Thursday 11 April 2013

Small Signs of Spring

As the weather here in the UK has been bad for so long I haven't had many opportunities to get out with the camera but I thought I would post some of the photos I have managed in the last few weeks. There haven't been any spectacular sightings. I tried very hard to find the Crossbills that had been seen locally but failed on each occasion. On reflection I think I may not have been looking in quite the right place...'in the Larch trees' could apply to quite a few Larch trees in the area indicated...oh well, maybe next year!

It was good to find those early harbingers of Spring, a very welcome patch of Snowdrops.
There are a few still hanging on here but these were seen a month ago.


Most of my recent bird photos have been distant and very 'twiggy' but beggars can't be choosers.


 The winter wind howls back to Northern seas; 
And in his stead comes up the Western breeze 
And budded leaves break freshly on the trees;— 
So, chaffinch, sing:  
A happy piping pipe, the world to please; 
 For this is Spring.'
(Thomas Ashe) 

A visit to a local reservoir is convenient when short of time but not always the most pleasant  experience. Being close to a town it tends to attract rowdy youths walking their often uncontrolled dogs. The reservoir which in my experience tends not to have anything very exciting also suffers from being surrounded by a very high wire fence to presumably stop the local, drunken yobs from falling comment ;-) The fence is always a problem when taking photos and you will notice the criss cross pattern of the wire in a couple of the following ones. This small flotilla of Canada Geese were enjoying a little late afternoon sunshine.

Canada Geese

As was this Mallard.

Mallard Duck

 This Pied Wagtail was busily looking for supper

Pied Wagtail

and putting its best foot forward!


'The smallest bird that walks am I,
You know me by my wagging tail,
And my piercing round black eye;
Through frost, through snow, through rain or hail'
I stay here all the winter through,
And that is more than some birds do.'
(Thomas Miller)

While this swan seen in an adjoining field looked like it was preparing for an appearance in a certain Tchaikovsky ballet!

Mute Swan

It occurred to me to wonder why Mute Swans are so called given that they do make a range of noises. Apparently, it is because they have no actual call and emit no sound during flight other than, of course, the wonderful sound of their wings as they pass over our heads.

In the Larch trees, where I mentioned I had been hoping to find the Crossbills, I was pleased to see a small flock of Siskins mixed with Goldfinches and the odd Redpoll. I managed to get a couple of photos (one can be seen at the beginning of this post) of the Siskins but as is usually the case they were very distant, feeding high in the tops of the tall trees. The old word for Siskin is Aberdevine which was particularly used in London back in the unfortunate times when shops sold them and other wild songbirds in cages :-(


'When naming the aberdevine,
It's siskin that birders assign,
I think the word finch
Might suffice in a pinch,
And I've heard even bird would be fine.'

(Tim Alborn [OEDILF])

Although we haven't had any snow in the last couple of weeks it has been reluctant to go and just last weekend, less than five miles from home, I found there were still snowdrifts at the sides of the road.

In the woodland, where I hoped to find Violets, I was amazed to find there was a covering of snow of around 35 centimetres (12 inches)!!

 In the woodland to the right there was a deep covering of snow!

However, the day before in the same direction and only two or three miles from home there was very little remaining snow to be seen which allowed for some nice springlike sights. As a child I was always thrilled to find the first Pussy Willow of the year, that thrill has never left me.

Pussy Willow

The Gorse was looking colourful too. Gorse is very attractive to invertebrates which in turn of course benefits birds. Some scarce invertebrates are dependent on it. As it flowers over a long period it is an important source of nectar when there are few other plants in flower.


Although high in a tree and doing his best to hide behind the twigs this male Bullfinch looked very striking against the blue sky...and yes it really was that blue!


If it is a thrill to find the first Pussy Willow of the year it is even more of a thrill to find my all time favourite wildflower, the Primrose. I have such fond childhood memories of lengthy walks to the woods with my mother and brother to find them. I also remember getting into all sorts of trouble, when I was only about six or seven years old, for taking my little friend to see them which involved crossing a busy main road!! Of course what I hadn't realised, being so young, was that when we eventually got there the Primroses would have finished flowering weeks before. All that walking and a telling off by my parents for nothing! ;-)


'Now primroses, close shelter'd from the cold,
Just here and there some tender flowers unfold'.
(William Cole)

On the way back home, on Saturday, we had to brake suddenly when we spotted a Pheasant and his mate crossing the road, we were very fortunate there were no cars behind us! Of course I had to try and get a photo and managed to snatch a quick one of the male as they were making their getaway across the grounds of a large house.

