Thursday, 20 March 2008

A Right Poser

I had another ABB! day at Carsington this week. Pretty average event by our standards, by which I mean GREAT! Plenty of excited schoolchildren through, although many of them were dangerously obsessed with ticking off the birds on their list. It's a ragged road to go down kids, believe me!

Our bird list for the event included the Great Northern Diver (surely this bird has earned itself a pet name by now - 5 months into this year's stay and probably 6 last winter too!), Buzzard, Raven, Kingfisher, Oystercatcher, Redshank, Lapwing, Little Owl (the pair cosying up together, aww...), Kestrel, Bullfinch and notably a lost Pink-footed Goose with the resident feral Canadas and Barnacles, among the regular characters. Reports of Sand Martin arrivals also came in with a reliable recording of 2 birds, and I enjoyed a nifty Chiffchaff giving himself away with an unmistakable call that really jolly well announces the beginning of spring.
Those first few Sand Martins may provide that unlikely possibility this weekend of the sight of hirundines skimming over fields of snow, weather which should push them back south again.

Special mention goes to the Robin (pictured), so disregarding of my presence I could flip to the macro function on my camera.
I was reading recently that catholic as the Robin's diet is, with a great range of berries, seed and kitchen scraps taken in winter, they still require invertebrates during the season and would perish without them. So in harsh weather, offering mealworms to your garden Robin could make all the difference. After all, you try searching out insects and spiders during the harshest weather of winter and discover how easy it is!

Some thumbnails of the red-breast...

Happy birding folks!

Friday, 14 March 2008


Had a visit from the neighbourhood Sparrowhawk earlier this week. As I had the choice to break away from what I was doing I sat for an hour in anticipation of the hunt, only to be frustrated when the bird lunged after a sparrow down the other side on next door's roof.
But what am I saying frustrated? It's thrilling enough to see the bird at all!

Over the years I have watched some memorable hunts outside my kitchen window, most remarkably when a mouse chose really the worst moment possible to ascend the bird table - as a Sparrowhawk was already sat on the fence about six feet away, hardly believing its luck I'm sure. I was impressed the mouse clambered around the overhang onto the platform, much more amazed when the hawk swept in, and somersaulted in one swift movement to snatch the startled rodent as it leapt a good 10 inches in the air at the last instant in vain hopes of avoiding its terminal fate. Incredible reflexes from both creatures.

This is the first time I've noticed the Sparrowhawk perched around the garden since last summer. Fingers crossed it'll be claiming a territory here.

When I'm ABBing visitors do share their experiences of backyard Sparrowhawks, most people chuffed to have them. To the less assured I try to explain it in terms of having a 'David Attenborough film in your garden'. There are Lions in the Serengeti, Tigers in the Sundarbans, and your garden, it has Sparrowhawks! All apex predators, full of (deadly) charisma, just enjoy the action!

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Aren't ABB Days Brilliant?

It's been a while since I had the time to update, so in no particular order I'll attempt a few posts to recap the past month, starting with...

...another Carsington ABB(!) event day.
Forget the Great Northern Diver, Raven, Little Owl and Curlews, stunning as they are they made for second billing yesterday, for in front of the wildlife centre - a mere handful of yards from our big window - we had Great Crested Grebes deep in courtship, head flicking and weed* waving, the whole divine, unimaginable, shebang which they repeated throughout most of the day.

Our visitors, those who came despite a nigh hysterically bad weather forecast, were truly thrilled. With luck these birds shall nest in the willow to the left of picture (above), however there are complications. After such a beautiful display the pair were chased from the area by a feisty lone individual grebe of their own species, a real spoilsport by any measure - who wasn't above diving beneath the water to nip at the feet of our star couple. The day ended with the one bird snoozing in their place.
So what next for these grebes? Will they reclaim the willow? Can the villain of the peace attract a mate of its own? Will the Coot have the final say on who nests there? The story, as they say, is to be continued...

Elsewhere on the day Bullfinches queued in resplendent pink costumes at the feeding station near Lane End hide, and beside Paul Stanley hide I saw my first Chiffchaff of the season. Spring is whispering around the reservoir. Our Tawny Owl remains resident in its tree, one wing again curiously drooped as it naps the day away - it's a real sloucher of an owl we have up there.

During a previous ABB(!) event day, a charming couple told me about the foxes they'd become firm friends with. As they described feeding the animals, the couple themselves recognised the relationship was turning more toward owner/pet than watcher/wildlife, and asked for my advice. I told them that feeding is fine within reason, but failed to be more specific. Well, if you're out there I did a little reading (referring mostly to Chris Packham's excellent book 'Back Garden Nature Reserve') and if you do want to feed your suburban foxes the best practice is to make sure whatever you give them is a bonus and not a replacement for their usual diet. Do it no more than three times a week, putting the food in different places, any kitchen scraps will do. Above all enjoy watching them!

(* it should be understood that an offer of filthy pond weed equals true romance in the grebe world!)