Friday, 9 January 2015

Friday @ the Flicks - Goldfinches

Goldfinches (the European one Carduelis carduelis) are likely contenders to arrive at the seed feeders for the 2015 RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch during the weekend of 24-25 January – or are they?

Below you'll find a variety of videos (all taken through my gardenwatch window) to help you ID a Goldfinch if you are new to taking part with a count or discover this rather tropical looking bird in your garden and are wondering what it is.

Goldfinch drinking, 39 secs, background music, try HD quality.

There’s no doubt photographs are ideal for helping ID birds visiting the garden but watching video footage helps even more. Video shows more of the character of birds, their behaviour, their flight style and what they look like at a distance.

Prior to Christmas we were seeing regular, good sized flocks of Goldfinches during a cold spell and that is definitely a trigger for busy feeders. So… for a good count we need bad weather then? No doubt about it, yes, hard frost and snow covered ground makes it difficult for birds to find food so they come to gardens.

It seems that the bigger the group of one species (the Goldfinch here) the higher the chances of other species tagging along (like the Redpolls below). That's a bonus for gardenwatching too! Due to heavy demand, I went to my local garden centre and picked up a 12 port feeder that you’ll see proved very popular below. What fun it has been to watch :-)

Goldfinch group & 4x Redpolls, 1min 10secs, background music, try HD quality.

The back view of colour and tail patterns, shape and length are useful to know as birds don’t always face our windows or cameras. In the case of the Goldfinch the contrasting black tail to the buff coloured back makes it easy to spot especially with the small tidy row of white dots on its black tail. You don’t need to see the yellow strip on its wings to know you are looking at a Goldfinch.

Small nyjer seed feeders have periods of popularity in my garden. Below, back on a sunny morning in May 2013, you can get a good clear view of the back of a Goldfinch which followed the Redpolls to this feeder. The Redpolls kept ownership but shared some of the time.

Goldfinch & Redpoll, nyjer seed, 24secs, background music, try HD quality.

The end of January could realistically see snow for the RSPB bird count and out of all the birds that have visited my garden during heavy snowfall the delicate, tropical looking Goldfinches are by far the hardiest. This I found quite a surprise but perhaps it makes sense as the energy the food gives to keep them warm will be greater than with bigger birds so they risk the elements and possible Sparrowhawk predation.

So… if there is snow during your count, look out for Goldfinches. Many other birds could be hiding in shrubs, trees and hedges but the Goldfinches could be found just quietly chillin at your feeders. Also, if you have one of these feeder trays seen below you’ll need to knock some snow off as they won’t be able to land and find the food that has fallen there.

Goldfinch relaxed in the snow, 29secs, background music, try HD quality.

Ah… but will Goldfinches do like the other birds seem to and go hiding when you decide to count… perhaps. Timing when you do your count might help your numbers. In the case of Goldfinches they are not the real early birds! My captures are often from 9:30 to 10:30am on a cold day but lunchtimes can be busy too.

It’s after midnight as I write this (to schedule for publishing in the morning). If there are any early bird Goldfinches come daybreak they are going to be a tad confused. Why? Well, it is pretty stormy outside just now and I’ve just taken all the hanging feeders I was able to down so they don’t fly off their hooks and hit my gardenwatch or greenhouse windows.

It’s not very pleasant at all – strong winds, heavy rain, thunder and lightning! I think sleeping will be a problem tonight. Hope it’s calmer with you. Ha-ha… I’ll have to picture chillin Goldfinches or think about counting Goldfinches at the area where the new 12 port feeder was to get myself to sleep ;-)

Copyright: Original post published on by blog author Shirley, January 9th 2015.

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

What’s next in 2015?

Gardenwatching will continue that’s for sure – I’ve got the bug now! More experiments with bird feeding areas and homes for wildlife are on the cards – I love the creative side of this and hope I can inspire others to have fun with this too. I’d also like to inspire garden visiting – especially the large botanical garden ones and parks that are often free to enter.

That sounds a bit repetitive of the last 7 years does it not and I can sense the mouse moving to remove shirls gardenwatch from your follow lists, feeds and blog rolls. Ah yes… we bloggers can do a bit of New Year housekeeping when there are so many blogs out there now ;-)

So what’s next in 2015 that might bring you back to shirls gardenwatch? Answer: I’ve no idea! That’s what has kept this blog going… I don’t know what’s coming next myself and that’s the exciting part.

If I was bored with chatting about ‘roughly’ the same topics I’d stop blogging. However, I’m always discovering new ways of looking at gardenwatching myself and that’s what I want to share. 2015 is going to be a ‘new for old’ year at shirls gardenwatch ;-)

Ha-ha… bet you’re fed up of hearing my virtual voice now. Ok… here’s my late New Year treat for you all (especially visitors outside the UK). I’d like to invite you on some virtual visits to some impressive British Gardens courtesy of the BBC, Christine Walkden and a hot air balloon. Enjoy… HAPPY NEW GARDENING YEAR!

