Friday, 10 February 2017

February, Iron Clad Among The Birds

Daphne

Pink Punk-Rocker Female Hazel Catkins are out on the bough now

Male and female hazel catkins together








February has settled in with iron. It is freezing here at present. The temperature may say three degrees but I think someone's forgotten to tell the air. It's flowing straight down from the North East and it feels colder than it has in ages. It is Proper Winter; I've been smelling snow on the air since last night and this evening, while walking the hounds through the fields around the time of the gloaming, it came; a flew flakes floating down out of the clouds, speckling the air around us.

The birds are flocking to the garden at the moment, making sensible use of the energy-giving fat sources they know are always available here. Keeping up with demand has been a full time job these past few days. They're getting through a suet-filled coconut half a day, as well as peanuts, fat balls and seeds. Whenever I look outside there are woodpeckers, great tits, blue tits, robins, dunnocks, blackbirds, collared doves, chaffinches, long tailed tits, pigeons, coal tits, nuthatches, sparrows, goldfinches, a marsh tit, a song thrush and a moorhen all clustered round the feeders hungrily eating up whatever they can get their beaks on. The lawn heaves as if it is a feathered thing.

This afternoon I discovered a little Dunnock lying stunned and disoriented on the patio beside the greenhouse. Pop was keen to investigate closely but I managed to persuade her it was better to let the little feathered friend be and give it time to gather its senses, which it did, eventually flying off into the hedge. I was glad. I am very much concerned for them all in this cold snap and losing your life after an altercation with a greenhouse, having survived December and January, seems most unfair.

There are siskin about this week, in great numbers. I hear them all whistling and popping in the trees that line the lake near the house, although we rarely see them. Occasionally a Brave Male will venture into the garden and everyone else is very accommodating and shares the feeders with him, eyeing the colourful speckled green plumage enviously (apart from the goldfinches, obviously- after all, if you've got red and yellow on you what's a bit of lemony-green?). 

We had a Tree Creeper pay us a visit this week- I saw him crawling up the trunk of the willow as I lay in bed looking out of the window at the cold, grey sky summoning the courage to get up. I tried to point him out to M, but of course they are so perfectly blended with tree trunks that he couldn't see the little one at all. It's only the second time I've seen one in the garden so I was thrilled.

When I did get up, it was to see the Heron fishing on the edge of the lake. He is huge and very mistrustful of people. He will just about tolerate me, as long as I don't make a noise or move, but anyone else comes near and he's off, great wings open to the air and feet trailing behind him. I see him most days - he is my new avian love :o)

Further out, beyond the boundaries of the garden into The Wild that surrounds the house, heard but not seen, are greenfinches, bullfinches, green woodpeckers, a little grebe, a kingfisher and a pair of stock doves. The stock doves have a kind of revving purr, like an engine getting going. They've been at it for a while now, sorting out their territory. The Kingfisher, (who once sat beside one of our Robins on the garden fence!) whistles. The bullfinches utter soft, single 'boos' year round, and the greenfinches make a trilling sound, like rolling your r's with your tongue. I hear far fewer of them and I worry that their numbers are down. The green woody yaffles as he flies, predicting rain, and the little grebe calls only once Spring has really got going. He doesn't let up for the summer then but falls silent again as the light fades from the year.

Out in the fields the calls are different still: the cackling of huge flocks of fieldfare (who are sensibly staying put in Hampshire while their Scandinavian homelands are deep in colder winters than we get here) greet me whenever I venture out into the land. A few redwing are mixed in with them but they are almost always silent, distinguishable at a distance by the fetching Adam And The Ants eye stripe they wear, as opposed to the creamy grey tail base of the fieldfares. Starlings still cling together in sizeable flocks, whistling and sliding up and down the scales in very un-birdlike ways. Rooks gather, settling in the tops of winter roosts like ragged black hankies, cawing as we pass beneath them, the odd jackdaw or three thrown in beside them for good measure. The Ravens come in from the fields to cross over the house most days, groinking. There is something ancient and wonderful about a Raven's call. I find I am smiling and my heart surges whenever I hear it. They love to play in the sky, as if for the pure joy of being able to. You can almost hear them sigh with pleasure as they stretch wings and twist and turn and tumble effortlessly through the air.  
I watched one this week doing just that, turning somersaults with such abandon that you find yourself rushing forward with arms outstretched and your breath caught in your throat, anxious to catch him, certain he will fall out of the sky, so little attention does he seem to be paying to the way the land is rushing up to meet him. But of course, he knows exactly what he's doing. A Raven would no more fall out of the sky while turning somersaults than a flying bat would get caught up in your hair. 

