26th November 2014

Male Great Spotted Woodpecker (red neck-patch not showing

Male Great Spotted Woodpecker (red neck-patch not showing

Wren on a quick stop-off

Wren on a quick stop-off

Female Blackbird

Female Blackbird

Thwarted squirrel!

Sunbathing squirrel yesterday!

There’ll be a short break in transmission while I travel down for a momentous family day in Catsfield- mum’s 90th birthday! I’ll leave with a few recent photos and be back to blogging soon. Conditions: Wet and grey, though milder than the last couple of days. Temperature: Max 7- Min 7 C.

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25th November 2014

Bullfinches were drawn into the garden again today by the frosty weather. Most of the ones coming in winter will be native birds, that don’t stray more than a few kilometres from their breeding grounds, but some come in, as the weather worsens, from further north, including Scandinavia. These migrants have a deeper, more powerful call than the thinner piping call of native Bullfinches, so you might be able to tell them apart from that. They tend to prefer feeding on seeds and suet-based foods in hanging feeders. The ability

Male Bullfinches feed easily from hanging feeders

Male Bullfinches feed easily from hanging feeders

 

Male Bullfinches are among the most colourful visitors at any time of the year.

Male Bullfinches are among the most colourful visitors at any time of the year.

of Bullfinches to digest cellulose from energy-rich buds might be frustrating for gardeners and farmers but it saves many of their lives when seeds run out in the wild, during winter. Favourite buds seem to be from fruit-bearing wild and garden bushes and trees- Blackthorn, Crab Apples, Hawthorn, Plum and Pear especially. I personally think their presence outweighs what we lose in buds later in winter, and in early spring. Conditions: A beautiful crisp, frosty morning with light cloud and blue sky. Temperature: Max 5- Min 3 C.

24th November 2012

Holly is a wonderful, slow-growing evergreen tree that could help wildlife in our gardens in several ways. The density and prickliness of the foliage provides shelter for many nesting birds including Thrushes, Blackbirds, Dunnock, Finches and Goldcrests . Bees and Bumblebees love the nectar and pollen from the tiny flowers and the caterpillars of the Holly Blue Butterfly feed on the flowers and buds in spring (the summer brood feeds on Ivy). Birds of the Thrush family especially love their berries in winter. The deep leaf-litter that tends to form under Holly Trees is also great for hibernating small mammals and

The small, delicate Holly Flowers

The small, delicate Holly Flowers

toads. Shade-tolerant, Holly bushes are  either male or female, and need the other form nearby, though not necessarily in the same garden, to be pollinated and produce berries. The Holly has long been held as powerful in traditional beliefs, including the practice for centuries of planting one near the back door as protection from Witchcraft and Lightening! The wood was used in wet weather, as it’s fierce way of burning means it lights well even when wet. Conditions: A beautiful dawn was followed by a bright, cool, dry day. Temperature: Max 8, Min 2 C

Young Holly berries, still green, on native Holly

Young Holly berries, still green, on native Holly

One of the variegated garden varieties of Holly

One of the variegated garden varieties of Holly, just as useful to wildlife as the native variety.

The lovely dawn this morning

The lovely dawn this morning

 

23rd November 2014

I watched two female Great Spotted Woodpeckers chasing each other out of the trees and off the feeders in the garden the other day and since then, only one has visited, or at least only one at a time. I wondered if it was an adult chasing a young female but can find no details about this behaviour and in the past, as can be seen, we have had two males feeding through winter without dispute- territorial battles are usually confined to males in

The two females kept chasing each other away

The two females kept chasing each other away

These two males a couple of winters ago were happy to feed next to each other

These two males a couple of winters ago were happy to feed next to each other

spring. Anyway, it made for some fascinating viewing- they were much more intent on aggression towards each other than feeding and between our two gardens there are plenty of feeders to choose from! Conditions: Dry, still day with a little brightness, especially towards mid-afternoon. Temperature: Going down at present- Max 9- Min 3C.

The second female, also very alert

Both females were on high alert during this spell, and didn't feed.

The second  female also on high alert during this spell, and didn’t feed.

