Friday, 31 December 2010

End of year but back to the future

Well this is it, in a few hours it will be time to start all the lists again, First of the year, last of the year, total for the year etc. It will also be the first time I will concentrate my watching here at home instead of going all over the place. Its kind of scary doing some proper patch watching but so far its been rewarding and I'm optimistic I'll make some good discoveries this year.

The Whooper Swan at the Riverside Park
As I said the other day, the adult Whooper Swan is still on the Wear at the Riverside Park.  It arrived on the 23rd September and I posted some pictures of it with its ring on 25th September. I've just had a reply  on where it was rung.

Many thanks for your email regarding Whooper Swan. It's ringing history is as follows:
26.09.10 - Female Whooper Swan - River Ouse, Cawood, York (SE 574 379)
Best Wishes, Dan

Yorkshire Swan & Wildlife Rescue Hospital 
So there you have it, I photographed the bird and its ring the day before it was put on its leg ... Spooky or what? I've asked Dan to check his date.

Thursday, 30 December 2010

Long tails tough it out

With now only scattered patches of snow still lying around and the temperature a screeching 6C, it's looking a bit better for the the new year. Five Long-tailed Tits visited the bird table at lunchtime, just to confirm I was worried over nothing about them managing to survive the cold weather. The Great spotted Woodpecker paid a visit too but once again decided not to bother to use the feeders whilst I was there watching.

Long-tailed Tit at the feeder
The Tawny Owls are still calling and even now at 21:30hrs there is one hooting away..

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

More thaw

It managed to stay above zero during the night so things are continuing to thaw. I had to pop into the town centre first thing but as I got there a tad too early I wandered down to the riverside until the shops opened.  The river was running high and fast but clear of the ice it had recently. Along the South Burn 2 Dippers had paired up and the male was singing. In fact there was quite a bit of song with a couple of Robin, 4+ Dunnock and a Great Tit also singing this morning. The feeding station was lifting with wildfowl -

The feeding station was lifting with wildfowl.

22 Canada Goose, 139 Mute Swan, 27 Goosander, 498 Mallard, 4 Cormorant, 144 Tufted Duck, 1 Whooper Swan, and a female Mandarin.

 1 of 144 Tufted Duck I counted this morning
Opposite a Great Spotted Woodpecker and a small flock of Long-tailed Tit were in the riverside trees whilst by the play area another flock of Long-tail Tits  and 45 Siskin were feeding in the Alders. No sign of a Kingfisher today however.
A little later I found myself in Chester Moor where there was another Long-tailed Tit flock and with more at the South Burn Wood entrance, it looks like many have come through this cold spell relatively unscathed. Also at Chester Moor were about a dozen mixed Redwing and Fieldfare  in the hedgerow and a good count of 22 House Sparrow.

Chester Moor still has a good population of House Sparrow
A single Grey Heron flew over  and another patch of Alder held 64 Siskin but they were off as soon as I stopped and raised my binoculars.
By the time I got home the temperature was reading 4C and with little patches of green appearing through the thawing snow and ice and several species of bird in song it was almost spring-like!

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Thaw'th Night

The temperature has been (just) above zero for the last 24hrs and a thaw has started, though slowly. But that little rise in temperature has woken up a few things, particularly at night.
The Tawny Owls having been quiet for a while have become very vocal with 3-4 birds calling within hearing distance of the house the last two nights and tonight just before I post this at 18:30 hrs, two are still hooting and a moth was flying around the outside light and when I caught it, it was, not surprising, a Winter Moth. Also last night, a vixen Red Fox screeched on a number of occasions from the Hermitage Woods.
This morning, from his usual song perch in the garden, the resident Dunnock gave a snatch of song, confirming he has managed to get through this latest cold shape successfully.

Sunday, 26 December 2010

Still snow n Waxwings

Its still -2C and the snow is covering everything. A month ago (24th November) I said rather excitedly .... "Its 18:20hrs and the first snow of the winter.".....  Little did I know that there would be snow in the garden every day from then until now.
The birds are struggling with the ground being either so hard or under so much snow that I'm having to top up the bird table in the garden twice a day when I can but the total number of birds has diminished. 17 Wood Pigeon and 2 Collarded Dove are currently dominating the area but rarely more than 1 or 2 are present until late morning, giving the smaller birds such as the Blue Tit, Great Tit and Coal Tit, Robin, Song Thrush and Dunnocks a chance to feed. The Siskin and Blackbird seem to be less bothered about the bully pigeons. A Sparrowhawk has probably noted the birds now and I've seen it several times in the past few days and if it hasn't already, it will soon, start using the garden as one of it's local fly-in takeaways.

