The Chaffinch in winter– Chaffinches, which were on the rise, suffered set-backs in 2006, due to the prevalence of Finch trichomonosis, but they are still a widespread bird, with backs patterned to help their camouflage as they feed, mainly hopping along on the ground. In winter our numbers are swelled by migration, but Chaffinches are on of the species which practice “differential migration”, the females and juveniles travelling further south, probably showing males fare better in harsher conditions, and meaning you are likely to see either more males or more females in your patch in winter. The head markings on the males, as you can see, are dull grey-brown in winter, and though you might assume they get their blue, breeding colouring by moulting, they don’t- the feather-tips gradually wear away to reveal the bright caps. Conditions: A dry spell with gentle breezes and sunny intervals. Temperature: Max 11 Min 7 C.
A single male adult Siskin has been visiting our feeders for the past few days. While these lovely, small finches breed in the UK, especially in Scotland and Wales and have done well since the planting of extensive conifer plantations, they seldom come into urban gardens to feed until after New Year’s day. In winter, numbers are swelled from continental Europe. These lively birds with a very forked tail and bright plumage, and which mainly feed on birch, conifer and alder seeds, together with a few insects, sometimes fly in mixed flocks, like this one which comes in with the slightly larger (see photo) Goldfinches. You are more likely to see them in your gardens when there has been a poor crop of Sitka Spruce seeds in the wild, and more likely on wet than dry days. The males, as this is, have stronger colours than the female, and the adults males have a black crown. Look out for them- they are a delight.
Fieldfares- these beautiful, winter visitors are about the size of Mistle Thrushes and smaller than the other winter visiting Thrush, the Redwing (see my drawing for comparison) though they often appear in mixed flocks together. While Fieldfares prefer to eat grubs and worms in open, hedged farmland they come into gardens and parks as these did the other day, when the ground is frozen or covered in snow, and then will feed on windfall apples, or other fruit like Hawthorn berries. When conditions are particularly severe in their breeding grounds of Asia, Scandinavia and
Northern Europe, as many as a million Fieldfare may come to feed on our fruit and invertebrates. Conditions: Milder, quiet weather now. Temperature: Max 8 Min 5 C.
Drinking and bathing – I know it is hard to keep water free of ice in these arctic conditions but here are some more examples of why it matters so much to birds– whether a Collared Dove, Finch, Tit or House Sparrow, birds need to bath and drink to keep in good condition in these icy times. Conditions: Snow still laying in Derbyshire. Temperature: Max 2 Min -4C.
Monyash, Derbyshire: Despite it sounding as though it is named after the hundreds of Ash trees in the parish, the name is actually derived from the Anglo Saxon ‘mani’ and Celtic ‘easc or eas’, and means ‘many waters’, the area being renowned for its many springs and pools, which also led to woods being cleared in the iron and bronze ages for agriculture. The farming here is still largely sympathetic to nature, including a National Trust farm which has wonderful, rich meadows in summer. However, here are some of the many Ash Trees, from whips to giants which are thankfully still free of Ash die-back. Unless some trees prove resistance, when this eventually reaches the Peak District another huge change will occur to this whole
area. Conditions: Ice and snow and sun breaking through mist. Temperature: From an overnight low of -4, today is set to rise to 0 C!
As the ice and snow hits the Peak district
, and many parts of the UK, birds will be needing extra fat to keep them going, especially small birds and especially through the cold nights. Because birds we feed in our gardens get good regular food, they do not need to carry as much extra fat, in a layer under their skin, as birds where food is scarce. That makes them more vulnerable when the freezing weather comes which is why these small birds were busy feeding on fat today, in the snow. Small birds are also more vulnerable to cold weather, having more surface area per size than larger birds, and therefore losing heat more easily. Conditions: Heavy snow showers. Temperature: Max 2 Min -3 C
The RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch is on us– we have had to do ours today but please try to do your hour, either in your garden, park or local wildlife area over the weekend. Wherever you do it, there is a simple guide on the RSPB site, with bird guides and easy to enter forms. Whatever you see- however much or little, it is worth recording. Early morning and late afternoon are often best, as birds replenish after the night or build up before dusk. This, one of the biggest ‘citizen science’ projects in the UK, helps discover trends in bird populations over the country, and they are particularly interested this year to
Here are a few we saw. Conditions: Grey and still. Temperature: Max 11 Min 4 C.