Dear Readers, during the last weekend in January people up and down the UK sit at their windows for an hour and collect data on the birds they see. Some years all the birds turn up as if on order (the year I saw a great spotted woodpecker, a blackcap and a sparrowhawk was particularly gratifying), but on other years tumbleweeds float past. A dear friend of mine has a theory that, on Saturday and Sunday, everyone puts out masses of food and so everyone sees less, and she may well be right. So, as the Big Garden Birdwatch actually starts on a Friday I thought I’d try a weekday this year.
I think it was a middling year. It didn’t start off too well, with this distinctly non-avian critter dominating the seed feeder, but s/he soon moved off, allowing the usual suspects to turn up. I saw 5 goldfinches…
and 5 chaffinches….
and sixteen starlings (of course), one of whom has white tail feathers, and I shall have to see if I can get a photo of him/her for you all.
It’s funny how things ebb and flow, even over the space of an hour. The starlings mob the place for five minutes and then all disappear as if hearing a distant summons, before reappearing in a great swirl of squawks. Then the chaffinches reappear, hovering mothily around the feeders. Next door have put up some nyjer and suet ball feeders, which is great because I don’t have those, and so it provides greater variety.
I have invested in some Flutter Butter. For those of you who don’t know, this is peanut butter but without the salt and palm oil that make the human variety so unhealthy for birds and so claggy (though I never knew a fox who’d turn down a peanut butter sandwich). I’ve put one feeder in amongst the honeysuckle and bittersweet, where I hope the little birds will be brave enough to try it. Does anyone think that there’s been a bit of peckery going on on this one, or is it my hopeful imagination? Has anyone tried this stuff? How did you get on?
The one in the lilac bush is absolutely pristine, so obviously nobody’s dared have a go yet. I shall keep you posted.
When it’s quiet, it gives me a chance to admire my hazel catkins (as you do). I was supposed to have a ‘native hedge’ but sadly some of the ‘hedge’ has become saplings instead. I shall have quite a forest by the time I leave the house, but who could resist the chance of hazel nuts? Not to mention the second hawthorn tree that I have popping up, and the spindle.
There’s a brief flurry of excitement, and a pair of great tits turn up. Will they be attracted to the Flutter Butter? Er, no. I do find it interesting that both the blue and great tits will take either sunflower hearts or suet – I always think of these birds as insectivorous, but maybe they aren’t so fussy out of breeding season. The finches, of course, only ever take the sunflower seeds.
I love the way that the tits fly in at speed, take a single seed or suet pellet, and then sit on a branch, holding the food between their feet while they peck away at it. I’d also never noticed the pattern on the head of a great tit before. It looks a bit like a giant bee.
Spring is in the air as far as the woodpigeons (2 recorded) and the collared doves (3 recorded) are concerned. At the start of the hour, two collared doves were sitting next to one another perfectly peacefully.
Then, with a toot like a child’s trumpet, a third collared dove flew into the tree and, without so much as a by-your-leave, tried to accost what I assume was the lady pigeon, who flew off at great speed, pursued by her ‘suitor’. The other collared dove seemed to think about flying off as well, but evidently decided it was too much like hard work. At the end of the hour he was sitting unconcerned next to the woodpigeon.
I amused myself for a while by watching the chaffinches. These are the most elegant of the finches that I see for sure: they seem to hover at the feeders like our answer to hummingbirds. The males are also very handsome in their blush-pink feathers.
And then there’s the machine-gun cackle of a magpie, and everything flies off. None of the birds have much tolerance for magpies (except the collared doves and woodpigeons, who seem most unperturbed). It’s easy to see the intelligence of these birds. The one that I recorded was joined by his mate, and then the two of them headed off to the TV aerial to survey their kingdom. If someone drops a Kentucky Fried Chicken container or a pigeon gets run over within half a mile, they’ll know.
And so, after an hour, my tally was:
3 collared doves
2 blue tits
2 great tits
Nothing exciting, but a nice variety of garden birds, plus one fat squirrel. It looks as if the garden is doing its job, and I can’t wait until spring to see what happens once the breeding season starts.