First, a very Happy New Year, and here’s hoping for a less stressful year all round.
Today a reminder about the upcoming Big Garden Birdwatch arrived through my letterbox, and I am staggered that the annual event has come around so quickly. For those who haven’t taken part in the past, it’s a simple activity. By counting the birds we see in our gardens and parks, members of the public help the RSPB to chart how well birds are doing in the UK. This has been rolled out every year for 40 years, and the data is used to monitor what is happening to bird populations. For example, house sparrow sightings have dropped by 53% since the first Birdwatch in 1979. Although they are showing signs of recovery, this and other species need to be monitored.
You choose an hour, at any time of the day on one day between the 29th and 31st January and write the highest number of each bird species that you see at any one time. The example given is “if you see a group of eight starlings together, and towards the end of the hour you see six together, please write down eight as your final count.” This is because the second bunch may be the same individuals as the first bunch, back for another visit. The purpose is to count individual birds, not individual visits. Even if someone participating in the survey sees nothing in the hour, it’s still useful information for the RSPB.
You can sign up online at https://www.rspb.org.uk/get-involved/activities/birdwatch/packrequest and results can be submitted online before 19th February or by post.
Two weeks ago, when the weekend’s occasional fluffy white clouds darkened ominously into a single charcoal mass and the skies opened and the temperature plunged, there were so many goldfinches landing in the cherry tree that they couldn’t all fit on the bird feeder. I’ve never seen so many of them, and it suggests that the entire community is larger than I had realized. Usually there are up to four or five of them, and on rare occasions six.
Eight of them were clinging on with grim determination, and occasionally a ninth and even a tenth managed to find a foothold, but soon fell or was seen off in a flurry of feathers. Others sat in the tree and waited for opportunities. There were frequent fisticuffs. Whilst harmony reined, there were occasional little sounds from the birds, but when another tried to gain a foothold the noise was raucous and discordant. Although the birdfeeder was like that all day, the video below was taken during a brief pause in the rainfall. It catches some of the fun and games, taken from indoors, so minus any of their communication. Duration 1 minute and 20 seconds.
Warfare often breaks out on the goldfinch feeder in the cherry tree. This is usually the case when the seed runs low and four or more goldfinches are attempting to beat each other off in order to gain access to the last three inches. Sometimes battle ensues because one bird is a particular bully and attempts to drive the others off to have the whole feeder to itself. It never wins – the others gang up and stand up for their rights. The signal for any dispute is a change of voice. Goldfinches chatter all the time, a light, attractive and cheerful sound that one of my bird books describes as “tinkling.” When battle ensues, the sound is a harsh, brittle, discordant squawking sound. But I had never heard the likes of the noise that emanated from the cherry tree a couple of days ago, when all hell broke loose.
I was working at my desk, and the noise was so loud, so intensely shrill and angry and issued by so many birds that I was startled, and turned round to see what on earth was going on. A greenfinch had landed. Looking robust and unwieldy by comparison with the delicate, flitting goldfinches, it attached itself firmly to the bird feeder and remained stolidly unimpressed by all the fuss. Eventually the riot eased, and a few goldfinches took up wary position on the feeder and began to resume their meals, whilst others remained perched on branches, watching. In spite of the apparent resumption of peace, there was no sound at all. The goldfinches were eating, but they weren’t happy. They were there in an uneasy state of truce for around an hour. The greenfinch left and hasn’t, as far as I know, returned.
The high winds recently have been a challenge for some of the local garden birds. When I did this video the weather was dry but wow what a gale! I had to strap my bins down with bungees to prevent them flying down the hill. I am always entertained by the way that the goldfinches take all sorts of weather in their stride, but this was particularly fun. The cherry tree looked like a whirlpool of movement, but the bird feeder was remarkably still, and the goldfinches were apparently oblivious to the the surrounding chaos, scoffing away with admirable dedication. Sadly there are only muted sounds of the wind, because I’m not daft and was safely indoors when I shot this 🙂
The RSPB‘s Big Garden Birdwatch results arrived through my letterbox today, together with a new keyboard, a vital necessity after I tipped a glass of lemon squash into my previous one on Monday, annihilating the entire bottom row of keys, and most of the upper right. Two pieces of post that made me very happy, with all due thanks to my postman for continuing to provide a brilliant service when they are under serious pressure as all of us turn to online orders.
Compared to our first 1979 survey, Big Garden Birdwatch results show declines in once common species such as greenfinch and chaffinch – mirroring the loss of wildlife in the wider countryside. Yet there are signs of hope – in the last decade numbers of some garden species, including house sparrows, goldfinches and great tits appear to have increased, showing signs of potential recovery. The version of the results sent to me was the version produced for residents in Wales, which was particularly interesting.
