Kestrels: Once our most numerous bird of prey, Kestrels have declined and Buzzards have increased and are now number one! Yesterday when, taking our van out for a run, it broke down (sorted by rescue). We were therefore delighted when this one flew in near the lane we parked up on. Kestrels use high perches to hunt from, especially in winter when they need to preserve energy, as their characteristic hovering uses far more energy. This one didn’t stay long, so we occupied ourselves waiting for roadside rescue by playing scrabble we had in the van, but it was lovely to watch this one, probably looking out for a small rodent, like a vole, by far their most frequent food source, though they will eat earthworms, large insects, even sparrows in cities. Kestrels were
Beady eyed Kestrel
reserved for the lower status Knaves in medieval falconry, larger hawks being reserved for Knights. Hieararchies have been around for a very long time! Conditions: Another frosty, bright, dray day. Temperature: Max 2 Min 0C.
Mallard numbers are increasing and you can see them on almost any stretch of water, in fact they may be becoming a bit too dominant but nevertheless, they are worth watching. I have covered a few birds washing habits this year and non is more enthusiastic in its dunking style than the Mallard. Also, watch out for them ‘asleep’. They can sleep with one eye open, meaning one brain hemisphere is alert while the other sleeps. Not a bad adaptive behaviour! Conditions: More grey, damp days. Temperature: Max 9 Min 2C.
Mallard washing on the Don, Sheffield
Mallard washing, Sheffield Centre
Male Mallard, drying out on the Don
Female Mallard washing
Winter Thrushes– a survey of the six members of our Thrush family took place at the beginning of this decade. The six members are: Blackbird, Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush, Ring Ouzel, and the winter visitors from Scandinavia, Europe and Iceland, the Redwing and Fieldfare. All species have shown a decline in the last forty years We have begun to see a few of the winter visitors among our resident population of Song and Mistle Thrush, and Blackbird in the garden. All love the berries on our ‘Joseph Rock’ Rowan. One of the findings of the survey bears out the importance of all berries, including Ivy, for the Thrush family in autumn and winter: feeding on trees and bushes begins to reduce around now, as fruits and berries decline, in favour of ground feeding, where all these birds can be seen rummaging around in the topsoil and turning over leaves to expose worms, Snails and invertebrates so plant trees and shrubs with late berries, keep the Ivy growing up a wall, tree or hedge, let it flower and berry, and don’t pick up all the leaves as they make a microclimate for insects and
bugs which feed our winter birds. Conditions: Dank, drab days of rain and cloud. Temperature: Max 11 Min 7C.
Overwintering Blackcaps– Yesterday was a first for us in our Sheffield garden- not that we had overwintering Blackcap, as we do see them eating berries in the garden most winters now, but that we had this female Blackcap (only males have a black cap) feeding from our fat-filled coconut and off the scraps that fell from a Great Spotted Woodpecker feeding messily on fat. It is only since the 1960’s that this warbler, known colloquially as the ‘Northern Nightingale’ because of its beautiful,
melodious song, has been seen overwintering in the UK and it is thought that one main case is the food we now put out in so many areas of the country. This new pattern is predicted as eventually evolving it into a separate species from those that overwinter in Spain. Conditions: Thick cloud and rain showers. Temperature: Max 8 Min6C.
The light wasn’t great for photo’s when the Redwing, the female Blackcap and the female Parakeet turned up over the last few days to feast on what remains of the yellow berries on our Joseph Rock Rowan but the presence of such a range of birds drawn into the garden by one late-berrying tree like this really shows its value, even whe
n the brilliantly coloured autumn leaves have been blown away (thanks to recent Northerly winds, not all into our garden !). Any birds arriving now have to be acrobatic, as the only berries left are at the extreme tips of the boughs. Blackbirds manage it but not much else. Conditions: A welcome dry spell, with a frost on Monday night. Temperature: Max 6 Min 1C.
