Thursday, 22 March 2018

The Siskin Garden Party

Outside the window, a bobbing tail of the mostly monochrome Pied Wagtail waved as if to say “Sorry, I missed last week’s photoshoot deadline for infrequent or new garden visitors during winter cold spells”. No worries, you can join the Siskin Party that rocked the garden over the weekend that followed! Why is it though, happening countless times, does a visitor like you appear after I hit the publish button?

Counting guests to last weekend's Siskin Garden Party was challenge. A serious challenge. I eventually admitted defeat when they were in the garden as they constantly moved everywhere from feeders, trees, shrubs to along the ground. Taking off en masse I might have guessedtimated 60+ easily.

Feeling like I was watching a nature, celebrity television programme, I focused my attention on the ‘Who’s who’ garden list. Not featuring, were passing Waxwing and Fieldfare groups of last week. They probably took one look down over the garden and said to themselves, too crowded and too much commotion for us!

In the absence of the ‘King of the Apples’ Mistle Thrush, a single Fieldfare gate-crashed the Siskin party. Halved apples were scattered on the snow so it, Blacklbirds and Song Thrushes had a quieter area to feed (yes, that white stuff arrived again). However, the Fieldfare didn’t mind mixing it with the Siskins and they didn’t appear to mind it's company on the feeder tree either. They were probably too busy feeder queuing and squabbling to notice it.

Not surprisingly, other finch species were in attendance. Which ones though? The binoculars came out. Only a small number of Goldfinches were spotted which was a surprise as previous Garden Parties hosted by the Siskins were popular with good sized Goldfinch groups. The binoculars failed to spot Redpolls or Reed Buntings which have been seen at these popular Winter Parties in previous years.

No binoculars were required to identify the male Bramblings at the party. It was a delight to see these winter garden visitors again. Spotting female Bramblings was a bit more tricky in a mixed crowd, in low light, especially when female Chaffinches and Greenfinches were around. Brightly coloured, male Greenfinches and Chaffinches were spotted easily without the aid of binoculars.

Branches of the coral barked Maple look especially great catching sunshine, early morning. During the Siskin Garden Party, many guests used its branches as they passed through the garden en route to the sunflower feeders. One bird caught my eye. Camera captures made it look like it was playing hide and seek with me. Its markings weren’t too clear until she moved. Cropped below is my #photooftheday of the beauty that is a female Brambling!

The usual garden species of Blackbirds, Dunnock, Robin and Woodpigeon joined the ground feeding party guests. It was great entertainment watching how they all mixed. There was less commotion on the ground below the feeders as seed, spilled from above, spread around more. Other garden regulars Blue, Coal and Great tits were seen joining the party feeding on peanuts as were Starlings.

When the Siskins took a party break a couple of Carrion Crow’s came feeding on fat filled, half coconuts as did the Jackdaw and Magpie. The feeders were busy all weekend with the large 12-port sunflower feeder needing topped up twice. The potting shed supply emptied, fortunately after the party was over. As commonly said of good parties - it was a blast!

Unfortunately, winter’s current blast of cold kept garden jobs at bay last weekend. Although the snow has gone again, last week’s jobs are still unticked. Rain gardening is not unusual for here but gardening in the cold – nope, not keen on that. Taking photos of flowering plants was the plan for today too – nope, no point in taking photos on cold, windy days where nothing stays still - including cold fingers holding a camera. Maybe this weekend?

Wishing you a great weekend! I’m not thinking we’ll be having another garden party this weekend. In fact, I’m fairly confident on that. Why am I so sure? Well, today, the postman brought the large bag of sunflower seed I ordered earlier this the week. Ah well, I’m sorted now for the hungry, hard-working nest builders - when they need it :-)

Well there you go, it's honestly happened again! I'm about to hit publish and a little Wren (a regular that wasn't seen at last weekend's garden party) has just stopped on a branch perch outside my window. It's bobbing up and down in a quite different way than the Pied Wagtail but the story is the same. Yep, you completely missed everything photoshoot and party too I'm afraid ;-)

This post was published by Shirley for shirls gardenwatch in March 2018.

Thursday, 15 March 2018

Winter catch-up, some fantastic garden moments

Early February saw the male Bullfinch return to overlook the garden from a neighbour’s tree. From there, this fine sunny day, he dropped into the garden and explored the ground. He stayed a while, perching on trees and shrubs. What a delight to get such a close-up view of such a colourful bird. I've been waiting for this for a long time. This was just the start of some fantastic gardenwatching for 2018!

As always, during cold spells of winter, fat filled half coconuts get hung around the garden. They are well received by a variety of birds. Blue, Great, Coal and Long-tailed tits, Blackbirds, Starlings, Magpies and Carrion crows were all seen feeding on them as was the Robin.

A grumpy looking Blue tit caught my camera eye, it was a bit scruffy but a closer look showed that its beak was not as it should be, being longer with the top overlapping the bottom. No wonder it was grumpy. It seemed to feed ok so that was good to see.