22nd November 2014

Great Tits are thought to be one of the quickest birds to find new food-sources, and their over-winter survival rates are higher (despite the density of the cat population) in suburban areas than in woodlands, though their breeding is more successful in woods than gardens. Their diet shifts at the time of year from invertebrates to seeds and fruit. In a good year of Beech seeds (‘mast’) , they will stay longer in beech woodlands, in flocks, feeding on the fallen mast on the ground but in a poor year, or as supplies run out, they come into gardens more and more. In gardens the average number in mixed

Great Tits visit gardens throughout the year, like tis acrobatic young bird.

Great Tits visit gardens throughout the year, like tis acrobatic young bird.

But expect more in the garden as they switch their diet in the winter.

But expect more in the garden as they switch their diet in the winter.

flocks is 3, which is the number we keep getting, despite having 23 Blue Tits in a mixed flock here the other day! Apart from moving from uplands in severe winters, the resident population  doesn’t move far. East coasts populations are swelled by migrants from across the North Sea. Conditions: A little brighter skies today following heavy rain through the night. Temperature: Max 14- Min 8C

Great Tits have their smart winter coats now, too- males have a wider stripe of black than females.

Great Tits have their smart winter coats now, too- males have a wider stripe of black than females.

21st November 2014

Sadly, yesterday I found this dead Goldcrest in the garden. These, our tiniest birds are coming to gardens more now we’re getting to winter. Over half a million pairs breed here but the numbers go up to 3-5 million with an influx of migrants fleeing even bleaker weather in Scandinavia- one has been found that was ringed as far away as Russia. They make landfall on the east coast, feed up and rest, and then spread out over the country. . In the past, people simply didn’t believe such a tiny bird (about 5-6 grams, the weight of a ten pence piece) could travel independently across the North Sea so it was called the ‘Woodcock Pilot’, as it was thought to hitch a ride in the feathers of

Close-up of the Goldcrest I found dead yesterday

Close-up of the Goldcrest I found dead yesterday

I think the Goldcrest died from disease

I think the Goldcrest died from disease

This shows its crest and it has aa bright orange-red inside it's beak, faded a little here.

This shows its crest and it is a bright orange-red inside it’s beak, faded a little here.

Long claws help it hang and manoeuvre  on branches and twigs as it uses its thin beak to get at tiny, hidden insects in conifers

Long claws help it hang and manoeuvre on branches and twigs as it uses its thin beak to get at tiny, hidden insects in conifers

migrating Woodcock! It felt even lighter than I imagined- the weight of eggs laid by a female in one brood outweighs the normal weight of its body. I also hadn’t realise how bright orange the inside of its beak is (it has faded a little since it died but you can still see it in the photo). Its thin beak is ideal for picking small insects out of pine-needles and crevices. Their sweet song is so high-pitched many older people can’t register the sound. They do have high mortality rates, like most small birds, and this one looked as though it has a disease, but keep looking- they are about. Sian has just seen one in her garden. Conditions: A cooler, cloudy day, with a little breeze and rain moving in in the afternoon. Temperature: Max 8- Min 7C.

29th November 2014

More about Yew Trees- some individual trees are thought to be the oldest living plants in Northern Europe. At least 500 churchyards in England are thought to have Yew Trees that pre-date their Church. From very early times Yews were seen as symbols of immortality, and have many rituals and powers associated with them. Yew branches were carried on Palm Sunday and at funerals. They were also thought to be planted on the graves of plague victims, to purify and protect the dead. The wood of Yew is very hard and beautifully marked. It is used by woodworkers to make bowls and many pieces of furniture, and its qualities have been prized by many cultures- a Yew spearhead was unearthed in Clacton, dating back 450,000 years. Longbows were made of Yew. Typical of old Yews, the photo’s (courtesy of Lynn) are from a great Yew in the churchyard next to the village I was born in- Crowhurst,  Sussex.  In 1680 this tree was measured by one John Aubrey- the girth was 33 feet at the base and 27 feet four feet up. It is thought to be at least 1300 years old. Conditions: Occasional bright spells in a cloudy, dry day. Temperature: Max 10- Min 7C.

Yew Trunk at Crowhurst

Yew Trunk at Crowhurst, Sussex

Part of the trunk of the ancient Crowhurst Oak

Part of the trunk of the ancient Crowhurst Oak