Wildlife diary - winter 2012-13

13 May 2013: End of the season
01 May 2013: Birds in April
12 April 2013: Birds in March
06 April 2013: Birds in February
28 January 2013: The annual RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch
16 January 2013: Long-tailed Tit vs. Great Spotted Woodpecker
27 December 2012: Boring birding winter so far...
30 September 2012: Birds seen over the summer

Monday, 13 May 2013: End of the season

Last update. At this point the birds are far more interested in the cat fur I put out than in the seeds and mealworms. Today I saw and heard my first male Blackcap, although he didn't stick around for long. The trees have sprung, and it's time for me to leave the birds alone to do that stuff they do during the summer. Be safe, little birds - I'll be back at the first frost...

Great Tit Blue Tit Great Tit

Wednesday, 01 May 2013: Birds in April

The season is coming to its end, so this may well be the penultimate update for 2012-13. I have cut down on the food, particularly the fatty stuff, and started putting out lumps of cat hair from the brush I use to groom Seamus and Gizmo. The "insulation material" gives me a good idea of which birds are busy furnishing a nest at the time: The first time I brought some, a Coal Tit immediately started pulling at the lumps of fur, whereas the Blue Tits and Long-tails were puzzled at first and then ignored it. Monday, a female Great Tit went to work on the fur straight away.

During the cold season, I have distributed over 67 kg of bird food (far more than my own body weight) in the feeding area, and have been rewarded with lots of feathered visitors. I've managed to capture most of them on camera, although some of the photos are only suitable to confirm ID. I feel increasingly limited by my 55-250mm lens, and dream of having 400mm zoom. However, this is something I will have to save up for, as my pocket money this summer will go on travelling to various birdy and non-birdy places. I don't hold out much hope of getting any spectacular wildlife photos, but hopefully I will have fun, at least.

It turns out that a pair of Ravens were actually nesting in the tower outside my home, and I hadn't noticed because I thought it was all Carrion Crows and Jackdaws around here. I obviously need to practice recognising birds by sound! Speaking of sound identification, Monday I saw and heard a wee bird which I couldn't ID - it looked like a Chiffchaff but, to my memory, that wasn't how Chiffchaffs sound. When I came home I looked it up in my bird books and checked some audio online (the RSPB website is really helpful - you can search for a species by name or by description). I have decided that it's a Willow Warbler. I didn't know beforehand what a Willow Warbler sounds like, but I observed it for several minutes and listened carefully to the little melody phrase it kept repeating. I don't think my photos are sufficiently clear that one can distinguish it from a Chiffchaff, so you'll just have to believe what I heard!

The Raven nestlings fledged yesterday morning (I think), fortunately coinciding with me having a day off work. I can't be sure when, but one moment the nestlings were hopping around nervously on a ledge near the nest, taking 1-2 metre flights along the ledge, and a few minutes later all four of them had disappeared! They still seem unsure of their own abilities and keep returning to the nest area. They will be dependent on their parents feeding them for another few months. I don't know much about predation, but there are Buzzards in the area which could possibly pose a threat to a juvenile Raven, so they probably also need their parents for protection - the adults have no problem seeing off an intruding raptor of any size.

Raven finding food for its young Raven Raven Bullfinch, male Bullfinch, male Bullfinch, male Bullfinch, male Bullfinch, female Grey Squirrel Robin, singing Raven silhouette Raven nest on east side of tower Coal Tit gathering nest material Coal Tit Goosander, female Goosanders Goosanders Wood Pigeons Magpie (in foreground) mobbing Raven. Magpies are some of the largest birds around here, but compared to a Raven it looks like a slender thrush. Great Tit gathering nest material Swallow ID shot Willow Warbler Robin eyeing up another Robin Great Spotted Woodpecker (female) Great Spotted Woodpecker, keen on the coconut! Great Spotted Woodpecker Raven nestlings about ready to fledge A brief soar... ...but quickly landing again on the ledge Another fledgling flaps its wings Third Raven fledgling comes out on the ledge... ...and then they sit around shouting to their parents Calling Raven parent on a nearby building, encouraging the fledglings to fly Still not quite sure about it!

