anywhere near my garden so I nipped through to get my camera. Luckily they stayed long enough to get a few shots. It is only fairly recently I have been scattering some mixed seed on the lawn and it is gradually attracting a larger variety of species to the garden.


Wednesday, 28 January 2009


On misty mornings I am always amazed at just how many cobwebs there are. Hedges are covered with hardly any space between them. Every location, natural or man made, is pressed into use as an anchor point. Most days these marvels of nature go unseen as the gossamer threads blend in with their surroundings. Here are just a few I saw around my garden one misty morning.


Two spiders working closely together or one spider with two webs?



A couple of cable ties have been used as convenient anchor points for this web.


On that morning despite the number of cobwebs there were I only saw one spider. Here the subtle colouring of even a common spider only shows when you get close to it.

Garden Spider

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Recording Birdsong

Some time ago I bought a s/h Olympus digital voice recorder hoping to use it as a cheap portable recorder to capture birdsong. Wrong! Even on the low setting a fairly close bird overloads it and it ends up really distorted. Very disappointing. One problem is that they are designed to respond to the deeper sounds of a human voice at close proximity. Today I tried an experiment. I plugged in the microphone I used to use with Skype. That helped but the results were still not nearly good enough.

I had a look round the internet and found a really good site full of help for the beginner in wildlife sound recording. It is run by the Wildlife Sound Recording Society and if you are considering adding this activity to your wildlife observations then it is well worth a visit. There is a lot of reading but also there are many example sound files so you can hear what different combinations of equipment really sound like.

Monday, 26 January 2009

Window Cleaning

While there was no activity at the bird feeders I decided to give the inside of the kitchen window a clean. It certainly needed it. I noticed some while ago that my then window cleaner used Fairy Liquid in his water so I now use the same. It only takes one tiny drop on a damp sponge and all the greasy marks are soon gone. Once again I now have a clear view of the birds in my garden. I have to move about slower as they can now see me more easily.

After a short wait a Coal Tit was the first to arrive quickly followed by the Blue Tit, several Sparrows, a couple of Greenfinches, Great Tits, Starlings and Chaffinches.

For the first time I am experimenting using the raw facility on the Canon to see what difference there is compared with jpg, especially in the present abysmal lighting conditions. I'll give it a few days and see whether the difference in detail is significant enough to warrant buying a larger capacity card.

A couple of Chaffinches looking for the seed I scattered on the lawn. They seem to prefer to eat there rather than on the bird table.


Came back from taking Bobby for his afternoon walk, opened the back door to be almost deafened by bird song. There hardly 15 feet away was a Robin singing its little heart out. I haven't heard much bird song round here over the past month but that has gradually increased over the past week. It helps to cheer me up on these dismal overcast days.

Saturday, 24 January 2009

RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch 2009

In an hour watching the garden this morning the following birds were counted:

Blackbird 3
Blue Tit 1
Chaffinch 4
Coal Tit 1
Collared Dove 3
Dunnock 1
Great Tit 2
Greenfinch 3
House Sparrow 6
Magpie 1
Robin 1
Starling 6
Woodpigeon 2

Those which were feeding on the ground were skating about as the flooded part of the garden was frozen over and some of the scattered seed had landed on the ice.

A Greenfinch waiting its turn to go down to the bird table for its breakfast.


Friday, 23 January 2009

Bathing on the Lawn

Mid afternoon there were about fifteen Starlings squabbling at the bird feeders and some taking it in turns to have a quick bath on the flooded part of my back garden lawn.

Starlings Bathing

The Blue Tit made its usual brief visit to the nest box which pleased me as I had spent an hour replacing a camera which monitors the outside of the boxes. I was hoping all the banging and drilling wouldn't scare it off.

Another Wet Day

Another miserable morning with more of my back lawn disappearing under rainwater. The Blue Tit visited the nest box this morning and took another piece of wood shaving out.