A walk around the fell produced a lot of snow but little in the way of wildlife, but despite all this nature carries on. I have seen 3 species of plant, all trees as it happens, in flower, during the week. There were Betula pendula (Silver Birch), Corylus avellana (Hazel) and Populus tremula (Aspen).
There was still 1-2 Willow Tit, 4 Bullfinch and a Nuthatch in South Burn woods. The Fell itself had a few more Bullfinch and a scattering of five species of thrush , ie Blackbird, Redwing, Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush and Fieldfare. However the best birds were 3 Waxwing that flew over heading towards Sacriston so I hope hope these hang around until the new year. I could not find any Long-tailed Tit or Lesser Redpoll today, the latter I was hoping to track down both to photograph and check them,  as there has been a few Mealy and Arctic Redpolls around the last few days.

Monday, 20 December 2010

I've been sussed

Its still rather cold, with -7C overnight,  but rather strangely,  only a dusting of snow compared with many parts of the NE and the rest of the UK. It makes a nice change to listen to other people complaining about the deep snow and we hardly have any. That is apart from the snow-hills on the street corners left by the snowplough ten days ago and showing no sign of melting.

Yet another Woodcock flew over this morning as did a Grey Wagtail and despite the cold night,  the local Tawny Owls were very vocal. The first time I've heard them for a few weeks.

Even though the feeders in the garden are small,  for some reason they seem to attract more than their fair share of large birds. I put food out and melt the ice in the water feeder before first light every morning. The resident Robin roosts in the far corner of the garden but 'tic's as soon as I get near the feeders, alerting me to its presence. It's getting tamer by the day and was on top of the post holding the feeders as I put the food out this morning and was feeding as soon as I turned my back despite it still being dark. But other birds are being to suss out my routine. The Wood Pigeons have been somewhat displaced by two rather aggressive Jackdaws and there were 8 Blackbirds and 2 Song Thrush  feeding there before I left for work this morning. The small birds have to use the hanging feeders as the table and the ground under it is Big Boy territory.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Dormant Nature

With the cold spell back, together with it dark before and after work, this has been a very quiet week. The temperatures have dropped to -5C but seems much colder due to the windchill. The bird table has had the usual visitors with up to 5 Siskins in and out briefly and a noticeable rise in the number of two common birds that have become scarcer recently throughout the UK. These being Song Thrush and House Sparrow, with 3 of each visiting today.
Though Monday was cold it was slightly less so and 3 Winter Moth were flitting around the outside light in the late evening. This is one of those moths where the female of this species is virtually wingless and cannot fly, though the males can fly strongly.
But that was it as far as it goes this week, Nature seems to be having a bit of a kip in the cold.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

The Wood Pigeon gang

Most of the snow has gone and with it the activity at the bird table, bar my permanent gang of Wood Pigeons. The flock of 20+ Siskin is still buzzing around together with the odd one or two that seen to fly over every few minutes. Other fly overs today include a Grey Wagtail, 5 Redwing, 2 Blackbirds and a Sparrowhawk.

  Wood Pigeons in the garden

Thursday, 9 December 2010

A garden tick

Looked out into the garden first thing this morning and there, just under the patio window, raking amongst the leaves by the step,  was not as expected a Blackbird,  but something much bigger - a Woodcock! A new one for the garden. They are frequently seen flying over the house, roding, at dusk in the spring and the odd bird flies  over in late autumn but this is the first to be actually in the garden.
The front street at Chester-le-Street continues to produce birds too, as this morning, in addition to 2 Grey Wagtail among 30 Pied Wagtail, a flock of 20-odd Canada Geese flew over heading south.  Unfortunately
there was no repeat performance of yesterday's Red Kite.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Crispy Woodcock & Red Kite shadows

