Monday, 11 April 2016

Hello, Goodbye..

Greenland White fronted Geese (c. A Walsh)

The end of March with an early Easter and some more time around the garden, it was really appreciated.  Weather very changeable and plenty of rain and hail stones into April, though the end of March was better.

Best of the passage birds were not entirely unexpected, but most unusual for us~: A late dusk, 8.00pm,  listening for Blackbirds in song is always a treat, but the sound of geese, high overhead, the lovely cascade of notes, as if saying:  'keep in touch' , that we know so well from Wexford:  White-fronted Geese, a flock of about 30 birds. They were taking advantage of a light southerly to blow them north, they move ahead of some rough weather due the next day.  I wonder whether they will pitch up just north of us on Vartry Reservoir, at Roundwood or continue north as far as the Donegal coast or make straight for Iceland.. nobody could really enlighten me on this! This is our second 'flyover' record in spring.

The spring migrants weighed in on time: Chiff Chaffs in song, followed by Swallow, Blackcap and Willow Warbler.. all is right with the world, though the thick carpet of hail on the newly mown lawn makes you wonder!

Monday, 14 March 2016

Winter thrushes just passing through..


Redwing in Hawthorn, (c.Brendan Shiels)

Though the Garden Bird Survey has finished, there are still movements of winter birds to note: A flight of nearly 40 Redwings located mid afternoon, calling a thin 'seeepp', as they made out from the stand of Birch Trees, over the garden, heading purposefully east. This was exciting as it was my first sighting since the migration from Europe, back in November.  Despite its thin quality, this call travels a fair distance and is a valuable contact aid to these migratory thrushes, most often recorded on wintery nights in November as the inward influx from mainland Europe takes hold.
Redwing picked up and cared for in hard weather ( F. Van Dokkum)

 A few of my colleagues also noted Redwings in recent evenings.  During a mild winter, some of our winter thrushes don't need to make the journey to Ireland.  However, our Redwings can originate from Icelandic populations or indeed the Fenno Scandinavian race.  They have a huge winter range which extends into southern Europe and east to Cyprus and as far as the Caspian Sea and some of our sightings at this time may well refer to passage migrants. Both races of Redwing can intermingle in winter but go there separate ways for the breeding season.   In exceptionally hard weather conditions you may witness a mid-winter wave of additional migrants, fleeing a frozen continental Europe: these birds are often desperate for energy and food supplies, hence their tameness and willingness to enter gardens to scour for berries and scraps. Many don't survive the harshest weather, so not having Redwings in your garden may mean that Redwings are doing just fine, elsewhere..

Redwing (c. Dick Coombes)

Saturday, 13 February 2016

Goldfinches: swings and roundabouts


A pair on a Nyjer feeder (c.OOS)

A letter to the recently published Wings magazine questions the abundance of Goldfinches in gardens this winter.  We received a good, quick response from Garden Bird watchers, with some interesting observations.  We wont really have an accurate picture until all the Garden Bird Survey results are in and analysed, but its good to get a mid season response, albeit from a small sample.

Flocks of 20 and indeed up to 30 Goldfinches have been reported from regular stations around the country but 2 respondents in the Dublin suburb of Dalkey report contrasting fortunes: birds and no birds... maybe Goldfinches can pick and choose their garden, they certainly seem to share info as flocks usually build from an initial pair.

Respondents with the biggest numbers of birds cite the Goldfinches preference for Sunflower Hearts over Nyjer seeds.  Another had heard that stale Nyjer seed is unattractive to Goldies and even gives off an odour which prompts the birds to stay away.  This observer replaced his Nyjer stock and noted a return of birds.  A garden with just a line of Lavender plants, with seed heads in place, was visited by a flock.  Worth repeating the wildlife gardening mantra of 'keep your heads' as distinct from the tidy gardener who is 'off with their heads', when it comes to garden perennials and herbs.  

 I myself had a few Goldies, building up to six this winter, relying mainly on Peanuts and naturally occurring Teasel for food: the Goldies have since moved on and I have reverted to Nyjer seed in an effort to get them back, time will tell!   

Pix, c. OOS



Friday, 29 January 2016

On Guard!

Mistle Thrush c. Shay Connolly.

Mistle Thrushes often avail of an elevated perch, from a conifer top to a high aerial or telegraph wire: to advertise their strong,far carrying and plaintive song that is noticable from January onwards.

As well as being an aggressive species in the breeding season, they also defend a feeding territory, down to one bush, sometimes for the whole of the winter.  We have one such bird on the hedgerow en route to the village: perched over a good sized Holly tree, still with berries.  Invariably, as I drive past there is a Mistle Thrush perched up on a telegraph wire, perfectly placed beside the favoured Holly tree. Any thrush species that come close to investigate the food store are chased away midst the clamour of an urgent rattling call, backed up by a swooping descent on the intruder.

Where there's fruit.. there's a Mistle Thrush ( c. David Dillon)
 It is said that in really hard weather that this defence of a tree and reliable food source is abandoned, only because the pressure of numbers from other thrushes can't be defended and better to share and get some food than none at all, when futile defence is likely to have an adverse affect on actual feeding time.

Mistle on an ornamental or Chinese Rowan (c. Peter Walsh).
  
