Saturday, 31 March 2012

Deer oh Deer !

In previous years we have suffered a bit of damage to Sika Deer, browsing the garden during the night or at dawn: young saplings with bark stripped, daffodils munched, and some small bare rooted trees broken by scratching, rubbing antlers..

 so far so good this spring, though this week the bird feeders attracted the attention of a couple of Sika: a doe and younger animal.. they remained long enough to be photographed, before bouncing off behind my favourite white daffodils, Narcissus Thalia and into their more typical habitat: wet birch wood..

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Siskins in the rain

Male Siskin en route to the feeder

Its not every weekend that I get to verify  a piece of scientific information as reported by the BTO:  Siskins we know from experience to be very nomadic, with lots of ringing data proving this point: wanderers to Britain and back, often clocking up distances of 400 or their passage ..

Female Siskin

The BTO also reports that on a micro scale, Siskins can suddenly appear in the garden in wet or showery conditions, a fact I witnessed twice in recent weeks, notable too because its been remarkably dry through February and March.  Siskins leave the nearby, mature Spruce plantation during rain or wet periods because the seed bearing Spruce cones, a favourite food of Siskins, close up in wet conditions and so our Siskins appear in a small party at the feeders, fussing and holding their own with bigger relatives such as the Greenfinch.

Upside down, with a Greenfinch for comparison
 You may notice that they frequently choose to perch upside down on the peanut feeder.  Now surely somebody knows why Siskins perch upside down whilst on the feeders? Perhaps this position helps save the body feathers from saturation in rain or perhaps it permits a hasty retreat if a predator appears?  Or maybe they are adapting a strategy to extract the max. from nearly empty feeders?  Fascinating creatures!
..and right side up

Friday, 16 March 2012

Listen out for Drummers!

St Patricks weekend is upon us, with Mothers Day added for good measure.. a perfect time then for some rest and relaxation along a woodland trail perhaps?  If you go down to the woods, listen out for our newest and perhaps most exciting breeding species:

Adult and juvenile at  nest hole in summer (Dick Coombes)

Great Spotted Woodpeckers recolonised Ireland just a few short years ago, after record population increases were noted in Britain of 400% over the last 40 years.  The Irish population is estimated to be about 50 pairs,  mainly located down our east coast counties,  but there's a record too from county Kerry and theres no shortage of prime oak woodland there. Apart from colonising prime oak forests, birds have been turning up on garden nut feeders. 

This month and April, are about the best time to locate birds on the breeding territories: The loud and resonant drumming in defence and advertisement of a territory, is delivered mainly in early morning and is a distinctive sound that carries a great distance.. Look too for signs of Woodpeckers with nest holes and drill holes from feeding forays on dead timber.  If you hear or see a woodpecker in Ireland, I would love to hear from you

Juvenile, with red crown at nut feeder in late summer (Dick Coombes)

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Blackbird behaviour

What a change in Blackbird behavior around the garden: a month or so ago we had a peak count on the Garden Bird Survey of 15 birds,  patrolling the grassy acre for worms and the like: a loose flock with common purpose that seemed to move in unison across the garden.

However that’s all changed; we have fewer birds now, with the winter immigrants no doubt on their way back to Germany and Belgium or further still (as demonstrated by ringing recoveries).

Instead, now we have males in twos, actively chasing off and escorting the weaker bird around the territory and putting on threat postures: I watched at least three sets of two behave like this, first thing this morning.. the females are keeping well out of it, most likely to be busy building a nest..

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Celebrate Tree Week

Its National Tree Week: as good an affirmation of spring as any.. The very best way to celebrate this is to go down to your local nursery or garden centre and select a tree that is suitable for your plot.. Sound advice is always to hand in the better outlets.

Willow and Alder catkins meet over a wet site

Before purchase, think of the space that is available, the time span you are happy with to achieve a return on your planting.  If you can only fit one tree, make sure it delivers for your eyes, for wildlife, preferably a feature for two or more seasons, and most importantly, is suited to its site. 

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Food for Thought

Michael Viney, writing in last Saturdays Irish Times (25th February) produced the evidence that is widely believed: winter feeding of birds has ‘the potential to alter population dynamics’, citing a study of supplementary feeding in woodlands (Stuart Bearhop

It's mainly good news: woodland birds such as Great Tits that winter in gardens or woodland that have supplementary feeding,  enter the spring nesting season stronger and ready to raise an early or bigger brood than birds that were not provided with winter food. However on return to the their ‘natural’ woodland habitat in spring, garden based Great Tits will have to compete with those birds that remained in woodland over winter and those birds will have first choice on the best nesting sites. 

The dynamics are such that a woodland will provide many more nesting opportunities and an abundance of insect food for young birds in summer, than gardens which are generally poorer for natural prey, but in turn top the winter feeding charts, largely due to our efforts.

Quite apart from the ecological arguments, and balance, to many the importance of feeding garden birds is the strong connection with nature, one which will hopefully benefit all bird populations in the future.

Six juveniles learn the ropes from an adult Great Tit (July 09)