Monday, 27 August 2012

Willows passing through..

It's been noticeable over the past few weeks,  the soft 'wheet'  contact calls of our most abundant summer migrant: the Willow Warbler.  After the breeding season I usually notice a rush of migrants around the garden, from late July into August.  They are restless and move from Willow scrub down to perennial plants and even forage on the lawn: small insect prey is found in all these places at this time of the year. 

Many of the first year birds are beginning the first tentative movements south, culminating in an arrival in West Africa, via Iberia, in late autumn / early winter, all going well.

Willow Warbler  (c. John Fox)

Willow warblers are showing a trend of increase on the Countryside Bird Survey, occurring in 70% of 1km squares surveyed.  However once the pleasant summer song abates in early summer, they are a little more difficult to locate, and indeed separate from their close relation, the Chiffchaff.  

Chiffchaff  (c. David Dillon)
In seeking to separate the two close relatives (both are no bigger than a Blue Tit in size), note the colour of legs and feet: black in Chiffchaff, a bright yellowish in Willow Warblers. Chiffchaffs are generally duller in colour tone, and more 'plain faced'.  The wing length is noticeably longer in Willow Warbler, compared to Chiffchaff.  Both are restless and flick wings and tail as they move through cover, sometimes hovering around large, cracked, autumn leaves of the Sycamore tree: occasionally you can even hear them snap their beaks on insect prey, fuelling up for the long journey south!

Friday, 17 August 2012

Bees, but no Butterflies

Bumblebee on a drumstick Allium (c. OO'S)

Despite the garden showing off some serious, nectar loaded flowering plants, I have noticed a complete absence of butterflies at this time: After the storms and rain, the plants have literally stood up quite well and the Alliums, Crocosmia, Goldenrod and Teasel are in full flower..

Hoverflies and Honeybees are constantly on the Goldenrod (c. OO'S)

There's a great number of bees and hoverflies: a constant movement amongst the flowering stems, but you would really miss the bright and delicate outline of a Red Admiral or Small Tortoiseshell, hopefully they will come yet!

Red Admiral, from this time last year, on Teasel (c.OO'S)

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Late Broods

Our Swallows returned about on time, last May, and set about building a new nest on a north facing down pipe under the eaves of the house.

Adult Swallow  (c. J. Coelho)

Given the wet summer,  a brood of four was about right, and this reduced to 3 as the runt of the brood, fell out of (or was pushed from ) the nest and perished on the ground.

Three eventually fledged, though one was very weak in flight and I watched it fly at ground level and just above, and in turn it attracted the attentions of the cats: I found a pile of feathers on the lawn, a day after its first flight.  

The remaining two fledglings seemed to be able to take care of themselves, but like teenagers, they return to the nest to rest and overnight.. this continued for about a week into mid July when they moved off to the local gathering place, a telegraph pole on our boundary.  About 12 or 14 young Swallows gather here, chattering and exchanging information , no doubt, and emitting frequent alarm calls, to alert for real or imaginary predators.  

Two juveniles ready to fledge (c. O. O'Sullivan)
After a quiet week or so, the adult birds have started to return to the nest site and sing from the adjacent telephone cable, holding a territory.  I suspect they are now on a second brood, latish but not too late, especially if we get a good August.

  I suppose just two young raised is not a great return after their migration up from Africa last spring and with a return journey ahead of them in September/October.. Swallows are the Olypians of the avian world!

Adult singing in August.. second brood on the way! (c. O.O'Sullivan)