Monday, 4 March 2013

Winter Visitors

With the beautiful, mild and sunny weather we have had today this post feels a little out of date but having already put it together I might as well go ahead regardless. Just a few weeks ago, during the snow, I was pleased to see Fieldfares in the garden which had been attracted by the apples I scattered on the ground and speared onto tree branches. All of the photos were taken through double glazing in the north facing garden in dim conditions so were the best I could manage under the circumstances.


These handsome Winter visitors, members of the thrush family, are always a pleasure to see in the garden and every time we have snow I know they are likely to appear.

They can be very defensive of 'their' food and there is usually one which is dominant and sees off all comers. Other Fieldfares are constantly chased away and other hopeful feeders, even the usually confident Blackbirds, never stand a chance when it is on patrol! There is an awful lot of valuable energy and eating time lost by all involved during this behaviour, such a shame when there is plenty of food, around the garden, for all.

'Look into the garden,
Where the grass was green;
Covered by the snowflakes, 

Not a blade is seen.'


'The fieldfares sit torpid and motionless,
Yet peering round suspicious of deceit.
At our approach they mount, and,
Loudly chattering from on high,
Bid the wild woods of human guile beware.'
(Thomas Gisborne)

Despite their cantankerous behaviour, when defending their food, Fieldfares are gregarious birds which roost in flocks, sometimes on the ground. Gilbert White of 'The Natural History of Selborne' fame said that 'Fieldfares, though they frequently perch during the day, always appear to roost on the ground' However, John Blackwall disproved that assertion, when he noted in 1812, on a visit to Tamworth in Staffordshire, that although 'they regularly assembled in an extensive wood in the neighbourhood, and roosted on the ground, among the withered grass and fern, under the trees and bushes' that a relation of his, 'to whom this species is familiarly known, assures me, that on moon-light nights, he has shot individuals with his air-gun, as they sat at roosts on the naked branches of lofty trees.' :-(  The distasteful mention of shooting was presumably with reference to the fact that Fieldfares were once considered a delicacy at the table :-(  While their breeding grounds are mainly in northeast Europe I was interested to read that up to four or five pairs remain here each year and breed in Scotland. 

'The fieldfare wakes from dreams of love;
Hears the loud north and beating snow,
Regards the drifted brakes below,
Swift to her wing returns her beak.
And shivers as the tempests break.'

 (John Gisborne [younger brother 
of the above Thomas])

I have also seen male and female Bramblings in the garden recently and both male and female Blackcaps but couldn't get any photos. A solitary Redwing (I assume it was the same one each day) also visited regularly but I didn't see it showing any interest in the apples, spending its time instead on the margins of the garden presumably hunting for any worms or insects that might be lurking in the areas of ground which weren't snow covered. I couldn't even get one anywhere near decent photo but when they have visited the garden previously they have always stayed in the trees or bushes eating any leftover berries so I have included this poor record shot anyway.


Another bird which usually visits the garden during severe weather is the dainty Pied Wagtail. It seems to hold its own well against the larger birds even the Blackbirds which, in my experience, seem particularly hostile towards it. This one was particularly enjoying the dried mealworms.

Pied Wagtail 

I have a soft spot for the Collared Dove. They are regular, year round visitors to the garden and always seem to display the gentle qualities which the reputation of doves in general suggests. This one looked like it was wishing there was foliage on the tree to shelter it from the falling snow.

Collared Dove

'The trees and the hedges once clothed in bright green,
No traces bear now of what they have been;
All nature in clothing of snow may be seen,
And yet there is beauty to me.'
(Matilda Mumford)

I will finish as I started with a Fieldfare

Until next time...enjoy the beauty of Nature, wherever you are.