”Horticulturist Christine Walkden embarks on a journey to explore some of the most impressive gardens in the UK - from a hot-air balloon. In the first edition, she hovers above Cornwall, and finds herself overwhelmed with nostalgia by the giant Brazilian gunnera. Later, she meets a man whose childhood was spent playing in the garden, before testing her nerves at St Michael's Mount where she encounters 'gardening on the edge' “
Glorious Gardens From Above, Season 1, Episode 1, Cornwall

”Horticulturist Christine Walkden visits Essex, where she experiments with triangular planting and has tea and cake at Beth Chatto Gardens. Plus, at RHS Hyde Hall she moves rocks with a former student, and then sails across the Thames to the Blackwater Estuary“
Glorious Gardens From Above, Season 1, Episode 2, Essex

”Mid-Wales is today's destination on Christine Walkden's balloon tour of some of Britain's finest gardens. At Powis Castle Garden, she learns how to brace an ancient yew and meets David, generations of whose family worked there. At the Dingle Garden she helps restore an obscured view. And we hear the story of Mona Holloway, a wartime land girl who found love on a neighbouring farm.“
Glorious Gardens From Above, Season 1, Episode 3, Mid-Wales

Garden chat never bores me, I love to hear the passion others have and Christine certainly has her strong gardening boots full of it! It’s such a pity the BBC never made a DVD or published a book to accompany this series – I’ve been making my way through my recorded 15 episodes! There are some wonderful people stories in there too.

Christine is a presenter that connects effortlessly to the people she chats to. I’m certain critics have commented on her lack of a fashion style but they could never criticise her exceptional garden soul. She gets her hands dirty working with the head gardeners and volunteers in this series and often made enlightening comments.

One comment that Christine made my caught attention. Unfortunately I meant to write it down but didn’t so I’m relying on my memory here… it went along the lines of “it’s not just the plants that grow and develop/thrive in the garden… the people that tend them do too”. She put it a bit better than that but I’d say this is completely true in my garden since I began this blog. Through blogging and gardenwatching, I feel I have grown and thrived as a gardener too. Do other bloggers feel the same?

Copyright: Original post published on by blog author Shirley, January 7th 2015.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Where's Wally the Ringed Plover

There’s no sign of a red and white striped shirt, bobble hat, or glasses in today’s challenge. Wally (or Waldo in the US & Canada) has competition from a small wading bird very well hidden along the pebble shoreline of Loch Ewe at Aultbea. This is the bird mentioned in my last blog that had me smiling and stumbling in a hurry to capture photos!

Wet pebbles and seaweed along this shoreline made for tricky walking at times. Too busy looking down at our feet we didn’t even notice the delightful small group of Ringed Plovers (possibly juveniles by their less distinct black collar) until we were upon them – and we got very close!

Having remembered the Little Ringed Plovers that captured everyone’s imagination when BBC Springwatch were at Pensthorpe National Park back in 2010 that was what I thought I was seeing! However, not being as familiar with wading birds as garden ones I didn’t realise there were two quite similar Plovers.

One of the main differences between the Little Ringed Plover and the more common Ringed Plover is in the eye detail - the Little Ringed Plover has a distinctive yellow eye ring. As the name suggests the Little Ringed Plover is smaller too but I couldn’t tell these differences when taking my photos. Ringed or not this was one of the highlights of this ‘gardenwatching’ year!

Where's the Little Plover then? Let the challenge begin… can you spot it? Note some image files are larger so you have a sporting chance - just click on them ;-)

(1) There’s a definite two Little Plovers above – perhaps there’s even a third ;-)

(2) Zooming out - can you see three Plovers now? I believe there’s a fourth ;-)

(3) A good challenge now (answer at post end) - there are five Plovers to spot!

(4) An even harder challenge (answer at post end) - five Plovers to spot ;-)

(5) This is what we are looking for - it’s brownish grey matches the pebbles.

(6) Here’s some views from different angles to help you :-)

(7) Two Plovers this time – after the clues can you spot them more easily?

(8) Two Plovers again – have your eyes become used to seeing them now?

(9) So very well camouflaged as a pebble – only one Ringed Plover this time.

(10) A tricky two Ringed Plovers – I missed the second until just now ;-)

(11) Doubting myself now - could the sure two Plovers have a companion hiding?

So our snow predicated last weekend and so far this week has been pretty much a no show (all slush) allowing me time to indulge in some fun with this post on my first ever Ringed Plover sighting back in August. I hope you enjoyed the fun too - how did you get on?

Perhaps today we will see heavier snowfall and the newest little garden visitor I thought I spotted here might return. The snow does bring more garden visitors to the feeders. However, the winds have been wild and we don't want blizzards on the roads for drivers. Wishing you all a safe weekend where ever you travel.

There’s a little more info from the RSPB on the Ringed Plover below and if you follow the link you’ll see a distribution map showing it as a resident around most of the coast of the UK and Ireland. Where’s the Ringed Plover… well if you know where to look you might just spot it ;-)

”The ringed plover is a small, dumpy, short-legged wading bird. It is brownish grey above and whitish below. It has a orange bill, tipped with black, orange legs and a black-and-white pattern on its head and breast. In flight it shows a broad white wing-stripe. Breeds on beaches around the coast, but has also now breeding inland in sand and gravel pits and former industrial sites. Many UK birds live here all year round, but birds from Europe winter in Britain and birds from Greenland and Canada pass through on migration.”
RSPB Birds by name: Ringed Plover

Answers: Locations of the five Ringed Plovers in images (3) and (4).

Copyright: Original post published on by blog author Shirley, December 11th 2014.