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Tuesday 16 February 2021

Confined to Barracks - 1st to 14th February, 2021

As I write this,  other than a trip to the pharmacy to pick up our monthly supply of medication, a visit to our local medical practice to get our first Covid vaccine shots, and a click-and collect visit to Aldi last night I have not left the premises since 22nd January. However, things have to change and I reckon that, unless it is raining continually, this week I will get out for a walk in the countryside.

In view of the above, you will not be surprised to hear that this post will totally feature sightings in the Pegler garden. So here we go . . . . . . . .

Tuesday, 2nd February

The highlight of this day was a visit by a Song Thrush, as it is very rarely that we get a visit from this species. Sadly, it did not stop long and my attempts at photography failed. I did, however, get a few shots of a female Bullfinch that was now visiting us regularly, and one just about usable shot of a Coal Tit, which also visits us regularly at the moment.

Bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula) (female) - garden on 2nd February, 2021

Coal Tit (Periparus ater) - garden on 2nd February, 2021
I was surprised to find that the trail cams showed that a Hedgehog had come out of hibernation that night (actually in the early hours of the morning of the next day). This resulted in me quickly checking that all was in tip-top condition in the one remaining Hedgehog feeding station set up in the garden.
Hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus)
Thursday, 4th February
We had been having a female Blackcap visiting relatively regularly, although she was a little camera-shy. However, on this day, we were delighted to have two male Blackcaps visit together. My attempts to get both in the same shot didn't come to much, but I did get some shots of single birds.

Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla) (male) - garden on 4th February, 2021
Just as exciting was the return of the male Siskin, this time accompanied by his lady. Sadly my attempts at photography failed.
I did, however, manage a couple of shots of the male Bullfinch that arrived. We are getting frequent visits by one lone female Bullfinch with a bad right leg, but infrequent visits by a male/female pair. Here's a shot of the male.

Bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula) (male) - garden on 4th February, 2021
The Hedgehog was still visiting and feeding well.
Friday, 5th February
We had a quite interesting day, with 18 species of bird visiting, including the male Siskin and the female Blackcap.
The Hedghog was still visiting, and we know for certain that this was one of our Hedghogs from last year as it went straight for the feeding station on its first visit on 3rd February, and we had total confirmation when it was also seen 'mountaineering' on subsequent visits. Last year, one of the hogs (this one!) found that I tended to leave a dish of mealworms out on a ledge that a 'stone' pelican sits on above what we jovially refer to as 'the duck pond'. As mealworms are seriously detrimental to the health of a Hedghog if consumed in any significant quantity, I had to ensure that the mealworm dish was empty each night. This one had obviously not forgotten the mealworms and went looking for them - it was disappointed!
Saturday, 6th February
Another interesting day with 19 species visitng, and the arrival of a Reed Bunting in the garden. However, the only bird that I managed to photograph was a male Blackcap.
Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla) (male) - garden on 6th February, 2021
Sunday, 7th February
It had turned very cold overnight, and the only birds photographed that day were a pair of Magpie that had taken to scoffing the mealworms left by Pippin (the 'stone' pelican).

Magpie (Pica pica) - garden on 7th February, 2021
Disappointingly, one of the trail cams revealed our first visit by a Brown Rat in several months, just as snow was starting to fall. This is one creature that fills me with dread!
Monday, 8th February
We awoke to a light covering of snow, and our trail cams were still running when the Blackbirds started their day. Blackbirds and Robins are always the first up in the mornings and the last to bed at night.
To my delight, the cold weather brought us another visit by Song Thrush, and this time I did manage a record shot.
Song Thrush (Turdus philomelos) - garden on 8th February, 2021
The the snow had gone by the evening and trail cams showed that the Hedgehog was still around, feeding well, and had not given up looking for the mealworms. Note that the camera shows a temperature of -7°c (20°f) as it starts mountaineering but that soon rises by a couple of degrees. This seems to be a phenomenon caused by the camera warming as it operates, with the batteries giving out heat.
Tuesday, 9th February
We had more snow during the night and temperatures stayed low. This brought in the birds. I was continually having to go to 'the duck pond' at the top of the garden with a kettle of boiling water to melt some ice so that the birds could drink. There was an outstanding tally of 22 species of bird visit our garden that day.
Our most notable visit was by three Reed Bunting. We rarely get this species in the garden, but had been having one visit occasionally since 6th February. I don't believe that we have ever had a pair before, let alone three! There were two females and a male. The females came down and fed on the spillage under the feeders.