Collared Dove

The feeders and bird table have seen a lot of activity today. They usually do on miserable days. I assume there is less 'natural' food around or it is harder to find. I have seen Long Tailed Tits, Blue Tit, Great Tits, Greenfinches, Chaffinches, Sparrows and Starlings all within a half an hour. Also a couple of Collared Doves and a Blackbird were on the ground clearing up any food the other birds dropped.

A few days ago I put up a nyger seed feeder hoping to attract more types of finches. For a few days it put off most birds from visiting at all. They always have to get used to any changes I make before making a cautious return. I haven't seen a finch of any sort visit it yet but the Blue Tit keeps making a quick visit to it.

Thursday, 22 January 2009

Squirrel Raider

When you put out food for the local birds it is bound to attract other hungry creatures. Here the local squirrels can be a nuisance, especially when there are peanuts on offer. Another favourite seems to be sunflower seeds. One squirrel was prepared to try anything to get his share. My bird table is surrounded by steel mesh to keep out the large greedy birds such as pigeons and I had thought that it would also keep the squirrels at bay until.....

Squirrel Raider

How did that get there? Well have a look at this video...

I bet that hurt!! In the end, after eating most of the sunflower seeds, it left the same way it got in.

Squirrel Raider

Mind you - I haven't seen it try that trick again though it can still find sunflower seeds by eating from the large fat balls.

Grey Squirrel

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Bird Watching in the Garden

Plenty of bright sunlight today but still only 4 degrees outside so I set up the Canon with my 170-500mm Sigma lens (both excellent value buys on eBay) on a tripod in the kitchen.

Canon EOS350D with Sigma 170-500mm

Lots of bird activity. Mostly my usual visitors - Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Coal Tit, Blackbird, Robin, Collared Dove, Pigeon and Starling.

At one time I thought I was getting my first close up of a Wren though I did notice the tail didn't look correct. When I came to look at the results I saw that in fact I had managed to snap my first view of a Dunnock.

The Dunnock sat on the cables from my video cameras.


I was shooting away at a female Chaffinch on a branch about 60 feet away when it suddenly took off.

Chaffinch taking off

The local Robin obligingly came down to have a drink.

Birdbath, birdbath on the floor
Who is the prettiest bird you saw?

Robin Drinking

A tiny Coal Tit having a good session at the chopped peanuts.

Coal Tit

All in all I had a busy and entertaining hour and a half until the Sun moved round and left the back garden in shadow.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Kingfisher Lodge

One day whilst driving through a village I spotted an unusual and beautiful house sign. I just had to stop and take a photograph of it and as luck would have it I actually had a camera with me that day. The sign is carved into the stump of a tree. At a guess it stands about 4 to 5 feet tall and looks absolutely magnificent.

Kingfisher Lodge

Monday, 19 January 2009

Blue Tit Nestbox

I really can't make my mind up what the Blue Tit is doing. Occasionally it spends the night in the nest box. Other days it visits for a brief time just before dusk. Today it kept coming and going, again just before dusk, and it appeared to be removing some of the wood shavings I had put in the bottom of the box. It comes and picks one shaving and then flies off with it. Is it removing the shavings to tidy it up or is it pinching the shavings to use at another possible nest site? It seems to be flying off into some nearby bushes.

Rain, Rain and more Rain

It has finally stopped raining after about sixteen hours. Early this morning I saw the Blue Tit dive in the nest box for a short while for a bit of shelter.

As usual when we have prolonged rain my back lawn starts to disappear under water as it is lower than some of the surrounding land. The birds which feed on the lawn have had to go paddling to find any seed left over from yesterday. There were the usual Pigeons, Collared Doves, Sparrows and Chaffinches.

One of the Collared Doves which spent a while looking for food.

Collared Dove

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Scattered Seed

Every so often I turf out the uneaten seed on the bird table and scatter it on the lawn for the birds which prefer ground feeding. About an hour after this mornings clear out I was rewarded with the sight of Pigeons, Collared Doves, Blackbirds and a group of six Chaffinches all helping themselves on the grass.

