Grey Wagtail on the Don– the other day we were also lucky enough to get a good view of the lovely, lively Grey Wagtail which frequents fast rivers and streams. In winter some move to more lowland rivers but this one was busy flitting along the river, landing and pecking at midges and insects in the shallow water, as Grey Wagtails do. Now on the amber list so at some risk, it is so good to see these delicate birds, with their long, bobbing tail and bright yellow underside
The Grey Wagtail feeds in shallow water on insects, tadpoles and snails
, in the middle of a heavy industrial area. Sometimes they even come to our garden pond in winter. Conditions: Much rain on a
Grey Wagtail showing its grey back and white flashes on the tail
Like all wagtails, the Grey has a long, narrow tail
mild day. Temperature: Max 11- Min 5c.
Kingfisher on the Don: This industrial part of the Don, with just a few spronky bits of growth sticking out from the wall, was the place we watched a beautiful female Kingfisher this afternoon. The sun wasn’t shining, and the bird was on the far side of the river so a bit out of range for close-ups but here are some views of the brilliant plumage, visible by eye as she sat, resting, beside the fast flowing river. Kingfishers, especially the bright streak of turquoise down their backs, always shine as though the sun is lighting them up. Females have an orange lower beak. Conditions: Chilly breeze, rain easing to cloud. Temperature: Max 11- Min 2c.
The Kingfisher was just this side of the bridge, on the left
The female Kingfisher has a red/orange underside to its beak
As she turned, the bright turquoise streak down her back really shone like this
This shows the long beak and the short tail typical of Kingfishers
On the walk back she was sitting just through the other side of the bridge
More Woodpecker facts: hitting a tree-trunk at 18-22 times a second, with an impact 100 times the force that would cause us brain damage, the woodpecker has many special adaptions to protect it. Smoother brains, more tightly packed inside the skull, with less fluid around them, all reduce the movement, vibration and shock the brain goes through on hitting the wood. Spongy bones in the head, and very strong but elastic beaks also reduce the trauma and a special structure attached to their
Female Great Spotted Woodpecker today
Several special adaptations protect woodpeckers brains from trauma
tongue further reduces vibration. These facts have only been discovered since the invention of high-speed photography, but are being used to develop new materials that should help protect many things, from airplane black-boxes, and sportspeople’s brains, from trauma and damage on impact. Conditions: A cool day with breezes, showers and sunny intervals. Temperature: Max 7- Min 2c.
Snowdrops seem to be having a brilliant year this year, in the garden and naturalised. There are 75 different varieties of this wonderful early spring flower, and they multiply over the years so are well worth planting. They do not grow well when bought as dry bulbs, but do if bought and planted ‘in the green’, or if divided up in this state
A longer-stemmed, more delicate variety than the normal Snowdrop, planted in a local graveyard
Penhurst Graveyard in Sussex is bright with Snowdrops right now
(that is, when the flowers have faded but the leaves are still alive). This is a slightly quicker and more effective way than the means of propagation I mentioned last spring- waiting for ants to do the job for you! Ants are attracted to the substance round Snowdrop seeds, carrying them off to provide food for their emerging young. The young eat the seed-coating and then the seeds develop, which helps the plant spread further afield. Conditions: Dry, followed by rain. Temperature: Max 5, Min 2c.
Back in Sussex: Robins have established their territories by now but the males will still sing from key look-out points, to keep the territory held and keep rivals at bay. This one was also displaying by flicking its wings and tail, and fluffing its body up. Conditions: A gloomy day with a cold breeze and rain. Temperature: Max 8- Min 3c.
Robin singing to hold its newly created territory.
It fluffs its body up to look bigger and more intimidating
Fluffed up, and flicking its tail and wings adds to the Robin’s demonstration of ‘ownership’ of it’s territory
Nuthatches: It’s a pleasure to feature a bird that is doing so well it is expanding it’s territories into more gardens and further North in the UK. In fact it is one of the birds on the Green List. It is also a frequent visitor to bird-feeders, where it demonstrates it’s ability to move up and down when looking for food– whether on a bird-feeder or a tree-trunk! Nuthatches don’t move far from their breeding grounds in winter but, with insects being less available, they change their diet to eat more seeds, nuts and fruits. Their flexibility is part of their success, feeding on a wide range of common tree-seeds, including Ash, Oak, Hornbeam and Sycamore, as well as peanuts, seeds and fat put out by us. They also increase their chance of surviving winter by caching seeds in crevices in bark, covering the seeds with small pieces of bark, lichen or moss, to return to when food is harder to come-by. If you have two visit, they are probably a pair because Nuthatches usually pair up and establish territories by early autumn. Condition: A cool breeze and very blue sky. Temperature: Max 8, Min 4c.
This beautiful Nuthatch has unusual feathers on its rump. The ‘bandit’ mask is very noticeable in this shot.
Hedgehog Box at Old Moor
Nest Box Week– if you are able to do some DIY but can’t get on the garden at this time of the year, there are lots of possibilities in addition to Bird Boxes. Bat boxes are even easier to make and how about this Hedgehog Box at Old Moor. Sian and I had great fun making a much simpler one a few years ago out of scraps of wood and twigs. Or something like this insect feature in a garden we visited last year- the more insects, the more birds, anyway. Much simpler designs can be found on line, or bought from suppliers. Conditions: A mild, misty day. Temperature: Max 7- Min 5c.
An elaborate home-made insect home in a garden we visited last year.
Have you enough Bird Boxes up? Apologies for no posts lately- my cold has become sinusitis, but I’ll do a quick post today on the fact that it is National Bird Nest Box Week! Not exactly a catchy title but really worth thinking about. This is a great time of year to clean out and repair existing nest boxes or put up some new ones, in your garden or a community space. They are pretty easy to build, and the BTO or RSPB sites, among others, will give you plans for all sorts- whether for Tits, Sparrows, Robins,or bigger birds like Owls. They are also increasingly easy to buy, along with instructions about the best places to erect them. If you put them up soon, birds will have time to stake them out for the breeding season.
Sian’s bird box is an example of a pre-made one that holds a fantastic camera, for viewing or taking photos and videos through computer or tv.
This is one I built years ago to house a cheap but effective camera .
Here’s a really cheap, simple design to make, without room for a camera.
Simple ones like this, with an open window, can be used by Wrens, Robins etc.
Magpies in winter: there has been no evidence of Magpies migrating here from the Continent and evidence from ringing suggests Magpies seldom move more than 1 km from their usual territory. If you seem to see a lot more in winter it is due to their habit of flocking in groups to roost together. Their food through the winter is mostly seeds, grain and nuts- they will try to raid the nut hoards of Jays and Squirrels. They are early nest-builders and you could begin to spot them building their nests any time now. Because they are bold, you may get a chance of seeing their beautiful coloured wings in the winter sunshine. Conditions: A still, dry and often sun day. Temperature: Max 6, Min 1c.
The lovely colours on a Magpie’s wing
Magpie’s colours show up well i winter sunshine
How do birds drink? Although birds don’t sweat, they do lose water through respiration and in their droppings so need to drink at least twice a day. Most have to drink the way this Coot is drinking- dipping its bill into the water, throwing its head back and letting the water slip down its throat! Only doves and pigeons can drink continuously, with their bills kept under water. So here it is- a Coot taking a drink! Conditions: A much milder day with plenty of sunshine. Temperature: Max 8- Min 2c.
Like most birds, a Coot drinks by dipping its bill in the water
Birds carefully lift their heads with a mouthful of water, trying not to lose too many droplets- you can see a few spilling out
Finally gravity works and the water slips down the bird’s throat
Coots either do this from the bank or while swimming