Reed Bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus) (female) - garden on 9th February, 2021
The male kept a watchful position on top of the fence, looking down at his ladies.
Reed Bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus) (male) - garden on 9th February, 2021
A male siskin also visited.

Siskin (Spinus spinus) (male) - garden on 9th February, 2021
A female Blackcap managed to get to the remains of the mealworms after the Starlings had raided them.
Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla) (female) - garden on 9th February, 2021
The Pied Wagtail was still visiting and, momentarily, we had two in the garden. 
Pied Wagtail (Motacilla alba yarrellii) (male) - garden on 9th February, 2021

Currently, we are getting more sightings of this species in our garden each day than we have had in total over the past 35 years that we have lived here! However, this looks as if it may be the first winter in about 20 years that we have not had a sighting of Grey Wagtail in the garden.
The two Fieldfare (our first of the winter) were, unfortunately, not photographed. 

I couldn't resist some shots of a Starling standing on Pippin's head.
Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) - garden on 9th February, 2021
Wednesday, 10th February
The cold spell was still with us, and we had plenty of snow in the early part of the day. Again the tally of birds visiting was 22 species, although of a slightly different mix to the previous day. 

If you are not familiar with wagtails, and wondered how they got their name, I offer the following as evidence!
Only our second observation of a visiting female Siskin this winter resulted in just a record shot.
Siskin (Spinus spinus) (female) - garden on 10th February, 2021
Our resident Wren spent some time looking for food in the moss on the wall surrounding the bit of garden that used to be a large koi pond.

Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes) - garden on 10th February, 2021
The pathfinder Long-tailed Tit briefly visited, but forgot to bring his friends along later.

Long-tailed Tit (Aegithalos caudatus) - garden on 10th February, 2021

Pied Wagtail (Motacilla alba yarrellii) (male) - garden on 10th February, 2021
As you can see in this next clip, most of the snow had gone by late afternoon.
Thursday, 11th February
Sightings for the day were down a little, but we still had some 'foul weather friends' visiting us. It was especially gratifying to see Song Thrush again, albeit briefly.
Song Thrush (Turdus philomelos) - garden on 11th February, 2021
Although the female Blackcap was still visiting several times a day, sightings of a male have continued to be sparse. It seems that this winter has been an absolute bumper winter for Blackcap sightings, especially in gardens, and this is reckoned to be due to a large influx from mainland Europe.
Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla) (male) - garden on 11th February, 2021
Friday, 12th February
I'm not sure that 'making hay while the sun shines' is an appropriate expression here, considering the weather (!), but I have found myself concentrating on trying to get shots of special visitors, notably the Pied Wagtails and Blackcaps, and these seem to be particularly difficult to achieve to an adequate level of satisfaction. Here are two of the female Blackcap from this day, and probably some of my better ones of this bird.

Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla) (female) - garden on 12th February, 2021
Saturday, 13th February
A trail cam caught a Robin trying to get a drink at 'the duck pond' before I'd had time to defrost it. You can see from the data on the following clip that the temperature was still quite low.
Wren was busy fishing grubs from the moss on the walls again.

Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes) - garden on 13th February, 2021

The usual Pied Wagtail, recognisable by an isolated black spot on its left breast (but not in this shot), was still with us and spending much time at the Duck Pond, fishing mealworms out of the water after they'd been scattered there by the Starlings.