A Woodpigeon (or two) discovered how to get the peanuts in the squirrel feeder. Snow came and went and I was pleased I didn’t cut down the sedum stems last autumn. Apples continued to be offered to tempt possible passing Fieldfares and Waxwings, the Blackbirds and Starlings enjoyed them.

As everyone here in the UK will remember, February ended with some serious snow flurries and extensive drifting where we were advised not to travel unless an emergency. We were used to snow conditions here in Scotland but this was a new level. Our area was issued with a red alert weather warning by the Met Office – a first for Scotland. There was major disruption throughout the UK with areas in the far South getting high levels of snow too.

Out in the garden, snow being blown about in all directions covered low bird feeding areas and prompted the building of a snow igloo-esk structure. Birds were nervous out in the snow for fear of predation but some discovered this food source like Blackbirds and a Song Thrush.

A jumbo, 12 port seed feeder with sunflower hearts didn’t see much business with the smaller finches. Winter conditions usually brought them in large mixed flocks but they were nowhere to be seen. This was unusual, I was worried for them. I was delighted to see them reappear in this last week, with good numbers of Goldfinches and high numbers of Siskins. More apples were put out, just in case…

Yay… Fieldfares arrived on March 3rd, the snow was still with us and the colourful apples must have caught their attention. I was thrilled! A large group landed on my neighbour’s tree overlooking the apples. In previous Winters, we had seen an odd single Fieldfare come in to feed on apples but this was a group of at least 20. They bounced excitedly around the branches of this tree before beginning their descent down to the garden. However, all didn’t go to plan.

The apples already had a regular diner, apart from the Blackbirds and Starlings and this bird was becoming very possessive of the 20+ apples on offer, chasing others away. I originally thought it was a Song Thrush until I saw this behaviour and the size difference with other birds. A Mistle Thrush, one bird, was to stop the Fieldfares feasting on the apples I put out to attract and feed them.

The Fieldfares began their descent, running along the top of my hedge, dropping down to my homemade feeder tree structure, the branches of the Pine trees beside it and other trees and shrubs in the garden nearby. The Mistle Thrush wasted some considerable energy chasing them, it was hard to believe that this one bird stopped a group of birds feed. It did and successfully too.

The main group of Fieldfares finally gave up and flew away. Aww… it was still fantastic to see them all. A few more determined ones stayed and landed around the garden watching and waiting but the bossy ‘King of the Apple Castle’ spotted them and the chase was on again. The Mistle Thrush continued to patrol this area of the garden with almost Sparrowhawk like body language and fed like a King. I did see odd Fieldfares get to feed when the Mistle Thrush briefly moved away but what a wasted food opportunity for the group.

On my, deep snow, walk to the Supermarket to get more apples I had spotted Fieldfares bouncing through gardens in search of berries. They were fun to watch as they travelled down the street alongside me. So I knew they were in the area before they arrived in my garden.

Now that the snow is as good as all gone, as I said above, large groups of Finches (especially Siskins) have been attracting my attention at the feeder tree. They have been seen squabbling with each other and the seed is running down fast. It has been great to finally see the larger nyjer seed feeder get used too. The bossy Mistle Thrush seems to have moved on too, a good number of species are visiting just now and the garden is getting very busy again. I was delighted to see this and not looking for any new visitors...

Well, what a shock it was to wander into the kitchen to fill the kettle on a dull Tuesday morning to look out the window to see three brownish birds I didn’t recognise as regulars feeding on the apples. Then I spotted what looked like a prominent crest!! Never, ever, expecting to actually see Waxwings feeding in my garden… there they were! Wow, just wow.

Walking swiftly through to my gardenwatch window and slowly towards my camera, I got to it in time which was brilliant as this often doesn’t happen. However, these birds weren’t in a hurry to move and I got some garden record shots of this fantastic moment of gardenwatching, like having red squirrels visit, I could never have imagined I’d see in my small town garden. I also had time with their visit to just quietly watch them. What a privilege and delight :-)

Was that the first day Waxwings had been feasting on the garden apples, that I didn’t know but I was so very lucky to be at home and look out the window at the right time to see these ones. I still can’t believe it. Did I see them yesterday morning as I filled the kettle, no I didn’t but I did spot another first for 2018…

So there we have it, the nesting season has officially begun in my area with the Blackbirds. This female Blackbird was collecting blades of dried out ornamental grasses. She’ll find a lot of them around too as I haven’t been tidying up. I need to get out in the garden to lift the flowering bittercress weeds and get some pruning done but I will leave dry prunnings in corners where the birds will be able to find them (like under my hedge).

Aware that today is also Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day, I nipped out to the garden last night to see what flowers I could spot with the help of outside lighting. Happy GBBD to everyone taking part! That’s the garden flowering season properly started here too with Spring bulbs, Crocus, Iris and the wonderful Snowdrops and Snowflakes (my preferred kind of snowflakes) and Hellebores.

