Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Blue tit population explosion!

Blue tits have been popping out all over the place! In the last few days, I have seen far greater numbers on the feeders than I've seen all year and I'm wondering if, due to the mild weather, late broods have been raised. They seem to be everywhere, mobbing each other to get onto the peanuts, queuing up at the suet ball feeder.

Last year, there seemed to be fewer than in previous years, so it's great to see their numbers increasing again.

Saturday, 31 October 2015

Great Spotted Woodpecker

I took this photo from a good 60 ft away and was rather pleased that the woodpecker was visible when I zoomed in! He just about polished off all the peanuts, as you can see!

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Small White should be called Small Yellow!

 It really has been a miserable year for our butterflies and moths. I thought this was a Brimstone when I saw it in the distance, but now I realise it's a Small White as they have pale yellow undersides to their wings.

Thursday, 20 August 2015


As if squirrels weren't bad enough, with their ability to break their way into bird feeders to gorge on the contents, parakeets are even worse. Their agility and strong claws enable them to approach the feeders from any angle and direction and they then use their razor-sharp bills to hack their way through plastic and wire to get at the tempting peanuts.

This bird feeder had lasted for three years and had outwitted the squirrels, but it was no match for the pesky parakeets. Just look at the havoc their beaks wreaked on the wire at the bottom. And, being such large birds, they set the feeder swinging so that peanuts tumbled out to the delight of squirrels and pigeons waiting below.

Expensive feeder No 2 lasted even less time. The parakeets simply bit away the plastic that was meant to deter larger birds, leaving gaping holes and gobbled the nuts to their hearts' content.

I went on line and looked at various designs and finally plumped for this one from the RSPB, perfectly perforated to allow access to the smallest beaks only.

I hung it on the tree. A parakeet arrived. It tried it this way...

                                                                                                           It tried it that way...

... and finally it gave up altogether!

Since that day a week ago, not one squirrel or parakeet has tried getting the nuts, BUT... there have been some attempts at sabotage. I keep seeing puzzled blue tits perched on the tree gazing longingly at the feeder and when I go out to see what's wrong, I find the two metal screw-in perches lying in the grass below. Something is responsible - squirrel or parakeet? - but so far I have failed to spot the culprit. Who is your money on?

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Goldfinch trio

It's been months since I last saw a goldfinch in the garden. I was kicking myself for foolishly investing a big bag of niger seed, their favourite food. The seed in the feeder is very stale. It must have been there for at least three months.

About twenty minutes ago, I heard a goldfinch singing its beautiful, liquid, babbling-brook of a song. Moments later, I happened to glance at the old feeder and this is what I saw.

I reckon its mum, dad and a youngster who is waiting his turn. I shall now rush out and put some fresh seed in the feeder.

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Jackdaws and ghostly hawks

Something was cawing loudly from next door's apple tree, its outraged din no doubt aimed at Charlie the ginger cat, who was sitting right next to the bread I had just thrown onto the lawn. I thought it was a crow but when it flew off, it was making a kind of chuckling, grunting noise to itself that I have certainly never heard a crow make.

Now, I realise it was a jackdaw. I have been hearing their chack-chacks in the distance for some months now and the sound whisks me back into the past, first to Bangor, North Wales, where I studied for my English degree. Jackdaws nested in the clock-tower - the very same one to which I, and another daring, drunken soul climbed one day to string up some men's underpants that we had snatched in a raid on the men's hall of residence, in revenge for their bra-nicking raid on one of the women's halls. I used to sit on the steep slope of College Park, listening to the jackdaws chattering away, their sounds more soft-edged and musical than the harsh cries of the crows and rooks.

The second place I am transported to is St Agnes in Cornwall, where the tall trees near a dear-departed friend's garden housed a family group of jackdaws. I would sit by their pond on a drowsy day, being lulled by the soft, chuckling 'chacks'.

So I am very pleased that jackdaws have moved into the neighbourhood. They appear to have displaced the crows that once nested in the oak trees in the field beyond our garden.

I'm also delighted to spot a song thrush in the garden. It's been at least six years since I last saw one. I heard it first, singing away at dusk, its song mingling with those of the blackbird and nightingale, but when I saw it running across the lawn, its feet drumming on the grass to bring up the worms, I was thrilled. The thrush was my mother's favourite bird. She got one so tame that she would hand-feed it and it would hop through our kitchen door and stand on the red York stone tiles, its head on one side, making a soft preeping sound and waiting for a hand-out.

