Snow Birds

Over the winter period, and much later into March, there were several periods of quite heavy snow at times. During these harsh times, lots more birds tend to visit the garden because of a lack of food due to covered ground and so gardens provide a free source of high energy food for them.

During one of the more recent times that snowed, I was lucky to have lots of birds visit my garden. From an earlier post, I said how there had been some Fieldfares and Redwings that had visited the garden. Once again, they too visited, coming to feed on some fresh chopped apples that we had thrown out. They have only come in times of snow, as these are desperate times, but since there have been so many times when it has snowed, they have visited on several occasions.

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Fieldfare
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Redwing

I was also lucky enough to be able to ring a Fieldfare myself, which we caught in the garden. This was the second one that we had ringed, but the first that I had ringed.

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Ringed Fieldfare

As mentioned in my previous blog post, there have also been large numbers of Siskins and Goldfinches visiting the feeders, and as expected, their numbers peaked during times of snow.

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Lots of Siskins

Several Feral Pigeons have also been attracted by the seed dropped from the feeders, and although they are birds that are generally not so welcome, they do a very good job of cleaning up any of the seed that has fallen on the ground. There was even one that was blind in one eye, shown in the second photo below. They have also been joined by the more regular, and larger Woodpigeons.

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Feral Pigeons
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Feral Pigeon blind in one eye
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Woodpigeon

Several smaller birds have also been attracted by the promise of food, such as Dunnocks – a small brown and grey bird, and Goldcrests – a very small greenish-brown bird with a striking yellow stripe on its head. We have also ringed several Goldcrests in the garden, which when weighed, tend to only be about 5.0g! The males and females can be told apart due to the bright orange amongst the yellow stripe of the males, and the wholly yellow stripe of the females.

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Ringed Goldcrest
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Male Goldcrest as recognised by bright orange present in yellow stripe
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Dunnock

Blackbirds frequented the garden as usual, and although this was their own territory, whenever they went near any of the apple, they were quickly chased off by a Fieldfare, without even putting up a fight.

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Male Blackbird
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Female Blackbird

Grey Squirrels also obviously took advantage of the food, and so ventured out into the snow to eat some seed, and occasionally were very cheeky and stole a whole half-apple!

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Grey Squirrel

 

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Winter Finches

During the winter period, many different species of finch have visited my garden and the rest of Oxford.

One of the most numerous species to visit my garden has been the Siskin; a yellow and black finch. The males have a black mark on their head and tend to be a lot brighter, whereas, the females are a lot duller and have no black mark on their head. They have tended to come in mixed flocks with Goldfinches. We have been lucky enough to ring a large number of them – in fact, it is around 25, not including retraps. There was even one bird that we caught, that was already ringed, and we soon found out that it had been ringed in Aberdeenshire two years ago, meaning that it had travelled a distance of just under 600 km.

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One of many ringed Siskins

Another finch that only came to the garden briefly was the Redpoll; a white and brown bird, with a red crown (and depending on the time of year, a red chest). In previous years, these birds have regularly visited the feeders, but this year, they have hardly come at all.

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Brief visit this year from Redpolls and the many Siskins that joined them
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Redpoll from two years ago

There is one unusual species of finch that has visited the UK this year in large numbers, and that is the Hawfinch. Although they have not come to my garden, they have visited sites all over Oxford, and so my mum and I decided to go see if we could see some. We went to Northmoor Church, not far outside Oxford, since we had heard that there were some there. On the way there, we had already seen a Short-Eared Owl perched on a pylon next to the ring road. As we arrived, the rain was coming down heavily and so it wasn’t looking promising. However, we put on some raincoats and decided to brave the rain. After not too long, we spotted a flock of about 15 or so Hawfinches in the trees. Even though it was still raining, I just about managed to take some photos of these timid finches. They are the largest species of finch in the UK, and are a buff orange colour, with a very large bill. We stayed there for about half an hour until we were pretty much  thoroughly soaked, when we then decided to return to the warmth of the car.

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Hawfinch through the rain

There have also been the usual Goldfinches in the garden, joined by several Chaffinches under the feeders. Chaffinch numbers in my garden have risen quite a bit recently with up to nine Chaffinches frequenting the lawn at once. A couple of Greenfinches have also started to visit the feeders more regularly. The only other species of finch that we see in our garden during the year is the Bullfinch, but they don’t seem to visit our garden at this time of year.

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Male Chaffinch

Winter Thrushes

After mock revision, mock exams, and illness, I now finally, after a very long break, have found some time to make a blog post. Hopefully, I will now be able to make several blog posts over the coming weeks.

Although mainly seen earlier in the Winter (as you can tell by the snow), Fieldfares and Redwings have both been visiting the garden to feed on apples that we have put out on the lawn.

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Fieldfare

Fieldfares are the larger of the two and have a distinct grey head with a yellow ochre throat and chest. Like other members of the thrush family, they too have brown flecks on a pale chest with largely brown wings.

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Fieldfare

Whilst ringing in the garden, we were lucky enough to be able to catch a Fieldfare in one of the mist nets, which was then ringed by one of my trainers – in fact, it was the first time that he had ever ringed a Fieldfare. Seeing one of these birds up close is incredible and the variation in colours is made even more visible.

