Wednesday, 14 March 2018

Blackcaps Return 2018 !

I was beginning to think that the wintering Blackcaps were not going to show this winter, every winter since 2015, Blackcaps have emerged from there winter haunts for a few days around the garden, I think the hard weather of a few weeks ago finally forced the Blackcap to show itself, a fine looking male sporting its distinctive black cap for which its named, stayed around the garden for a few days and then disappeared. But his back, still not feeding on the apples, the fatball feeder is his weakness.

Male Blackcap
A female Blackcap has appeared now, seen a few times on the peanut feeders only, probably followed the male into the garden, appears much shyer. That brown cap not standing out as much as the males Black cap, blends in well with the house sparrows when feeding together. nice to see them both in the garden before winter finally passes us by.

It will not be long now before the spring migrants arrive, these wintering birds apparently will have a head start in the breeding stakes on these new arrivals if they stay here to breed, there's always the possibility that these wintering Warblers will head back to there breeding grounds in northern Europe.

female Blackcap

Monday, 12 March 2018

Scarlet or Ruby ?

Its at this time of year that the fruiting bodies of the Scarlet/Ruby Elf Cup show themselves through the lush green moss in my local woodland, they can appear at any time during the colder winter months, but here I have only noticed them in early spring. they are described as widespread and uncommon, a hardwood rotter, I always feel quite excited when I find one.

 Nearly all the specimens I have found have been in the damp shady areas of the woodland, usally on rotten twigs or branches covered in moss on the woodland floor. the distinctive red colouring makes them easy to pick out when they are around.

Easy to identify as Elf Cup, the problem lies in separating the two near identical species, which brings to mind a conversation I had several months ago with a chap searching for fungi through the leaf litter, he told me he was looking for Birds Nest Fungi, maybe he was, but there was a distinct odour of cannabis emitting from his clothes, I suspect he was searching more for the "magic mushroom" variety,  but each to their own, certainly an interesting and knowledgeable character as we discussed the various fungi to be found around the woodland, he was quite interested in the Scarlet/Ruby Elf cup varieties. he tried to explain the difference for me, a bit over my head, apparently a microscope is needed. my field guide proved him right.

And so to the two varieties, Scarlet Elf Cup sarcoscypha austriaca  and the Ruby Elf Cup sarcoscypha coccinea   they look very similar, cup shaped fungi  ranging from 2-7cm when fully open, they have a small stalk of 1-2cm, but its usally just the cup seen on the surface of the moss or leaf litter that draws your attention.

The outer surface is covered in tiny hairs, this is what the microscope is required for, these hairs form either a mat of tangled coils for the Scarlet Elf Cup or straightish uncoiled hairs for the Ruby Elf Cup.

There is also a difference in the spores,  the spores of the Ruby Elf cup are supposed to be narrower than the spores of the Scarlet Elf Cup. a definite microscope job required there.

All in all, I have no real chance of separating these species.

  They shall remain forever Scarlet/Ruby Elf Cups for me.

Friday, 9 March 2018

Winter Storms !

Day One
The "Beast from the East" clashed with storm "Emma"  causing havoc around the country.

A week long period of heavy snow, all the more unusual for us in the south, I can't remember a prolonged period of snow like this for some time.

The initial euphoria of a winter wonderland landscape soon passes, and the reality of being housebound, cold, and generally feeling fed up soon sets in.
Fortunately this does not last for long, just five days in all, spring like conditions have returned now, the snow has disappeared as quickly as it appeared. The shrubs around the garden are showing signs of new life, crocuses are in bloom, Daffodils and tulips have burst through the thawing soil.

Winter Thrushes have dispersed back to the countryside

A review of the birds visiting the garden around the Pear tree during this period of  wintry weather threw up a few pleasant surprises.

I kept the bird feeders well stocked with apples in the hope of enticing a Fieldfare or two into the garden.  No such luck the only birds to appreciate them were the Parakeets, Starlings and Blackbirds.

A first for the garden, three Redwings landed briefly in the top of the Pear tree, allowing a quick photograph before they were off.

2 of 3 Redwing briefly landing in the Pear tree

The most exciting find for me was a very brief glimpse of a Song Thrush in the garden, I first caught sight of the bird flying into the ivy, and then one more brief view as it flew across the garden, landed briefly in the Weigela tree before moving out of the garden, couldn't focus properly in my excitement

This is one of those birds that seem lost to the suburban gardens, where in my youth they were quite common to see skulking around under the garden shrubs.

A bad photograph but you can clearly see that its a Song Thrush.

Song Thrush in the Garden. !!!
Just before the bad weather set in another Thrush sighting  at the top of the Pear tree again, this Time a Mistle Thrush, so that is three out of four possibilities and two new additions to the garden bird list in the form of Song Thrush & Redwing.

Mistle Thrush
There had been no sign of a wintering Blackcap in the garden all winter until the arrival of the snow, this male spent three days around the garden feeding on the fat balls not interested in the apples strangely. seems to have moved on now.

Wintering Blackcap
This was the first Greenfinch sighting in the garden all winter, driven in by the winter storms no doubt. ( Another bad photograph, inadvertently left ISO setting very high for some reason.)  but worth recording as a garden scarcity .

A roving flock of Tits visited the garden on and off during the bad weather, Blue Tits, Great Tits and Long Tailed Tits, one sporting some bling.

Long tailed Tit.

