To complete the common finches in winter, here are the colourful Greenfinch and Bullfinch. Greenfinch males are dulller in winter but, as the ones in the photo’s show,
Beautiful male Bullfinch the other day
Female Bullfinch in winter
Male Greenfinch, looking duller here, in winter plumage.
they are still striking. They are suffering from a parasitic disease which affects their ability to feed, and from the general loss of seeds on farmland, so need our feeders to support them through winter. They often turn up in mixed flocks, benefitting from other birds ability to seek out food-sources. Bullfinches have a more varied diet so tend to do better through winter. They will eat seeds from birch, rowan, bramble, heather, nettle, ash and many other sources. Their ability to digest cellulose means they can also feed on buds– favouring fruit trees in the wild and cultivated. Conditions: Some flurries of snow, dummy intervals and showers. Temperature: Max 4- Min 1c.
Greenfinches feed in mixed flocks more in winter
Chaffinches are our second most common breeding bird and are found all over the British Isles. They even become quite tame where food is served outside. In winter our native population is swelled by migrants from Northern Europe and Scandinavia, though most of the influx are females. Chaffinches, which can live to the ripe old age of 14, become duller-coloured in winter though, as can be seen in these photo’s from a
Male Chaffinch’s heads become much brighter blue than this in the breeding season.
All the colours are paler in winter
couple of days ago, even in winter the males are still very colourful birds. Their caps are greyer, only becoming pure blue as their feathers moult for the breeding season. In the 1800’s males were kept in cages and used in a gambling singing competition, a pastime thankfully no longer pursued! Conditions: A dry, sunny, cold day. Temperature: Max 3, Min 0c.
Winter or summer, male or female, the wing pattern, with its white flashes, is always distinctive in Chaffinches.
Yesterday in the hail at Old Moor the Goldfinches were wonderful, so, having struggled through lovely snow on the way to the station to come back to Sussex today, I’ll let the Goldfinches speak for themselves. Conditions: Snow overnight and through the morning, looking great. Temperature: Max 2 Min -2 C.
Several Goldfinch were feeding in the Old Moor garden, some squabbling!
All year round Goldfinches are stunning
Yellowhammers today:- a favourite bird, the Yellowhammer can be found throughout the UK, except for Highlands and parts of the Pennines, which makes it lucky to have so
A male Yellowhammer over-wintering on ‘Tree Sparrow Farm’ at Old Moor
Yellowhammers will concentrate on seeds in winter when insects are harder to find
Even in their duller winter colouring Yellowhammers are beautiful striated
In winter they feed in mixed flocks, appropriately here they are with Tree Sparrows at Tree Sparrow Farm!
many overwintering at Old Moor RSPB reserve near Barnsley. Amongst the showers of hail, and battered by gusty wind, we saw many birds here today but the Yellowhammers were the biggest treat. In winter they feed on seeds, in mixed flocks with other small birds, and are less brightly coloured than in the breeding season, but the males are still beautiful, as I hope these photos show. (They are fairly timid so were quite a long way away, hence the slight blurring!). Now on the endangered Red List due to changing farming practices, they rarely come to bird-tables, even in rural areas. Yellowhammers are one of the Buntings, and the name is thought to derive from the German for Bunting- ‘ammer’, so I read anyway! The Yellow bit speaks for itself, even in winter. Conditions: Gusty wind, hail showers and sunny intervals with snow due overnight. Temperature: Max 7- Min 0C.
Coots, which can be seen in almost any area of water, including all the local parks, behave differently in winter. A few leave the uk for warmer climes and many join our population from Scandinavia but they are hardly ever seen flying because they do their migrations at night. Native Coots only move a little way, from their breeding grounds, joining with others to form big flocks as I saw the other day on Pett Levels, near Hastings. There must’ve been at least 150 together, feeding off the grass like sheep and all running off together when disturbed- very funny to watch. They favour deep waterways like canals and ditches in winter and , as well as eating grass and
Coot with its distinctive white forehead.
A bird of prey spooked 150 Coot (not all in shot) and they all ran off together, but none took to the air to escape.
Coots typically flock together over winter.
vegetation, they dive for insects and their larvae. Coots numbers increased once their eggs were no longer gathered, in huge quantities, for human consumption. It’s not too late to do the RSPB Garden Birdwatch if you haven’t already spent an hour recording the birds in your garden. It doesn’t matter how many birds you get, it is the recording of species over time that is important- details of how to do it on the RSPB website. Conditions: Milder, with cloud and some sunny intervals. Temperature: Max 7- Min 4 c.
Returning to Turnstones, to show their wonderful camouflage on Rye Harbour shingle beach, yesterday. 13 were feeding along the waters edge (see if you can spot them), where these over-wintering birds love to feed all round our coasts, revealed by dog walkers who disturbed them. I don’t have a zoom lens down here so the photo’s aren’t great but I just sat on the shingle and they returned, without fear, to feed a few feet
Thirteen Turnstones feeding along the waterline and shingle!
