Garden Birds, Nature & Wildlife

A murmuration of starlings

Although there wasn’t much murmuring going on, more like a joyful breakfast cacophony!

We were visited yesterday morning by a little flock of parents and fledglings – a kind of nursery outing if you will.  Some of the babies looked very newly fledged, others were bigger and bolder and all were calling frequently to the parents, who were working hard to pick up insects, worms and the bits of bread which I’d thrown out a few minutes before.

It was fascinating to watch, especially the behaviour of the young birds.  At one point a group of them hijacked my bird table and crowded inside and on top of it, still calling and asking for food, the parents duly delivering a mouthful to the nearest open beak. !

It was almost as if they were trying to recreate the nest – a safe spot where they could huddle up and wait for the next food delivery.

Starlings flock together naturally so it’s not unusual to see these family groups together.  They usually lay 4-6 eggs in the middle of April and the young fledge when they are about three weeks old.  The are only fed for a couple of weeks, until they can fend for themselves.   I feel quite privileged to have viewed this brief stage in the starlings’ lives, it was a quick but joyful visit!

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Chickens, Garden Birds, Garden design, Grow Your Own, Nature & Wildlife, Secret Garden, Vegetables

Catching up…

Well it seems it’s been a busy couple of weeks since I last wrote a post.  Thankfully, part of the reason for that has been some lovely weather – when the sun’s shining I’m not inclined to stay in the house and stare at a computer screen, I want to get outside and garden!

Some updates on what’s happening out there:

Sad news first – the blackbird nest which was in the ivy on the back wall has failed.  I went out one morning about a week ago to discover it was on the ground.  I don’t know what happened, perhaps it simply collapsed, or perhaps a fox or bigger bird came along and attacked.  I investigated briefly using a stick (it was hard to reach!) and couldn’t see any eggs but it was surprisingly solid to try to turn over.  Here’s a photo of Mrs Blackbird which I took literally the day before the nest came down…

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I felt quite sad for the pair – they spent so long building the nest and she’d been sitting in it for a few days before it failed.  However, it seems that this is common with blackbirds as their nests are so open and therefore vulnerable to predators and the elements.  The good news is that I think they are now building another nest inside a large conifer nearby.  Will it be third time lucky?  We’ll have to wait and see.

I have been watering like mad over the past few days.  The sunny and warm weather means the veg beds have been looking parched and the seedlings (cosmos, marigolds and zinnia) which are now outside in the growhouse need a drink almost twice a day!  They’re getting quite large now and I’m hoping to start planting them out in the next few days.

The raised beds are looking good – every one now has a little row or sprig of green appearing, with the peas/carrots/lettuce bed looking the most healthy of all.  I have high hopes for the peas, especially after they did so poorly last year.  The potatoes are now all sprouting, after my worry that they were nowhere to be seen, and even the little leeks are popping up…

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…I noticed these yesterday morning and could have sworn they were about a centimetre bigger by the evening after a day of sunshine and a liberal hosing!

I’m also making a fairly sizeable change in the front garden; I’ve removed a large ceonothus and another unidentified shrub which have been taking over a large section close to the driveway.  I plan to extend the rose bed and perhaps also use the space for bedding and dahlias.  It was a bit of a gamble as they took up quite a lot of room, but the space looks nice and clear now and is another corner to play with, so I’m happy.  Sorry no before/after photos because I forgot to take them!

Lastly, a chicken update: we are now getting three eggs a day, as Iona has joined her two friends and begun laying – hurrah!  She’s also developing her comb and her voice and likes a good cluck when you go into the run or if she thinks something’s amiss.  Perhaps the quietest hen will turn out to be the noisiest?!

