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Friday 31 December 2010

What An Ending!! - 31st December, 2010

With all the building work going on behind my garden during the first half of the year, the chances of the 2010 garden bird list reaching the 2009 level looked remote – until the end of the year!!! No doubt due to the really hard weather, December turned out to be a really magical month, with the last week in the year easily being the best, and probably 28th December, or possibly 30th December, being the best day of the year. On 28th our postage stamp suburban garden hosted 2 Brambling, 2 Lesser Redpoll (year tick), 4 Redwing, 1 Fieldfare, 1 Blackcap, 1 Grey Wagtail, 1 Song Thrush, plus all the other birds that are usually seen on pretty much a daily basis. The 30th was also a great day as the Brambling and Redpoll were still with us, but we had our first Reed Bunting for about 20 years.

The 2010 garden total (birds that actually landed in our garden - no ‘fly overs’) was 31 – three more than last year. Seen last year, but not this, were Bullfinch and Siskin. Seen this year, and not last, were Fieldfare, GS Woodpecker, Brambling, Reed Bunting, and Grey Heron.

With all these birds around, it has been particularly frustrating that, following Christmas Day’s sunshine, the weather has been continually dull, grey, and damp. Any photography that I have managed has had to be at ISO 1600, usually at about 1/100th of a second – which is not good, handheld on a 400mm lens! However, I have managed some ‘record images’ and a few that are a little better than that.


Reed Bunting (female)


Lesser Redpoll

The water temperature in our pond dropped to less than minus 2 degrees. The small pond that the birds usually drink from froze solid, and is now severely damaged (it’s still full of ice, but emptying as the ice thaws), so I have got major work to do there as I’m pretty sure it’s the underground piping that’s burst. Although the ice on the main pond was over a foot (30cm) thick in places, I managed to keep an area ice-free by blowing ‘indoor’ air into the water through an air stone. The birds managed to find their way across the ice to get to the water, as shown below.

Blackbird (male)

House Sparrow (male)

Song Thrush is quite a rare visitor to our garden, except during very harsh winter weather. This one seems to have adopted our garden as its home in the last week or so.

Song Thrush


We are also feeding the squirrels at the moment. I know that they're not everyone's favourite creature, but they're very welcome in our garden.

Grey Squirrel

I’m just hoping that the Redpoll and Brambling are still there tomorrow (they are today) so that I get the 2011 garden list off to a good start. It would also be a real bonus if they hung around until there is brighter weather, so that I can get some half-decent photos! I really don't like images of birds on feeders, but on feeders is better than none, when it's for the record.

Wishing you all a very Happy New Year!

Monday 27 December 2010

Cannock Chase - on Christmas Day, 2010

For several years now it has become a tradition for my wife and I to have a picnic Christmas lunch somewhere in the countryside, and then have our main Christmas meal in the evening. This year we had planned to go back to Cannock Chase. We went there for Christmas lunch in 2008, and spotted a Hawfinch - reporting that on Birdguides was something that I've regretted ever since as it became virtually impossible to get near the place for a few months, and there were even some physical hostilities between 'locals' and birders (who seemed to think that they had the right to exclude non-birders from the area!) .

This year we were worried about the road conditions as our route to the Chase is 50% along country lanes, which were still covered in snow and ice. However, on Christmas eve, I had to go out that way to get some wild bird food and found that the roads were quite passable with care. On this journey the roadsides were full of birds. I managed a shot of a Kestrel on a post.

Kestrel (female)

Further on I found a sizable flock of Skylark in a snow-covered field, but the photos (into the sun) are not usable.

Anyway, our journey on Christmas day was quite uneventful, but with plenty of Fieldfare and Redwing being seen along the way. We arrived at the favoured parking spot to find that we were the only people there. We decided to start our Christmas lunch immediately, whilst it was quiet. Within a few minutes a magnificent Fox came into view, and started foraging around where we had parked, giving us excellent views.

