Sunday, 24 February 2013

What's the attraction?

The star bird of the garden has got to be the Goldfinch: Surely they would be on nearly every desert island list..They usually visit us in ones and twos, and not as regularly or as abundant as in some gardens.   They are of course one of the top performers of the Garden Bird Survey. From a position of 26th in the survey standings back in winter 1994/1995, they have come all the way up to 8th position in the rankings and now occur in 86% of GBS gardens.

Goldfinch: star quality on the move (cOOS)
 So what's the attraction to gardens?  The fine beaked finch is traditionally associated with weed seeds and thistles in particular.  We understand that weeds and marginal space where they thrive are no longer to be found as part of more efficient, modern agricultural practices.  So how have Goldies coped?  By taking to gardens and the offerings on feeders such as peanuts and sunflower seeds, they have joined their close relations, Siskins and Redpolls.  They are also perfectly adapted to exploit the growing popularity of providing Nyjer seed in specialised garden feeders.   Nyjer seed is an extremely fine, black oily seed that was originally marketed as 'thistle seed'.

Nyjer seed is taken from the plant Guizotia abyssinica, an annual herb of the Aster family, and native to the Ethiopian Highlands.  The plant is likely to sprout from seed where birds are fed regularly: it has daisy like flowers, bright yellow in appearance.

Have Nyjer.. will visit! (c.OOS)

Saturday, 16 February 2013

February Gold

Early Daffs (c.OOS)
The month of February has been very wet so far, but it is really spring like at times..Two bright and sunny days in a row,temperatures up to 11 or 12 degrees.

Best of all, that extra light now perceptible at the beginning and end of the working day.   The birds and plants have responded of course.   There isn't  a huge volume of flowering plants, or singing birds.  However those that choose to perform get our undivided attention and admiration.. So a clump or two of early Daffodils are truly memorable, the first of many varieties to show.  Elsewhere Flowering Quince has some fruit remaining  and is showing bright red early flowers.

Flowering Quince (c. OOS)

Bird Song is beginning to gather momentum.  The call to song is dominated by Song Thrushes: though normally solitary and not at all showy, once the song is delivered ( for two or three weeks now) they dominate the early spring season with their clear, far crying notes, aptly described by Browning:

"That's the wise thrush; he sings each song twice over,
Lest you should think he never could recapture
The first fine careless rapture!"

It is this repetition of clear notes and phrases that demands attention.  The strengthening spring chorus has support from Chaffinches and Robins, Dunnocks, Great and Coal Tits and Goldcrests.. it is amazing how many more birds you actually record around the garden once the sound is turned on!

Song Thrush (c. Dave Dillon)

As spring progresses we still have a few stalwarts to look forward to: Blackbirds singing a meandering, meditative and mellow song, along with a burst of Cherry and Pear blossom, Blackcaps in a hurry with the first of the spring warblers, all just a few weeks away now..

Song Thrush (c. John Fox)

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Buzzards spring flight

Saturday, 2nd February, a lovely coincidence: it's the weekend and a perfect day for the garden.  Cold but bright and sunny, no clouds in the sky, no rain.. perfect conditions for garden therapy.

Buzzard, mobbed by a Rook (c. Shay Connolly)

On the short hop from house to garden, in search of a few basic tools and gloves (job card says: prune Cornus and Elder), I am not entirely surprised to hear the mocking, harsh call of a Hooded Crow.  This usually means one thing: a raptor has taken to the air and needs to be challenged and hassled by a crow or better for them, a flock.

Sure enough, before I even reach the garden shed, I hear a clear 'mewing' call form the air.. Ruling out the possibility of a Starling impersonation, I reckon on a Buzzard out on an exercise to advertise itself to all others that a territory exists from ground to air, between the mixed forest and hillside fields currently in stubble.   There's a good view as it heads over the garden, no sign of a Crow in tandem, somewhat surprising though that is, but it is joined by another Buzzard as they progress effortlessly across the blue sky.  As always, they drift out of sight somewhat seamlessly and I get down to the job at hand.

Classic Buzzard, showing broad wings, short rounded tail and tawny and white plumage
(c. Shay Connolly)

In my time as a birder, young birdwatcher or whatever,  I have witnessed Buzzard become an icon of progress and success in the Irish bird watching and bird conservation scene.  I recall driving with friends in a car load from Dublin, sometime in the early 1980s, destined for the Antrim coast, just to twitch or see a Buzzard for our bird lists after a number of frustrating and unsuccessful years chasing around county Wicklow for a glimpse of one in the late 1970s.

Such was their rarity: disappearing from the island of Ireland in the late 19th century, persecuted, before returning from Scotland, to attempt recolonisation between the 1930s and the 1950s.  This bid at recolonisation ultimately failed, probably due to decimation of their favourite prey, the Rabbit, as a consequence of Myxomatosis   They recolonised again in the 1960s, establishing on the north coast one more time.  The extent of their progress wasn't really evident throughout the island of Ireland until the banning of Strychnine in 1991.  Since then, though poison still remains a blight in the countryside, Buzzards are established in most of the island, especially east of a line from counties Sligo to Cork.  Whether their progress further west is impeded by climate conditions or ignoring the law is probably answered by the recent negative experience of the re introduction projects of Eagles.. Poison still exists in the Irish countryside.  We have travelled a long way, learnt some, but there's more to do yet.. 

Buzzard, (c. Shay Connolly)