Saturday, 12 April 2013: Birds in March

Another photo update - I'm catching up!

Wren Wren Wren Wood Pigeon Redwing Dunnock Dunnock Robin, displaying Robin, displaying Carrion Crow Long-tailed Tit Long-tailed Tit Long-tailed Tit Coal Tit Long-tailed Tit - One of them has trouble with the coconuts; the others will land on the coconut, but this one tries to nibble while hovering Bullfinch pair, female (left) and male (right) Bullfinch - male Bullfinch - female Robin in the snow Goldfinch Goldfinch Goldfinch Coal Tit Long-tailed Tit Long-tailed Tit

Saturday, 06 April 2013: Birds in February

Will try to catch up on the photos. To begin with, here is what I saw in February. I was quite excited to see a Raven - and right outside my living room window, too! Noticeably larger than a Carrion Crow and with a majestic, slow flight, I have been fortunate enough to see this king of the corvids several times recently. I managed to get some better photos a few days ago, which will be included in a later update.

Mistle Thrush Long-tailed Tit Long-tailed Tit Four Long-tailed Tits Air dance... I couldn't tell who was really chasing who in this pas de deux Air dance Air dance Air dance Air dance Air dance Air dance Air dance Air dance Air dance Air dance Air dance Air dance Air dance Female Great Spotted Woodpecker Wood Pigeon Female Great Spotted Woodpecker at the coconut Female Great Spotted Woodpecker Female Great Spotted Woodpecker at the bird table Raven Raven Raven

Monday, 28 January 2013: The annual RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch

What a disappointing Big Garden Birdwatch! Saturday was calm and partly sunny but I had other plans, so my bird-counting hour took place Sunday - a rainy, windy, cold and thoroughly unpleasant day! The river was swollen and roared with a fast current, and the wind was noisy so my "food whistle" didn't carry as far as normal, which may partly explain the unimpressive attendance.

As usual, there were plenty of tits - at least 5 Great Tits, 3 Blue Tits, 2 Coal Tits and 4 Long-tailed Tits. There are probably a lot more than that (I suspect at least a dozen Great Tits), but as they fly above and around me at 360 degrees, inbetween bushes and young trees, it's really hard to keep track! I also saw the usual Dunnock, 3 Blackbirds, 2 Chaffinches, and possibly 2 Great Spotted Woodpeckers. I say "possibly", because there were 3 visits from a GSW during my hour, and twice it was definitely a female, but on the second visit I think I saw a splash of red at the back of the head. I can't be *absolutely* sure, but because I know at least one male and one female frequent the feeding area, I recorded it as two. There was a lone Carrion Crow present before my counting hour began, but as I didn't spot any during the hour, they didn't make the list (although they are abundant in the woodlands). I did count 5 Magpies (although I suspect there may have been as many as 8), and 4 Woodpigeons.

Surprisingly, no Robins at all yesterday - there are usually at least 2 of them, squabbling over the territory. No sight of a Wren or a Treecreeper, no Mistle or Song Thrushes and no exciting surprises like a Goldfinch, Siskin or Goldcrest. The Bullfinches have completely deserted me; I haven't seen them all winter. Thus I ended up with a mere 10 species to report, compared to the 13 last year.

Anyway, a photo update is overdue, so here's a big one, covering all of January.

