Tuesday, 23 October 2012

'Fare and 'Wing

October is a great month in the garden: the grass growth is finally slowing down and there's time to admire autumn colour: especially the reds and yellows of autumn leaves, as the lack of chlorophyll production withdraws green pigments from leaves.  The passage of birds in this month is legend: replace warblers with wildfowl and Swallows with Scandinavian thrushes. 

Japenese Anemones and Dogwood (c. OOS)

 It's quite subtle at first, but confirmation, for me, of the change from summer to autumn and winter seasons is the lovely soft call 'tseep - tseep' of migrating Redwings. This occurs typically in mid October, with birds arriving from Scandinavia or Iceland, usually under cover of darkness in misty, still weather, lifted from distant northern parts by high pressure and a following wind. You are as likely to witness this chorus of 'contact calls' from migrating Redwings in urban and suburban locations as in the countryside. Fieldfares are usually in the second round of migrants, their harsh 'chack-chack' calls are first heard a week or two behind the Redwings.

Redwing on Pyracantha ( c. Shay Connolly)

We don't quite celebrate this arrival as we would the first Swallows, Cuckoo or Chiff Chaff: maybe we feel that the glass is half empty as distinct from half full, in spring. Never mind, for the 'winter thrushes' Ireland and western Europe is a safe haven.. Generally unfrozen ground, all the better to chase down insect prey, and the welcome aperitif of a medley of ripe red berries
on arrival, are among the delights on offer for these hardy migrants.  

 Fieldfares and Redwings don't really appear in gardens until conditions get really foul: they prefer to forage our fields and hedgerows as long as conditions allow for successful feeding in farmland.. A mid winter series of extended frosts and snow will see further immigration from mainland Europe and a sudden influx to our gardens: ornamental garden berries may well be available and less than edible class Apples (for humans) are a real treat for a hungry migrating thrush.. but that's all a few months away yet, hopefully!

Fieldfare (c. Shay Connolly)

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Small and beautiful

We got a surprise on our door step a few mornings back: no, not some unfortunate field mouse, laid out and displayed for our approval by the hunting cats: it was a Goldcrest, a tiny ball of feathers that had stunned itself  by flying into the kitchen window, in all likelihood.

After recovering in the warmth of the kitchen, subjected to the obligatory i Phone pic, the bird recovered sufficiently to be put back out in a safe place where it did in fact attract the attentions of a territorial Robin.

Goldcrest in care (c. M Wynne)

Goldcrests are our smallest bird: weighing in at just 6 grams: you would need 75 Goldcrests to make up the body mass of a single Woodpigeon, or 4 Goldcrests to make up an ounce ! 

Although they occur in gardens: they prefer the cover of trees and nest in tall conifers, strapping a soft nest over an outer branch, the nest is constructed with fairy like materials: spider's web, moss, feathers and lichen.

Goldcrest wrestles with a spider's web (c. John Fox)

Goldcrests have a fairly unique expression or style that seems to suit their diminutive stature:  This is very well described by Anthony Mc Geehan, writing in the just published, Birds through Irish Eyes ( Collins Press): 

'Tiny and compact with a near invisible short slender bill, the mite is endearing and often indifferent to human observation, especially when examining foliage and flitting from twig to twig....Both sexes have peppercorn eyes on a bland face and a drooping Fu Manchu wispy moustache.'

I see and hear them mostly in October and November: their thin 'si-si-si-si' calls usually lead to a view of one hovering under a sycamore leaf, picking up tiny insects: they need to feed constantly in winter, up to a fifth of that tiny body weight may be burnt overnight, to stave off the cold.

A Goldcrest in the hand  (c. R. Coombes)