Well, I'm sure I have outstayed my welcome so until next time...enjoy the beauty of Nature, wherever you are.

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.

Wednesday 30 January 2013

A Waxwing At Last!

All I wanted for Christmas...was a Waxwing...but I was disappointed! Several times, during December, I spent time locally, following up reports of sightings of small flocks of these much sought after and charismatic birds. The last time there was an irruption of Bohemian Waxwings in the UK in the Winter of 2010/11 many, if not most, of my blogland birding friends were lucky enough to see them but sadly I missed out completely so when it became clear, late last year, that this was to be another 'Waxwing Winter' I was determined to make a concerted effort to try and find them.

Bohemian Waxwing

'But, oh! my spirit burned within, 
My heart beat full and fast!
He came not nigh—he went away— 
And then my joy was past.'
(Acton Bell)

Irruptions of birds occur when the food source in their own area is scarce. Waxwings feed primarily on berries and fruit and the crop there this year was poor. Consequently large numbers arrived in the UK (probably not as many as 2010/11) hoping to take advantage of the bounty here. Unfortunately though our own berry crop has also been poor this time and many of the larger flocks (their preferred way to travel around) of Waxwings have broken up and formed much smaller groups, flying further away from the east coast and across the country in search of dwindling supplies of berries. They will take insects on the wing if available but as I said their preference is berries, Rowan, Hawthorn, Pyracantha etc. They will also eat apples and since late Autumn I have been spearing them onto the branches of trees in my garden in the hope of attracting some but with no luck so far.

My quest to find them before Christmas was not to be. I always managed to just miss them. Most of these sightings were only a matter of four or five minutes' drive away so when, a couple of days before the recent snow arrived, I read more reports of a very small group being sighted in the same area, the hunt was on again. I was scanning the sides of the road for any likely trees or hedges but there really were very few berries to be seen. As we passed one tree I did a double take when I spotted a bird high in the branches but decided it was probably a Starling particularly as I was really looking for a small group of birds rather than just one.

 'Powerful was the beauty of these birds.
It boomed like a struck bell in the silence deep and hot.'
(Edna St. Vincent Millay)

Carrying on searching around the area produced nothing at all and as it was getting late and the light was starting to fail I decided to call it a day. Going back the way we had come I again spotted, high in a different tree, a Starling sized bird...with an unmistakeable crest!! I had found my first ever Waxwing :-) which I think probably was the same bird I had seen earlier. It may only have been one but how thrilled I was! I took a silly amount of photos knowing it was a difficult subject with it being late in the day and as usual not really close enough for my 50-250mm lens. After that I just enjoyed watching it for a while through the binoculars.

Bohemian Waxwings are so called due to their presumed origins from Bohemia and habit of travelling in nomadic flocks. Waxwing refers to the wax like tips on the ends of the secondary feathers which resemble drops of sealing wax. Males which show more red wax are preferred by females. As I have mentioned they normally travel together, usually in flocks of around 50-300 but sometimes in excess of 3,000! When feeding in flocks they will eat in shifts, one group at a time, so that all get their fair share. They really are fascinating birds. When courting, male and female can be seen passing berries back and forth, often for quite prolonged periods. This behaviour has also been observed in social situations where a berry is passed back and forth along a whole row of Waxwings and very unusually they even practise their sharing ritual before fledging! There are no records of them breeding in the UK. Some birds have been observed in this country as late as early May. Their lifespan is around 5 years but there are records of them living until the age of 12.

'Trilling Bohemian waxwings.
Enhancing the winter fragrance of
a crab apple tree of frozen fruit.
Trilling in a most joyous song of
(Jim Smart)

The Latin name is Bombycilla Garrulus. Bombyx (silk) and cilla (tail) which refers to the bird's soft and silky plumage* and garrulus meaning noisy. Collective names for them are an 'earful' of Waxwings and a 'museum' of Waxwings. Old texts have described it as an 'un satiable' bird and a 'lazy and inert fellow whose only accomplishments are within the art of eating'! Given how far and wide they fly to search for food I don't agree with the view that it is 'lazy and inert'. However, it will eat its weight in food each day. Sometimes, when berries have fermented, this has unfortunate consequences causing them to fly in an unstable manner and making them vulnerable to predation and accident. The artist and naturalist John James Audubon would sometimes pick up drunken Waxwings from the ground to use in his illustrations.

