Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Food for young

From evening song post.. (C.OOS)

I have noticed a few Blackbirds in recent days, apparently carrying food for young. I  watched one closely this morning,  a male with a beak full of worms.. It seems early but we have Swallows back here for a week or so now, again earlier than last year, the weather is much milder so far, this spring. protein shake: food for young. (c.OOS)

A less frequently observed but bold visitor to our garden, was a Red Fox, probably with young cubs to feed.  It made its way up to the back door of the house, to raid some dry food put out for the cats.. 'all's fair', I suppose.  

I saw the same animal sniffing under the bird feeders and on another occasion it ran along the hedgerow with what seemed to be a rat in its mouth.  I think the den must be close by, and I can look forward to frolicking cubs in due course.. They are of course much easier to admire if you don't keep poultry: a friend was cleaned out of hens and ducks the other night, a serious reverse.  

Hungry fox opts for an easy meal (c. OOS)

I recently attended an enjoyable talk by gardening writer, Helen Dillon.. She bemoaned the fact that she can't spread bone or fish meal for compost, due to the persistent unearthing by her local, urban foxes.. she reckoned there are more urban foxes in Ranelagh than their country cousins in Rathdrum..tally ho!

Under the bird feeders (c.oos)

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

and now for some migrants..

End of March, some really nice bright days, and now a shift to south and south easterly conditions: great winds for the first migrants to arrive: a singing Blackcap was our first spring migrant, 29th March, followed by a Willow Warbler and a Chiffchaff in song, all by the end of the month.

it was nice to hear from my occasional correspondent, Ray O'Hanlon, now based in the Hudson Valley, north of New York and a former member of the Dublin Central branch of the IWC ( we're going back 40 plus years here!).  Ray is enjoying the first migrants too, after a harsh American winter.. I suspect that his list of migrants will be extensive by the end of the season..

Ray writes:

Throughout the nesting season there is a lot of scurrying about in the eaves of the house.
                Indeed, the dawn chorus is more akin to the dawn racket as members of the Hudson Valley branch of the Starling family set about adding to their already considerable North American numbers.      

Starling (Shay Connolly)
They are, like me, immigrant in origin. They breached America's borders by means of 19th century facilitators calling themselves the American Acclimatization Society.     
The society, as ornithological historians know, was intent on introducing to the new world every bird mentioned by Shakespeare.       
It's a good thing they did not succeed. The Bard was a literary check-lister of some note, mentioning about 600 species in his copious works.              
Had the society managed to import even half this number, the result would have been chaotic and America’s gardens, fields and forests very different sounding places.  
As it was, the society did manage to give the Starlings a little old world company.
                It also shipped in the House Sparrow, Passer Domesticus.
But if ever there was a winged citizen of the world it was this little fellow. He shares the eaves with his larger neighbours, immigrants all.            
The Starlings’ first adventures in America occurred in Manhattan's Central Park when a number of them were released in 1890 and 1891.              
 In a little over half a century, they had spread their wings across most of North America, from Canada to Mexico, and across the span of the United States.
                And into our eaves.
                Starlings stay in the Northeast during the winter months, even when, as has been the case this year, winter has been especially worthy of the name.
                Put it this way: St. Patrick’s Day arrived and receded and there was still ice in the Hudson below us, and this about thirty-five miles north of the aforementioned Central Park.
                Starlings, then, do not qualify as harbingers of spring.
But an avian pal fits the bill:  the Common Grackle.
                Grackles are like Starlings on growth hormones, a half way between the Shakespearean interlopers and the Crow family, though they are most closely related to the American Blackbird.
                They appear black from a distance, but up close, according to the online Cornell Lab of Ornithology, “their glossy purple heads contrast with bronzy-iridescent bodies. A bright golden eye gives grackles an intent expression. Females are slightly less glossy than males. Young birds are dark brown with a dark eye.”
Grackles do not hang around when the first chill of fall sets in but fly down the eastern seaboard to warmer climes, to the Carolinas, or to winter dormitory states like Florida.
                But when they return to the frigid Northeast it is a sure sign that winter is waning. Indeed, you can set your seasonal clock by them.
                Locally, the first sign of Grackles is the cackling that passes for their conversation on electric wires.
                The sound of them does not evoke the romance of the first Cuckoo call.              But they are my adopted version of the first Cuckoo or Swallow.
And after a northeastern American winter, especially like the one now reluctantly giving away, I am not fussy.
                The wires down by the train station are their first point of local arrival.
Here, the Starlings have been waiting for them.