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New layer Iona gets extra cuddles from Biggest Daughter 

 

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Garden Birds, Nature & Wildlife

Nesting & a New Visitor

Happy Easter!  I hope your Easter weekend was filled with happy and peaceful times, as well as chocolate eggs 🙂

I have eggs of another kind on my mind at the moment, because for the past couple of weeks I have spotted a blackbird making a nest in our garden.  She’s borrowing the top of a robin nesting box which we put up a couple of springs ago, not long after we moved in here.  Robins have so far never used it, but apparently it makes the base of a very good, if somewhat messy, blackbird nest!  I haven’t seen her there for a few days, and was beginning to think they’d given up on it, but this morning the female was back with a beakful of dry grass and old leaves and disappeared into the hole in the ivy, adding a bit more to her presumably cosy little structure.  I have also discovered it’s VERY difficult to take a photo of her doing this!  But here’s a pic of her tail disappearing into the undergrowth…

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There must be all sorts of materials in there – you can clearly see a large piece of lacecap hydrangea and a bit of a fir branch hanging out of the nest.  I do wonder if she’s nearly finished it – apparently blackbirds take around two weeks to build a nest.  It’s usually made of grass, straw, twigs and other plant material (clearly!) and they may use it to raise two or three broods.

The site is just opposite one of our kitchen windows, and pretty close to the back door of the house.  I put the nest box there purposefully as I thought if it ever gets used we’ll have a great view of what’s going on – but I’m hoping they don’t abandon it at any point because of us coming and going nearby.  I’m really very excited about this nest!  A little blackbird family could be living, literally, right on our doorstep.  I’m looking forward to watching their progress.

These could be the pair in question – but it’s hard to tell because there are quite a number of blackbirds present in our garden at the moment.  Sometimes it’s like Blackbird Wars out there as territorial males chase each other about!

We have also had a new visitor lately – a jackdaw, which comes down and nicks scraps from the tall bird table, occasionally visiting the feeders.  It’s only recently when I saw this one that I noticed what striking eyes they have – so pale against the dark feathers.  They’re really quite handsome birds.  Here’s our new pal…

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It’s not the best shot of him – I’ll keep trying!

 

 

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Garden Birds, Nature & Wildlife

Yellow

I have spent ALL DAY outside today, and it’s been wonderful.  Yellow has been a theme running through…

It was bright and only a wee bit cold so I headed out straight after the school run on my new favourite walking route, which goes through fields, past some interesting houses and into the woods, with some cracking views both to the north and south.  The gorse is already showing a generous sprinkling of yellow flowers in places here.

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There was a plethora of bird life on offer too – blue tits, great tits, some more flirty chaffinches and a few flocks of geese crossing overhead, presumably ready to leave their winter holidays in the UK behind and head back to their breeding grounds for the spring. However ‘tweet of the day’ was the yellowhammer.  I didn’t actually clap eyes on one, but a number of them made their presence felt as I made my way along a path through Christmas tree fields – they were telling me over and over about a ‘little bit of bread and no cheese’ – their distinctive song which, for me, is the sound of country fields and hedgerows, the bird’s typical habitat.

This was not the first yellow bird I’ve noticed today, as the siskins on my bird feeder caught my eye this morning.  These bold little visitors have been coming to the garden for several weeks now.  The first time I saw one, I thought it was a yellowhammer, but consequently realised it was a smaller, but similar, siskin.  They’re not often seen in gardens, but are driven into them when the weather is wet and the cones which they usually feed from are closed up.

They started off sharing the nyger seed with the goldfinches and now seem to have taken over this particular feeder, with four of them squabbling over the feeder at breakfast time this morning.  They’re not shy either – quite often they stay on the feeder when I approach it, only wheeling off at the last minute when I get a little too close for comfort.  With the cold, wet winter finally losing its grip on us, I wonder how much longer I’ll see these little flashes of yellow sparking in the back corner of the garden.

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Siskin and Goldfinch share the nyger seeds

 

 

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Nature & Wildlife

Rooks & Reds

This morning when I walked up to the woods there was a gang waiting close to the entrance – about half a dozen, they were all in black, shouting loudly, calling to each other, generally messing about and putting others off coming nearby.

