Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Sitka Siskins

Well, 13 weeks of the Garden Bird Survey fairly flew past, I suppose it really is spring now!

Male Siskin (c.OOS)

As is usual, the completed forms arrive promptly: 110 returns posted in to BirdWatch Ireland HQ within a few days of the closing week.

This is really useful, though I already know all about what turned up in my garden: podium toppers were the Goldfinches, but a pretty average winter for most of the other finch species and winter thrushes were never really pressed into gardens, through either hard weather or lack of feeding opportunities in the wider countryside.

A fairly obvious absence, partial in our case, was that of Siskins.  They did arrive in very small numbers in mid January, no more than six birds on one day, thereafter a single bird on three occasions.

Female Siskin (c.oos)

The BTO has posted that a near record crop of seed cones on Sitka Spruce trees was sustaining Siskins throughout the winter, thereby reducing their need to visit gardens for supplementary feeding on peanut feeders.. On checking a few of our local conifer forests, I did hear and see big flocks of Siskins, so the UK position seems to hold true for us here in Wicklow: lots of spruce cones still dangling from tree and Siskins making 'music' around them.

So, what has the initial flush of GBS data told me: well, from a random selection of 100 completed forms I found that Siskins occurred in 27% of Gardens surveyed: this compares with a final tally for last winter of 54% and the previous winter, 64%.. 

If all else fails: we'll be around! (c.OOS)

Friday, 20 February 2015

House Hunters

It may be nearly two month before a Blue Tit will lay an egg in this nestbox, but the process is advancing well: I have watched both Blue and Great Tits inspecting boxes around the garden for the past ten days or so.

Blue tit emerges from a viewing (c.OOS)

I particularly like the look of the natural Birch box, sited on, well you've guessed it, a Birch tree.  i wonder does the naturally camouflaged combination give more protection from predators?  In any case, its still not to late to put up a box.. remember, in the words of the Auctioneer: 'location, location, location'!

Great Tits: seen and heard (c.OOS)

The range of bird song is expanding daily, Great Tits are very persistent, but also Redpolls, their buzzings from the Alders are a feature, they are also great at tidying up after the horde of Goldfinches descend on the Nyjer feeders.

With just a week or so left in the Garden Bird Survey season, I am still waiting on a Starling or Collared Dove to visit.. both breed locally so I fancy overhearing one or other at first light, singing from the roof.. dream on!

Cherry tree in bud, Blue Tit shows off its colours (c.OOS)

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Spring Song

07.45., Tuesday, 3 Feb.
Its minus 5 degrees,  bright and still: a heavy white hoar frost confirms to my slowly waking mind that the cold air enveloping my legs is perhaps the coldest this winter.

Blue Tit (c. OOS)
A solitary Blue Tit is hugging the peanut feeder, but no others join this early diner.  However, there is clear song, not from one bird, but two: Mistle Thrushes singing strongly and plaintively, from unseen high perches: its a little surprising to observe nature planning for the future, in spite of the cold, harsh conditions of late winter, these birds are putting down a marker for the future.  A more tuneful Song Thrush joins in the chorus, this one visible in the top branches of a bare Ash tree.

Mistle Thrush: picking the highest point to defend its territory (c.OOS)
Likewise, Great Tits and Coal Tits sing strongly, despite the fact that an egg will not be laid before the end of April.. The all important action now is to plan and mark out a territory for the future season. A good territory increases the chances of attracting a mate and raising a family successfully.

Male Chaffinch: short snatches of song are now evident (c.OOS)
Though some of our garden and woodland species are still down in Africa, for another 6 weeks or so,  Chaffinches deliver short snatches of song, Dunnocks and Wrens likewise.. it wont be a silent spring!

Saturday, 17 January 2015

Normal Winter Weather?

The temperature gauge showed 16* on New Years Day.. I would have tapped the glass a few times for confirmation except that walking around the garden,  it was necessary to remove an outer layer of clothing to cool down as I went about tidying up a few corners.  Today's Irish Times reports that 2014 was the hottest year on record.. in fact it was the 38th consecutive year of of above average temperatures, meaning no one born since 1976 has experienced a colder than average year!