Migrant Starlings (c. OOS)
                Walking to the train I barely glance upwards at the sound of those grizzled veterans of December, January and February.
                But when I hear that Grackle cackle I stop in my, well, tracks.
                I did so on March 12th. This was a full three weeks later than last year when the Grackles returned with days in February to spare.
                So they not only announce spring, they confirm, loudly, that winter was a doozy.
                And it was.
                But fear not! With the arrival of the Grackles its numbing days are numbered.
                Their arrival, the first croak of spring if you will, doesn’t inspire poetry, letters to the New York Times, not even a spoof correspondence to the Irish Times.
                But it does speak of the kind of climate change that is actually good for us – the humdrum, normal, natural, seasonal one.

Ray O’Hanlon is a journalist and author who lives with his wife and family in the Hudson Valley, north of New York City

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Singing Sparrows

Quite a few Garden Bird Surveyors noted the past,mild winter as a bit on the quiet side for birds.  Winter thrushes either stayed in the fields are didn't come to us at all from the continent. Similarly, finch flocks were a bit smaller than usual.  

Given the lack of flocks previously, at the weekend I was happy to note a conspicuous,decent gathering of Linnets up the top of the garden. There were perhaps 50 or 60 birds.  These were not recorded all winter on the survey so I speculate as to why the sudden arrival?  

Linnet (c. Michael Finn)

Linnets are partial migrants and some of our birds move south and west in winter, and these could be returning, en route to higher breeding grounds.  However, these birds could possibly have just relocated a few miles - displaced as farming activity moves into top gear, spring ploughing began as soon as the rain stopped and stubbles are disappearing fast under the shiny, silver blades of the huge plough.

Male House Sparrow (c. OOS)

A bird that just made my winter garden list is the House Sparrow: they are usually inconspicuous with us, and we have just two birds.  Right now they are holding their usual territory, the fairly monotonous but chirpy song is delivered from the apex of the roof, with the tell tale gap between ridge tile and mortar forming an entrance hall to an untidy nest, no doubt.

Female House Sparrow (c.OOS)

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Spring Colours

Blue Tit (c.OOS)

There's still another day or so to go with the Garden Bird Survey: However, there's a real spring feeling in the air: birdsong no doubt triggered by the perceptible difference in the length of daylight and quality of light.

The garden has definitely woken from its winter rest, Hellebores have been in  flower for some time now, as has the Witch Hazel.  Best of all is the Cornelian Cherry, cornus mas, which has clouds of tiny yellow blossoms right now, the first good show from a few plants that went into the ground four years ago: worth the wait!

Cornelian Cherry (c.OOS

All together now!

The Blue Tits have appeared in great numbers, up to ten birds at a time, leading to a few squabbles and shows of territorial behaviour:.  Nestboxes are likely to be inspected, but there's plenty of time to feed up and get into the best condition for the breeding season.

A young Sika deer is showing a trust in us and browses the grass through the day and indeed, rests up in a corner where it is reasonably concealed.  Tameness might not be in its best interest, though theres no threat with us, it might need to show more wildness, if it wanders.

Young Sika deer rests up under a Larch. (c.OOS)

Friday, 21 February 2014

Out of the Woods

Its been very, very windy, and with more rain than we would ever want, but mild by our winter standards.

To our eyes, there's not many obvious signs of wild, takeaway food in the woods: berries are well stripped from hedges and trees, perhaps conifer seed and oak acorns are in short supply right now: the lone peanut feeder in the garden, has certainly repaid its keep, hosting a nice eclectic selection of 'woodlanders'.

