21st December 2014

Winter Solstice and the shortest day. The garden has been full of birds- including panic among the Blackbirds preceding a swift but unsuccessful hunt by a Sparrowhawk. However, mid-winter seems a good time to cover one of the few insect-eating birds to overwinter in the UK. This robin-sized bird- the Stonechat– often calls attention to itself by sitting on a high branch or post above the scrub and making a sound like stones

Typical Stonechat behaviour and here, a male in summer plumage

Typical Stonechat behaviour and here, a male in summer plumage

Stonechat in paler winter plumage

Stonechat in paler winter plumage

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being struck against each other. From there It flies off to catch an insect  returning again and again to the same watch-out post. Stonechats don’t come into city gardens but look out for them any time of year if you are walking by scrubland, heath, rough grassland, on the moors or by the coast. In severe winters, like the insect-eating Wrens, their populations can suffer but they will move south or east to coasts, and forage a little on fruits and berries. Lovely strong-colours in summer, they are a little duller in winter, and females have lighter coloured heads all year round. Stonechats inspired W.H Auden in his poem ‘The Wanderer’: “….lonely as chat on fell, By pot-holed becks, A bird stone -haunting, An unquiet bird”Conditions: Breezy and fresh, mostly dry with some sun. Temperature: Max 11- Min 10c.

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