Saturday, 28 November 2015

Happy Monday!

This winters Garden Bird Survey gets off to a start on Monday 30th November. For many of us, the 12 weeks of survey time between now and the end of February, are the highlight of the winter.  It has been running in its present format for over 20 years and we have witnessed some significant trends in that time. Goldfinches are the headline gain, but we have decent results for others, such as the House Sparrow, which holds it own here, despite the often quoted declines we hear about from the UK.  The mixed farming landscape probably favours the Sparrows here more than in the UK and we have a pattern of housing settlement that provides lots of nesting opportunities.  Sparrows utilise the house and garden area throughout the year, whereas your winter Chaffinch flock may be comprised of both local birds and winter migrants from Scandinavia.  

Male Chaffinch ( c. Michael Finn)

 Chaffinches are day migrants and can be seen arriving off the Irish Sea along the East coast round about this time. They have a hooked migration route, choosing to curtail long sea crossings by heading south east out of Sweden, down through the low countries and then bending up north and west from France across the English Channel before dispersing across the UK.  The Chaffinch population shows a split in pattern with the females travelling further over the winter, with males remaining closer to their breeding home, all the better to set up a territory and assess the conditions for the nesting season, when spring arrives.

Brambling (c. Jamie Durrant)
Look out for Bramblings amongst the Chaffinch flocks.  They are particularly fond of Beech mast, which is  more widely available in central Europe.  Bramblings form absolutely enormous flocks in some winters in places like Slovenia, whereas we can usually only muster flocks of less than ten birds.  When beech mast is scarce or exhausted, the birds may well come to seed feeders, what a lovely sight!  

Beech Mast or nuts (c. O OSullivan)
Two Top tips for the Garden Bird Survey: keep a notebook and pencil near your favourite watch point in the house. Note best numbers of the commoner birds and date them. By the end of each week you will already have noticed a pattern emerge.  The weekend days are crucial for recording if you are out working, so notes are really a good idea and finally, keep the feeders topped up, even if you have to perform this task pre dawn or post dusk.  Your reward will be decent garden bird watching, all weekend.