Acorns from last year
Acorns of the evergreen or Holm Oak.
On this day, when the Woodland Trust has selected ten trees from which we can choose the nation’s favourite, and before I take another little break from the blog, I’ll just post a few photo’s relating to Oak. I have to use an old photo of acorns because I haven’t found a single one this year on our quite big tree. The Jay is struggling to find any as well. What there have been this year are plenty of galls on the Oak, which I’ve covered on earlier blogs but here is the Oak Marble Gall. As children, we always knew these as Oak Apples but they do look much more like marbles! The tree is retaining it’s leaves well this year,
Oak Marble Galls
The Jays have struggled to find enough acorns to eat locally this year
right at the end of October. Conditions: A very mild day of light cloud and some sun, with heavy showers later. Temperature: Max 18- Min 7 C.
Entertainment increases watching the heavy Wood Pigeons trying to gain access to the ever decreasing berries on our Rowan (Joseph Rock) – they aren’t as acrobatic as the returning Mistle Thrushes, which I know I featured the other day but they are so beautiful and don’t come often, so here are some photo’s of them, too, from today. Wood pigeons continue to increase their population over the country. The BTO Garden Birdwatch show their numbers up by two thirds while Collared Dove numbers have declined in gardens by a quarter. Wood Pigeons are benefitting from changing farming practice, with ore Oil Seed Rape planting, and also autumn-sown cereals meaning they have green food all year round. They also enjoy seeds and grains, and birdfood put out in gardens. Conditions: No sun but still mild and dry with this mornings breeze dropping later. Temperature: Max 16- Min 12 C.
They are a bit more lithe than the pigeons.
Wood Pigeon, sated on the Rowan berries
Somehow it manages to reach
The Mistle Thrushes keep coming back for more
Back to the garden and the reappearance of Blackbirds.
A native male Blackbird on our Joseph Rock Roan
A winter migrant Blackbird, with darker beak
Female Blackbird enjoying the berries in the garden
Blackbirds will have had their two or three broods of young, and then kept a low profile for a few weeks during moulting, when they are vulnerable due to their reduced flight feathers and the energy it takes to grow new plumage. They then have some weeks when berries and fruits are plentiful in the trees and hedgerows and they are less reliant on garden food, before returning to our bird-tables. Having some berries left on the wonderful Joseph Rock Rowan, we now have half a dozen Blackbirds at a time. At this time of year, our native birds are joined by influxes of birds from cold climates, including Scandinavia, Northern Europe and the Baltic States. You can tell those winter migrants as the males have dark beaks, unlike the yellow ones of our native birds. Conditions: A mostly cloudy, dry day (though the rain has clearly been torrential in western Scotland) Temperature: Max 14- Min 12 C.
The Black Headed Gull is not black-headed at this time of year and actually not really black-headed at any time, but chocolate brown! In late autumn and winter this small gull is harder to identify because it has a white head and just a little dark smudge on it’s cheek. At all times of year it has a dark red bill and legs, and grey back. It is also usually very noisy and sociable, appearing in small flocks throughout the year and it lives almost anywhere. It feeds on worms, insects, fish and carrion, on farmland, rubbish tips, wetlands, coast and in cities, so can be seen almost anywhere. The numbers increase at this time of year, to over two million, as this is another one of our native birds whose populations are joined by birds from Iceland, Scandinavia and Northern Europe. However the Black Headed Gull, our most commonly seen gull, is declining and is now on the amber list.
A Black Headed Gull in transition plumage
Black Headed Gulls in their winter plumage
Conditions: A bright day starting with sun and becoming cloudier. Temperature: Max 13- Min 11 C.
Black Headed Gull in winter plumage
Black Headed Gulls in their chocolate-headed summer plumage
Returning to Redshank, as these are some of the easiest waders to identify and can be seen round most coasts in winter, and inland in the breeding season. As their name suggests they have bright red, almost orange legs, the same colour as the first part of their bill. Their breeding numbers are reducing so they are on the amber list but their numbers increase hugely over the winter, swelled especially by thousands migrating from Iceland. They feed on worms, Crane Flies (Daddy Longlegs), small crustaceans and Molluscs. As well as being visually easy to pick out, their piping calls, higher pitched and
Common Redshank in spring
A pair of Common Redshank at breeding time
more ‘alarmist’ than the haunting Oyster Catches, are an easy way to tell they are around. The calls act as a warning to other waders, as their common name, ‘Sentinel of the Marsh’ and their Welsh name “Pibydd Coesgoch’ also indicate. A couple of years ago we were also lucky to see this much rarer relative Speckled Redshank. A few overwinter and e saw this one in April in Titchwell, Norfolk. Conditions: A cooler-feeling day with sun and cloud. Temperature: Max 14- Min 7C.
Spotted Redshank, a winter migrant.
Starlings start to look a bit different at this time of year and people sometimes get confused about the birds turning up in their gardens. In late summer, adults, though still glossy with burnished purples, blues and greens if they catch the light, are also speckled with white ‘dots’. Their normally yellow beaks also turn to black over winter. Starlings living through their first winter have dark underparts but lighter grey-brown backs and heads. Their habits change too, as they tend to feed in bigger flocks ( as they build to the famous ‘murmurations’) and roost in very large, noisy groups of up to half a million birds in one roost! Our native Starlings are supplemented by birds from many other areas, including the Low Counties, Scandinavia, The Baltic States and Russia. They feed on beaches, in fields (where they get rid of many unwanted invertebrates), grass in parks and bushes covered with berries- Starlings definitely aren’t fussy!
Starling in winter plumage, feeding on a beach- still glossy and iridescent on body.
Starling feeding on grass, showing the pale stippling on the feathers and head.
Conditions: A still, cloudy day. Temperature: Max 16- Min 13 C.
The starling on the right, feeding on blackberries, was born this year and so it’s back is still browny-grey.
The Curlew is one of my all-time favourites and we have been lucky to see and, more magically hear them most days on our trip to the North East. It is the largest European wading bird and can be found inland on moors, and all around our coasts and estuaries, marshes and damp grasslands. The numbers build along the coasts from July, so autumn and winter are good times to spot them. They eat many things but especially worms, shellfish and shrimps, which they detect by touch and their long, curved bills reach areas other birds can’t reach! They have two wonderful, haunting calls, an onomatopoeic “curl-eew’ and a beautiful bubbling, rising call (listen on the RSPB site). I’m clearly not the
A flock of Curlew spooked by a Peregrine Falcon flying low- not in picture- it was too fast!
Curlews take to the skies
first to love them. A manuscript from 100 AD of a poem called “The Seafarer” says- “I take my gladness in the cry of the gannet and the sound of the curlew/ Instead of the laughter of men”. Conditions: Some sun replaced by lowering cloud and showers. Temperature: Max 12- Min 10 C.