Sunday, 30 November 2014

Bright start to Garden Bird Survey

Redpoll and Goldfinches.. what a treat! (c.OOS)

We had a terrific bright dawn on the eve of the first day of the 13 week survey, let's hope that continues all week: it is forecasted to be dry and a bit cooler, perfect for garden bird watching.

Maybe its the increased effort on this lovely morning, but the birds have responded well: a Redpoll joined the six or more Goldfinches on the Nyjer feeder.. I didn't get one all winter last time out!

This selection of birds brought great colour to the garden, but the winter garden has its own charms too.

The showy Japanese Cherry, arguably at its best in May when festooned with pinkish white blossom, still has another week or so with leaves, turning a rich gold, highlighted by the low early morning sun, the first fallers no less attractive, carpet the lawn.

Japanese Cherry in early morning sunshine (c.OOS)

Likewise the showy perennials, Goldenrod, Crocosmia and Teasel have long forsaken their bright yellow, red and lilac flower heads respectively, but the beige palette of winter seed heads is striking and attractive to birds..

Perennials in Beige mode (c.OOS)

The queue for the Nyjer seed is alleviated somewhat by a Goldfinch extracting seed from a withered Echinacea, just when I might have been tempted to tidy up with the secateurs.

Goldfinch on Echinacea (c.OOS)

* Full details of the 2014 /15 Garden Bird Survey are to be found on

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Song Thrushes break the silence

Song Thrush (c. Brian Johnston)

What a lovely calm, bright day we had after all the rain.

Before first light  I was out the back garden and was delighted to hear at least two Song Thrushes in full song. (they are still singing at last light too!)
I presume the colder and brighter conditions are a trigger to bird song: it really punctuates the still air and the Song Thrush is probably our finest songster: clear and loud, they repeat the notes, just in case you missed them the first time! 

We tend to think of Song Thrushes as residents and a singing bird in winter surely is, but we get winter influxes of Song Thrushes along with the Redwings from northern Europe.  The latter are more obvious as they are gregarious in nature and appear only in winter.  Migrant Song Thrushes and Blackbirds usually get 'bumped' around the garden by the residents and bird song reinforces the residents claims to a territory.

Song Thrush: typically sing from deep cover (c. Dave Dillon)

Anthony Mc Geehan, writing in Birds of The Homeplace (available from BirdWatch Ireland), highlights R.M. Barringtons observations at Irish Lighthouses: in correspondence with light keepers, he noted very large numbers of Song Thrushes striking the light at Tuskar Rock, off the Wexford coast in late autumn.  It is true we are more accustomed to logging the thin contact calls of Redwings at night, indeed tonights weather will be ideal for listening out for migrating Thrushes, cold and foggy and as yet, not much wind...

All very welcome activity as the start up to the Garden Bird Survey is only 10 days away; who said the winter is dull?

Ivy berries will sustain Thrushes after the Haws and Holly berries are eaten (c. Brian Johnston)

Monday, 3 November 2014

Slowly, they return!

I am used to people recounting news of a lack of birds in late summer gardens, it goes with the job!  This phenomenon came much closer to home, an October scenario with us, for the first time. 

Great Tit samples the Peanut Picnic (c.OOS)

So distracted by the lack of birds in the garden I decided to freshen up the peanut feeder with a new stock of nuts (the existing residue had solidified and was disposed of) and filled up the Nyjer feeder, though only a couple of Chaffinches showed any interest. The cherry on this bird feast was a sample pot of Peanut Butter Picnic for birds, from a new supplier in Wicklow: hand made with best tallow, peanut flour, nuts and meal worms added in this treat.. surely a quickfire response was guaranteed?

Patience being a rare enough commodity around these parts, I decided to walk the dog around a decent 10 acre stubble that adjoins the garden: Right now the hedgerows are punctuated with blood and bright red berries, hawthorn and holly in profusion and also with the rich, dark black sloes of Blackthorn.

Greenfinches sample some weed seeds (c. OOS)

I was quickly reassured to meet with some nice flocks of what we reasonably expect to meet with in the garden: House Sparrows sat up high in the hedgerow, 10 or more, a great horde of Greenfinches barrelled over, I estimated about 30 birds.  Goldfinches chimed and Redpolls buzzed over.. all is well then in the countryside.  The Thrushes seem to be arriving too, Redwings numbered about 5 or 6, their thin calls always a wake up for me at first light.  Mistle Thrushes continue to patrol the fields in loose flocks, 12 to 20 birds being the norm at the moment.  

Goldfinch (c.OOS)

Much closer to the patio door and even more satisfying was the scene on the morning of 3rd November: 0 degrees at first light, bright and sunny for 3 or 4 hours, perfect conditions for a rush into the garden: sure enough, I wasn't disappointed: my first Coal Tit for a number of weeks, Great and Blue Tits in numbers and a Robin was attracted to that Peanut butter treat: (must be the meal worms).  The Greenfinch horde that was observed over the fields descended on the peanut feeder and then patronised the gravel and perennial border: never a shortage of seeds there, the total number of birds was 26, the 'flyovers' watched in the fields some days ago, surely.  

A Treecreeper was heard in the trees, a Jay flew over, light and airy and then that raucous scream as it landed up the garden in its favourite hedgerow oak tree.. A Kite patrolled the garden and moved out over the broader landscape where it jolted upwards at the sound of a volley of shots aimed lower: the Pheasant shooters, no doubt welcoming the hunting season ahead.

Its all in the stubble (c.OOS)