 (John James Audubon's 'The Birds of America', 1827-1838.)

So, although I didn't get a Waxwing for Christmas I did get one for the new year. I would love to have seen more than one, to have been closer, for there not to have been twigs in the way and to have seen it earlier in the day when conditions were better but I did see one and that's what really matters :-)

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

* I am indebted to Marianne for the following extra information:

'The idea that 'cilla' means 'tail' comes from a misunderstanding of the scientific name of the wagtail genus, Motacilla. This means 'little mover' (the 'illa' part being a diminuitive), but was taken by some writers, undertandably enough, to mean 'moving tail'. As a result, 'cilla' has since been used to mean 'tail' in several scientific names, including Bombycilla, but really Bombycilla would mean 'little silky thing'.'

Sunday 13 January 2013

Using Up the Leftovers!

I hope everyone had a lovely Christmas and that you will all have a wonderful 2013! As Christmas has only just gone I'm sure many of us have been using up the leftovers whether it be chocolates, snacks or pieces of cheese growing smellier by the day but in my case, as well as all of those it is also photos which never quite made it to the blog. Once these have been 'eaten' up the cupboard will be bare and I will be hoping for better things than I found on my latest walk which was just about nothing, even the usual Winter Thrushes were nowhere to be seen or heard and the ones I saw on previous walks were too flighty for photos. Hopefully, this year will be a better one in every way and I will be able to get out with the camera more often and let's hope all of us in the UK will have much better weather this year surely couldn't be any worse...could it? 

You will probably be relieved to know that the butterflies in this post are the last I will inflict on you until the Spring ;-) These lovely little Small Coppers were seen during my visit to Aston Rowant National Nature Reserve in August.

Small Copper Butterfly

 This butterfly,
Seems as if loth to stir,
so lazily
It flutters by.

(Alfred Billings Street)

The next three were also seen at Aston Rowant, it is a great place for butterflies and the only place I managed to photograph a Brimstone this year which shows what a bad year it was, unfortunately though it was in the wrong place so I haven't included the photo here.

Meadow Brown Butterfly

Ringlet Butterfly

Gatekeeper Butterfly

This one was seen more locally.

Green-veined White Butterfly

I had never seen a wild black rabbit before but spotted this large specimen at another Nature reserve in the late Summer.


A little rabbit, basking in the sun.
Dark night has ended, day has just begun.
The blackbird trills his morning song of love,
And green leaves cascade down from clouds above.
All nature's wide awake – and it seems funny to be a gentle, friendly little bunny!

((Sir) Patrick Moore...In Memoriam...1923-2012)

And this juvenile Coot was spotted looking comical as only Coots can at yet another Nature reserve.

Juvenile Coot

I included the next photo just to show that even the humblest fly can look pretty in the right setting.

Lucilia sp.

'This world surely is wide enough 
to hold both thee and me'
(Laurence Stern)

The next two butterflies were found locally, much later in the year.

Small Tortoiseshell Butterfly

The next is my favourite butterfly, I love its bold colours.

Red Admiral Butterfly

All of the following photos were also taken later in the year, this little Coal Tit was in my garden, they are regular visitors to the feeders.

Coal Tit

I saw this Blue Tit on a local walk during the Autumn. I thought it was interested in the blackberries but on closer inspection of the photo it seems to have found a dragonfly for its supper!

Blue Tit

This Green Woodpecker was quite a distance away. Most of my bird photos have to be heavily cropped as the 50-250mm lens really can't get close enough but is the only one light enough for me to hold comfortably for any length of time.

Green Woodpecker

I saw this Migrant Hawker on the same walk, the only one I saw last year.

Migrant Hawker Dragonfly

 I will finish as I started with this seasonal little Robin.


Well that's it for now, the cupboard is pretty well bare but hopefully, I will be able to get out with the camera in some decent light soon.

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

EDIT: Apologies that for a reason I cannot fathom, when clicked on, only six photos show in Blogger Lightbox. I have tried to correct the problem with no success so far, Hopefully, my next post will be back to normal.