Jay, partly showing its crest
We have been enjoying frequent visits to our garden lately from two Jays, often harrying each other away from their favourite perches and this one was collecting peanuts from next door’s feeder and coming into our Rowan, holding a peanut in its claws and pecking away at it. This is a good time of year to see these birds, as they finish off the acorn crop and come looking for nuts, and more visible as the leaf cover disappears. A member of the Crow family, but not as gregarious, their Latin name describes them well: Garrulus ( it has a piercing and unnerving shriek of a call) Glandarius, after the Latin for Oak, this bird, as it caches hundreds of acorns in a good year, revealing a great memory in reminding them through winter, it luckily for us always missing some, which helps spread our wonderful Oak trees as they germinate. Conditions: A weekend of dull, still weather with intermittent rain. Temperature: Max 7 Min 3c.
The Woodcock Moon– a friend reminded me today (thanks Jude) that the wonderful full moon we have had is called the Woodcock Moon, based on a long-held belief that the thousands of Woodcock, which travel thousands of miles at this time of year from Latvia and Scandinavia to our eastern shores, use the November full moon to navigate. The jury is our but they certainly arrive in numbers now. It reminded me of an ancient belief, certainly not true, that the migrating Goldcrests and Firecrests, our smallest birds, the native population of which is swelled by similar long-distance journeys over the North Sea, rode on the back of Woodcock. No-one could believe this tiny bird could fly that far in such conditions on their own- but they do. Conditions: Another worryingly wet day, especially for areas of Lincolnshire and South Yorkshire already under 10 inches of floodwater. Temperature: Max 4 Min 3c.
Goosanders on the swollen Don: as promised yesterday, here are some of the beautiful small flock of Goosander we watched on the river Don on Sunday, a couple of days after it became flooded. The waters had receded but were still in spate, and these lovely birds were riding the waves on what is usually a slow-flowing river. In June we watched a similar number of the sociable Goosander son a sea loch on Orkney but for winter they can be seen on reservoirs and estuaries, only coming south of the Humber at this time of year. Goosander are one of the saw-bill family of ducks, so named because of the
Male Goosander on the Don
Female Goosander, riding the waves on the Don in spate
Serrated edges to their bills, which enable them to catch and hold fish- let’s hope the floods haven’t spoiled the fish levels on the Don right now and that they can survive here as more rains are due over the next few days. Conditions: rain and sun, squally day, with some snow showers in nearby Stocksbridge this morning Temperature : Max 8 Min 1c.
Worryingly swiftly flowed the Don still, yesterday, though at least ten feet lower than it reached on Thursday and Friday and, at least for our part of town, though not for Meadowhall or parts of Rotherham and Doncaster, the flood defences seem to have prevented the extreme floods of 2007. Some of the preventive islands had been overturned by the force of the swell and there will be much cleaning up of plastic, debris, trees and branches even where the banks didn’t overflow onto houses and roads. Happily we did see quite a lot of bird-life ( more of this tomorrow) and caught beautiful glimpses of Kingfishers which had obviously survived alright. In early summer, such swollen waters would have drowned their nests. Let’s hope the recently arrived Otters survived too.
The Don still raging in parts near the city centre
One of the islands built to slow the run-off, oveturned by the force of the flood
Mass of sticks and debris at least ten feet above the river, following the floodwaters
Three days after the rains, the water still flows powerfully
We are out on the extreme East coast, at Spurn Point Nature Reserve and it is wild, windy and wet, so here are some Dark-bellied Brent Geese that we have been watching and listening to over the last few days, days which have see-sawed between wild and wet, and calm and bright. These beautiful, small geese (a little larger than Mallard) have migrated here, in family groups, from the boggy arctic tundra of Russia, where they breed. 91,000 Dark-bellied Brent geese migrate to marshes and coastal farmland along our East and South coasts before making their way back, via the Baltic coasts, to the arctic by June, as the ice begins to thaw. Whether this pattern will be sustained as global warming changes the nature of the tundra and the shapes of our coasts is in question-walking the land-edge yesterday there were many places where the low ‘cliff’ had been recently eroded by several metres, and Spurn Point itself now gets partially underwater at high tide. It is also an irony that The Brent Goose ‘gave’ its name to the vast ‘Brent System’ oilfield that extracts
Dark-bellied Brent Goose
Dark-bellied Brent Geese
Dark-bellied Brent Geese
oil from the North Sea and pipes it ashore in Shetland. Conditions: Torrential rain, and high NE winds. Temperature: Max 9 Min 7C.