Friday, 3 March 2017

After the survey: the audit


Male Sparrowhawk shielding prey in shallow water (Shay Connolly)

It's been an interesting 13 week garden bird survey, as always. 

In a mild winter you don't expect to be mobbed with birds, numbers or variety, but there were a few highlights and noticeable troughs as well.

The top most species in our garden, in terms of abundance were Chaffinch and Coal Tit: both hitting 20 birds or more on a number of weeks.  Blue Tits, in contrast, peaked at six birds and virtually all other finch species were thin on the ground.

Not enough Juvenile Blue Tits survived last summers wet conditions ( Shay Connolly)

On the scarce end, Sparrowhawk was a remarkable absentee, present in the garden on only one occasion, in contrast to Buzzards and Red Kites which regularly patrol the extended garden area, particularly the latter species.

The BTO has recently commented on the current status of the Sparrowhawk: it is felt that the reason for its scarcity this winter is linked to last summers damp conditions in June when many clutches of Blue Tits failed and the effect was felt through the food chain.  I myself have recently cleaned out two Blue Tit nests that were abandoned last summer, with an egg or two still in place.

A noticable absentee for us this winter is the Siskin, though I am still hopeful of spotting one upside down on the peanut feeder, before the survey closes in two days time.

Feeders empty in quick time! ( c. OOS)

Other woodlanders that presented themselves regularly were the Great Spotted Woodpeckers ( a male and female, recorded every week of the survey), and a couple of Jays each week from early January.

Alreadt there are signs of the breeding season advancing: a Blackbird carrying nesting material and woodpeckers drumming in the woods.

Monday, 20 February 2017

Spring into song


Mistle Thrush in characteristic pose, high in tree cover (c. M.Finn)

A couple of evenings ago, I noticed a clear chorus of bird song: the dusk chorus can be every bit as impressive as the dawn version, particularly so at this time of the year.  With fewer species in song ( no spring migrants yet) the Song Thrushes and Mistles are much striking to my ears, especially if you get a calm evening.
With temperatures at  the moment in double digits, thus encouraged,  there is plenty of spring breeding behaviour: We are lucky enough to have Woodpeckers in our area, they are drumming in the distance, and chasing each other through the canopy.  A pair of Buzzards are constantly mewing and undulating over the forest,  escorting Kites and Ravens off their patch.

The flocks of Chaffinches and tit species show no sign of declining in numbers, but their songs are equally strong, and longer days are not far off.


A barrel chested Mistle stands tall. (c. M Finn)




Soaring Buzzard, increasingly a common sight (c. M. Finn)






Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Celebs gather at Druids Glen



(c. Dick Coombes)

Twelve Waxwings were successfully 'Papped' by BirdWatch Ireland staff this lunchtime, The birds were first seen resting up in tall trees in the picturesque Druid's Glen Resort.  A search around the resort revealed four or five small, fruit laden trees: Malus or Crab Apple, probably Golden Hornet cultivar.
Brian Burke and Dick Coombes line up in front of the Crab Apple trees (OOS)

The flock engaged in bouts of aerial feeding for insects, high above the glen,  before returning down to the Crab Apples which were consumed with great gusto. It was nice to see their two feeding strategies in action on this cold but very bright day..


(c. Dick Coombes)


(c. Dick Coombes)

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Waxwings brighten winter days


c. Shay Connolly




With extremely cold weather on the Continent of Europe, and increasing pressure on food supplies, its no surprise really that an irruptive species like the Waxwing has made it to our shores this winter.


Their favourite food supply is the berries of the Rowan, a common tree species in Fenno-Scandinavia.  If the berry crop fails or, as in this case, is exhausted, the birds.irrupt out of their home territory. 

Arriving in the east of the UK in recent weeks, the birds will quickly locate and strip berry supplies.  They are more likely to be in urban or suburban areas, as here there are many ornamental tree and shrubs, some still with berries.  These berries last through the winter season for more than one reason: firstly they are less palatable to birds and secondly, their are probably fewer birds around urban parks in the autumn , when the rural Rowan crop is stripped by young Blackbirds and the like.

c. Shay Connolly



Ornamental Rowans ,such as the cultivors  Sorbus Joseph Rock and Sorbus vilmorinii are specifically grown to delight gardeners with their showy berry crop, in shades of white, orange and pale pink, rather than attract birds who will strip the native red berries at the first opportunity.  Come late winter though, with fresh arrivals of birds from the north, all bets are off and berries are ruthlessly hounded out by Waxwings and winter thrushes.  

c. Shay Connolly

Looking at the most recent run of records, Lucan in County Dublin has up to 120 Waxwings and smaller flocks have been reported from Belfast and further west with records from Monaghan,  Donegal and Sligo.  They are well worth looking out for, Starling like in silhouette and prone to hanging about telegraph wires when not actually feeding on Cotoneaster or Sorbus

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Blue Tits bottom out..

