Big Garden Birdwatch 2017 Part 2!


Well, we arrived home after our weekend away with time to spare, so after unloading the car and a spot of lunch, I filled up the birdfeeders in the back garden and settled myself, very well wrapped up, to see who would visit.  It was a chilly and very overcast afternoon 

 There are two feeders with fatballs, one feeder with a mix of kibbled peanuts and sunflower hearts and the other two have, for the winter months, a 'high energy' seed mix - all the food goes quite quickly between the various visitors to the garden!

 The first to appear was one of our regulars, announcing his arrival with a 'Tick Tick', a whirr of wings to another favourite perch and a pose to see if I was watching - it was one of the Robins. 

We have three that regularly visit and appear to share the territory fairly amicably.  Two of them visit together and follow each other about the garden and I believe they may be a pair; another visits, most often alone and has favourite, but different perches to the other two. He can often be heard singing from the branches along the back fence or closer to the house in the Field Maple. He is shown above, on a low limb of the nectarine tree, enroute to some food.

 I've watched the Robins often and have learnt to just about distinguish which one is which - they all have slightly different markings; a small band of white feathers at the shoulder perhaps or a slightly lighter brown edge to one of their wing feathers...  Shape and size wise, all three are the same - going from sleek and slim to little puffed balls of feathers when it is cold! 

The three of them will go to the fatball or seed feeders, the pair often taking turns and they all will forage under the feeders for dropped titbits as well.  

 Whilst the Robin was flitting from perch to perch, another familiar song was heard from the end of the garden and two silhouettes were seen hopping through the lace of cyanotis branches - Dunnocks.  They were joined by another shortly after and could be spotted on low branches and foraging around in the ivy up the back fence.   

For a few weeks now, I have been hearing them singing and have been watching as they flirt their way around the garden in courtship - this afternoon was no different, there was a lot of wing flicking going on and a definite session of 'follow my leader'as they worked their way through the branches.  

Occasionally, they would perch lower down before dropping down to the lawn to peck around for food - I've never seen them take food from the feeders, they mostly feed on small insects foraged from amongst leaf litter or ground vegetation, however in the colder months they will supplement their diet with small seeds or peanut pieces in the garden. 

For a seemingly 'ordinary' little brown bird, when you look closely, they have the most beautiful markings and are rather beautiful.  They also have a very beautiful and melodious song.  Their lives are far from dull though and could almost be said to be rather racey - Dunnocks are polygamous and both males and females will often have more than one mate.  

  All of a sudden there was a bit of a commotion in the honeysuckle and mock orange branches at the end of the garden - the little flock of House Sparrows that visit several times a day, had made an arrival!  A loud chattering will be heard followed by a number of hasty swoopings in to get the best perches, followed by further loud discussions and a lot of flitting about on the branches.

 The flock seems to be between two and three dozen strong, depending on the time of year - in later months there are sometimes youngsters and over several years I have delighted in watching and listening to them - House Sparrows, where once common, are now one of our Red status birds - this following a serious decline in their numbers. This little flock visit mine and surrounding gardens and I have also watched them in the woodland edges at the top of my road during the spring.   

 This time of year, the flock comprises of adults; they arrive en-masse at the end of the garden, before getting a little braver and moving to the trees down the side of the garden, where they queue and then descend hungrily to the feeders.  They are equally comfortable on the seeds as on the fatball feeders - often the number of them (and their agility) on a fatball feeder rivals the number of Long Tailed Tits on the same when they visit! 

The males are easily recognised, with stripey chestnut brown backs, a dark eye stripe and pale cheek, apparently the more dominant males have a larger 'bib' as well,    

the females are more subtly marked and juvenile House Sparrows resemble the females in appearance.  A few of the females which have visited have also shown plumage anomalies, one with two white outer tail feathers and one recently with two white primary feathers on one side - often those birds have been the most skittish and hard to photograph, but they are definitely House Sparrows. 

With the House Sparrows eyeing up the feeders and chattering and squabbling amongst themselves, after few nervous fly-byes, first three, then a further two Starlings added to the commotion!  

