Category Archives: Birds

Thoughts in June

Buttercup with Oedemera nobilisOut and about with Zeb and Lulu there are buttercups everywhere, pale pink wild roses and hawthorn blooming, clover and hogweed, dandelions and buttercups, the usual parade of summer white frothy stuff and yellow frothy stuff in the parks and meadows, the bluebells were very early this year and the wild garlic has vanished back underground once more. The leaves are becoming less translucent and more opaque by the day as the tenderness of May gives way to the humidity and high sun of June. Continue reading

Garden Birds – Jackdaws and Feeders

Chimney Breast through Silver Birch

This chimney breast with its nice little triangular entrances is a perfect home for any bird that likes to live up at roof level and raise its young.  It’s dry and defendable and has a great outlook. I can see the back of this house from my house, it is in an adjoining road. I guess they don’t use their chimney.

We used to see swifts return in May and swoop into this chimney breast to raise a brood over summer, they would eat the flies, never came down to the ground at all and we enjoyed them careering around the sky through the summer months before they left for Africa in the autumn. One year however,  they came back to find that a family of jackdaws had moved in and they had lost their summer home.  We were sad, not a particularly rational sadness because that is the nature of things but sad nonetheless.

I think I can see something not good happening down there in that garden...

I think I can see something not good happening down there in that garden…

The jackdaws are quite polite birds, from a human perspective, they don’t bully the other birds that much, they don’t make that much of a mess, but they are very very keen on hoovering out the contents of the seed feeder that we put up and I am concerned that if they have such a large and ever available supply of food on their doorstep they will lay more eggs, raise bigger broods and before we know it we will just have twice as many as now.

I think she's been reading blogposts about bird feeders, oh crikey!

I think she’s been reading blogposts about bird feeders, oh crikey!

The whole feeding wild life in the garden issue is fraught with potential issues.

I will list some of them here:

  • you create an artificial food source and the population swells, you stop feeding for some reason, the creatures starve as they can’t find other food:
  • you don’t clean and disinfect the feeders which become intensively visited and therefore parasites and disease pass easily from one bird to the next;
  • you feed the wrong types of food and they get ill: you feed whole peanuts which get fed to fledglings which then choke; you get all sorts of strange things growing under the feeders which have rooted and maybe are not what you want growing in your garden;
  • you get guano where the birds sit and wait for their turn on the feeders;
  • you get mice and rats visiting if there is lots of food being dropped on the ground;
  • you get birds that, for your own ‘human’ reasons you don’t like, or just too many of one sort and you start to think of Hitchcock and The Birds,  you get crows and feral pigeons, or starlings in large numbers whilst lamenting the photogenic goldfinch or the endangered tree sparrow;
  • you have a small dog who eats any fat the birds chuck about and gets very ill indeed;
  • you get cats and sparrowhawks lying in wait for the birds and predating them and then you get to see nature red in tooth and claw and to a tender-hearted soul this is not a pretty sight;
  • you get blackbirds ‘stealing’ your precious homegrown fruit, (Zeb guards the one little blueberry bush from the blackbird and gets very cross with it).
I am going to check this out right away...

I am going to check this out right away…

In short, the catalogues that bounce through our letter box with pretty bird feeders gleaming in the sunlight festooned with little birds being fed by our bountiful kindness doesn’t paint the whole story; many people give up feeding the birds when they come across these issues and I can’t say I blame them at all.

I've brought you some bread dear, but I am afraid it is bad news...

I’ve brought you some bread dear, but I am afraid it is bad news…

Stubbornly though we like to feed the birds and have them in the garden, we like to hear their songs and see them fly about, they are a key component of what makes a garden a garden for us but we have cut back on what and how we feed.

We have one small feeder with niger seed for the goldfinches and a taller one for the smaller birds and a ground feeder with a cage over it for those who prefer to hop in.  We don’t feed fat pellets any more, but mainly a mix of seeds, corn and dried mealworms.

I am not very impressed with that bread dear, is it sourdough?

I am not very impressed with that bread dear, is it sourdough?

Yesterday while watching the jackdaws doing their hoovering trick once more I looked on the internet and found At Last a Pigeon Proof Bird-Feeder by Ianvisits with its delightful illustrations.

I do love you anyway, even if the fast food bar is closed!

I do love you anyway, even if the fast food bar is closed!

We purchased a pair of hanging baskets, fixed them together with cable ties and have attempted to put sticks in at angles in the style of Ian’s post. It has temporarily baffled the jackdaws and the smaller birds are delighted. The jackdaws are smart birds though and I am not counting on them not finding a way to get the seed out.