Though audible and highly visible, Mistle Thrushes are rather scarce, and apart from early autumn roaming flocks, are seldom seen in numbers and thus far, have remained off my Garden Bird Survey list this winter, though I am hopeful of recording a territory and a nest in one of the ash trees on our boundary, before the survey is  finished at the end of February.

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Cold snap brings them in..

Male Bullfinch in the Brambles (c.O O'Sullivan)



With a welcome break in the seemingly never ending sequence of wet days, it is cold, bright and windy, for this week anyway.. the Chaffinch flock is up to twenty or more , can't be long before a Brambling joins up?

A male Bullfinch almost went unnoticed as it sat in tight in the bramble hedge: for a bird with such a showy plumage, they can be subtle, particularly with only a soft mournful piping note to draw attention to them as they methodically search out winter seeds from cover. 

The male that visited us is taking some seeds from the brambles.  So far, I haven't been successful in attracting them to any of the food on offer in the feeders.  They always look well fed, the stubby beak often with seed and fruit pulp stuck to it and the stubby neck gives them a thick set appearance.
Even from behind though, the combination of a cool mid grey upper parts, black wings and crown ,white rump are distinctive.  Then there's the rosy underparts of the male, a real show stopper!


Distinctive white rump and sharp contrasts (c. OOS)

The dry remains of the blackberry season get a Bullfinch by in January.. (c. OOS)


Monday, 28 December 2015

Sing It: Happy New Year!

Dawn just before 9 am, 27 Dec, looking south towards Avoca (c. O OSullivan)

We are all a bit washed out since last November, endless rain, storms racing across the Atlantic and picking up names from the Alphabet: We are on 'Storm Frank' as of tonight, at this rate, we might be at 'the Notorious Storm McGregor' within a few months!

I really enjoyed a calm and crisp dawn, just a day ago; well worth recording the event and snapping the now gaunt and bare Elder trees and the mist rising up over the Avonbeg river valley, it might be a while before we get these conditions again. Next, after coffee, straight out into the garden to top up the feeders and then on to the nearby oakwood for some excercise . Incessant rain over the holiday period brings on cabin fever to this man and his dog. 
The woodland was relatively quiet, compared to the garden, but we did hear a few Treecreepers, Redwing in search of Holly berries and a party of Long Tailed Tits was a nice, chance encounter.  

Just before exiting the Oakwood, we heard the chattering calls of Great Spotted Woodpeckers in the canopy, at a point very close to last years nest hole, I reckoned there were two or three birds and there seemed to be a bit of chasing through the upper branches.
 This would appear to be classic territorial behaviour, unusual I imagine in late December, but it has been so mild apart from this one cold,crisp dawn ( it was raining again within four hours and the temperature then rose sharply to 11 or 12 degrees.


Song Thrush delivers its message from a bare Willow ( c. O OSullivan) 
 No real wonder then that Song Thrushes are singing daily, for two weeks now, at least and Dunnocks, Mistle Thrushes and of course Robins join in.  Territorial activity continues around the feeding station,  though the Tit family and Finches seem to be content in mixed flocks and just quarrel and display over food and feeder etiquette.


A rain soaked Robin sits out another wet one. (c. O O Sullivan)

Saturday, 28 November 2015

Happy Monday!

This winters Garden Bird Survey gets off to a start on Monday 30th November. For many of us, the 12 weeks of survey time between now and the end of February, are the highlight of the winter.  It has been running in its present format for over 20 years and we have witnessed some significant trends in that time. Goldfinches are the headline gain, but we have decent results for others, such as the House Sparrow, which holds it own here, despite the often quoted declines we hear about from the UK.  The mixed farming landscape probably favours the Sparrows here more than in the UK and we have a pattern of housing settlement that provides lots of nesting opportunities.  Sparrows utilise the house and garden area throughout the year, whereas your winter Chaffinch flock may be comprised of both local birds and winter migrants from Scandinavia.  

Male Chaffinch ( c. Michael Finn)

 Chaffinches are day migrants and can be seen arriving off the Irish Sea along the East coast round about this time. They have a hooked migration route, choosing to curtail long sea crossings by heading south east out of Sweden, down through the low countries and then bending up north and west from France across the English Channel before dispersing across the UK.  The Chaffinch population shows a split in pattern with the females travelling further over the winter, with males remaining closer to their breeding home, all the better to set up a territory and assess the conditions for the nesting season, when spring arrives.

Brambling (c. Jamie Durrant)
Look out for Bramblings amongst the Chaffinch flocks.  They are particularly fond of Beech mast, which is  more widely available in central Europe.  Bramblings form absolutely enormous flocks in some winters in places like Slovenia, whereas we can usually only muster flocks of less than ten birds.  When beech mast is scarce or exhausted, the birds may well come to seed feeders, what a lovely sight!  

Beech Mast or nuts (c. O OSullivan)
Two Top tips for the Garden Bird Survey: keep a notebook and pencil near your favourite watch point in the house. Note best numbers of the commoner birds and date them. By the end of each week you will already have noticed a pattern emerge.  The weekend days are crucial for recording if you are out working, so notes are really a good idea and finally, keep the feeders topped up, even if you have to perform this task pre dawn or post dusk.  Your reward will be decent garden bird watching, all weekend.