Possibly my favourite call of winter is the 'chiswick-chiswick' of the Wagtails. Greys and Pieds are still out in the fields and occasionally I get them at home too. Once you've heard the call it's very easy to distinguish so go out and have a listen for them if you're UK based.  They too are guaranteed to make you smile. Such dear little birds. 

My bird friends do not withdraw and fall silent with the darkness; on clear, frosty, moonlit nights such as the one's that's brewing outside now, the Tawny Owls wake and call to one another. The females' 'kee-wick' answered by the familiar 'hoo. Hoo, hoo, hoo, hooooo' of the male. Once or twice they have been kind enough to answer me as I hung out of the bedroom window calling to them. Once, I got the shock of my life when one floated on silent wings out of the night and landed on the fence a few feet away. I nearly fell out of the window when he replied. M of course found the whole thing very funny. In the morning there was an owl pellet left for me by the gate, the tiny bones of voles twisted through it a network of shards of black glass. 

Are you feeding the birds where you are? Every little helps :o)

Have a good weekend all,

CT.









25 comments:

  1. Absolutely, they know when I have put fresh food out, they are there like a shot, the Robin is getting more friendlier by the day. It has good extremely cold, the birds have there breakfast before me, I go out in all weathers in my dressing gown, I love them so much, one day we we move again I dream of a better garden and sitting in a conservatory watching them.

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    1. I'm the same- dressing gown and wellies and a woolly hat! X

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  2. Yep...feeding the birds in North Devon. x

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  3. Yes, feeding in central Lincoln too - even if it's no more exotic than sparrows, starlings and the occasional blue tit. They all need food!
    Best wishes
    Ellie

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    1. With sparrows and starlings you've got two increasingly rare and threatened species there xx

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  4. We're feeding the birds too but they aren't going for the coconut for some reason. Last year the woodpecker loved it. We've had a few snowflakes today. x

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    1. Funny how the preferences change year on year x

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  5. Feeding them in West Berkshire too! I would love to be able to identify birds by their call and love listening to Tweet of the Day, but I never seem to be able to keep their songs in my head. Have a wonderful weekend. xx

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    1. Going out with someone who can id them and teach you or finding a bird song app is a good way to make them stick. I started with garden birds and just kept practicing. Xx

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  6. What a wonderful post, and what an amazing place your garden (and your part of the world) is. It's cold here too, but no sign of snow, and I am certain there won't be any as I still have two sleds in the garage. There hasn't been so much as a flake since I bought them several years ago. I've been seeing some frog activity in the pond over the last couple of days. And I am FILLED with fury at the school's plan to fill in their wildlife pond. It's a lovely big one with newts and everything. The headmaster is going to fill it in. Furious. I have been grinding my teeth ever since I found out. Hope you have a good weekend. CJ xx

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    1. No chance you've got great crested newts in it? It would protect the pond from in-filling. Check with a torch after dark in another month or so and if they're there you'll see them. If not getting the local wildlife trust or the organisation pond life to talk to the head about the huge educational as well as conservation value of an existing pond might sway him. Good luck x

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  7. It was fun reading how you called the owl to you and it left a little something for you the next morning. I try to call owls whenever I hear them (screech and great horned), they often answer back but don't fly down to visit. Mourning doves like to answer back, too. Crows also. The last time I was out in my front yard flower garden calling back to the crows, with them answering, I looked back over my shoulder to see a neighborhood dog walker looking at me like I might be dangerous. I sheepishly said Hi and he mumbled Hi back. The birds are much more responsive to me.

