Saturday, 17 January 2015

Normal Winter Weather?

The temperature gauge showed 16* on New Years Day.. I would have tapped the glass a few times for confirmation except that walking around the garden,  it was necessary to remove an outer layer of clothing to cool down as I went about tidying up a few corners.  Today's Irish Times reports that 2014 was the hottest year on record.. in fact it was the 38th consecutive year of of above average temperatures, meaning no one born since 1976 has experienced a colder than average year!

The last week brought what I would consider normal winter temperatures for these parts, -1 at dawn and a steady 1 to 3 degrees all day.


This current weather regime has brought the birds back to the feeders in numbers, but the Grey Wagtail from last month has chosen to move onwards to a slightly less exposed locale, no doubt.

Our Robins are attracted to both 'traditional' fat balls and the new star product: peanut butter with meal worms. As Ireland's most widespread garden bird, its not really surprising that they are quickest to adapt to feeding opportunities that might give them the edge over other insectivorous species such as the Wagtails, Dunnock and Wren.

Goldfinch & Chaffinches clean up (c.OOS)

Other movers include our nyjer hugging Goldfinches and the party of Redpolls that often station themselves on the fallen seed at ground level.  The Chaffinch flock expands each week, though I haven't seen a Brambling yet this winter.. the nomads from Scandinavia, including showy Waxwings have cancelled a winter visit to our shores, the Rowan and Beech crops up North are sufficient for their needs this time out.  Irruptive migration is a perilous enough survival strategy that is only carried out in locally dire circumstances.

Redpoll battles its way onto the Nyjer feeder (c.OOS)

Wednesday, 31 December 2014

End of year stocktake

Four weeks of the Garden Bird Survey completed, first third done.. how are we progressing?

Grey Wagtail (c.OOS)

We certainly hit the ground running, with 30 species already recorded; that brings us well on our way towards our high of 36, with anything between 30 and 36 a good return for this large rural garden overvthe 13 week survey period.  The weather hasn't been too remarkable one way or another, though we have had a few cold mornings down to - 3C. which brought in a party of Redwings and a flurry of Blackbirds.

The one clear gain this winter, for us, is the rise in the number of Goldfinches, up to 14 now and the drop in the number of Coal Tits: just a single bird when we usually host anywhere between 8 and 15 birds in winter. The former respond to the steady supply of Nyjer seed available, but the latters disappearance is puzzling: it will be very interesting to get the end of season story from across the country. 

No sign of a woodpecker yet this winter and no patrolling Sparrowhawk, surely both will visit?  A few species are literally borderline, such as Yellowhammer and Reed Bunting, but the  Red Kites really do patrol the area, expecting to pick up a morsel.

The most welcome new winter visitor has been the regular appearance of a young Grey Wagtail.  Though they occur on the local wooded streams, a favourite breeding habitat, it is a pleasure to watch this bird forage the gravel area on the warm westerly side of the house.  In colder winters I suspect the Grey Wagtails might move downstream to slightly warmer conditions: they suffered in the cold winters of 2009/10.

A young Grey Wagtail (c.OOS)

Thursday, 18 December 2014

An Apple a day

Fieldfare amongst the windfalls (c. Shay Connolly)

Whilst the weather has swung back to mild and wet, it was  a chilly minus 3 a week back: weather like that can bring birds new into to your garden, a a correspondent, Ray Walsh, in County Meath reported:

" Five or six birds have arrived in my back garden over the past few days, the size of a thrush, and are attacking the Blackbirds that are feeding on the apples left on the ground. The birds are dark around the eye, mottled chest with reddy brown colour, brown wings and tail, and very grey looking from the back ".

Save an Apple for a Fieldfare (c.Dick Coombes)

That amounts to a very good description of Fieldfares, a so called 'winter thrush' that visits us from Scandinavia.  They are, as the name suggests, more typically associated with open fields and keen on perching up high on hedgerows, and they are quite aggressive, much like our Mistle Thrushes. Whilst it has been a great winter for a profusion of berries on Holly and Hawthorn, these go very quickly and hungry birds will descend on gardens in cold spells, particularly if you provide a surefire incentive: 

Apples in particular , left as windfalls will be eagerly snapped up and even if you don't have your own orchard, many green grocers and shops will supply you with any fruit that is past its sell by date or otherwise 'spoilt' for human consumption or sale.

(C. Shay Connolly)

Try spreading fruit, or spiking a tree on cold mornings and see if you can attract the Fieldfare or Redwing: two of the brightest birds in mid winter: the Blackbirds might not be impressed, but it is known that territorial battles breakdown when it gets really cold and birds just get on with feeding, rather than lose precious energy defending a dwindling food stock..

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Bright start to Garden Bird Survey

Redpoll and Goldfinches.. what a treat! (c.OOS)

We had a terrific bright dawn on the eve of the first day of the 13 week survey, let's hope that continues all week: it is forecasted to be dry and a bit cooler, perfect for garden bird watching.

Maybe its the increased effort on this lovely morning, but the birds have responded well: a Redpoll joined the six or more Goldfinches on the Nyjer feeder.. I didn't get one all winter last time out!

