Sunday, 24 March 2013

… and along came a Pied Wagtail!

A snow covered garden for two weeks has brought some great garden watching as birds flocked in numbers to feeders. Fortunately Mrs Blackbird found nesting material under my hedge although I can’t imagine she really felt like making a nest in the cold days we have had here.

Image above: Snowflake flowers, Coal Tit & Male Chaffinch on tree branches,
Mr Blackbird feeding in sunshine while Mrs Blackbird is busy shopping in the shade.


After the first garden sighting of a Yellowhammer back at the beginning of February it was great to see it back (in time for Mother’s Day) and this time he bought friends. I’ve yet to sort the many photos and video clips I took but I do believe there were at least three males visiting and two females. I was delighted to get a couple together – were they a pair?


Female Yellowhammer in foreground.


After taking my visits of daily Yellowhammers for granted, despite still having snow on the ground, they stopped yesterday. Yep… as the title says… and along came a Pied Wagtail!

Being honest, I never expected to see this little black and white bird with a long bobbing tail wandering around my garden. I was thrilled. I suspect the large groups of Chaffinches that bring other winter birds in to my garden feeders probably brought the Pied Wagtail (Motacilla alba) too.

However, the Pied Wagtail wasn’t exactly grateful to the Chaffinches as it continually chased them (quite aggressively at times) away from the food on the ground that they had been previously enjoying with the Yellowhammers. The thing is, the Pied Wagtail wasn’t even interested in the trays of sunflower hearts!

Mmm… this chasing was, in part, due to my actions I suspect. On seeing this bird arrive, I looked up my favourite bird feeding book and read what it liked to eat – stale crumbs, grated cheese and mealworms.

Ah… I had plenty of mealworms in my shed (lol – a Mother’s day gift) so I crushed some down a bit (knowing Starlings and Blackbirds would run away with them otherwise) and put them in the area near the feeder trays where the Pied Wagtail was first seen. I guess the Pied Wagtail was just looking after its find when it was chasing the Chaffinches.

This first Pied Wagtail arrived just after 10am and was the last bird to be spotted yesterday leaving after 6pm – now that’s what I call a serious day visit to a garden! Let’s take a little look at some highlights the Pied Wagtail garden tour…


Crossing the open grass area to see what’s available at the hedge side
(nice thin snow here after it was cleared for access to feeders).



Rock climbing around the pond area – a favourite spot.



Time for a snack - the crushed mealworms near the Acer feeders were very tasty.



Time for a drink – ah… fresh running water (need to keep up fluids with all this walking).



Time for a bit of preening – got to look my best. This is a nice perch on a feeder table.



Some time away from the crowds required – mealworm to go.



Time for a trip up tree feeder tower – where is Mr Siskin’s head?



This is a nice garden viewpoint – you can take my picture here if you’d like.



Oh that pesky snow is starting again – quick one more photo.


Although the Pied Wagtail messed up the relative harmony at the busy feeders yesterday it definitely kept my 'camera' attention for a large part of the day. It was an entertaining bird to watch as the compilation of video clips below will show.

Once I uploaded my many clips for editing (like the Pied Wagtail knew) it took a good period of preening in one of my borders where the light was good - so my camera came out again. It is a lovely close-up of a bird that doesn’t stay still for long. I was delighted to get this extra piece of footage. Enjoy…


Pied Wagtail on garden visit, video 1:51 with gentle background music, try 720p HD quality.


So, to the big question - would the Pied Wagtail return this morning? Yes is the answer. It was the first bird I saw when I opened my curtains! Okay, I wasn’t going to let it rule the feeders for a second day so ‘Starling tactics’ were required. What are ‘Starling tactics’ I hear you ask ;-)

A few years ago, a single Blue tit Mum tried in vain during a wet Spring to feed her chicks. After seeing her take the last bits of a fatcake into her chicks (camera in nestbox) I put out a new fatcake to help her. Unfortunately the Starlings are a fan of this and hampered her getting near as they attempted to devour it. My solution at the time (as per a suggestion by an RSPB staff member at a local visitor centre) was to provide easier food for the Starlings in the way of fatballs on the ground away from the other feeders. This did work for the main part and enough for the Blue tit Mum to get access to the fatcake. Sadly her chicks died anyway.