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    1. That did make me smile about the dog walker :o) Crows are wonderfully intelligent birds. There was a story about a young girl in New York who fed them regularly. One day she went out into Central Park on her scooter and when she got home realised she'd lost a special necklace there. When she went out to feed her crows in her garden later the same day the necklace was waiting for her, back in her garden. Not only had the crows been watching her in the Park, they'd recognised it as hers and brought it back for her. This kind of reciprocal behaviour is not common, but if any species will do it, it's Corvids.

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  8. Yup, making suet puddings (melted vegetarian suet mixed with dried fruit, seeds, crumbs of cheese) to pop in half coconut shells which I hide in my holly hedge. I loved this post too and am in awe of your bird recognition skills, both visual and aural. I think CJ should start a "Save our pond" campaign. I will never forget the day a kingfisher visited my pond, or the heron. Neither has ever returned - they must have realised straight away there were no fish to be caught.

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    1. They give you so much in return, birds, don't they? I've tried offering them home-made suet filled coconuts and they turned their beaks up at it, so now I stick to shop bought :o) Kingfishers and Heron's in the garden- wonderful! x

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  9. There is a huge amount of activity in and around your garden and it reminds me to add this of you CT
    "blessed are those that see the small things, where others see nothing."
    So true of you...you see it all.
    Fantastic post..love the reference to Adam & the ants.
    Very hot here at present...keeping the bird bath filled for water and general spuddling, but the apple tree is dropping a few nearly ripened ones and I have put them on the lawn for the birds...sweetness for energy and hydration. The black birds, particularly a female one, has been regularly coming in for a quiet morning fruit breakfast. Every bit helps.
    Keep well.
    xx

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    1. Thank you for the lovely words :o) I still can't get my head around it being summer with you as we're in the grip of winter here :o) So glad you're back over Crimbo, we must set a date! x

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  10. We feed the birds here in Hastings - have to be careful though. We get rats scoffing up anything that falls on the ground and herring gulls after any bigger morsels.....

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    1. Yes, we've had rats here too. Normally I prefer to espouse a live and let live philosophy, but come spring they climb the hedge and kill the fledglings, so we do control their numbers. Hope all's well with you x

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  11. Just had chance to read your post properly; so much to enjoy and learn. Lots of new stuff! We are very aware of our birds but have to be careful not to draw them too close to our garden with my furry feline friends around. We try and hang feeders up as high as possible. They do however seem to love our holly and the berries are almost gone. Mainly collared doves, pigeons, magpies by the cart load, crows, wrens, robins, blackbirds and thrush. Sadly few green finches and certainly no woodpeckers. Wagtails on the beach recently in great numbers. Bird song has increased the last few weeks, a sure sign of days lengthening. B x

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  12. The LTT's are back here too. Now I know it's cold!!

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  13. Oh, what a delightful post. You have so many feathered friends visiting your garden. so glad the dunnock flew off after a while. We feed the birds all year round but are getting through the sunflower hearts, buggy nibbles and fat balls so quickly at the moment. We had a wren and thrush visit the garden this morning as well as the usual sparrows blackbirds, robins and goldfinches:)

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  14. as i sit and type, there's a Mrs. Goldfinch breakfasting on the feeder just outside my study window (i treated myself to Bird TV and put up another feeder there :)

    i was in the feed store the other day, wandering the bird-feeding aisle (as you do) and i found myself wondering if i was experiencing the same feeling as people who love shoes and handbags feel. i just wanted to buy All of the Things. :)

    It's lovely to see the winter bird population here...ones we don't see when the spring comes as they're off nesting elsewhere...there's a regular rotation.

    Our raven pair have been spotted near the silo...i imagine they're surveying their nest to see what improvements and refurbishments need doing before nesting time.

    such a lovely assortment of visitors you have...word must get out fairly quickly in Birdland. xoxo

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  15. I do not feed the birds. If I lived anywhere cold like you I would. I want them to eat the bugs and scorpions that live around my home.
    That said.... I am getting some quail seed blocks for in front of the house so Merida can look out the window and see the birdies. The trouble with any kind of bird feeding in the desert is it brings the critters, snakes and pack rats that want in my home !
    I do have two ponds in the side yard for water to help them especially on our super hot summer days.

    cheers, parsnip

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Thank you for leaving a comment. I always enjoy reading them and will try my best to reply to every one. CT x