I was happy to get this shot of 'Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus) on next-door’s roof, as usually I only see them in flight, either soaring high over the garden, or bombing through on the hunt. This female is the first I’ve seen around the garden for several weeks, since a mail that hung around for a while back in November.. There were a few other new bird arrivals yesterday, such as a trio of Lesser Redpolls (a bit scarce this winter), a cock pheasant (a regular visitor most winters, but not this year),.a new female Blackcap, a small party of Redwings (the first for a few weeks) and group of Blackbirds present in the morning. Perhaps this is a sign of the season, and some migration going on.
Last weekend saw my final survey visit for the new BTO English Winter Bird Survey. This survey covers my regular Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) km square just outside Broadway, Worcestershire. Due to the recent warm weather it was more like an early Breeding Bird Survey, with resident birds like song thrush, robin, wren, chaffinch, linnet and skylarks singing everywhere. There were some winter redwings still around and a fly-over siskin, but due to the lack of leaves I saw more of the resident birds than I often do when I visit in April. Bullfinch, marsh tit and treecreeper are some of the less common residents on this square that were showing well. Lesser-spotted Woodpeckers are easiest seen at this time of year, but one seen calling and drumming on a dead tree is a rare sighting here or in indeed most other places in UK.
I liked doing the survey on my regular square and seeing different birds there, but doing the expected 4 visits was a problem as short winter days make it hard to do the survey around other weekend activities, especially in the pre-Christmas period. As it was I only managed the two visits in December and February, but I do think this was enough to accurately survey the wintering bird population on the site.
I was in the area, so dropped into Kemerton Lake NR, a reserve near Tewkesbury. Turned out that there were quite a few other visitors there to see a good-sized murmuration of starlings that come into roost in the reed beds. Apparently there’s up to 25,000 birds in the roost. They put up a great show wheeling around in a fast-moving flock, trying to keep away from a couple of hungry sparrowhawks, before dropping into the reeds en-masse for the night. As well as the starling spectacle there were also lots of ducks, including this beautiful male smew - a rare winter visitor to these parts from the Russian taiga. With all this, plus kingfisher and a calling water rail, that’s pretty impressive birding for somewhere right on my doorstep.
It's the anniversary of my starting the BTO Garden Birdwatch, logging all the birds in the garden over the course of a year. As well as birds I’ve recorded butterflies, mammals & amphibians. These graphics are off the BTO site, showing the frequency of the most common birds that actually use the garden (pure fly-overs are not counted).
Surprisingly out of the 47 bird species I recorded during the year, only four were seen absolutely every week: Woodpigeon, Blue Tit, Goldfinch & House Sparrow. The rest of the top 10 were Robin which only missed one week (reporting rate = 98%), Blackbird with reporting rate of 96%, Collared Dove, Jackdaw and Great Tit all on 92%, then quite a big drop to Wren at 75%. Most of these species disappeared during late Summer / early Autumn, when the species count was at it’s lowest.
At the other end of the scale six birds only showed once: Fieldfare during winter snows, Whitethroat, Siskin & Hawfinch during Spring migration and Grey Wagtail & Lesser Whitethroat also migrants during the late summer.
We get a decent selection of wintering thrushes in the village. Several (up to ten) Redwings are roosting in next door’s holly tree and are usually around eating berries or sitting high in the birch trees. So far, as there are plenty of berries, they stay up in the trees, but later on they will likely be down in the leaf little looking for insects. A few blackbirds are around too, also in the holly tree, or on the lawn. While there seem more redwings than last year, blackbirds didn’t yet get close to the max count of 11 last year. Fieldfares are plentiful in the orchards and wet fields around the region; we see them overhead but not often in the garden. Not unless there’s a snowfall. A Mistle thrush was around the garden earlier in the autumn, but there’s not much mistletoe so it moved on, but probably not far. The orchards round here are full of mistletoe, which these birds guard jealously against competitors. Rounding it off, I saw my first garden song thrush since the blog started in June the other day - as usual it keeps a low profile around the corners of the garden.
Normally the corvids don’t comer into the garden much. Jackdaws are always around the rooftops, but they only come down peck fat balls when the weather gets cold. This week I had a lot of fatty scraps from the kitchen to put out, and it attracted the attention of several birds. The rooks saw it first and six of them gathered in the trees around getting up the nerve to drop down to take something. They dominated the local jackdaws chasing them off when they came anywhere near, but while they came into the lower branches, they still wouldn’t come down to the food until a pair of magpies dropped in. The magpies grabbed tidbits and flew off several times, and eventually a couple of rooks gathered up the courage to try the food. They didn’t seem to like it much though, and in the end let the magpies have most of it.
A beautiful sunny, still and cool morning, starting to feel even a bit autumnal. There were lots of birds around, especially in the neighbours' large birch trees at the foot of the garden. Family groups of blue tits, great tits, goldfinches, greenfinches, blackbirds and house sparrows were more apparent than usual. A singing willow warbler and a lesser whitethoat (new for the garden and species #313 for the microEden list) were not locals. They are migrant warblers slowly moving south & west, feeding up for the long migration to Africa as they go. Families of swallows, house martins and swifts were overhead - the swifts will be gone any day now, heading South. By 10.00 am the birds are almost silent - you'd never know they were there.
It seems a good time to mention the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) and their Garden Birdwatch survey that collects data - weekly maximum counts - of the bird species in your garden. You can also optionally record other wildlife like mammals, butterflies, etc. This is great as everyone's records build up a very representative dataset of changes in bird populations in gardens across the UK. The website it interesting. Consider signing up - It's not too much of a commitment (https://www.bto.org/volunteer-surveys/gbw)