Mistle Thrushes have been turning up on our Rowan ‘Joseph Rock’, which I put in the garden years ago specifically because the autumn colour is so good, and the yellow berries are eaten later than the native Rowan’s red berries. They have just decided the berries are ripe for eating. They do something unusual, called ‘resource guarding’, as Sian researched recently. Some Mistle Thrushes will guard a tree, often Holly or Yew, to deter other birds from eating the berries, saving them for harder times in
Mistle Thrush on the Rowan
Mistle Thrush with its body marked throat and chest
midwinter. Resource-guarding Mistle Thrushes have been shown to breed earlier and have bigger broods than others. Conditions: Another in this spell of worryingly warm November days, with sunshine and a stiff breeze. Temperature: Max 17- Min 9c.
Sparrowhawks: As Chris Packham chose this as his favourite bird on Autumnwatch, and we have Sparrowhawks dramatically low-flying through the garden most days at present, I thought I’d post some of the photo’s we’ve taken in our Sheffield garden recently. These beautiful birds are making a recovery since the past impact of DDT and persecution, and now cover almost all of the UK, except the Highlands. Winter sees a few extra Scandinavia birds coming in, too. The BTO is studying whether their recovery is having a significant impact on passerines (perching birds) but they think this is most unlikely. One possible species affected may be Bullfinches but our experience is that we have Sparrowhawks all year round and more Bullfinches than ever. Females are larger and brown-backed, while males have grey backs. Chest colours vary. Conditions: Light cloud and gentle breeze, continuing very mild. Temperature: Max 16- Min 10c.
Lynn photographed this Sparrowhawk eating a Collared Dove in the garden
Chestnutting- One of my best early memories is of going to the local woods to gather bags and bags of chestnuts every autumn, and I did it again the other day. Sweet Chestnut trees, introduced to the UK by the Romans from their native southern Europe, seem to have a good crop this year. The lovely, deeply fissured trunks, which twist and spiral when they grow old, are also a delight. The biggest girth ever recorded for any tree was a Sweet Chestnut, recorded in Sicily with a girth of a staggering 204 feet (62 metres)! While I love eating the nuts raw or roasted, they have been ground for flour and even ground for starch for laundry in parts of Europe. Conditions: A cool and dry, cloudy day, a little more seasonal following exceptionally warm
The toothed leaves of Sweet Chestnut turn beautiful colours in autumn
The best Chestnuts to peel and eat raw are those with white bases
The central tree here is a Chestnut. Their barks, smooth and grey when young become deeply fissured as they age
Ripening Chestnuts a bit earlier in the autumn
weather. Temperature: Max 11- Min 9c.
Curlew– our largest wader, present during the autumn and winter on all UK coasts, and calling its evocative bubbling call today at Pett Levels, through the mist. They feed mostly on invertebrates, by touch, as they use their long, curved beaks to probe the mud and sand. 150,000 birds overwinter on our coasts, and there were several busy feeding here today. Their call has clearly been enjoyed for centuries, as recorded in a manuscript from AD 1,000 and probably written earlier:- The Seafarer: “I take my gladness in the cry of the Gannet/ And the sound of the Curlew, instead of the laughter of men”. Conditions: Heavy fog, clearing for a time to blue skies and warm air before defending again later. Temperature: Max 17- Min 11c.
Tree Sparrows are at last having a bit of a revival, if only in people’s gardens, the BTO report this week. Once pretty common, Tree Sparrows have declined over the past few decades but more people are reporting them coming to their feeders- not us, sadly- these were competing with Greenfinches at the feeders at Old Moor, Barnsley, the other day. Their black cheek-spot and brown caps distinguish them from House Sparrows, which have grey caps and a much bigger grey bib. Conditions: A worryingly warm, sunny day for the first of November, though here on the seafront at Bexhill the mist swept in rapidly, obscuring everything, in the afternoon. Temperature: Max 15- Min 9c.