Sunday, 31 January 2016

Success for the 2016 Garden Birdwatch

The success was that there were actually birds in the garden to count during my one hour by the window for the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch this morning! I had no expectations when I began, given the very quiet feeders due to the frequency of recent Sparrowhawk visits. Also, as many bloggers will report, when it comes to this particular counting hour the birds usually have a garden break - so this was a proper turnaround :-)

Given the small trees, tall plants and structures in my garden, the Sparrowhawk has some serious manoeuvring to do. Some plants in pots have been deliberately put in his way too. He uses a variety of routes through the garden but the most recent has him flying along the length of my gardenwatching window just missing the glass and no more. I cannot deny he is very impressive in flight. I also cannot deny I am happy he had a garden break today.

Male Blackbird feeding newly fledged chick. Image taken May 18th, 2014.
I’ve noticed that the parents will take bread over seed if both available.

Taking the Sparrowhawk out of the equation, how did the birdwatch count go? Well, I'm delighted to report that the Blackbird took top spot in my garden. I really am. Sadly, this is the bird I most often see the Sparrowhawk feed on in my garden. I'm guessing there must be healthy population in the area which is the positive side to this. Today's count was taken between 10:30am and 11:30am.

6x BLACKBIRDS (5x males and 1 female), image taken June 28th, 2014.
Gardening wouldn't be the same without Blackbirds running around.

4x GOLDFINCHES (all weather birds). Image taken December 23rd, 2009.
Nice to see them back again. Groups usually appear in cold weather.

2x BLUE TITS (favourite garden tree). Image taken November 30th, 2008.
Feeders removed from this Acer, without leaves no cover from Sparrowhawk.

1x CHAFFINCH (female on right). Image taken January 22nd, 2008.
No proper hard frosts here this winter so far – frosts bring lots of birds in.

1x COAL TIT (speedy little birds). Image taken November 16th, 2010.
Often hides seeds in pine tree - the Blue tit has been seen copying it.

1x DUNNOCK (forages under hedge). Image taken November 9th, 2008.
Known as a shy ground feeder but will visit bird tables for seeds too

1x JACKDAW (very intelligent birds). Image taken May 17th, 2010.
Usually feeds at peanut feeders on feeder tree - not in garden borders.

1x WOODPIGEON (slightly clumsy birds). Image taken May 4th, 2014.
Always seen walking through garden borders – they can take over bird tables.

1x ROBIN (successfully nested in 2015). Image taken December 19th, 2007.
Known as the gardener’s friend – turns up when there is work to be done.

So to summarise, that’s 20 birds in total counted over 9 different species. Is that a true reflection of regular garden visitors? Species wise not too bad. Numbers wise, definitely could be more - especially with the Coal tits who are always buzzing about. Also there are currently two regular Blue tit and Great tit pairs and as per usual the fight for renting the camera nestbox will be between this two species.

Chaffinches were noticeably missing this year which is a first as they usually battle it out with the Blackbirds for top spot here. I'm pretty certain the weather will have had an impact on numbers this year. Here, Chaffinches come to the garden in good numbers with cold and snow but we had very strong winds with our snow on Saturday and today wasn't quite so cold.

It's very late as I post this tonight, I'll get to blog browsing tomorrow to see other birdwatch results. I wonder if 2016 will show a quite different top ten bird species here in the UK. The results of the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch are usually out in mid to late March so we will have to wait until then. Meantime, we need to remember to submit our results by the deadline (need to research website further for that) and a fuller picture of the UK's bird population can be made.

This post was published by Shirley for shirls gardenwatch in January 2016.

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Winterwatch 2016 starts tonight

Unfortunately winter needs to catch up here in the UK! Despite NTS Mar Lodge, the Highlands location for this series of live programmes reporting on how wildlife survives the harshness of winter, being regarded as the coldest place in the UK it isn’t nearly as cold as it could be. No doubt Chris Packham will have a chart of stats tonight ;-)

No doubts too, that a warmer winter will have its own issues regarding the survival of wildlife. I’m guessing Winterwatch will be covering on that this week (from other locations in the UK too). There will very likely be some wildlife species in trouble that we might not guess, but I suspect that there will be some species that could be thriving. I wonder who the winners of a warmer winter would be. Mmm… maybe I could ask them. Have you any questions for them?

Down here in Perthshire, I regard February as the month to winter watch. We’ve had some quite harsh ones here. A warmer January always makes me nervous of February to come. Don’t get me wrong, I love cold winter days for watching the birds in the garden but as for travelling around – I don’t do snow.

The delight of wildlife programmes like Winterwatch (Springwatch and Autumnwatch too) is that they give us exposure, images and family stories of wildlife that we may never have heard off far less ever seen. I’m certain the readily available nestboxes with cameras is due to Springwatch which is great… Thank-you!

My contribution to Winterwatch is a short video of the Red Squirrel. Will it appear in the live cameras series – you’ll have to watch to see. I’m guessing it might. I don’t see the Red Squirrel in my garden but it is not completely out of the question based on sightings seen a few miles away. My earliest wildlife memories are of the Red squirrel and I’d be ecstatic if one appeared in my garden!

Footage (25 seconds) captured on April 25th, 2013
through observation window at SWT Reserve, Loch of the Lowes.

So where do you find Winterwatch to follow everything this week? Here’s a link to a page giving full details of this week’s Winterwatch coverage. You can follow, share sightings and ask questions on facebook, their blog and on twitter using the hashtag #Winterwatch too which is great for my blog visitors and wildife enthusiasts outside the UK.