There is a dunnock in here if you look closely!

There is a dunnock in here if you look closely!

In the meantime dunnock, robin, chaffinches, blue tits, great tits and goldfinches and all the smallies are having a great time!

Who is this? A little puzzle!

This is the trouble with hot nights. One reads one’s friends’ blogs. One wanders off across the internet to other blogs, and before you know it, you are making jigsaw puzzles.

Thanks to Time Thief and Panos and the jigsawsite (links below). You are so generous with your knowledge and make it easy for people like me to play and have fun late at night.

So just this once, here is a jigsaw puzzle on the blog, and it is not a poodle..

Online jigsaw puzzles from JigsawSite.com

and now the voice that speaks on the computer and calls out the half hour in an attempt to make me not sit here for too long tells me it’s 1 a.m. So hot or not I had better try to get some sleep.

… no spoilers…

Helpful tips (added following morning) : The puzzle has 25 pieces, is a square and the finished puzzle takes up maybe a 1/4 to a 1/3 of the frame and you can use the buttons at the top to stop and start and rewind I think. And I love you whatever your time or even if you don’t do it at all. It’s only for fun! PS It doesn’t work on an iPad, I don’t lnow if it only works on a desktop computer, sorry if you can’t see it. I will put the photo in a post tomorrow, Joanna

Where’s my Lunch?

Wild garlic flowers

Down in the woods where the garlic and the bluebells line the banks of the Trym the unnamed stream runs under a little bridge; there you can find  a couple of fledgling grey wagtails – Motacillia cinerea – who are working extremely hard at the business of being baby birds.  This seems to consist of a lot of sitting and squeaking and keeping a very close eye on your parents and flying into the scrub when there is too much noise and activity on the banks.

Our little woodland is so well used with all the enthusiastic dogs running around that I am quite honestly surprised and overjoyed to see these babies. The wagtails offer a flash of colour from their bright yellow underparts as they trek up and down the stream all winter, looking for insects and other food and are surprisingly unbothered by the dogs and the visitors.  I think I wrote once before that maybe these particular birds have learnt to associate mammals with their food source, as flies congregate round fresh faeces, and that they see the dogs as part of their food chain, who knows? We have had them visit the garden once or twice and always for that reason.

It isn’t an easy bird to photograph, unlke a nice sedate swan or duck, the adult very rarely stands still and even when it is stopped for a moment on a stone or on the bank, its distinctive long tail is bobbing up and down.  The grey wagtail has grey upperparts and a yellow vent, a broken eye ring and a white supercillium.

The one most of us see in the cities in England is the pied wagtail, which turns up quite often on city streets, in car parks, and shopping centres with its distinctive black and white plumage.

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I have seen grey wagtails like these on flat roofs behind office buildings, but there always has to be a big puddle or something like that there. They are birds of the water’s edge feeding on flies, mayflies, beetles, crustacea and molluscs according to Wikipedia – I wonder if they eat the leeches that live under the stones.

jo's effortThis was my best effort, what is politely called a ‘record shot’ because it allows you to identify the bird with reasonable certainty but it certainly won’t win any prizes! My camera is simply not fast enough to catch them on the move. I have just added it as a thumbnail so you can click on it to see it bigger if you want to see it.

I asked Brian to have a go at taking some photos yesterday and these are the results. He used a Canon EOS IV. way too heavy for me. The birds are surprisingly well camouflaged against the stones and the lichens and the rippling water as it runs over the rocks.  It was easiest to photograph the babies as they stood quite still, the parent’s head is almost impossible to get in focus, most of the time, her beak was stuffed with flies and food and that also creates a blurred look to her head.

At one point three primary school groups appeared to do pond dipping as well. It is all go down there!

Grey Wagtail Fledgling

“If I stand here I will get some more food soon”

Grey Wagtail fledgling on branch

“Or maybe I should stand on this branch, I am sure I will get some food soon…”

Grey Wagtail Fledgling Calling for Food

“Hang on!!!! HANG ON!!!!  come back!  I am here – where’s that food?”

Adult grey wagtail feeding baby

“Nooo-oooo – don’t leave me!!!!”

Adult grey wagtail feeding baby

“Give it to me now, give it to me, give it to me….”

I forgot this one, which shows the male’s black bib more clearly, I think both parents feed the babies.

Male Grey Wagtail

And so it goes, parental responsbilities eh?

This post is for Rose who tweets and photographs birds but I hope you like Brian’s photos too!

There is a nice bit of film here of a pair that has nested in a lock from BBC Nature.