There's been very little new snowfall but there is hardly any  difference in the depth and  its still deep and crisp though no longer even. The bird table is still very busy but no new visitors for a day or two. Its been an excellent couple of weeks for seeing Woodcocks and I suspect many will have succumb in this big freeze. I saw another two this morning walking down the road, 1 feeding under a tiny little scrubbery where there was little snow but plenty of leaf litter.
The bird of the day however I saw as I walked down the Front Street in Chester-le-Street town centre. Several Black-headed Gulls were wheeling about and dropping down to the payments to grab the odd discarded chip and bit of pizza but I didn't take much notice until something like a dark shadow caught my eye.  I looked up but there was nothing but the gulls there, until a few moments later a superb Red Kite flew over the shop roofs and circled the street by the library. I was hoping it would also swoop down for something but presumably they were vegetarian pizza pieces as it made no attempt and then sailed off towards the river. I've had a few Red Kite over the fell, including one earlier this year and found a dead one by the A1 slip road not long after they were introduced in Gateshead in 2005 but it would be good that they became more regular here. I think (though haven't checked) that this is one of the Gateshead birds with a combination of pink and orange wing tags but I couldn't see the numbers. It did appear to be an adult bird, though a little ragged, but presumably not the one I saw earlier in the year over the fell which appeared not to have any wing tags.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

No more snow but no flowering plants either

No snow fell for the second day but there's hardly a thaw. However the bird table is quieter than usual today. The group of Siskin flying around still has all 26 members and there is now at least 3 Coal Tit visiting  including a very strongly marked bird.

A nicely marked Coal Tit in the garden

 I am a member of the Wild Flower Society which is I quote 'The only national society created specifically for amateur botanists and wild flower lovers in the UK.  We are a friendly group who like to meet up throughout the summer months to see and photograph British wild plants in their natural habitats. The Society has been running for over a century and proudly boasts a number of very eminent botanists and academics amongst our ranks with at least fourteen members having plants named after them!'. At this time of year, one of the things they, and myself record, are the number of plants still in flower in each of the months of December, January and February - The Winter Months Count. My counts, not surprisingly are rather pathetic compared to the southern counties but this year, fives days in surprise, surprise, the count so far is zero. In fact its been had to see a plant at all in the snow, never mind a flower. I had 4 species by this time last year (Daisy, Gorse, Common Ragwort & Red Clover) and finished the month on 26 species. Far too early to tell but I think this will probably be my lowest count ever by a considerable way even if the snow shifts soon.

Had no time this weekend, due to chores, to go onto the fell proper,  and have I've missed it.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

18 x £2.75 = more bird food

Went out to stock up on more bird food at lunchtime, not much left in the shops and looking at the prices they're put some of it up by 50p, the greedy you-know-whats. There's still up to 18 Wood Pigeons present in the garden. I see you can buy Wood Pigeons online for £2.75 each.  Now 18 x £2.75 = a good few weeks bird food. Back to the internet search engine 'How do you catch Wood Pigeons?'

26 Siskin in and out of the garden but not wanting to stay and a female Brambling landed on the fence, was tempted but flitted off again. A Mallard drake flew over but I'm not sure where he can find any open water around here. Goldfinch up to 5 now and a single Fieldfare flew over.

I saw a (the) Grey Squirrel  at the end of the street again but I still don't think its found the garden. There's no mammal footprints in the garden snow at all, not even a cat, I think its just too deep for them and any small mammals will be far safer under than on top of it.

I'm now bored with this snow

Its been tough this week for me never mind the birds, walking into the town and back at least, every day in deep snow and freezing cold. There is now 20" of snow lying in most places in the garden and the minimum temperatures the last three nights have been -8C, -10C and -11C . That's worse that Iceland - both the country and the food shop.
The bird table has been very busy and I don't want to try and work out how much I've spent on bird food but it's certainly been appreciated.

Totals for the first three days of December have been

    * Wood Pigeon - 12
    * Collared Dove - 1
    * Waxwing  - 60
    * Pied Wagtail - 1
    * Grey Wagtail - 1
    * Wren - 1
    * Blackbird - 7
    * Robin -3 
    * Dunnock - 4
    * Great Tit - 5
    * Blue Tit - 9
    * Coal Tit - 1
    * Chaffinch - 4
    * Goldfinch - 1
    * Siskin - 20
    * Bullfinch - 2
    * House Sparrow -5
    * Common Starling - 25
    * Carrion Crow - 2
    * Magpie - 1

Both the Waxwings and Siskin came into the garden on Wednesday, the former stripping half the Pyracantha berries off by the time I got home again but never returned. I've also had Woodcocks flying over on both Wednesday and Friday.

By lunchtime I've got 17 18 Wood Pigeon eating all the seed. The internet is a wonderful source for information, I've just found Mr's Beaton's recipe for Pigeon Pie.