Oh dear… I see I’ve forgotten to prune my wisteria! I will get to that over the weekend, pruning all healthy stems back to two sets of buds. After many years this pruning has reliably produced flowers which I never cease to get delighted to watch open. The bees are happy to see them too :-)

Also, Hedgehogs have been spotted out and about in March in previous years so I need to sweep out my hedgehog feeding station and put out regular food and fresh water in the evenings to help them put on weight after their winter hibernation.

Wow… it’s all go now for the gardenwatch year! Another job for the weekend is emptying the camera nestbox (after a deserted, part nest build last year) so that prospective tenants for 2018 can view it in earnest. The seasons of a garden have much to keep our interest that’s for sure. Enjoy yours!

This post was published by Shirley for shirls gardenwatch in March 2018.

Friday, 2 February 2018

Surprise garden sightings

Last Sunday saw a fantastic colour splash from a bird that has never been counted from this garden during the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch! Last September saw sunshine through golden Acer leaves and a late garden nest build never seen either – any guesses there? I’ll leave you thinking on that for now.

The Bullfinch had been on my garden wishlist for some time now – the stunning male in particular. I can’t believe it flew in landing on my popular Acer tree along with some blue/great tits during my count. What luck! On odd occasions I had seen it eating berries from a distant neighbour’s tree – only a few times though. My OH and daughter had reported a couple of garden sightings to me before I saw two very brief ones myself. It has never been seen feeding as yet, perhaps one day I might be able to capture some video/photos but until then...

Bullfinch male, not my photograph, Wikipedia Creative Commons Licence

Bullfinch female, not my photograph, Wikipedia Creative Commons Licence

A flash of yellow from Siskins was spotted during my count (2x male, 1x female) and to encourage them and perhaps redpolls again a new larger nyjer seed feeder is hanging now. From past experience, this food takes time to be discovered (almost a week on and no takers) but when it does it will bring in a great variety of visitors.

Woodpigeons, closely followed by Blackbirds, should have topped my garden list last Sunday and they did appear, but only just (Woodpigeon x1, Blackbirds 1x male & 1x female). Although numbers weren’t high I was delighted to have a good species count of 13. It was great to be at my window again and be able to see what species are visiting just now.

The full birdcount species list was: Blackbird (2), Dunnock (2), Robin (2), Wren (1), Blue tit (2), Great tit (2), Coal tit (2), Goldfinch (1), Siskin (3), Bullfinch (1), Woodpigeon (1), Magpie (1) and top of the list for 2018 the Starling (4). That’s good news for the Starling as its status on the conservation list is Red. I should add here though that four is a small garden visiting group from what I’ve seen here.

Maybe the Starlings had been deliberately spreading their numbers around the gardens to show things are on the up for them now. They certainly had me looking up to the skies in the evenings over the weekend. They swooped around from side to side, shape shifting over the rooftops and around the mature trees I can see from the garden. Serious show-offs for the birdcount they were, as my count was over and there’s no way I could have counted a murmuration!

Starling murmurations are just fascinating to watch and I got a real feel for speed as they went low just above my window – wow what a delight that was! There were two groups that I saw swooping around but probably many more joined later in open spaces away from the houses. A real spectacle this behaviour is.

As mentioned above, currently it is the Woodpigeon that more regularly takes the highest number of visits to our garden. They’ve even discovered how to feed from the squirrel feeder. I’d say they were almost at the point of nuisance at times but OH and daughter love to watch them. In past summers this bird has built and added to a nest space hidden in the ivy above my pergola. Eggs have been laid too but I suspect magpies discovered where they were.

Why on earth then did a pair of woodpigeons decide to build a nest in the open, central garden location of a small Acer tree about to drop its leaves? Back on September 17th 2017 the bird feeders were in need of a top-up and when out filling them up I spotted this surprise late nest build and set up the video camera on a tripod and left it running. Below is the capture that caught my eye where the male gave the female some taps of encouragement. The focus was set to auto so moves out and in a couple of times.

Woodpigeon nest video, 1min 54sec sound from garden only, try HD quality.

Could Woodpigeons actually successfully raise chicks late September in Scotland? I had no idea, although fun to think they could, I had concerns. This late build was in far too open and busy an area of the garden and after much hurried activity over a few days it was deserted. This woodpigeon pair may have been successful elsewhere but I’m so glad they moved on as strong winds soon after this footage was taken shook the thin acer branches and broke-up the nest. Now, I really don’t want them returning to this vulnerable tree in 2018.

So what are the real top birds in your garden just now? Have you had any surprise sightings recently? It’s very clear by watching the garden just now that birds are pairing up. We’ve definitely got the blue/great/coal tits visiting in pairs. Three robins are around at the moment too and two are definitely ok feeding near each other suggesting a pair and there is a chase on with the other. Have you seen any nesting activity yet? What about nestbox viewings? We've seen Blue and Great tits viewing ours - they always compete for this one.

Looking out to the garden borders now and spring bulbs. How are yours doing? Have you any surprise sightings of flowers? I must get out in the garden over the weekend to take a look. Oh dear, reading this over I see I've asked a lot of questions this time! Sorry :-) Wishing you a great garden and wildlife weekend!

This post was published by Shirley for shirls gardenwatch in February 2018.