I am sitting at home, frustrated by my third bout of infection in the last two months. So, between recovery naps, I thought I would do something for the blog.
Our garden is a typical 1970’s Cramlington plot. The back garden is about 20 metres square and would give the likes of Alan Tichmarsh and Monty Don nightmares.
Most of the back garden is rough grass, grazed by our pet rabbits, who have a free run, apart from being separated from the 1.5 by 2.5 metre wildlife pond at the bottom. We have two trees; an ornamental copper cherry and a single conifer (I think it’s an Irish Yew). The garden is fenced and behind the bottom fence the neighbour has a mature Leylandii hedge that just peeps over the top. To the south of that garden, overlooking the corner of our plot is a large Bird Cherry which, unusually, shed its leaves in early September this year. Our cherry dropped all its leaves in one week in mid October. This tree, being about two metres taller than our cherry and further from obstructing buildings, provides a vantage point for all of the surrounding gardens and so is usually occupied by several birds.
We have three feeding stations. There are three bird feeders, one each of mixed seed, niger and black sunflower, hanging from a feeding pole half way across the rear of the garden, about three metres away from the hedge. A table feeder and a single mixed seed feeder hang on brackets from one of the fences.
The number of species recorded in our garden is 35, with a further 31 seen from it. The most common visitors are Blackbirds, there is hardly a moment when there is none in the vicinity. The winter always brings an influx. At first these winter visitors are wary of one another and there is much squabbling over the bird table and for fallen seed under the feeders. Eventually they settle and feed together, probably having realised that, short of a plague, there is always enough food for all that visit.
This morning we had three Chaffinches, which is unusual. We last had that many in the heavy snow two winters ago. Greenfinches always raid our sunflower seed in number, with up to eight at a time. Tits are ever present; Coal Tits flit in quickly and take their food to one of the trees or the hedge. Blue and Great Tits seem to spend more time selecting their seed and usually use our cherry as a feeding perch.
Two of our neighbours regularly throw food on to their lawn and attract large flocks of Starlings, which regularly visit our patch, but seldom in large numbers, unless the weather is severe.
The sunflower seed, in one of those very long RSPB feeders, goes much more quickly than the other food. In late autumn/early winter much of it is hoarded by Coal Tits, as I explained in an earlier blog. So far this winter, the number of House Sparrows has been very low, perhaps they prefer the fare in another garden; I am aware that many people in our road seem to have feeders of some sort.
We feed all through the year and have regular visits from all the common species, even when natural food is plentiful. In the summer we had regular visits from a pair of Wood Pigeons, plus two offspring. Recently they have not been in evidence, which must please the resident Collared Doves, who had the rough end of the battle for the bird table when their much bulkier cousins were around. The Collared Doves eat the spoil that builds up in the catching tray of the niger feeder. Whilst they must get some spilled feed, they are obviously also consuming a lot of husk.
The most spectacular visitors are Sparrowhawks, who are often seen circling high overhead and occasionally charge through the garden, scattering everything in sight. Occasionally they land on the fence to afford a good view. Female Sprawks are far more often seen than males.
The most unusual visitors have been Waxwings, Goldcrests, a very vocal Chiffchaff, Willow Warblers, singles of Blackcap and Reed Bunting and a Great Spotted Woodpecker. The most surprising rarity is Song Thrush, with only two records in over twenty years. I suspect that a lack of ground cover does not suit Song Thrushes; there are always a few around the large estate to the north.
Since I was a child, I have derived great pleasure from watching birds in the garden. Many hours spent watching and getting to know every day birds pays dividends when faced with having to identify a new bird. Being able to compare a new bird with those that are familiar is at the root of identification.