We regularly get starlings feeding on the fat balls in our garden. However it has declined as a breeding bird in the UK. Each autumn into winter our resident birds are joined by huge numbers of birds come over from the continent to winter here. They will gather together in the evening into spectacular murmurations where they swirl overhead as they prepare to roost.
Starling soaking up the sun
They are dark, thrush sized bird with longish pointed bills and short tails. They have a big head and short tailed with a striding walk. They have glossy, iridescent plumage which has a sheen like oil on water when caught in the sun. In winter it will gain more white spots and its beak will darken in colour.
Adult and juvenile starling
Juvenile Starlings can cause some confusion when spotted as they have none of the sparkling plumage of their parents.
Adult starling feeding juvenile
This little chap looks like he’s about to start doing requests!
Hanging around in the wood
“A twitcher is someone who will go to great lengths to view new bird species. For some twitchers their pursuit can turn into an obsession and can involve extensive travel, dedicated monitoring of birding hotspots and networking with other twitchers.”
I had to travel down South for work this weekend and I had read that almost on my route, there was one of the influx of Hawfinches, so I thought why not go and try and see it as they are a pretty rare bird normally. Last year we had a massive influx of Waxwings into the UK and this year a similar number of Hawfinch have arrived, and as with the waxwing I’d never seen one. Unfortunately the weather was dreadful so the images don’t do this stunning bird justice.
The hawfinch is the UK’s largest and rarest finch with a small resident population which are usually difficult to spot. This resident population have been joined this winter by thousands from the continent where crops of their usual food is in short supply.
It was easy to spot where the bird was as it has attracted a small crowd and so I guess I became a twitcher. They are quite a chunky bird compared to the usual finches we see in the UK but it is their remarkable conical beak which makes them stand out. This beak can exert immense force which allows them to crack seeds other birds can’t use. They are able to crack a cherry stone, which if you’ve ever bitten one will know they are a tough nut to crack!
Compared to the pictures I got of the waxwings last year these are a bit disappointing but as we Twitchers say, “It’s a tick”.
This male chaffinch was very busy feeding a couple of youngsters.
Male chaffinch feeding young
Pheasants have a habit of jumping out from under my feet whenever I go out on the moors. This one startled me when I peeped over a wall and he was directly below me. One day they’ll be the death of me. Photographer shocked to death by pheasant isn’t the greatest epitaph!
This weekend in the UK was the RSPB Big Garden Bird Watch. The idea is to spend an hour counting the different birds that visit your garden. This started in 1979 as an exercise to get kids involved in the RSPB and thanks to it being featured on the popular children’s programme Blue Peter over 34,000 people submitted their counts. Now almost 40 years later and with over half a million people regularly taking part, Big Garden Birdwatch allows the RSPB to monitor trends and helps them understand how birds are doing.
With these results from so many gardens, the RSPB able to create a ‘snapshot’ of bird numbers across the UK and while some of the changes in bird numbers they have seen over the years can seem scary ( we’ve lost more than half our house sparrows and some three-quarters of our starlings) it isn’t all doom and gloom. Since Birdwatch began blue tit numbers have risen by 20 per cent and the woodpigeon population has increased by a whopping 800 per cent.
So our results helps them spot problems, and is also the first step in putting things right. This is why it’s so important that we count garden birds.
There are two birds on their list which are priority species but which are both regular visitors to my garden, the house sparrow and the starlings so at least in my neck of the woods they can see they’re doing well. (these pics were taken earlier in the year.)
Male house sparrow in the snow.
It wasn’t a great day weather wise for the birds with wind and rain but here are the few that I spotted.
Blue Tit 1
Collared Dove 4
House sparrow 24
The results will be released in March so we can see the state of our local birds.
This ruffled starling just oozes attitude.
This red deer family portrait was taken at Studley Royal in North Yorkshire.
Red deer family portrait
From a very early age I always told people that one day I’d write a book. I had no idea what about but I was going to publish a book. My photography gave me a story so about three years ago I thought why not, let’s give it a go.
Now I’m not a fan of Amazon but they do offer anyone the chance to become a published author so my book was until recently available to download and be read via the Kindle App. That all changed just before Christmas when I got an e-mail asking my why don’t I publish my book in paperback!! So why not, it was only ever I suppose a vanity project. I never expected anyone to actually buy it. But they did, and all the money raised from the sales have gone to my local nature reserve.
So I set about producing my book as a paperback. However it isn’t just a case of sending off the same files and hey presto a book appears. I spent two quite frustrating days re-sizing all the images to a higher DPI which then meant the pagination was all over the shop. I then had to design a cover and set a price. The cheapest I could sell it at was £12.99 and from that I would make the princely sum of £0.25!! Vanity can be so unrewarding.
I finally bodged it together and Amazon accepted my upload and told me my book would be able to purchase in 48 hours!! It was actually available on their site within 24 hours so I bought one using my prime account and it arrived the next day. What a totally mind blowing experience from upload to my doorstep in less than 2 days!
I bought another copy for my mum for Christmas (she was absolutely amazed) which she has been lending to all the neighbours! She just laughs when I tell her to get them to buy a copy! And to be honest I thought that would be that for the paperback. But I just checked my Amazon account and its sold a few copies as has the Kindle version, so it’s time to work on the sequel.
A Year Looking for Otters anyone?
A Year Looking for Kingfishers is available by clicking here.
A Year Looking for Kingfishers