Sunday, 25 January 2015

RSPB Big Garden Bird Watch 2015

 This is the third year that I have taken part in the RSPB's Big Garden Bird Watch. It was an action packed hour for me this year, with species I wasn't expecting to see, such as this little wren that was around for almost the entire hour. We also had a record of 28 starlings descending on our feeders at one time, occasionally forming a queue on the fence until there was room for them to join in the squabble for the suet nibbles. It was a record that, when I submitted my results, I was asked "are you sure you saw 28 starlings?" I was very sure. It seems we have cultivated our own miniature murmuration. Our other records this year were:

  • Collared dove - 2
  • Wood pigeon - 2
  • Dunnock - 1
  • Blue tit - 2
  • Great tit - 2
  • Robin - 2
  • Magpie - 2
  • Blackbird - 2

One of our robins is very territorial; not only did it chase off the other robin, it dive bombed the poor dunnock unawares, and they ended up rolling on the ground before the dunnock flew away.

Most of these are our usual visitors, but there are some that I would have expected to see and didn't; for example, we often have one of two coal tits who visit at this time of year. In spring and summer, we also usually have a pair of green finches and a number of gold finches, and we have even had a great spotted woodpecker and his youngsters visit our feeders. It got me thinking about how our results change from year to year, and whether this would depend on the food sources we provide, which have also changed as I have learnt more about what is on offer and what certain species of birds seem to prefer. This year, as we have consistently for several months now without changing food sources, we provided the following foods: sunflower hearts, mixed seed, suet balls, suet nibbles and meal worms, as well as fresh water.

As I was intrigued, I decided to look up my previous two years' results, and have plotted the somewhat rudimentary graph below to compare my findings. It would seem that providing suet nibbles has done wonders for the number of starlings we attract...

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Pensthorpe again

After not visiting this reserve in over a year, I've made two trips in as many weeks! I took a friend to visit the reserve as she had never visited before, so we made the most of it. As I mentioned in my previous post, Pensthorpe has a mixture of captive animals and wild; we bought food to feed any that would come to us, and ended up with a following of ducks and geese of various shapes and sizes. This is always a perfect opportunity to photograph these birds, as long as they don't try to clamber over your feet, like a sweet little smew tried to do to me!

This all happens around 'Mill Pond', the closest body of water to the reserve entrance. Not including the captive birds, we saw a total of 24 different species, including one rather unexpected bird from a distance across this 'pond'. They keep Eurasian cranes as part of their conservation programme, but wild cranes have been reported here, and we saw one in the distance at the edge of the water. The close up images, however, I have to admit, are of their captive cranes.

Tufted duck
Walking on from the conservation centre, the trail continues between two large lakes, where tufted ducks could be found in abundance. Eventually, this becomes a woodland trail where a small bird hide is nestled amongst the trees. There are a range of bird feeders here, and the scene looks like what I wish my eventual garden could look like; woodland birds everywhere, fluttering in from all directions. Blue tits, great tits, coal tits, chaffinches, robins, nuthatches... there was even an extremely confiding muntjac deer nibbling at the dropped seeds below the feeders, which stayed the entire time we were there, completely oblivious to, or comfortable with, our presence.

Wild Eurasian crane
It was a cold and icy day, and the rest of the walk was spent marvelling at the beautiful scenery; frozen water and frost kissed reeds and rushes.

Captive Eurasian crane

Muntjac deer

Coal tit

Sunday, 4 January 2015

Pensthorpe Wildlife and Gardens

We woke up this morning to the most wintery scene we have had so far; the ice on the roof of the car made it look like it had stiff white fur in the morning sunlight.

We hadn't been to Pensthorpe in a very long time and we were looking forward to seeing all of the captive and non-captive, native and non-native waterfowl and other birds in the grounds.

When we arrived it was almost like a winter wonderland; everything was covered in frost, and the still water was covered in a thin layer of ice, but thick enough for the ducks to attempt to skate on. We walked through the hordes of expectant geese and ducks, all awaiting a meal from us, including Hawaiian geese, puna teal, smew, mergansers, and countless other exotic species, as well as the more familiar coots, moorhens, pochards and mallards. Although the coots looked more like they were contemplating their reflection than their next meal.

We continued our walk, heading towards the conservation centre to admire the red squirrels they keep for their breeding programme. As we walked past the edge of some reeds, I heard a rustle, and glimpsed something that looked not quite like a moorhen. We froze, and waited. The rustle came from further along the bank. We moved, and waited. The rustle moved on, and this continued for a number of minutes. Our persistence payed off though; after one final rustle, the culprit flew and landed on the frozen water, pausing for a few seconds, perhaps confused by the slippery ice it had landed on, before scuttling off into shelter. My very first sighting of a water rail.

The conservation centre entertained us with red squirrels scampering over branches in their enclosure, and further on a group of shoveler on open water entertained us with some synchronised swimming. They were all dabbling in a circle, beak to tail.

The long walk around the reserve then began, surrounded by the frozen landscape in the still cold air, it was a perfect winter stroll. We went from water and marsh into woodland, glimpsing small woodland birds all around, and being surrounded by the soft 'see-see-see' contact calls of families of long tailed tits wherever we went. The woodland then became meadowland, completely still and silent.

We ended our stroll in the cafe, warming ourselves up with a hot chocolate!