Back in Black (and red)

Last year I watched a pair of Great Spotted Woodpeckers raising their chicks in my local wood. I’ve been going back over the last couple of weeks and spotted they were back and using the same nest hole. Both parents were flying in and out with food for the young. Looking at the type of food they were taking in I’m guessing the young are still very small as all the morsels were tiny. Over time as the young grow the size of the food increases, last year I saw other birds plundered chicks being offered.

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It won’t be long till the young woodpeckers will be poking their heads out and shouting for more food. Hopefully this year I’ll see them fledge.

A Subtle Change of Dazzling Colour

After the devastating floods of Boxing Day 2015 the river banks also took a battering and were reshaped with trees and undergrowth uprooted and washed away. One tree near where I watch the kingfishers was knocked down but has survived lying on the riverbank and its turning into a perfect natural hide. I can get inside the branches with my portable chair and the new spring growth is beginning to throw up a nice leafy cover.

I’d just settled in when the first kingfisher shot past up stream and its mate surprised me by landing ten feet away in a tree above my head. I had not time to amend any settings on my camera before it flew into the next tree and then away after the female.

They entertained me most of the morning at some distance, mating, diving for fish and generally enjoying the beautiful day until scared off by some dog walkers. 

I wasn’t expecting much when I looked at my photo’s later but what leaps out is the difference in colour a small distance makes. The first is when the male was closest, the second a shorter distance further from me and that extra distance and difference in light makes an amazing difference to the colours of the bird.

Guess where I’ll be spending a lot of my time? 

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Sprucing Up For Spring

I recently went South for a few days and its interesting to see the difference a couple of hundred miles make to the seasons. Nearly every bird I saw was carrying a twig or nesting material or was singing loudly to attract a mate, back up North and we’re still a couple of weeks away from this.

I visited the London Wetland center which served up a pair of courting kingfishers checking out a potential nesting site and this male shoveller duck who was making sure he looked his best. For about 20 minutes he barrel rolled in the water and then groomed every single feather. Lets hope some lucky female found all his efforts worthwhile!

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Another Returning Visitor

When I first started visiting my local nature reserve a lot of the regulars mentioned Redpolls and how they were a regular visitor in the colder months. Well I never saw any for the first two years as they seemed to forget about visiting us. When I did finally see my first one I thought for a moment it was a sparrow with a very sore head!

They are a greyish brown sparrow sized finch with a very distinctive red cap and the males often have a breast speckled though with pink and red. They are partial migrants moving South in small flocks as the colder weather takes hold, then back North as Spring arrives. I guess the one on the reserve this weekend was heading back North.

They are generally forest dwellers eating seeds and nesting low down in trees and bushes where they lay between 3 and 7 eggs. 

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Siskin Spotting

Like the Reed Bunting I blogged about recently the Siskin is another bird you’re going to find tricky to spot for most of the year. They are one of our smaller finches with a long, narrow bill perfect for extracting seeds from plants and trees and spend most of the year in woodlands and conifer plantations. Their distinctive yellow, green and black plumage means they are very hard to spot once the leaves are back on the trees. However in winter they are a regular visitor to garden feeders especially enjoying niger seed and peanuts. For the first time this year I’ve had a couple visit the feeders set up at work and at the weekend this striking male kindly posed for me.

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Like Nailing Jelly To a Tree

I’ve written about these little devils before and I’m sure I’ll be writing about them again as i still can’t get a decent picture of them.

Britain’s smallest bird must also be the quickest! At the weekend I took just over 170 pictures of a pair who were bombing about in the undergrowth at the local Nature Reserve. 170 pictures later and I still haven’t got one that I’m that happy with, however my recycling bin is full to bursting. Hopefully they’ll hang around so I can finally get a shot!!

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Rat-A-Tat-A-Tat!

Well I guess she was nest building a few weeks ago as the feeding area is awash with rats now!! There are at least four new faces scurrying around popping up amongst the branches, in the wall and under the leaves. They don’t seem to bother the birds but I’m a bit worried that they’ll chase off the voles and shrews so I’m planning to cut back on the ground feeding I do and stick to just filling the bird feeders. It may be a bit unfair on the ground feeding birds such as the chaffinch and dunnock but however cute these new arrivals are I don’t want a plague of rats.

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Put Out the Bunting

During the Summer months you’d be hard pressed to see a Reed Bunting. As their name suggests they tend to prefer to breed and roost in wetland areas and their plumage is a perfect mix of browns and blacks to enable them to blend in.

About the size of a sparrow they are having to adapt to different habitats and will now nest in drier areas and fields of crops.

In Winter though you may find them in your garden as they move onto seeds as a source of food. The male has a black head and a drooping white handlebar moustache while the female is a mix of browns with a distinctive cream highlight above their eyes.

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In Spring the male will sing from the tops of bushes and trees generally close to where its bred before. The female will be responsible for building the nest low down and well hidden in the reeds or undergrowth.

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The Farne Island Part 2 One Good Tern Deserves Another (2)

As you make your way up through the Arctic Terns and out on to the top of the island you soon come across a small colony of Sandwich Terns. These are a similar size but are whiter with a black cap which can be raised when under duress into a shaggy crest. For some reason hemmed in together , hassled by gulls and photographers, they always seem to be a little stressed! They have a slim black beak with a yellow tip.

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They nest crammed in together for protection and safety and will lay 1-3 eggs. Like the arctic tern as soon as the chicks hatch the parents are continually flying in with single sand eels to feed the growing chicks.

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 They are one of the earliest returning migrants to the UK generally starting to be spotted around March. Although their migration isn’t as impressive as the Arctic tern they will still cover huge distances with many overwintering as far away as South Africa. There are thought to be around 12.000 breeding pairs in the UK.

Like all terns they are incredible fliers and pull off incredible manoeuvres sometimes with their head the wrong way round.

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The final tern seen on the Farne is the Common tern which is more silver with a red beak with a black tip. They also breed in noisy colonies and are graceful fliers and slightly more obvious because of their longer tails which have got them dubbed the  “sea swallow”.

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Although named Common the breeding numbers of these on the Farnes are much lower than the other two and most of them nest around the lighthouse at the top of the island.

There is one other tern which may be seen fishing around the Farnes but doesn’t breed on the island. This is the Roseate tern of which more later.

Boxing Day Bonanza

With every tree stripped bare down the road it was unlikely that I was going to see any waxwings on my doorstep, however a brief chat with a friend from the nature reserve sent me off in the right direction.

I’d been in this vicinity looking before and not seen any but today I hit lucky. The first birds I spotted were a couple of redwings but then  a high pitched chirruping started up and suddenly they descended.

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They didn’t stay long so I wandered around the corner to see if I could see where they’d gone and noticed a tree with around 100 birds perched high in the branches. Every so often a flock would break away and fly behind some nearby houses so off I set again and found the trees they were stripping bare.

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Absolutely stunning birds with an array of colours and very approachable hardly disturbed by my presence or the home owner who was busy gardening just feet away from them. Backwards and forwards they would fly gorging themselves on the berries. I counted forty in the tree with even more waiting their turn in the trees opposite.

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A very special Christmas present, because as soon as these trees are stripped bare they’ll be off.

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