Pied Wagtail (Motacilla alba yarrellii) (male) - garden on 13th February, 2021
Sunday, 14th February
We had another good tally of species this day, with 20 species visiting. However, in deference to Lindsay and the significance of this date, I did not pay much attention to garden photography. However, I did take some more shots of that irresistable character - the Wren!
Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes) - garden on 14th February, 2021

This was the last day with any snow. The following day, the snow had all gone and all that was left was a thick covering of ice on the pond.
Thus ended what I believe to be another record-breaking week for us, with a total of 26 species stopping off in the garden - so many that they would not fit in the spaces on the recording sheet and I had to put 'Wagtail, Pied' at the bottom of the sheet! 

Thus ends my report on the first half of February. I take this opportunity to apologise to Diane, and anyone else who does not have the benefit of high-speed internet, as I have included rather a lot of video clips. I have, however, tried to keep them short, and hope that they will not give you too many headaches! 
I guess it will be another fortnight until my next blog post, and hopefully there will be a little more variety included in it.

In the meantime, take great care and stay safe!
Since writing the above, I did get out today (16th February). I had a two hour walk, saw very little, and was disappointed at the lack of social distancing observed by the majority of people I crossed paths with. No wonder that we in England have one of the worst Covid records on the planet! I will not let it put me off, however, but just continue to be ultra-cautious!

Tuesday 2 February 2021

The Second Half of January - 15th -31st January, 2021

The second half of the month has been somewhat of a mixed experience. More tightly controlled lockdown resulted in me only taking one short excursion into the countryside in that period, and that was not overly productive. However, an unusual cold spell, accompanied by snow, changed the garden bird dynamic a little. Herewith, some of the highlights of the period.

Thursday, 15th January

An unremarkable day in the garden, other than visits by a Carrion Crow and a Jackdaw. Hitherto, these have been relatively rare visitors to our garden (particularly the Jackdaw), but their visits have been increasing in frequency this winter.

Jackdaw (Corvus monedula) - garden on 15th January, 2021
Monday, 18th January

We had visits by Carrion Crow and Jackdaw again, but most notable was the female Blackcap which arrived for the third day running.

Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla) (female) - garden on 18th January, 2021

Stock Dove (Columba oenas) - garden on 18th January, 2021
Thursday, 21st January

The highlight of this day was a return of the Reed Bunting, We had had our first visit of this species, since March 2020, on 13th January. This time I managed some slightly better shots.

Reed Bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus) (male) - garden on 21st January, 2021

Grey Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) - garden on 21st January, 2021
Friday, 22nd January

As previously mentioned, visits by a Carrion Crow have become a little more frequent than we are used to. However, on this day, we had two visit. Although two Magpies visiting is not a rare occurrence, I don't recall getting a pair of them in one shot before. I can't resist, therefore, putting in this poor shot which records all four birds in our Cob Nut tree at one time on this day!

Carrion Crow (Corvus corone) (2) + Magpie (Pica pica) (2) - garden on 22nd January, 2021
That afternoon, I found myself getting stir-crazy and came to the conclusion that I just had to get out for a while, so headed down to 'my local patch' for a walk down the lane. 

Having parked my car I headed eastward along the lane. I'd been hoping to see Yellowhammer again, but none were spotted and, ironically, having seen only a few Reed Bunting in 2020, and having had a sighting in our garden the previous day, the only birds of interest were a pair of Reed Bunting. I only got a distant shot of one of them. It didn't help that the hedge had recently been flailed.

Reed Bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus) (male) -my 'local patch'

Having turned around and reached my car, I decided to leave the road and check out some of my old Little Owl sites. I was not too hopeful, and any hopes I had were soon dashed by too much mud and water in my path. I had only come prepared for road walking and, to go further, wellingtons would have been essential. Distant checking of four sites, however, revealed nothing.

Back at the car, I set off on foot down the lane in the opposite direction to that recently taken and soon found a pair of Linnet in the hedge. This is a species I seldom see locally. The pair were sitting low in the top of the recently flailed hedge, and not photographable. However, they then flew up into a small tree and I just about managed a shot of one before they departed. Sadly, it was straight into the sun.