This selection of birds brought great colour to the garden, but the winter garden has its own charms too.

The showy Japanese Cherry, arguably at its best in May when festooned with pinkish white blossom, still has another week or so with leaves, turning a rich gold, highlighted by the low early morning sun, the first fallers no less attractive, carpet the lawn.

Japanese Cherry in early morning sunshine (c.OOS)

Likewise the showy perennials, Goldenrod, Crocosmia and Teasel have long forsaken their bright yellow, red and lilac flower heads respectively, but the beige palette of winter seed heads is striking and attractive to birds..

Perennials in Beige mode (c.OOS)

The queue for the Nyjer seed is alleviated somewhat by a Goldfinch extracting seed from a withered Echinacea, just when I might have been tempted to tidy up with the secateurs.

Goldfinch on Echinacea (c.OOS)

* Full details of the 2014 /15 Garden Bird Survey are to be found on

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Song Thrushes break the silence

Song Thrush (c. Brian Johnston)

What a lovely calm, bright day we had after all the rain.

Before first light  I was out the back garden and was delighted to hear at least two Song Thrushes in full song. (they are still singing at last light too!)
I presume the colder and brighter conditions are a trigger to bird song: it really punctuates the still air and the Song Thrush is probably our finest songster: clear and loud, they repeat the notes, just in case you missed them the first time! 

We tend to think of Song Thrushes as residents and a singing bird in winter surely is, but we get winter influxes of Song Thrushes along with the Redwings from northern Europe.  The latter are more obvious as they are gregarious in nature and appear only in winter.  Migrant Song Thrushes and Blackbirds usually get 'bumped' around the garden by the residents and bird song reinforces the residents claims to a territory.

Song Thrush: typically sing from deep cover (c. Dave Dillon)

Anthony Mc Geehan, writing in Birds of The Homeplace (available from BirdWatch Ireland), highlights R.M. Barringtons observations at Irish Lighthouses: in correspondence with light keepers, he noted very large numbers of Song Thrushes striking the light at Tuskar Rock, off the Wexford coast in late autumn.  It is true we are more accustomed to logging the thin contact calls of Redwings at night, indeed tonights weather will be ideal for listening out for migrating Thrushes, cold and foggy and as yet, not much wind...

All very welcome activity as the start up to the Garden Bird Survey is only 10 days away; who said the winter is dull?

Ivy berries will sustain Thrushes after the Haws and Holly berries are eaten (c. Brian Johnston)

Monday, 3 November 2014

Slowly, they return!

I am used to people recounting news of a lack of birds in late summer gardens, it goes with the job!  This phenomenon came much closer to home, an October scenario with us, for the first time. 

Great Tit samples the Peanut Picnic (c.OOS)

So distracted by the lack of birds in the garden I decided to freshen up the peanut feeder with a new stock of nuts (the existing residue had solidified and was disposed of) and filled up the Nyjer feeder, though only a couple of Chaffinches showed any interest. The cherry on this bird feast was a sample pot of Peanut Butter Picnic for birds, from a new supplier in Wicklow: hand made with best tallow, peanut flour, nuts and meal worms added in this treat.. surely a quickfire response was guaranteed?

Patience being a rare enough commodity around these parts, I decided to walk the dog around a decent 10 acre stubble that adjoins the garden: Right now the hedgerows are punctuated with blood and bright red berries, hawthorn and holly in profusion and also with the rich, dark black sloes of Blackthorn.

Greenfinches sample some weed seeds (c. OOS)

I was quickly reassured to meet with some nice flocks of what we reasonably expect to meet with in the garden: House Sparrows sat up high in the hedgerow, 10 or more, a great horde of Greenfinches barrelled over, I estimated about 30 birds.  Goldfinches chimed and Redpolls buzzed over.. all is well then in the countryside.  The Thrushes seem to be arriving too, Redwings numbered about 5 or 6, their thin calls always a wake up for me at first light.  Mistle Thrushes continue to patrol the fields in loose flocks, 12 to 20 birds being the norm at the moment.  

Goldfinch (c.OOS)

Much closer to the patio door and even more satisfying was the scene on the morning of 3rd November: 0 degrees at first light, bright and sunny for 3 or 4 hours, perfect conditions for a rush into the garden: sure enough, I wasn't disappointed: my first Coal Tit for a number of weeks, Great and Blue Tits in numbers and a Robin was attracted to that Peanut butter treat: (must be the meal worms).  The Greenfinch horde that was observed over the fields descended on the peanut feeder and then patronised the gravel and perennial border: never a shortage of seeds there, the total number of birds was 26, the 'flyovers' watched in the fields some days ago, surely.  

A Treecreeper was heard in the trees, a Jay flew over, light and airy and then that raucous scream as it landed up the garden in its favourite hedgerow oak tree.. A Kite patrolled the garden and moved out over the broader landscape where it jolted upwards at the sound of a volley of shots aimed lower: the Pheasant shooters, no doubt welcoming the hunting season ahead.

Its all in the stubble (c.OOS)