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Ringed Fieldfare

Redwings are the smallest members of the thrush family in the UK and as their name suggests, have a red flank underneath their wings. They again, are like most other thrushes with a brown flecked chest and brown wings, but also have a distinct whitish supercilium (a strip going above the eye – a bit like an eyebrow).DSC_1119

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Redwing

Both birds tend to come to the UK during wintertime, migrating from Scandinavia, and often appear in large flocks, with the two species often mixing together. They both tend to feed on winter berries and also windfall fruits, such as apples.

 

Bird Ringing in the Garden

Apologies for the lack of posts recently. This is because I have not managed to find any time to write with the amount of school work that I have been receiving.

Over the last few weeks, the bird ringing group with whom I train has been ringing in our garden. However, I think that we have all found ringing in gardens a more luxury way of bird ringing, and probably not one to keep in the habit of doing! This is because we can sit in a nice warm house on sofas while eating bacon butties and yet still constantly watch the mist nets.

The ringing has gone surprisingly well with an ever widening range of species being caught, and of course, an ever expanding number of birds being ringed.

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Collared Dove

 

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Juvenile Woodpigeon

 

The birds that we have caught most regularly have been Tits – especially Blue, Great and Coal. This was what we were expecting but we didn’t really think that we had so many Coal Tits visiting the garden – so far we have ringed around 10 of them, and have still noticed plenty of unringed Coal Tits visiting the feeders. We also recently caught some Long-Tailed Tits which are lovely birds to have in the hand because they are so calm, and one that I held recently even started singing whilst in my hand.

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The most surprising bird that we have managed to ring was a Grey Wagtail, which on a very windy day, suddenly flew into the net. This was very surprising because these birds are usually found by shallow, relatively fast-flowing rivers, and not in gardens. They are beautiful birds with their stunning yellow underparts, and the “Grey” in their name makes them sound quite dull, when they are not.

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Grey Wagtail

We have also caught several House Sparrows which although may not seem that interesting, as they are facing a massive decline, they have become a lot more unusual bird to catch in the net. Not only this, but when viewed up close the level of detail and variety of different shades of brown really shows.

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Male House Sparrow

I was also very pleased to have ringed my first Great-Spotted Woodpecker, which we caught in the garden. Usually these birds are very noisy in the net, however this male only called for a short time before calming down. It also liked to drum away at my fingers while I was holding, although, thankfully it never did so all that hard. They are extraordinarily beautiful with the incredible bright red of their plumage and the intricacy of their black and white wings.

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Male Great-Spotted Woodpecker

I am very much enjoying bird ringing as it has enabled me to admire birds even more by seeing the detail and intricacy of them up close and getting to know their behaviour better. Ringing in the garden has also helped me to spend even more time staring out of the window, as I try to spot the ringed birds. This has also helped me to understand just how many different birds are visiting the garden, as I found out with the Coal Tits, having thought that there were only two or three, and now realising that there are at least ten.

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Wytham Woods Marsh Tit

 

 

Sparrowhawks (Accipiter Nisus)

After a long break in terms of blog posts, I have finally decided to make another blog post again.

If you have read some of my previous blog posts, you may know that I have had lots of encounters with Sparrowhawks this year. As I have had so many, I have decided to make a blog post about Sparrowhawks, and also about some more of my recent encounters.

Sparrowhawks are probably one of my favourite birds of prey due to their striking plumage, especially of the male, and also their amazing ability to manoeuvre and hunt at high speeds.

Sparrowhawks can be found all over the UK, apart from in the very far North of Scotland. They often live in gardens in urban and rural areas, and also in areas of farmland and wetland, although, they are traditionally found in woodland, and primarily, this is where they tend to breed.

There is a big difference between the male and the female birds, with the males being fairly small birds of prey with a bluish grey back, and some orange and white underparts. The females however, are much larger and have a greyish brown back, with brown and white underparts. Due to this difference in size, the males tend to hunt on smaller birds, like Tits, whereas, the females tend to prey on larger birds like Blackbirds, and even up to Woodpigeon size. Although, they both usually hunt using surprise as they dash through trees and vegetation. Their incredible speed and manoeuvrability in pursuit allows them to sneak up close before chasing smaller birds through areas which most birds that size wouldn’t even get through, let alone at that speed. However, due to the numerous birds looking out for them, as soon as they are seen, the alarm call is raised, and they have lost their benefit of undetection, hence why only around one in ten hunts results in a catch.

When breeding, Sparrowhawks time the hatching of their chicks so that the chicks hatch at the same time that most smaller birds’ chicks fledge and leave the nest. Therefore, as fledglings make fairly easy pickings for Sparrowhawks, there is generally plenty of food around for the chicks, and not much chance of shortage.

There are roughly 35,000 breeding birds in the UK, and although their numbers faced a major decline in the past, they are now much more stable. Unlike most birds of prey, Sparrowhawks don’t usually live any more than three years – a relatively short lifespan.