The ‘Starling tactics’ I employed for the Pied Wagtail this morning was much easier. I made a lose trail of crushed mealworms and breadcrumbs towards Hedgehog Manor and sprinkled a generous supply in there together with a fresh dish of water. It didn’t take too long for the Blackbirds to find this food as they already knew this as a source (I feed hedgehogs here). It wasn’t too long after that and the Pied Wagtail was seen on camera - although it was a tad nervous of coming inside at first.




The Pied Wagtail now had more choices in food areas and although it did return to the pond area where the Chaffinches were feeding there were no mealworms there for it to protect. The Blackbirds would chase the Pied Wagtail at times and the Chaffinches seemed to know that they could come down in numbers if the Blackbirds were about. It’s been fascinating to observe the behaviour of birds in my garden.

There was a bit more harmony in my wind chilled garden today, it was lovely to see a female Brambling feed at the pond area too (photos another time). Towards the end of the afternoon, when the garden was fairly quiet, I’m delighted to report that a group of Yellowhammers landed on my still snow covered lawn. I didn’t see them at feeders, nor did I see where the Pied Wagtail was at the time. Hopefully they will return although my problem then will be stopping taking more photos and video of this very pretty bird that I know will be gone when the snow goes.

As for the entertaining Pied Wagtail – it brought a friend at one point today! I was getting a tad worried that we could see an invasion but as the mealworms were tucked away this second bird didn’t find them nor stay long - phew! Have you had entertaining antics with birds in your garden this weekend?

Finally, an update from my previous post where I promoted the appeal by Scottish Wildlife Trust for funds for an Osprey satellite tracking device – brilliant news there as they have met their target very quickly! They are now looking to raise the target to get two devices which is great news all round. Like many people around the world, I’m looking forward to following the Osprey stories for 2013.



This post was published by Shirley for shirls gardenwatch in March 2013.

11 comments:

Lisa at Greenbow said...

Love seeing your birdies. I have only seen a Yellow Wagtail. I wish I could see this Pied Wagtail. It is a real beauty. The snow is falling here. Birds are headed for cover for the most part.

Rohrerbot said...

Wonderful event!!! I would be as thrilled as you!

As for the antics in my yard? A nesting pair of Cooper's have been eyeing up my birds for dinner:)

Shady Gardener said...

I have missed visiting you, but what a treat to find this post! Pied wagtail is quite the name, but your video truly showed him off! We received a little snow today, too. And a great deal more birds at the feeders"

Midmarsh John said...

Great set of photos and video of the Pied Wagtail. I've only had one visit very briefly on one occasion though there are plenty in the village. They seem to prefer large open spaces here.

Angie said...

As usual Shirley - amazing camera action going on!!
I smiled at your tale of starling tactics. I do similar, I always put out the bread/pasta and rice first, once the starlings/magpies are distracted I put out the goodies for the smaller birds.
What a lovely sight the Pied Wagtail must have been.

Shirley said...

Hello everyone, thanks for all your comments. This Pied Wagtail has continued to visit every day since :-D

Lisa, I love sharing them with you :-) These birds are quite common in good sized groups in cities here where they roost in large numbers often near heating vents in buildings. This bird has been such a character to watch. Oh… hope you don’t get too much snow there but enough to get more winter species to your garden :-)

Rohrerbot, it really was a fun surprise that’s for sure. Oh… the local birds of prey. It’s a Sparrowhawk we get here (slightly smaller than your Cooper I’d guess) although I’ve not seen any here in a while but they have to be visiting when I’m not looking with the chattering that’s been going on. I’ve finally come to accept that all the birds need to eat – just as long as it’s not a Mum, Dad or chick at nesting time.