- House sparrows are still on top, and although numbers have been in decline since 1979, the rate of fall shows signs of slowing.
- Blue tits show a rise in numbers, and we certainly have a lot around here
- Starlings are down, although still common. They say that starlings were spotted in 80% of Welsh gardens, but I have never seen one here.
- Blackbirds, one of my real favourites, are down. Apparently a lot of chicks are lost at nesting time, and they can be helped by leaving hedges uncut and providing them with mealworms (which the robins and blue tits go crazy for too, at least in my garden)
- Chaffinches are down, but in Wales they were reported in 47% of gardens. I have seen one this year
- Great tits are 12% up over the last 10 years, and we always have plenty in Aberdovey
- Goldfinches, permanent residents in my garden are up an incredible 50% in the last decade. A group of goldfinches, incidentally, is called “a charm.”
- Long-tailed tits are on their way up. The last time I saw one was in the park over the road from my house when I lived in London. They are enchanting.
- Robins were seen in 87% of Welsh gardens (mine included) but overall have fallen by almost one third since 1979.
- Magpies are on their way up and are doing well in Wales. They are forever quarrelling with the jackdaws in my garden, and are often here when the pheasants visit, perhaps knowing that peanuts will be forthcoming
Chough. Source: RSPB website
Interestingly, just as happened last year, the pheasants moved in to my gardens and neighbouring gardens for the winter, and have now headed off again, rarely visiting.
A lot of birds are losing their natural habitats, like hedgerows, and climate change is impacting some species, like the puffin. And have you seen a chough hereabouts? I had never heard of them but they are crows with crimson beaks and red legs, that need cliff-top farmland for nesting and feeding sites. There are only a few hundred pairs still remaining in Wales.
Photographs of birds in my garden in 2018:
Visitors to my garden
The first video shows a male pheasant preening in a burst of sunshine – a post-peanut mellow moment. Two male pheasants arrived today, some time after the females had arrived, eaten, sat for a while with their feathers puffed up, and left. It had finally stopped raining and at mid-day the garden was bathed briefly in a thin silvery sunshine, which lasted for about an hour and a half before the rain resumed. The familiar harsh loud squawk announced their arrival so I threw down some peanuts and went down into the village, leaving them to it. When I returned they were pottering around in the garden, and one of them was enjoying an industrious preen, the bright feathers given a thorough going over.
The second video shows two views of Pen Y Bryn from my garden, one clip from yesterday in the pouring rain and the second in the today’s brief reprieve when the sun came out before the rain returned. Both are shades of grey, but the main difference between the two scenes is the sound. In the first clip, even in the downpour Pen Y Bryn looks atmospheric but the sound of the rain is unrelenting. In the second, with light glinting off the water, peace and quiet has been restored.
I should perhaps apologize for the completely gratuitous scrolling text. I’ve been messing around with new video editing software, as my previous prog was at all not user-friendly and it had the antisocial habit of freezing solid. Many of the features in the new application are very gimmicky, with shades of PowerPoint, but the ability to add text in various different forms is useful. This is the fourth piece of video editing software that I have tried, so I am seriously hoping that this one will be a keeper.
The peanut feeder was busy today with a couple of great tits, a coal tit and a riot of blue tits, all in the pouring rain. And it really did rain! At half four hail, lightning and thunder added to the fun and games. I’ve watched the tits and the pheasants, and they all seem to dispose very fastidiously of the brown outer layer to get to the peanut inside. In spite of taking video through the window, which was dripping with water, the videos came out surprisingly well.
The pheasants vanished from my garden for the summer, but have been slowly returning for the last month. At first there was just one, but now there are up to five – four females and an occasional male. Pheasants are quite mind-numbingly stupid, but of the five that panic and run away every time I open the door to throw down food for them, there’s one that knows that the unlocking of the door is a good sound. She bounces up a couple of steps in confident anticipation of a shower of peanuts. When they haven’t been fed (or when they come back later in the day in hope of more goodies) and she sees movement in the kitchen, she comes all the way up the steps and loiters by the door, sometimes just staring at me in a rather unnerving way. I’m a complete pushover and it works every time, and between the pheasants and the blue tits, my sack of peanuts is emptying rapidly. Here she is yesterday, looking for an evening peanut shower after the morning one had been demolished and they had gone elsewhere to forage or be fed.
I recall that this time last year most of the birds vanished from the garden in October and November, for the reasons explained in an earlier post, returning in force in December. This year more of them remained in the garden over that period, but it is noticeable how busy it is at the moment. The goldfinch feeder is particularly in demand and all day today the feathers were flying as they jockeyed for position and chased each other off, some of which is captured on the video below. A very beautiful display of bright colour on a dull day. There were nine of them at one stage.