In addition to my previous encounters, I have also had many more sightings, but one of the most amazing recent ones was in my garden. One of them was where I was playing badminton outside in the garden, when suddenly a male Sparrowhawk came soaring straight over the net, where it narrowly missed colliding with a shuttlecock that I had just hit. Again, like in previous posts, it was incredible to see such a beautiful bird up close, and also how it has adapted to survival in urban environments. It was clearly now much more tolerant of humans around it. Amazingly, I still not seen a Sparrowhawk actually hunt successfully and kill a bird, but maybe this will in time come. I am also greatly hoping that I will get to ring one of these birds soon, and see them up close, although I am not sure about whether I really want to hold one with those talons and beak.

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Farmoor Reservoir – Red-Necked Phalarope, Dunlin, and Little Grebes

Last Sunday, when we dropped off my brother at his sailing course, my parents and I decided to go for a wander around Farmoor Reservoir. I knew that a Red-Necked Phalarope had been spotted there very recently, and so I was hoping that we might see it.

After not too long, about halfway along the causeway through the middle of the reservoir, we spotted this tiny and beautiful wader. The bird was a juvenile bird, in the middle of its migration up north. This was quite a rare sighting for Oxford, as only around 30 of these birds migrate through the country each migration season. Unlike, most waders, these small birds (not much bigger than a House Sparrow), spend most of their time swimming about on the water, and with their lobed toes, are well adapted to doing so. Being a juvenile, it was nowhere near as colourful as the adults are, when they are in their breeding plumage, and so, this bird was mostly white, with a little grey, and no red neck at all.

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Juvenile Red-Necked Phalarope

Also, on the shore next to it, was a juvenile Dunlin – a similarly sized bird, but one that prefers to spend most of its time on its feet wading. I was amazed at how tame these two birds were, as they were not at all bothered by our presence, and were not disturbed by either us, or the many sailing boats in the water.

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Juvenile Dunlin

As usual, there were also huge numbers of Black-Headed Gulls and Coots at Farmoor. There were also two species of Grebe present – Great Crested and Little – two birds that hunt for fish and other underwater animals, by diving down underwater for long periods of time, and chasing their prey. At this time of year, most of the Great Crested Grebes aren’t in their spectacular breeding plumage, instead in a duller white, black and grey plumage.

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Little Grebe

On the smaller of the two reservoirs there, many Cormorants rest and sunbathe on some rafts that float on the water. There were at least 30 of these birds sitting on them. Unfortunately, I was not able to pick out the Shag among them, that had been spotted recently. There were also lots of Tufted Ducks at the reservoir – another species of diving duck, and one where the male in particular stands out. The male has a black and white plumage with an unmistakeable crest on its head. The females however, is a more browny black colour, with a hardly noticeable crest on the back of the head.

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Tufted Duck

Although I was only there for a short time, I was very pleased to see a huge variety of birds, and especially a Red-Necked Phalarope so close to home.

Nuthatches, Woodpeckers and more Bird Ringing

Apologies for the last post just now, which I accidentally published after just starting to write! There appears to have been a slight problem with either the computer or myself! Not sure which! I have now deleted this post from my blog page.

Back in my garden, there has been lots of bird activity recently, with large flocks of tits starting to form and congregate at the feeders. There have been huge numbers of Blue, Great, Coal and Long-Tailed Tits all visiting the garden at once, with numbers even reaching up to 40 at times. The purpose of these mixed flocks is for safety from predators (although, predators are more likely to find them), and to increase the chance of finding some food for survival. These flocks particularly start to form around early Winter, before times start getting harder for the tits. Occasionally, a Nuthatch has made a visit with them as well – a bird that I have not seen in the garden for a year or two. Nuthatches are incredible birds with their stunning orange and blue plumage with a thick black stripe through the eye. They also have the phenomenal ability to be the only bird to walk headfirst down a tree, unlike Woodpeckers and Treecreepers, which have their head pointing upwards.

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Nuthatch

Having said earlier in the year that I was hoping to have a juvenile Great Spotted Woodpecker visiting the garden, I have recently been very pleased to spot not only an adult, but also a juvenile with a totally red head. However, they have not visited the garden or the feeders together yet, perhaps suggesting that its parents are elsewhere, or that it has left its parents.

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Juvenile Great Spotted Woodpecker

Very recently, my bird ringing group with whom I train, decided to try and come ring birds in our garden. So, we moved our feeders out more into the open and then set up some mist nets around three sides of them. Although, I was quite disappointed to only catch three species of bird – Coal Tit, Blue Tit, and Great Tit, we did catch 20 individual unringed birds. For next time, we have decided to place the mist nets better, move the feeders 1 week before, so that the birds can adjust to it, and also, ring inside so that we don’t disturb the birds while we process and ring the birds that we have caught.

I have also recently visited Warneford Meadow – part of my local patch that is very close to my home, where I was able to spot some birds such as Green Woodpeckers and Kestrels, which is incredible considering that this is virtually surrounded by houses. The meadow often provides a wide range of wildlife at different times of year, and can be a beautiful place to quickly escape to for enjoying nature, without walking far.

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Green Woodpecker
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Speckled Wood