Siskin (c.OOS)

Nomadic Siskins, right on cue, arrived back with us, third week of February. Normally you could describe birds popping right up, but its upside down, in their case!  They routinely select a feeding position that might give many others a headache.. as agile as any tit species, perhaps they are well used to hanging upside down to reach birch and alder seed in the forest.  Its worth reminding ourselves that they are relatively recent garden colonists (1963 onwards) and their populations have benefited from afforestation with coniferous plantations, particularly of Spruce to their liking.

Another welcome garden visitor, on the up, but until last week, not 'bothering' to feed from the peanut feeder, is the Jay.  I suspect their acorn store is exhausted and the peanut feeder is now on their daily rounds..
Jay (c.OOS)

So that brings us to our final pick, the Great Spotted Woodpecker that has faithfully popped in to visit the peanut feeder, daily, since Christmas Eve..  I'll miss this female when she retires to the oak wood to breed: perhaps she will return with a brood of youngsters come June/July!


Sunday, 26 January 2014

Common as Coal Tits

A little over half way through the Garden Bird Survey: time to take stock of this seasons highs and lows..
Coals in pole position (c. OOS)

Finches are a bit thin on the ground: the Goldfinches have tapered off to just a few, Chaffinches steady and nothing as exotic as a Brambling this winter: not many, or indeed any reported around the country: there must be plenty of Beech Mast for them on mainland Europe.

The procession of three tit species keeps the view out to the peanut feeder pretty animated: there are six to eight of Coal, Blue and Great Tits daily.  The nearby coniferous forestry and broad leaved, surely harbour big populations of these birds and the offer of easy pickings on the peanut feeder in our garden, is too good to miss. In the case of Coal Tits: the seed of pine and spruce cones is harder to extract in wet weather, when the cones close up, so a good reason for them to forage in nearby gardens.

The only competitor that the Tits move over for is the daily Great Spot, a female.  Hopefully, it wont be long now til we hear the resonant drumming of displaying Woodpeckers punctuate the air.  

Making its way to the peanut feeder (c.OOS)

The Song Thrushes have stepped up their singing, Robins and Great Tits also chip in and there's a full half hour of extra daylight in the evening.  Still no room for complacency.. February can be pretty icy, but the birds seem to have survived well over the current winter, wet and windy but no really low temperatures so far.

Retreat to the big Sycamore (c.OOS)

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Down to the coast

With lots of free time in early January, it was nice to head down to the Wicklow coast to view the hordes of wildfowl enjoying the watery, mild winter.

Not just willdfowl, the birds of prey are not slow to pick up and patrol the ranks of fowl: Hen harriers, Buzzards and Sparrowhawks all in evidence.

Female Kes, 6 mile point (OOS)

A particularly engaging Kestrel chose the statuesque wooden skeleton of the Windsock at Six Mile Point as its lookout.. The airfield itself was a bit surreal: it had a swimming Kittiwake and Mediterranean Gull on its flooded apron.. no sign of Michael O'Leary offering cheap flights to Dublin ( Newcastle ), just yet!                                          
On up along the railway line to look for Snow Buntings,: it was No Buntings for us!

A lovely Stonechat was the standout bird, offering great views in the still, bright winter conditions: its a real pleasure to be out observing wildlife in this weather.  The birds too seemed to be relaxing in the benign conditions, I've never seen so many sleeping ducks! The action was provided by an Otter, pretending to be a dolphin, in on the coastal marshes.

Back on the coast: female Stonechat (c. OOS)

The Stonechats are definitely enjoying the mild winter: they made great increases in the period since the last Atlas, only to fall over the exceptionally hard winters of 2009/10, 2010/11. Just as well they have a sure fire recovery mechanism with multi broods in good summers: they were actually absent from regular coastal haunts in County Wicklow in the last few winters, but have recovered since: I have only once seen one here in Rathdrrum, perhaps a migrant in autumn, on its way to an Irish coast or one further south..