Other regular sightings include the ever present flock of House Sparrows, Chaffinch, Goldfinch, Wood Pigeon, Collared Dove, Carrion Crow, Dunnock, Robin and  two sightings of the juvenile Sparrowhawk previously photographed, and a very brief view of a Wren.

House Sparrows in the snow

 There has been a " Charm of Goldfinch" that land briefly in the Pear tree late afternoon, I have counted  twenty one in the Pear tree.

Hopefully that will be the end of the wintry storms for us in the south of the country, looking forward to some warmer weather and spring.

Saturday, 3 March 2018

Garden Centre !

A walk down to the garden centre to replenish supplies for my bird feeders turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as I walked out into the car park I could see a small flock of birds in one of the fruit trees. Fieldfares, so intent on their feeding they seemed unperturbed by passers-by.

These winter Thrushs  are difficult to get near for a decent photograph usally for me, they seem to take flight the second you come into their view on most occasions.

As the " Beast from the East " takes its icy grip of the countryside these must have been desperate to get at the last remaining fruits on the garden centre trees. Not sure what the fruits were, possibly a type of "crab apple" or "Cherry apple" The Fieldfares were desperate to get at them.

I rushed home for my camera and quickly returned to the car park, they were still there, I parked up in a suitable position, not to close so as to interrupt their feeding.

 I noticed the next day as I  took my dog out for its early morning walk, even more Fieldfare had arrived into the local area, you could clearly see the birds scouring through the gardens looking for berries and fruit.

Their favoured food source is usally ground invertebrates, but as the ground becomes frozen, as in this case, they search for berries and fruit.

These will be returning to their breeding grounds very soon, late March ,early April , so it was nice to catch up with them one more time before they depart the country.

Does anyone know what these fruit/berries are, about the size of a cherry. ?

Thursday, 1 March 2018

" My Little Feathered Friend "

Last spring we were fortunate to accommodate a pair of Robins in an old nesting box hidden in the Ivy, close to our conservatory window. We watched them build their nest, rearing five young fledglings.

During this time we managed to befriend them by supplementing their search for food with some tasty live meal worms.

The Male in particular became very tame and responded to my "pursed lip" call, as I held out my hand with a few meal worms. even the female eventually overcame her fear and readily came to hand. You can't beat an interaction with a wild creature.

This was back in March 2017, so roll on now to late February 2018, I noticed a Robin watching me as I moved around the garden, could this be my old friend from last year,  I gave my pursed lip signal out of curiosity, the Robin seemed to respond, but I wasn't sure.

The next day whilst at the garden center I purchased a small tub of meal worms, but the Robin was nowhere to be seen and not noticed for a few days.

Finally I spotted  a Robin at the top of the Pear Tree, singing very loudly, was this my little feathered friend,  I approached the base of the tree and gave my signal, nothing, I tried again, and to my astonishment the Robin dropped from the top of the Pear Tree, a good thirty feet high and landed directly on my hand , gave me a look, and took a meal worm.

A very heart warming moment, it must be at least nine months since last we met, I did not really expect the Robin to remember me,  he obviously did.

Since this reunion he regularly waits for me outside the greenhouse now, where I give him a few Meal worms at the start of the day.

Phone picture of my little feathered friend

 He's managed to attract a new female mate, this one is very wary and will not come to hand as yet, she just sits close by watching the male in astonishment as he takes food from my hand, to be fair after he has had his fill he does take a few meal worms to her where he feeds hers as part of his courtship ritual.

The new female mate
There has been some initial nest building observations, not in  the nest box but next to it hidden deeper in the Ivy. but seems a little early and not a serious action.

The male watching the female

Unfortunately a cat has appeared and taken an interest in the Robins new nest position, I have discouraged the cat, and in doing so may have disturbed the female Robin, I have not seen any further  nest building activity.

Although my little feathered friend still seen regularly, and the female is still close by. 

Nest building will have to wait until the "Beast from the East" moves on, and the cat.

Thursday, 8 February 2018

Sprawk !!!

 I suppose that its inevitable that the  'Pear tree feeding station' in my garden will attract its fair share of predators, its a bit like a restaurant with a good variety of birds on the menu, something I do feel guilty about, but thats nature, and on those occasions when an Sparrowhawk does make a 'sortie', most of the birds make it to cover.

The ring of feathers found on the lawn on occasion, bear testimony to those that didn't make it.

The Sparrowhawks appear to show no fear and are quite at home in the suburban environment, I have witnessed several attacks around the Pear Tree whilst gardening, although they rarely linger, I have managed to photograph a few over the years.

This is the latest Sparrowhawk to be photographed which I noticed  perched in the Magnolia tree at the bottom of the garden, didn't stay for long and was obviously looking for a meal.

I am pretty confident in identifying the adult birds, this is a juvenile, but juvenile male or female I am not so sure, leaning towards a juvenile male, nice looking bird though.

Here's a photographic record of some of the Sparrowhawks that I have managed  to capture.

This probable second year female or adult shown below was the first that I managed to photograph back in January 2013, staying some time in the bough of the pear tree as it devoured its meal.

 23rd December 2014 this fine looking male Sparrowhawk shown below, appeared from nowhere and landed on the fence in front of the feeders obviously scattering the  terror stricken birds on the feeders.

4th February 2015, possibly the same male again landed on the fence before flying off down the gardens.

Once again on 24th November 2015, a male Sparrowhawk, possibly the same individual was seen in the shadows of the laurels at the bottom of the garden.

Spectacular birds to watch.