Shady,hello again :-) I’m delighted you popped by. It is a funny name isn’t it. Thanks, I had quite a number of clips to choose from and was editing quite a while to get enough snippets to show the character of this little bird. What a treat it was to get the full preening bit in my border. Oh... although I’m enjoying the delights of a very busy garden… this gardener would like to busy herself out there too so I’m wishing the snow and cold away – not successfully yet as it keeps coming back!

John, thanks – I never expected to be opening my morning curtains to see this bird for four days in a row. Still having snow and cold temps I suspect I’ll see it again tomorrow. I’m loving seeing daily Brambling visits too – a treat for you on the Blackcap it’s been a while since we’ve seen one of them here (usually a late December/January visitor probably stopping over on its way to you). Interestingly my sightings of this bird have been in a city centre.

Angie, thank-you! I love capturing the action and after having enough varied clips to record its visit I now just look out and enjoy watching it now – it’s still with us, 4 consecutive days and counting. Ah… like your distraction technique too saving your precious expensive seed for the smaller birds too :-D

Joe said...

Well done on seeing that Pied Wagtail and some great photos too. We saw one a few years ago but it hasn't turned up since. Also it's great that those Yellowhammers are still sticking around, find it quite incredible how you're seeing them so frequently, and in a small group as well. Seeing them once was impressive enough!

Pretty much the only good thing about the winter dragging on for so long is the interesting bird species that are being drawn into gardens. I won't be sad to see the chilly spell go though I must say.

ShySongbird said...

Hi Shirley :-) I'm smiling here, this is a direct quote from a comment you left me on March 4th...'I always smile seeing pied wagtails in your garden – I just can’t imagine that here.' You certainly put the spell on it saying that ;-) Well done! You have had some lovely garden visitors recently. You captured some great images too both stills and video. As for the wagtail being aggressive, I think they must make 'em stroppier in Scotland ;-) I have never seen them behave like that in my garden but have seen Blackbirds behaving very aggressively towards them. Yours certainly wasn't letting the Chaffinches get a look in! A most enjoyable post Shirley.

Miranda Bell said...

Hi Shirley - it's been rather a while but always a pleasure visiting your lovely blog... I love the little Pied Wagtails... I had the company of one whilst cutting the grass at one of my clients' gardens - I was on the tractor mower for the first time this year and this little bird was much enjoying feasting on what he could find after I'd cut the grass and seemed totally unperturbed by the tractor! Do hope things warm up a bit with you but in the meantime enjoy all your lovely bird visitors... take care Miranda x

Sue Garrett said...

When I was teaching we alwsys had pied wagtails around school picking up whatever messy children dropped at break times. One of our cleaners thought that they were baby magpies!

Shirley said...

Hello again everyone, thanks for all your comments. Sorry it has been so long since I’ve been here :-)

Joe, thanks! I was very surprised to see this bird in my garden. It was great to see the Yellowhammers for so long – I took many photos and video clips. I agree these sightings made the prolonged cold snow bearable. Looking at my night cam watching a hedgehog feeding as I write this, flowers are out and bees seen feeding today – we must be getting to Spring at last :-D

Jan, ah… I smiled thinking of you smiling myself ;-) Thanks, I was delighted with my captures – too many to choose from too. Lol… to the stroppier Pied Wagtails in Scotland. This one stood its ground to the Blackbirds 90% of the time. Thanks, looking forward to catching up wioth your recent post at a better hour tomorrow ;-)

Miranda, hello again! Thanks, thanks for sharing your story of this bird that I associate with city centres at night time. Thankfully, as I write this, the weather has got a bit warmer – enough to catch up on weeding and pruning too. Enjoy your garden now too :-D

Sue, haha… very good. I’ve been looking at Magpies on the motorway verges since I read your comment and I can see a similarity although not to scale of course ;-)