 Over the past few years, a small group of these colourful and gregarious birds have bred in the eaves of one of the nearby houses and can regularly be seen on the rooftops and aerials; if you cannot see them, you can usually definitely hear them - they are often singing and chattering away.  They are great mimics, when they first started to appear one of them often made a 'Windows' chime as part of it's repertoire and currently there is one amongst them who often 'yaffles' like the local Green Woodpecker! (it is only the accompanying clicks and whistles that gave the game away).

As with the House Sparrows, Starlings are Red listed, they may be quite common in gardens, however their numbers have declined elsewhere.  

 These will aim first for the peanut and sunflower feeder, no manners mind, it's a bit of a free for all with flapping and squabbling until they work out there's more than one perch on the feeder and they also positively decimate the fatballs!  

 Whilst the Starlings busied themselves around the food and the Sparrows settled themselves back down, there were a few more quiet arrivals in the end bushes.  

 There was a fleeting glimpse of a bashful Great Tit - these literally tend to fly in, grab a morsel or two and then head back up to the woodland, which is a row of houses away.   

The visitor on this occasion was a youngster with paler plumage, although from time to time we have visits from the more brightly coloured adults.  A couple of Blue Tits also chased each other into the garden - flying round and round after each other, before settling in the big bay tree 

and then coming down for food; 

later on in the 'hour' a couple more couples, showing the same behaviour also arrived - it seems dining out and courtship was for the Tits and Dunnocks, the theme of the afternoon!

 With the arrival of the Great and Blue Tits a loud 'pitchu pitchu' call was heard and a skittish regular arrived, a Coal Tit.  On this afternoon, there were two visiting and 'casing' the garden, before scooting down to a lookout point, then to the peanut feeder, grabbing a morsel and retreating into the end bushes to eat; repeating the exercise several times. 

 Generally Coal Tits will feed on insects, beech masts and conifer seeds - all of which can be found in the local woodland - although it is mostly Oak Ash and Beech, here and there are a couple of big old Spruce trees. I often see thm around the woodland margins agiley foraging amongst the branches for food.  In the garden almost without fail, they will head for the peanut and sunflower feeder.  Over the past couple of years, these have become regular visitors and they are are one of the small members of the Tit family.

 We have had a male Blackbird (or two) visiting the garden recently as well - he usually arrives with a flourish on the fence, flies down to the lower branches on the nectarine, before alighting on the ground to take advantage of fatball crumbs and dropped seeds.  This afternoon was no different, with his usual arrival made.   

 After a few moments he went down onto the lawn for food, only departing when the peal from another male was heard next door and he went off to investigate.  There was a female briefly in one of the trees along the side fence, who soon took both of their interest and the three of them headed off.  We have quite a few Blackbirds around here, whether in the garden or certainly in the adjacent woodland, I often see them turning the leaf litter over as they forage for food and around the gardens. In the breeding season, you always know if something is amiss - the Blackbirds are the early warning system if the Magpies or other predators are about.

 As the hour drew to a close, I had been a little surprised not to see the Wood pigeons however, these appeared after I had gone indoors to warm up, with five Wood pigeons pecking around on the lawn and also trying to (one at a time fortunately) balance on the bird pole feeder, which they often leave lurching to one side!  The Collared Dove pair did put in an appearance during my watch though. 

Just before I went indoors I could hear bubbling clicking and chirruping and suddenly the regular flock of Long Tailed Tits arrived.  In this troupe, there are between twelve and fourteen regulars, on some occasions though recently I have also just had a pair visit, so am hoping that possibly that may be the start of another family group! 

Long Tailed Tits travel in a family group, which is a mixture of adults and juveniles and are a familiar sight in the local woodland as they travel through the trees and are also a cheering and familiar sight in the garden.  When they first arrive, they will settle here and there, making sure of how safe it is, they then head for the fatball feeder and never cease to amaze me with how many of them can get on one feeder at any one time! (I managed to catch two of them, but at one point the feeder had five or six of them all tucking in) 

Whilst some are dining, others are always in the nearby trees chattering to their companions and keeping a lookout.   

Once all had had their fill, the leaders of the troupe will fly off calling, with the others shortly following, all of them chattering to each other to ensure that no-one gets left behind.

 Time was up for my Big Garden Birdwatch; although it is not just an annual thing - if I'm short on time to go out walking, then some time in the back garden is the next best thing!



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