On looking for the links above, I discovered one with a video of Red Squirrels in the snow at Mar Lodge (the base location for this week's Winterwatch). I must watch that after I post this! I'd also like to invite any visitors to this page to share their earliest wildlife memories and/or wildlife winter watch stories from your part of the world. I know I'd love to hear them :-)

Finally, sending my best wishes to all involved with the making of Winterwatch for a great week of live wildlife captures. Enjoy your time in Scotland :-) For all wildlife watchers wherever you live, here's a little taster for tonight's show...

Looks like tonight’s Episode is going to include how the otter
is surviving this unseasonally warm winter (turn up speaker volume).
Brief summaries of the other episodes can be found here.

Oops, nearly missed this… if you are in the UK and Winterwatch gets you looking out your window to see what’s visiting your garden, this weekend its the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch and you might enjoy taking part. Make yourself a cuppa, sit by a window for an hour (to one side so you are hidden a little) and count the maximum number of each bird species you can see at any one time. You’ll find counting sheets, info and tips on the RSPB Website but you can also catch up with all the chat and share sightings on facebook and twitter using the hashtag #BigGardenBirdwatch too. Have fun!

This post was published by Shirley for shirls gardenwatch in January 2016.

Friday, 22 January 2016

Previously... Song Thrush juvenile

The year was 2013, the month July and what a boom of newly fledged chicks were to be seen visiting the garden then – so my handwritten blog diary tells me. At this time, exciting family stuff was going on and postings were few but the recording of photos, video and gardenwatching notes in my well-loved, hardback, A5 yearly diary continued.

As mentioned in comments in my previous post, the Song Thrush is in serious decline in many parts of the UK. So, it’s no surprise then that a possible first sighting of juvenile Song Thrush in my garden was exciting! But was that what I was seeing? I wasn’t sure.

Gardenwatching over nine years has taught me many things (forever learning) especially when it comes to identifying new garden visitors. Rushed photos aren't always enough. Yes, granted, videos help more but its the watching of the behaviour that usually clinches it. Juveniles always catch my eye (or ear if they are newly fledged and begging for food). The youngster below caught my eye.

New visitors to garden, watch the activity of other birds before joining in.
Juveniles watch longer, look lost, stand and walk on soft plant foliage.
Juvenile Song Thrush image taken from video screen grab.

21 sec video clip of juvenile Song Thrush at edge of birdbath.
Blackbird comes to drink (bottom RH corner) and youngster moves.
Video footage taken through window, has gentle background music.

35 sec video clip of juvenile Song Thrush exploring garden border.
Could this inexperienced youngster know already to look for snail shells?
Video footage taken through window, has gentle background music.

Nope, crocus bulbs are not what this youngster was looking for.
Juvenile Song Thrush image taken from video screen grab.

Neither are the crocus roots - past observations of newly fledged
youngsters have shown they taste anything they come across.
Juvenile Song Thrush image taken from video screen grab.

This youngster continues through the bulbs to make sure.
Another sign of a juvenile, an adult bird would move swiftly on.
Juvenile Song Thrush image taken from video screen grab.

Adult Song Thrushes, can easily identify sultanas as a food as do Blackbirds.
Brighter photo taken under Acer tree after leaves drop back in October 2007.
Note that isn’t blue slug pellets in gravel, it will be decorative pot grit.

Adult Song Thrush above – can you spot the differences between it and the Juvenile Song Thrush below? What a pretty bird it is isn’t it?

At the time of this juvenile sighting, it was its shorter wings that caught my eye and the face looked slightly different too. On looking at these images now,
I can see the adult above has a pale defined eye ring.

For this blog post and descriptions on the appearance differences between the adult and juvenile Song Thrushes, I referred to my bookshelf and the few bird books I have collected over the last nine years. However it was a book bought, many years before and recently unearthed during an attic clearance that I have found a great resource recently.

A caption next to a small illustration of a juvenile Song Thrush in an old Reader’s Digest (Nature Lover’s Library) Field Guide to the Birds of Britain gave me the best clue by far. Next I searched through my photos and video screen grabs to illustrate this for my own records. Hopefully this will be of help to others wondering if they too have seen a juvenile Song Thrush.

The caption in my book read:
“Speckled back plumage distinguishes juvenile from adult bird”.
That can be very clearly seen in the images of the Song Thrush above.

Finally, there is another Song Thrush comparison that many people search for – I know I have. What’s the difference between the Song Thrush and the Mistle thrush? Well, I was aware that the Mistle Thrush was larger and a bit greyer but that’s a bit vague so I went searching for a video and discovered a good one by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO). I hope this of interest of others too.

Very helpful 5:04 video by BTO on differences between Song & Mistle Thrush

Being fully aware that the Song Thrush is a shy bird as well as a rare one in some areas of the UK, Yorkshire for example where fellow blogger Sue is, I wanted to share my special sighting and images.

I would also like to share a theory by Dominic Couzens in ‘The Secret Life of Garden Birds’ that is currently on my bookshelf. He suggests that perhaps numbers are in decline due the young birds not finding food in the first two or three months after fledging. I do hope the youngster above did not fall into that category.

Wishing everyone reading this Song Thrush sightings in the future especially if you are not seeing them now. If you are seeing them, I hope you continue to do so. Hopefully there can be a turnaround in the decline of this species here in the UK. Fingers crossed.

This post was published by Shirley for shirls gardenwatch in January 2016.