The last week brought what I would consider normal winter temperatures for these parts, -1 at dawn and a steady 1 to 3 degrees all day.


This current weather regime has brought the birds back to the feeders in numbers, but the Grey Wagtail from last month has chosen to move onwards to a slightly less exposed locale, no doubt.

Our Robins are attracted to both 'traditional' fat balls and the new star product: peanut butter with meal worms. As Ireland's most widespread garden bird, its not really surprising that they are quickest to adapt to feeding opportunities that might give them the edge over other insectivorous species such as the Wagtails, Dunnock and Wren.

Goldfinch & Chaffinches clean up (c.OOS)

Other movers include our nyjer hugging Goldfinches and the party of Redpolls that often station themselves on the fallen seed at ground level.  The Chaffinch flock expands each week, though I haven't seen a Brambling yet this winter.. the nomads from Scandinavia, including showy Waxwings have cancelled a winter visit to our shores, the Rowan and Beech crops up North are sufficient for their needs this time out.  Irruptive migration is a perilous enough survival strategy that is only carried out in locally dire circumstances.

Redpoll battles its way onto the Nyjer feeder (c.OOS)

Wednesday, 31 December 2014

End of year stocktake

Four weeks of the Garden Bird Survey completed, first third done.. how are we progressing?

Grey Wagtail (c.OOS)

We certainly hit the ground running, with 30 species already recorded; that brings us well on our way towards our high of 36, with anything between 30 and 36 a good return for this large rural garden overvthe 13 week survey period.  The weather hasn't been too remarkable one way or another, though we have had a few cold mornings down to - 3C. which brought in a party of Redwings and a flurry of Blackbirds.

The one clear gain this winter, for us, is the rise in the number of Goldfinches, up to 14 now and the drop in the number of Coal Tits: just a single bird when we usually host anywhere between 8 and 15 birds in winter. The former respond to the steady supply of Nyjer seed available, but the latters disappearance is puzzling: it will be very interesting to get the end of season story from across the country. 

No sign of a woodpecker yet this winter and no patrolling Sparrowhawk, surely both will visit?  A few species are literally borderline, such as Yellowhammer and Reed Bunting, but the  Red Kites really do patrol the area, expecting to pick up a morsel.

The most welcome new winter visitor has been the regular appearance of a young Grey Wagtail.  Though they occur on the local wooded streams, a favourite breeding habitat, it is a pleasure to watch this bird forage the gravel area on the warm westerly side of the house.  In colder winters I suspect the Grey Wagtails might move downstream to slightly warmer conditions: they suffered in the cold winters of 2009/10.

A young Grey Wagtail (c.OOS)

Thursday, 18 December 2014

An Apple a day

Fieldfare amongst the windfalls (c. Shay Connolly)

Whilst the weather has swung back to mild and wet, it was  a chilly minus 3 a week back: weather like that can bring birds new into to your garden, a a correspondent, Ray Walsh, in County Meath reported:

" Five or six birds have arrived in my back garden over the past few days, the size of a thrush, and are attacking the Blackbirds that are feeding on the apples left on the ground. The birds are dark around the eye, mottled chest with reddy brown colour, brown wings and tail, and very grey looking from the back ".

Save an Apple for a Fieldfare (c.Dick Coombes)

That amounts to a very good description of Fieldfares, a so called 'winter thrush' that visits us from Scandinavia.  They are, as the name suggests, more typically associated with open fields and keen on perching up high on hedgerows, and they are quite aggressive, much like our Mistle Thrushes. Whilst it has been a great winter for a profusion of berries on Holly and Hawthorn, these go very quickly and hungry birds will descend on gardens in cold spells, particularly if you provide a surefire incentive: 

Apples in particular , left as windfalls will be eagerly snapped up and even if you don't have your own orchard, many green grocers and shops will supply you with any fruit that is past its sell by date or otherwise 'spoilt' for human consumption or sale.

(C. Shay Connolly)

Try spreading fruit, or spiking a tree on cold mornings and see if you can attract the Fieldfare or Redwing: two of the brightest birds in mid winter: the Blackbirds might not be impressed, but it is known that territorial battles breakdown when it gets really cold and birds just get on with feeding, rather than lose precious energy defending a dwindling food stock..