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Fortunately they were also about 50 feet above me – rooks really do seem like the hoodlums of the bird world.  Actually, this is probably deeply unfair to the rook (and to hoodlums).  They are very sociable birds and are almost always seen in flocks, particularly noticeable at dawn or dusk during the winter, when they will gather together to communicate the best feeding sites or to find their spot to roost for the night.  Each morning during the darker months, I am dimly aware of the insistent cawing of hundreds of birds above our house, and will look out of the window to see them swooping and flying, crossing the field from the woods nearby, to gather wing-to-wing on the pylon and wires a short distance away.  There’s a perfect view of this from the dining room window, so breakfasts in winter are often spent marvelling at how noisy these birds are, and wondering how many can squeeze onto an wire, until the whole structure takes on the look of a magnet which has been dipped into iron filings.  A few minutes pass and they are off – they’ve discussed, loudly, the best place to locate the day’s food and it’s time to go off and find it.  They will gather again at dusk for some more swooping and chattering, but by then I will probably be busy in the kitchen or on my way home from work and it will happen unnoticed by me.  The dawn rooks are the ones I see most often and I like them.  They are a reliable, daily reminder of nature during the darkest months, when nature is sometimes a little harder to find.

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Dawn rooks

My view of rooks, crows and other similar birds was transformed recently when I read the book ‘Corvus’ by Esther Woolfson.  The writer lives in Aberdeen and has inadvertently become the owner/mother/foster carer? (it’s hard to know what to call her!) to a series of wild birds, including a rook, a magpie and several doves.  Her tales of acquiring and looking after these birds is really absorbing; having them in her home gives her the opportunity to observe the most instinctive and distinctive of their behaviours and she details their habits, history and physiology with fascination and love.  Read it, and you will never look at crows by the side of the road the same way again.

Once I had run the gauntlet of the local gang, this morning’s walk in the woods was a pleasant one, with plenty of birdsong although no woodpeckers, and I indulged once again in my new favourite activity – squirrel spotting.  There’s a quiet little corner of the woods where I can stand quietly and wait for a little scuffle in the canopy, or my eyes will be drawn to a twitching branch.  Today I wasn’t disappointed – a small red appeared after a minute or two, and I watched him scamper through the treetops for several minutes.  The rooks were still hanging about overhead but he wasn’t bothered – unfazed by the gang of feathered teens, he zipped down a tree trunk and into the undergrowth, where I lost him for now.

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Garden Birds, Nature & Wildlife

A walk in the woods

I hadn’t even stepped into the woods when I heard the noise which literally stopped me in my tracks and made me grin broadly.  The sharp rapping sound of the Great Spotted Woodpecker rang out – a warm, hollow drumming; I stepped forward and there was a distinctive bouncy flutter through the trees; then it came again, further away, the note a slightly higher pitch than before but unmistakeably the sound of a sturdy Scots pine resonating under the drilling of that large pointed beak.

The sound makes me grin like a loon every time I hear it, partly because I feel so lucky to walk just a short distance from my home and hear such a singular sound of nature, of a bird which is fairly common but not always easy to spot.  But I was also grinning because the sound of a woodpecker drumming on a tree, like some teenage rocker practising licks and fills, means Spring is most definitely en route.  The woodpecker is staking out its territory, and advertising its presence to potential mates, getting ready for the nesting and breeding season which is peeking its head around the corner.

Yes, the signs are all around now, though it’s so early in the season that you still have to go looking for them.  The trees are still quite bare, of course, but the stark branches reveal evidence of last year’s nests, a reminder that the time is coming for the materials to reused and recycled for new homes, soon to be built when the leaves return to provide essential cover from predators and the elements.  The leaf buds are small, but they’re there.

Near the ground, the snowdrops are now making themselves more obvious – popping up in clumps under trees and at the roadside; and the green shoots of the occasional daffodil are working their way out of the soil.  These are the typical signs of spring – but now look up and notice what the birds are doing.  Further into the woods some chaffinches are chasing each other so fast they’re almost blurry – seemingly taking advantage of a sunny, bright morning to indulge in a rather flirtatious game.  I walk a bit further in search of one of my favourites – a jay, which is squawking crossly from the top of a nearby tree, but as usual he is one step ahead of me and off to take refuge near a hedge, giving me only the briefest flash of his distinctive white rump, which is enough to satisfy me for now.  A pair of woodpigeons somewhere nearby are cooing contentedly and as I stand for a few minutes, watching three (or was it four?!) red squirrels scamper through the trees, there’s a Great Tit nearby loudly and persistently calling “teacher-teacher-teacher” as if to get the attention of some invisible educator in what was turning out to be a rather busy woodland classroom.

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