Blackbird and Chaffinch

Blackbird and Chaffinch

Friday, 16 January 2009

Reduced Activity

For the past few days there has been a marked reduction in the number and type of birds visiting the feeders. I can't help wondering how many succumbed to the short period of harsh weather conditions last week. At the moment there is just one sparrow and one starling at the table. Normally there would be anything up to ten starlings squabbling over the fat balls.

One cheerful note - the Blue Tit has just been tidying up in the nest box by throwing out a few of the pieces of wood shaving I had placed in the bottom when I fixed the box in place so that one managed to survive OK.

By late morning things improved as there was a group of eight Chaffinches feeding on the ground mixed in with several Starlings and the odd Collared Dove.

A couple of Sparrows enjoying a peanut snack last Summer

sparrows feeding

Chaffinches taking cover in an old tree


Wednesday, 14 January 2009

RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch

The RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch in the UK is on 24-25th January 2009. It takes just one hour on either of those dates to observe which birds actually visit your garden. It can be a rewarding pastime as you get to see which birds really do visit your garden (not those which fly over) and how many of each species there are. What is wanted is the largest number of each bird at any one time. Full details can be found on the RSPB site - link on the left side of this blog. Also they have a downloadable, printable sheet to help in identifying the common species and to mark their numbers.

A group of Greenfinches visiting the bird table - the mesh is to keep out the greedy larger birds such as collared doves, pigeons and rooks.


Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Infrequent Bird Visitors

Some birds do not visit my garden very often but it is always a pleasure to spot something different and even more so for it to stay long enough to be photographed like this Bullfinch which I had to hurriedly snap through the living room window.


This one I had to look up as I had never seen a Grey Wagtail before. Even though it is called a Grey Wagtail the most obvious part to spot is the yellow colouring under its tail.

Grey Wagtail

There are several Rookeries around the village but it a rare sight to see one at any of my bird feeders but this one obviously fancied having a fat ball snack.

Just a Quick Snack

Bird Nestboxes

It is nearly a year since I put up two nest boxes on the back of my garden shed, one for the tit family and the other for Robins. They both have video cameras installed so I can watch any activity. Up until a week ago both boxes were being ignored but last week a Blue Tit used the tit box as a roost on two nights and has investigated the box a few more times.

A box for Blue Tits

Tit Nestbox

The box for Robins - surrounded by artificial Ivy as Robins prefer to nest in a secluded position. This is an experiment to see whether the idea works.

Robin Nestbox

The tit box has a colour camera from Handykam which shows colour video if the light is bright enough - otherwise the picture is black and white. The Robin box has an old black and white board camera.

A picture of the board camera which is mounted on a sheet of plastic to keep it away from any damp wood. The top of the box is covered with the type of plastic used for damp proof courses to try to keep the inside of the box dry. So far it has stood up to a year of very heavy rainfall.

robin nestbox camera

A little video of the Blue Tit puffed out like a feather ball to keep warm in the sub zero temperature.

Bird Visitors to my Garden

One of the things I like to do is to watch the birds which come to feed at my bird table and bird feeders.

Bird Feeding Station

Birds which regularly visit include Blue Tits, Coal Tits, Great Tits, Long Tailed Tits, Greenfinches, Chaffinches, Robin and Starlings.

Here is part of the group of Long Tailed Tits which visits briefly from time to time.

Long Tailed Tits

A juvenile Great Tit enjoying a piece of peanut.

Young Great Tit with Peanut

Birds like shallow water to bathe in like this group of Sparrows cooling off on a hot Summers day.

Sparrow Bath Time

Even when the temperature was zero and it was snowing birds were looking for water to drink and to bathe in.

Winter Bath Time

Some birds prefer to eat on the ground including this cock Pheasant which visited a few times a short while ago.

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