Female Great Spotted Woodpecker Grey Squirrel Grey Squirrel grooming itself Grey Squirrel grooming itself Grey Squirrel - *scratch scratch scratch* Treecreeper - 1:3 Treecreeper - 2:3 Treecreeper - 3:3 The Wren still keeps hiding from me... ...unlike the Robins who are quite happy to pose Female Great Spotted Woodpecker at the coconut - 1:4 Female Great Spotted Woodpecker at the coconut - 2:4 Female Great Spotted Woodpecker at the coconut - 3:4 Female Great Spotted Woodpecker at the coconut - 4:4 Cormorant - 1:4 Cormorant - 2:4 Cormorant - 3:4 Cormorant - 4:4 Little Grebe Grey Heron Grey Heron Grey Heron Female Goldeneye Little Grebe and male Mallard Two Great Spotted Woodpeckers Female Great Spotted Woodpecker at the coconut Female Great Spotted Woodpecker at the coconut Female Great Spotted Woodpecker, lifting the lichen in search of food Long-tailed Tit Long-tailed Tit Long-tailed Tit Four Woodpigeons (and a couple of hiding Magpies) Grey Squirrel chase - is it mating season already?

Wednesday, 16 January 2013: Long-tailed Tit vs. Great Spotted Woodpecker

Don't believe everything you see on TV! If you've been watching Winterwatch, like I have, you'll know that the Great Spotted Woodpecker (which they annoyingly keep referring to as the Greater Spotted Woodpecker) is declared the king of the bird table. The other birds don't tend to challenge it; the big beak is rather intimidating!

However, a week and a half ago, I saw one of my - usually quite docile - local Long-tailed Tits getting rather impatient with the female Woodpecker hogging the suet coconut. Go through the pictures below and read the captions to see what happened...

It's now getting properly cold, which makes for much better birdwatching conditions than the damp and foggy weather we've been having so far. Last weekend I saw a Little Grebe and a female Goldeneye on the river, got some good photos of a Grey Heron, plus I saw (and photographed) my first ever local Cormorant. Pictures to follow in the next update.

Female Great Spotted Woodpecker at the suet coconut One of the Long-tailed Tit family arrives, intent on a nibble The Woodpecker ignores the tiny little Long-tail and continues to tuck in, but the LTT isn't used to another bird hanging around for quite this long! The Long-tailed Tit takes a look from another angle The Woodpecker is not giving up her position The Long-tailed Tit attempts to dive at the Woodpecker to supplant her! There was definite contact, as the LTT appeared to land on the Woodpecker's back The Woodpecker merely shrugs off the attempt, and after watching for a few more seconds, the Long-tailed Tit gives up

Thursday, 27 December 2012: Boring birding winter so far...

The weather was a bit up and down in autumn, so I fed the birds once at the beginning of October, but then a mild spell made it unnecessary until the start of November when it suddenly got cold. I have been putting out food regularly throughout November and December, despite the weather now being fairly mild again.

In the beginning, I saw nothing more exciting than a Siskin - except for mink and fox sightings by the little burn (the Scottish name for "stream") that runs past my feeding area. On 26th November, I finally managed to catch a glimpse of my first ever Goldcrest. I had worried over an absence of Long-tailed Tits, but on Christmas Day a family group of at least 5, possibly even 7, descended on the feeding area for a couple of quick visits. I also had the season's first visit from a male Great Spotted Woodpecker, who was cautious and very suspicious of me. Apart from that, it has been mainly Great Tits and Blue Tits, Robins arguing over territory, a few Coal Tits and Chaffinches, the occasional Dunnock or Wren, and shy Blackbirds who are easily startled - not "tame" like the garden birds most people see. No sign of my Bullfinch couple yet, but I remain hopeful.

The birds know my whistle and gather while I put the food out. Unfortunately, that also includes bigger birds with bigger bellies. While I hang about to watch the small birds feed, Magpies, Wood Pigeons and Carrion Crows gather in the trees above waiting to feast on the spoils when I leave. The Magpies are quick to dive in and will sometimes even try while I'm still there, but they're easily scared off. They sit in pairs in the treetops, arguing with other pairs and chasing each other. It would be an interesting naturalistic soap opera to watch, were I not acutely aware that they chase all the small birds off and eat the food the minute I'm gone.

Having seen my first Goldcrest (Latin name Regulus regulus), a little story sprung to mind. In my native language, the Goldcrest is named "Bird King", presumably because the yellow stripe on its head is reminiscent of a crown. There is a fable of how the Bird King was thus named, which I have included below the photos.