Fox (female)

As we arrived, we had noticed a solitary Fieldfare, which was avidly guarding a bush of berries against the numerous Blackbirds in the area. It was so busy doing this that I managed to get reasonably close for some photos without disturbing it.


Of course, Christmas lunch would not be complete without a Robin in attendance!


The occasional Redwing kept popping up in a distant bush, but never came close enough for a satisfying image.


The Bullfinches were there as usual, although they didn't show until we'd been there for nearly an hour.

Bullfinch (male)

Towards the end of our visit, a small herd of Fallow Deer arrived near our car - a lovely way to end an excellent Christmas lunch!

Fallow Deer

On the way home, we made a small diversion to see if there was an Owl out at my Little Owl site No. 15. There wasn't, but this Kestrel was on a post, feeding on a bird - you can just see its upturned feet under the backside of the Kestrel. There was a cloud of feathers as the Kestrel flew off.

Kestrel (female)

Thursday 23 December 2010

Brambling, etc. - Armchair Photography on 22nd & 23rd December, 2010

With loads of snow around, and suffering with a cold, I have resisted the urge to go out birding and spent most of my time wrapped up warm at home. This has given me the opportunity to catch up on some photo processing, and to indulge in some armchair photography - my desk has a good view out over the back garden. The main interest has been the Brambling which has been pretty well living in our garden for the past few days. However, there has been a lot of frantic feeding going on out there - I don't think that the garden has ever been so busy with birds.

Blackbird (female)

Usually our resident pair of Blackbirds jealously guard their patch, chasing off any other Blackbirds that appear. However, currently we are getting up to ten Blackbirds at a time, with very little aggravation.


This Brambling is spending more time in our garden than it is out of it. This year is the first time we have had Brambling in the garden for approximately 20 years, so it is an extremely welcome visitor. Hopefully I'll nail a good shot before it leaves us. In the mean time, I'll have to make do with these.


Sadly, it is rarely that we see Greenfinch in our garden now - they used to be very numerous. However, this bird has been a regular visitor over the last couple of days.

Chaffinch (male)

We often see up to four Chaffinches in the garden at a time. However, just lately, we've been getting up to sixteen - which is probably what has brought us the Brambling!


Goldfinch numbers are currently at roughly the same level as they usually are in finer weather - we're getting up to twenty at a time.

The above images were from yesterday (Wednesday 22nd December). This morning I got up to find a Grey Heron in the garden - a garden 'year tick' and the first for a few years. However, the bird disappeared before I could get to my camera. I did, however, take a few more shots of the Brambling - who knows if/when I might get another opportunity!!


Tomorrow I have to take a cross-country drive (mainly on very minor roads) to buy another 40Kg of bird food, plus another couple of Kg of niger seed. I shall take the camera with me, just in case - particularly as my route will take me within 500 metres of my Little Owl site No.15.

Wednesday 22 December 2010

Just an Owl and a Buzzard - on 21st December, 2010

Having returned from Hungary late on Sunday night, and then spent all day at home, recovering from over-indulgence, on Monday, yesterday was a day for catching up locally. I had to take the car into Loughborough for some major work first, and so just before mid-day I set off in the courtesy car. My first port of call was one of the Little Owl sites on my local patch. I nearly missed her as she wasn't in any place I'd seen her before. However, I eventually spotted her (in full view) in a low window opening. She obligingly allowed me to photograph her from relatively close quarters.

Little Owl - my site No.02

After this, I visited three of my other Little Owl sites (which involved about two hours walking across fields in the snow), and a 'potential' LO site (another half hour walk on footpaths) but no more owls were seen. However, near Kirkby Mallory, this Buzzard obligingly sat there whilst I took some shots from my car window.

Common Buzzard

I did see plenty of other birds (mainly Redwing and Fieldfare) but no useful photos were taken. As it started getting dark, I debated whether to stay out and try and find some more owls, but I'd got myself well and truly chilled, and so decided that it was time to go home for a warming tipple!