Hawfinch– if, like me, you have never seen our rarest finch (hence the need to draw it- no photo’s) then this winter may be your best chance. Our small, native population has been boosted by 1,000’s rather than the usual 100’s of winter migrants from their main over-wintering areas of Romania and Germany, which have a bad harvest of their favoured fruits and seeds, while we have an unusually high harvest this year. Shy birds, they particularly favour Hornbeam and Yew but you may even see them in your garden. Conditions: Forecast snow beginning to fall- I’ve just put some water out for the birds- crucial during icy spells. Temperature: Max 1 Min -2C.
Chaffinches from Scandinavia begin to double our native populations now. As usual, we have more female than male, which is due to differential migration. The 18th Century naturalist, Linnaeus, noticed this when he gave them their scientific name, Fringilla Coelebs. Coelebs means ‘unmarried’ and in his home Scandinavia he noted more males than females over winter, assuming they were bachelors. Males are more dominant in winter, and can forage for food better in colder areas, so females are more likely to migrate West to find enough food. However, female Chaffinches dominate in summer. Conditions: Mild and cloudy with heavy rain and strong winds moving in tonight. Temperature: Max 10- Min 8C.
Now most leaves have dropped, and the weather is getting colder, the Goldcrest reappears, or at least gets more visible, in our garden. The UK’s smallest bird, weighing the same as a 20 pence piece, this insect-eater will struggle to find enough food in daylight hours for the next few months, but that means it will sometimes come to a birdtable for fat, or search your plants for tiny insects, so keep your eyes peeled- it is the easiest time to spot them. Conditions: Cloudy with some rain. Temperature: Max 13- Min 11C.
As colder times rapidly reduce the availability of insects and invertebrates for food, many birds turn to seeds, nuts and berries to stay alive. Many plants have developed a strong interdependence with birds. Juniper seeds, an endangered wild plant in the UK, actually germinate better after passing through a bird’s gut. Jays gather and hide as many as 5,000 acorns a year per bird, to retrieve later when food s scarce. They can carry 9 in their crop in one sortie! The fact that they do not retrieve them all means Oak trees are able to germinate away from the parent Oak. Conditions: low cloud and drizzle down south. Temperature: Max 10, Min 6C
The pair of Ring-necked (or Rose-ringed) Parakeets were back in the garden today, looking very elegant in the low sunlight- and unusually quiet. These birds, natives of West Africa and Lowland India, escaped or were released from captivity in the 1970’s and mostly colonise the south east, but we have had them for a couple of years in our Sheffield garden. The RSPB don’t support a cull yet, until proper research has been done on their impact on native species. It is the ear-piercing screeching that is the biggest problem her so far! Conditions: Sunny intervals. Temperature: Max 10- Min 7C.
My first Redwing sighting in the garden this year, shows these small, beautiful winter migrants from the Thrush family must be arriving from Scandinavia and Eastern Europe, in numbers. Named from the smudge of rusty-red feathers beside the wings, they travel in small flocks. You can see this one calling to others nearby, in one photo- note its yellow tongue. Look out in hedgerows, supermarket carparks and anywhere where berries survive, and you may see Redwing, sometimes in mixed flocks with Fieldfare and native Thrushes. Conditions: After a glorious, sunny day, a windy, cloudy one, like much of the year which has seen very mixed weather. Temperature: Max 14- Min 8C.
Autumn fruits and nuts- it’s that time of year again, and the gale-force winds may have brought Conkers, Acorns, Chestnuts, Hazel Nuts down yesterday/today so here’s a reminder of the things you may get a close-up view of- and if it includes Sweet Chestnuts, you may even get a feast to take home and bake, roast or make into great soup with lentils. Conditions: Calming down in Sheffield after a wild night of tail-of-the-hurricane winds. Temperature: Max 14- Min 9C.