Linnet (Linaria cannabina) (female) - my 'local patch'
Further on down the lane I heard the chattering of Fieldfare. There was a good-sized group (probably 50+) commuting between a field behind the hedge and trees beside the lane. These are, typically, very nervous birds but, by staying still for a while and waiting, I managed some shots from probably only about 20 metres away.

Fieldfare (Turdus pilaris) - my 'local patch'
It had been a very enjoyable walk, even if not the most productive. However, as I write this, I have not managed to get out since then, partly due to concern about rising Covid infection rates, but also influenced by the weather.

Saturday, 23rd January

An unremarkable day, with some sunshine which allowed me to take a shot of a Starling in the top of our elder tree, affectionately known as 'the black bush' .

Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) - garden on 23rd January, 2021
Sunday, 24th January

We awoke to the forecast flurries of snow which intensified during the day giving a good covering by the end of the day. I believe that it was five years ago that we last saw this amount of snow, and so I spent much of the day trying to photograph some of the birds that visited. This was not easy, due to the continual dense cloud giving low light levels, but the snow tricking the camera into trying to cater for high light levels. I was constantly adjusting compensation values. Snow falling against the window glass that I was trying to shoot through didn't help matters!

I think of this Pied Wagtail as being our 'foul weather friend' as he seems to show up when all the water around us is frozen, and I'm out there from time to time making sure there's water in our garden for the birds to drink and bathe in. He also picks up a snack of dried mealworms which I leave in a pot beside the water for him to enjoy. This is this bird early in the day before the snow really started.

Pied Wagtail (Motacilla alba yarrellii) (male) - garden on 24th January, 2021
As I do not get many opportunities to photograph birds in snow, here are quite a few more, taken when the snow was deeper, starting with more of the Pied Wagtail.

Pied Wagtail (Motacilla alba yarrellii) (male) - garden on 24th January, 2021
Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) - garden on 24th January, 2021

Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs) (female) garden on 24th January, 2021

Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs) (male) garden on 24th January, 2021
Sadly, the male in that last image is exhibiting a case of 'scaly foot' - a problem that is common in this species.
Monday, 25th January
The snow was still with us but already starting to melt. However, I did spend a little time trying to make the most of the snow.

Blackbird (Turdus merula) (female) - garden on 25th January, 2021

Carrion Crow (Corvus corone) - garden on 25th January, 2021

Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs) (male) garden on 25th January, 2021

I had recently taken to setting a couple of my trail cams to take stills, rather than movies, through the day, and was quite pleased with this shot of House Sparrows and a Starling. It was taken when I had not had time to clear the ice that had re-formed on what we jokingly refer to as 'the duck pond'!

House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) + Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) - garden on 25th January, 2021
Wednesday, 27th January

The female Blackcap visited us again this day, but I failed to get a photo. At the risk of boring you with Chaffinches, here is one of my better shots of a male Chaffinch showing the scaly foot problem more clearly.

Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs) (male) garden on 27th January, 2021
Friday, 29th January

The highlight of this day was a visit by a male Siskin. They have been a bit thin on the ground in our garden so far this winter.

Siskin (Spinus spinus) (male) - garden on 29th January, 2021
Sunday, 31st January

The week, and month, ended with seventeen species of bird visiting us this day, although there was nothing very exciting. I did take some shots of a female Bullfinch outside my study window.

Bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula) (male) - garden on 31st January, 2021

This brings me to the end of my account of my observations in the last half of the first month of what I hope will be a better year for us all than 2020 was. For Lindsay and I the light at the end of the tunnel is shining a little brighter as we now have appointments to get our first shot of vaccine. However, unless something totally unexpected happens, lockdown restrictions will prevent us taking up our March booking for a week on the Isles of Scilly. Our fingers are crossed for our booked visit to the Outer Hebrides in early summer, when we should both be fully and actively vaccinated.

I suspect that my next blog post will be in about two weeks time, and whether I have anything to show will, as always, be in the lap of the gods.

I hope that all is well with you and, if it has not already done so, a vaccine comes your way in the near future. In the meantime, please take good care and stay safe!