Category Archives: My garden

Video: A crush of goldfinches on a very wet late summer’s day

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.

A gull’s egg in my garden – how eggshell pigment is formed

I caught sight of this broken egg shell when I was checking my back lawn for stones and large twigs prior to mowing.  Quite what it was doing in the middle of my lawn I have no idea, but it is beautiful, with a remarkable set of muted colours.  I had never seen one before.  It took me a while of following hyperlinks (most of which were about eating gulls’ eggs) before I found an explanation of how the colours are formed, on the All About Birds website in an article by Pat Leonard entitled The Beauty and Biology of Egg Colour:

An egg’s story begins in a female bird’s single ovary. When an ovum is released into the oviduct and fertilized, it is just a protein-packed yolk. The albumen—the gelatinous egg white—is added next. The blobby mass then gets plumped up with water and encased in soft, stretchy membrane layers. The first globs of the calcium carbonate shell are then deposited on the exterior, with the mineral squirting from special cells lining the shell gland (uterus). Pigmentation, if any, comes next, with an overall protein coating added before the egg is laid. It takes about 24 hours to build a single egg.

In his book, The Most Perfect Thing: Inside (and Outside) a Bird’s Egg, University of Sheffield zoologist Tim Birkhead compares the pigmentation process to an array of “paint guns.” Each gun is genetically programmed to fire at a certain time so that the signature background color and spotting of a species’ eggs is produced.

“Examination of birds’ oviducts at the time the color is placed on the egg suggests that the color is produced and released over a very short time frame,” Birkhead says, “usually in the last few hours before the egg is laid, and that makes it very hard to study.”

Despite the variety of egg colors and patterns, the palette is surprisingly small. Egg pigments are versatile substances made of complex molecules synthesized in a bird’s shell gland. Only two pigments are at work. Protoporphyrin produces reddish-brown colors. Biliverdin produces shades of blue and green. More of one pigment, less of the other, and the egg gets a different background color, spots of a different color, or a combination of both.

The speckling is thought to be camouflage, to disguise the egg and hide it from potential predators, and is common to nearly all foreshore birds.

There is loads more truly fascinating information in the article.  Did you know, for example, that an egg loses 18 percent of its mass, on average, between laying and hatching, mostly from water loss through shell pores. Or that up to 10 percent of the calcium used for shell formation can come from the female’s bones.  The article is well written and is well worth reading, so if you have a moment do go and have a look.

 

An interloper on the goldfinch feeder

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.

Video: Goldfinches feeding in high winds

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 🙂

 

RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch results for Wales

 

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.

  1. House sparrows are still on top, and although numbers have been in decline since 1979, the rate of fall shows signs of slowing.
  2. Blue tits show a rise in numbers, and we certainly have a lot around here
  3. Starlings are down, although still common.  They say that starlings were spotted in 80% of Welsh gardens, but I have never seen one here.
  4. 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)
  5. Chaffinches are down, but in Wales they were reported in 47% of gardens.  I have seen one this year
  6. Great tits are 12% up over the last 10 years, and we always have plenty in Aberdovey
  7. Goldfinches, permanent residents in my garden are up an incredible 50% in the last decade. A group of goldfinches, incidentally, is called “a charm.”
  8. 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.
  9. Robins were seen in 87% of Welsh gardens (mine included) but overall have fallen by almost one third since 1979.
  10. 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.

Big Garden Birdwatch 2020 – my results

An hour in the garden between 1100 and 1200 for the Big Garden Birdwatch 2020 this morning produced the following bird count.  I do lure birds in with peanuts, mealworm and nyjer seeds, so the deck is stacked in my favour.  Not putting in an appearance during that hour were other visitors that I see most days including magpies, collared doves, great tits, wood pigeons and rarer visitors like coal tits (which were regular visitors last year but are few and far between this year), greenfinches and house sparrows.  There were six goldfinches on the feeder during the hour, but looking out of the window there are now nine of them all fighting for a position on a feeder that can handle a maximum of six.  The pheasants are tame and queue up outside the kitchen door to be fed peanuts.

 

Another fabulous Aberdovey sunset tonight

Following a stunning day of sunshine and blue skies after a crisp, scrunching frost, another outstanding Aberdovey sunset.  Life is head-spinningly hectic at the moment, so it is great to take a peaceful step back, to enjoy the scenery and be a little mellow.  Again, no filters applied, no Photoshop employed.  A true miracle of nature.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch – 25th-27th January 2020

 

https://www.rspb.org.uk/get-involved/activities/birdwatch/

Photographs of birds in my garden in 2018:

Visitors to my garden

Videos: Pheasant preening after breakfast; Pen Y Bryn in rain and sun

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.