Saturday 18 December 2010

Brrrrrr...ding at home

With the return of the cold weather and daytime temperatures below zero degrees Celsius, we've noticed, as I'm sure other folk have, an increase in bird activity in the garden. The feeders are busy from first light until dusk, as the birds seek to take in enough calories to see them through the next frozen night.

The first clue to the severity of the situation was the appearance of three Robins at once. Their frenzied chases across the lawn, through bushes and along the fences should really be set to a soundtrack of engines revving and tyres squealing. All high tempo stuff, when I'm sure that what they should be concentrating on is stuffing their beaks full of food.

Finch numbers have ramped up too. There are so many Goldfinches that they've been queueing up for the four port feeder, which for a feisty, impatient bird is a telling statement in itself. The goldies have also taken to exploring the rest of the garden, finding the seed heads on the various Lavender and Lemon Balm plants in the borders.

The bravest Goldfinch in the world
Yesterday there was even a brief glimpse of a Siskin, though it couldn't find room on the feeders amongst all the Greenfinches and Chaffinches, so presumably gave up and went elsewhere.

Taking a break from the garden activity, we decided to walk around Tongwell Lake for a breath of fresh air. Bearing in mind the temperature, it was certainly fresh! As we arrived at the lake, one or two tiny flakes of snow appeared out of the sky, and in no time at all, this became a flurry and then a steady snowfall.

Most of the lake was frozen solid, with only three small patches of clear water. Predictably, these contained a concentrated mixture of wildfowl, Gadwall, Pochard, Tufted Duck and Mallard, as well as many Coot and Moorhen, plus two Great Crested Grebes. On the edge of the ice, a few Shoveler sat huddled together, looking very forlorn and perhaps dreaming of warmer climes. Bizarrely for December, in a tree by the lake, a Great Tit was hammering out its "Teacher, teacher" call, as if it was perfectly normal to be thinking about attracting a mate in the run up to Christmas. Some office party that must've been!

On the way back to Tense Towers, we noticed a house for sale, and nosey blighters that we are, we stopped to figure out how big its garden might be. Behind this property was a large tree, bare of leaves, but sporting a fine crop of birds in its upper branches. For some reason, when it's cold, I have trouble with scale, so I assumed they were Wood Pigeons. Our Lass (promotion to capital letters for reasons that will become apparent) would never make so basic an error. Assume? I don't think so! She had also heard their calls, and, after a quick scan with her binoculars, pointed out that they were actually Waxwings.

There were at least 50 birds in the flock, but as smaller groups kept flying off and then re-appearing, it was difficult to be sure of exact numbers. This is a pointless quibble however, as we'd never seen this many Waxwings in one fell swoop, and especially as there's been loads of them in the UK this Autumn, all of which we'd failed to see. 

Suddenly, despite the falling snow, it now felt a lot less cold, warmed as we were by the glow of a rise in our fortunes. Nearer to home, we spotted some Redwings feeding in a garden, mere feet from windows and doors. Amongst these, there was also a male Bullfinch, looking impossibly scarlet against the snowy backdrop.

Back indoors, and another surprise awaited us, for waddling about on the lawn was a Pied Wagtail. I say "waddling" as it was missing a foot, so had a bit of a limp. Looking back at our garden records, it is traditional for a wagtail to show up at this time of year, but they're always welcome nevertheless, no matter how many feet they have. 

Now, as I prepare to publish this post, our area has had its first significant snowfall of the Winter, about 6" (15cm or one normal-sized Nac Mac Feegle).

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