A dog disturbs the 13 Turnstones- Hastings cliffs and Fairlight in the distance
away from me. I know Sheffield is not a good place for access to the coast! Although we are only 29 metres above sea level at out lowest point (the lovely Blackburn Meadows Nature Reserve) but we are nearly 60 miles from the nearest beach! However, wherever you live, if you can get to a beach this winter you are almost bound to be near some Turnstones. Whether you see them or not will depend on how well you keep your eyes peeled- feeding on shingle, or seaweed piles, they are easy to miss. Conditions: A milder day, dry and cloudy. Temperature: Max 8- Min 6C.
Gradually the Turnstones returned to feed very nearby
They find food along the waters edge, as the tide goes in or out.
Cuttlefish and Cockleshells from beach combing at Rye Harbour Nature Reserve in East Sussex on a gloriously sunny day today. This Cuttle ‘bone’ is actually a sort of internal skeleton,
I didn’t arrange these shells, they were just washed up among the shingle of Rye Harbour like this
made of calcium, which helps the structure and the buoyancy of the animal. Cuttlefish, relatives of squid, spent their days buried on the seabed and then jet-propel themselves, by syphoning water through their body, at night when feeding. The ‘bones’ end up washed up on the shore and have been used by humans over centuries – ground up for a polishing powder, used in toothpaste, used as an antacid, put in bird-cages to sharpen budgies beaks, and, due to their ability to be carved very finely, used as molds for delicate metal-casting, including the casting of jewellery. Cockles are gathered for food for humans, as well as providing food for some seabirds. They are small, salt-water clams. The phrase ‘warm the cockles of your heart’ may either come from a 15th century belief in their medicinal properties or from the supposed
Cuttlefish internal skeleton that washes up on beaches once the Cuttlefish has died.
resemblance of the hearts chambers to the shape of cockleshells. Conditions: Apparently a little less sunny in Sheffield than the continuous blue-skies in Sussex but a fine day. Temperature : Max 6- Min 1c.
Shelduck and Egyptian Geese are related. The Shelduck is between the size of a Mallard and a goose, and has very bold and distinctive colouring , so is quite easy to identify. The males and females are similarly coloured, but the male has a protuberance at the top of its bill. The female is a little smaller than the male. They can be found on coasts, estuaries and inland on reservoirs and gravel-pits, in most parts of the UK. Their Latin name ‘Tadorna Tadorna’ derives from a Celtic word meaning ‘pied’.
Shelduck showing their whit and bottle-green plumage with the easily identifiable tan collar.
Shelducks white, dark green and tan colouring, and large size, makes them easy to identify in flight.
They nest in rabbit-holes, hollow trees and haystacks! Shelducks numbers increased slightly after 1965 but they are still on the amber list. The related Egyptian Goose was bred here for ornamental collections and has escaped and started to breed in the wild, especially in the east of England, where we saw these two on a bird reserve. Conditions: Cool, with growing cloud and light rain. Temperature: Max 3- Min 2c.
The related Egyptian Goose has escaped from ornamental collections and about 1,000 pairs now breeds in the wild
The snow started around 8p.m. yesterday and carried on all day today– these photo’s speak for themselves (though unfortunately it never really got bright). Fox paw-prints were everywhere but we didn’t catch a glimpse in the day.
Several Chaffinches came to the food- this females is enjoying a sunflower seed.
Flocks of Tits came through every few minutes to stock up against the cold.
Conditions: Snowy, low cloud all day. Temperature: Max 2- Min 0.
Robin climbing the snow heap
Blackbird eyeing the food scraps
Pheasants- There are various theories about when these beautiful birds were introduced here from Asia, but the most popular is that Roman officers brought them to breed for food. The first written record is of King Harold offering pheasants rather than the usual partridges to the canons of Waltham Abbey as a privilege of their office, in 1059.
Beautiful markings of male Pheasant
Male Pheasant showing the long tail feathers
There is also a record of the monks of Rochester Abbey receiving 16 pheasants, 30 Geese, 300 Hens, 1,000 Lampreys (now scarce) and 1,000 eggs from Bishop Randulfus in 1089, the relative numbers suggesting Pheasants were prized and still quite rare at that time. Imagine this though- a record of 1465 says Neville, Archbishop of York, had an inauguration banquet including 200 pheasants, 12 porpoises and seals, 104 peacocks, and 400 swans! It wasn’t till the mid-19th century that they were bred in huge numbers for game-shoots on estates. From then, they have ‘escaped’, naturalised and spread far and wide– there are now millions of Pheasants over most of the UK, except the far north. We even get them in our garden, in the depths of urban Sheffield, from time to time. Conditions: A dry, cold, still day with light cloud. Temperature: Max 2, Min -3 C.