Hanging in there! (c.OOS)

Whilst the Coal Tit numbers continue to rise exponentially in the garden, well into double figures on view at any one time.  Typically this may be five on the ground, mopping up, six clinging to the circular feeder and another half dozen queing in the willlow tree.. hard to keep the feeders topped up but its not as rosy for at least one of their cousins:  Blue Tits are much fewer in numbers, so far this winter.   The most I have seen in one viewing is four Blue Tits, normally I might expect twice that number.  

Early winter numbers will reflect how the species fared coming out of the previous summer / breeding season. The BTO have just published findings from its 2016 ongoing studies and surveys in the UK: They reckon that brood sizes were smaller, due to poor spring weather.  The critical period is of course when birds are hatched and near fledging: this 14 day period in early June if wet and cold, results in casualties in fledged birds through reduced feeding opportunities.

In summary: BTO report that following the worst ever breeding season on record for Blue Tits in 2016, the numbers of this species using gardens during November 2016 was the lowest since 2003.

That Coal Tits had a different out turn in 2016 is not discussed by BTO in this media release, however I suspect a difference in laying and hatching dates might have ensured a completely different outcome for the smaller Coal Tit, and they have less winter feeding competition from Blue Tits, if there are fewer out there.

Of course Blue Tits are at the common end of the garden spectrum, present in the majority of gardens.  They are well capable of bouncing back, but will need a decent breeding season in 2017 to get back the losses of 2016.

c. (oos)

Sunday, 18 December 2016

Coal Tits in a Queue..

Two Coal Tits await landing space on the seed feeder (c.OOS)

There is a really decent procession of birds to the feeders: we are providing Peanuts, a seed mix with sunflower hearts added and a square of fat/nut mix.

After two weeks of the garden bird survey, we are seeing great numbers of Coal Tits, up to seven on view at any one time!  The other tits are not far behind  and other good showings include Chaffinches, nearly 20.

Gt Spot Pecker, gets stuck in! (c.OOS)
Best of all, after an absence all autumn, the local Great Spotted Woodpecker weighs in daily, a female, joined just this weekend by a second bird, a male: a much brighter bird with red nape and much cleaner underparts.  Both birds seem a little more relaxed towards our in house movements than heretofore,  and spend a bit more time on the peanut feeder, though the female does insist on zero tolerance and/or sharing the feeder with members of the tit family: reaching out its drill like bill towards any bold approaches to the feeder when it is in occupation.


Look, no Coal Tits! (c.OO'S)

Seed, Fat or Peanuts? Spoilt for choice! (c.OO'S)

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

News from the Garden Bird Survey

Greenfinch (Shay Connolly)

You might have noticed that activity around the feeders is stepping up somewhat: colder nights and shortening days mean more and more birds are including the feeders as part of their daily routine, if not survival plan.

The results from last winters Survey have just been published in Wings magazine, ahead of this winter's survey which is still a month away.

Greenfinches are back in the top ten, at ninth, showing a slight recovery, perhaps from the pervasive Trichomonosis disease that hit their numbers over the last decade.
Siskin drops in, end of season. (Shay Connolly)

You will have noticed no doubt that Goldfinches are swelling their ranks, at eighth, occurring in 86% of our gardens. Siskins were welcomed back, after a really poor showing the previous winter, they dropped by at the tail end of the winter, in February 2016, to nearly 60% of gardens.

With all these positive finch stories, no surprise then that the stand out garden predator, the Sparrowhawk, was present and attending the vicinity of the feeders in over 40% of gardens.  This is a very high position for this species and is a good indication of the balancing act that goes on in bird populations and the dynamic relationship between predator and prey.  


Juvenile Sparrowhawk (Shay Connolly)

So, we have a little over a month to get our garden birds primed and ready for this winters survey, I have a couple of  Pied Wagtails, Meadow Pipits and Linnets visiting right now, I hope they are still around when the form filling begins!