I don't think we dare risk taming this one. Not with Charlie about. He is a mighty mouser, but I'd hate him to develop a taste for bird, too. Mind you, my mother trained our huge silver tabby, Cloudy, to hunt mice but ignore birds. She was the best cat-whisperer I've ever known. By praising him whenever he caught a mouse and delivering a telling-off and a light tap on the nose when he went after a bird, he soon got the idea and would sit meekly on the lawn, like a furry statue, whilst the sparrows fluttered and cheeped all around him.

A odd post-script: soon after my mother died, while my sister was on the phone to the vicar, making funeral arrangements, I happened to look out of Mum's bedroom window and there on the fence was the biggest thrust I had ever seen, with a wonderful speckly breast. It turned its head and gave me an unwavering look from a golden eye. I shivered. I just knew it was Mum, come back to say hello to her grieving daughters. I yelled downstairs to my sister to look out of the window. She shouted back crossly: "I can't, I'm on the phone."

It was a good ten minutes before she ended the conversation. Then she stomped upstairs to ask what I was going on about. "There!" I said, pointing to the bird that was still sitting on the fence.

"Wow!" she said. "It's some kind of hawk."

Indeed it was. It gave us both a long, long look, then slowly and majestically flew off across the garden. We both knew that something weird and strange and wonderful had happened. The hawk was the Ancient Egyptians' messenger from the other side. What normal bird, especially a large bird of prey, would have sat on a garden fence in suburban Liverpool all that time, just waiting until it gathered both of us together? We both felt a sense of truth in the knowledge that it was, indeed, if not Mum herself in spirit form, a messenger from her to tell us she was okay. It wasn't a sparrowhawk; the colouring was wrong. It might have been a kestrel. I don't think we'll ever know.

Monday, 18 May 2015

Midnight cub

I came into the kitchen just after midnight this morning and noticed that the outside security light was on. I went to the window and saw a fox cub playing with a stick on the decking at the back of the fish pond. A big, fine, healthy-looking cub. I reached for the camera but the flash bounced off the window glass and I couldn't take a photo. I hope next time I see him or her, it will be in daylight!

I really miss the old days, when the semi tame vixen we named Olive used to bring each year's clutch of cubs to meet us. She would come on a recce first, to see if anyone was in the kitchen, then sit proudly in the centre of the lawn while her cubs played around her. We miss her greatly but, you never know, one of her descendants may yet carry her human-friendly genes and we might get foxy muzzles pressed against the patio doors once again, noting every mouthful we eat, until we open the door and share our food.

Saturday, 9 May 2015

The swifts are back!

Bang in the middle of that ten day window, the swifts are back. I was standing at the bus stop when movement caught my eye and there were three of them, their graceful curved shapes swooping over the rooftops. Wonderful.

Monday, 4 May 2015

Swifts expected!

I have started scanning the skies every time I go out, to see if the swifts have arrived yet. Last year, I saw a large group in the sky on 5th May, wheeling and shrieking and eventually splitting up to fly off in all directions. So... any day now!

A couple of pairs nest in the roof of a house down our street. They are council houses and I noticed yesterday that some have been given new roofs. I hope neither of the nesting sites have been destroyed. I shall cross my fingers until I see those familiar crescent shapes screeching over my head and hurtling acrobatically between the houses. I find that sound they make really exciting. It gives me goose bumps.

I noted last year that they seem to arrive here any time between May 5th and 15th, giving a ten day window. I suppose that it it's grey, wet and windy, they will stay in balmier climes for a bit longer. Roll on the sunshine!

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Springwatch survey

I don't know if you are aware, but the Springwatch TV series have got together with the Woodland Trust to encourage people to fill in a survey noting the dates when they first saw certain birds, butterflies and budding trees. You can find it here, if you'd like to take part.


So far this year, I've seen a Comma, a Small White, lots of Holly Blues and this slightly tatty Peacock, fresh out of hibernation and sunning itself on a garden chair.

Pasta-eating vixen

What? I haven't posted since December? I don't believe it! It's now April, Springing is springing in all its glory and there seem to be more birds in the garden than ever before. Pride of place has to go to the nightingales. For the very first time, we heard one in the garden during the last week in March. A couple of nights later, there were two. I thought it was a pair and I emailed the RSPB, to be told something I never knew, that only the male birds sing. So what I heard was two male nightingales, either calling for mates or trying to win the territory. It was thrilling to hear them.

We also had rather a cute black backed gull who came down a few times to see what food was on offer. He took rather a liking to a piece of chicken. But isn't bird eating bird cannibalism?

It's good to hear a song thrush warbling away for the first time in a couple of years. I haven't managed to get a picture yet.

We have obviously lost 'our' vixen, but there's a new one on the scene and she's lactating. I can't wait to see her cubs. Here is a video of her eating spaghetti off the lawn.