Siskin Treecreeper Great Tit hunting for insects Robin Magpie Goldcrest Mistle Thrush (or possibly Song Thrush) Rook Blue Tit Coal Tit Great Spotted Woodpecker (male) foraging on the ground Great Spotted Woodpecker (male) Long-tailed Tit

How the Bird King came to be king of the birds

Once upon a time, all the birds gathered in a clearing in the forest. They were going to decide who was to be their king. "It should be me," the Magpie said, "for I have the finest plumage of all the birds." The other birds had to admit that those were very handsome feathers indeed. "It ought to be me," the Nightingale said, "because I have the most beautiful song." The Nightingale sang, and the other birds agreed that it was a lovely sound. "No, it should be me," the Falcon said, "for I am the fastest." The other birds were a bit intimidated by the Falcon and had to admit he was really, really fast.

In the end they agreed that the bird which could fly the highest should be the king. All the birds took off and flew upward. Higher and higher they went, and soon some had to give up and return to the ground. In the end they all sat looking up at the last bird, so high up that it barely could be seen. It was the Eagle. And all the birds agreed that the Eagle should be king as he had flown the highest. But as the Eagle landed, a tiny bird jumped off his back. The other birds asked, "Have you been on the Eagle's back all along?" The little bird said, "Yes. I tired quickly, as I am the smallest of all of us, and the Eagle was so kind as to let me land on his back." "Well, in that case, you should be our king," the other birds said, "because you have been higher up than any other bird."

Thus the smallest bird of them all came to be known as the Bird King.

Sunday, 30 September 2012: Birds seen over the summer

It's still too warm to begin feeding the birds in the woodlands, but I thought I'd kick off the diary with some birds I've seen this summer. I have only had a "point-and-click" camera or my short-range lens with me - the pictures might have been better if I had known I would be seeing birds and brought my longer-range lens but alas, no such foresight.

A lot of the photos are from a day trip to the island Arran on the west coast of Scotland. The island is a haven for birds; over 200 species have been recorded, and the absence of fox as a predator may contribute to Arran's healthy population of raptors (not that I caught any of those on camera, despite keeping my fingers crossed for a Golden Eagle). Some of the Arran pictures are a bit big to capture the entire landscape, but you can always hit Esc to close an image if you get lost. Keeping in mind that I only had an 18-55mm lens with me that day, you can imagine how close the Turnstone allowed me to come.

On a technical note, after 12 years of using Photoshop 6.0 I have now switched to Photoshop Elements which came with the laptop I bought earlier this year. I'm finding it terribly irritating so far! Settings which easily defaulted in my old Photoshop will not default in this one, and I'm not used to the small laptop screen (I'll hook the laptop up to my bigger monitor eventually for processing photos). I'll do my best with the tools I have...

Mistle Thrush (in the treetop outside my living room) Blackford Pond, Edinburgh - Coot Blackford Pond, Edinburgh - Coot Blackford Pond, Edinburgh - I'm fairly sure this is a Greylag Goose Blackford Pond, Edinburgh - Greylag Goose Blackford Pond, Edinburgh - Moorhen Eskdalemuir, Dumfries and Galloway - Dipper Eskdalemuir, Dumfries and Galloway - Dipper Arran - Guillemot (spotted from the ferry) Arran - Guillemot Arran, south coast - Hard to ID at that distance, but both Rock Pipit and Tree Pipit are present, with Meadow Pipit on the north side of the island. My guess is it's a Rock Pipit as this is the more common of the species and it was, ahem, on some rocks. Arran - The island is home to gulls and terns, as well as Fulmar, Kittiwake and Manx Shearwater Arran - Turnstone in a mix of winter and summer plumage Arran - Turnstone Arran - South coast rockscape - spot the Turnstone in the middle Arran - Pied Wagtail (female, I reckon) - I also saw Grey Wagtail in the same area Arran - Grey Heron, hunting Arran - Grey Heron, preening Arran - Grey Heron Arran - Goatfell with a heron Arran - Grey Heron

Top of page