Having commented in a recent post that I hadn't seen any Fieldfares or Redwings this winter, I saw whole flocks of Fieldfares in Nottinghamshire and smaller flocks in Hertfordshire - but still this is much more than the few individual birds I saw last year picking at the berries (the shoddy photo above is from last year). They were also quite noisy as they wheeled about from treetop to treetop, with a fairly distinctive cry and shape in the air. Perhaps their shape in flight isn't any different to most thrushes, but I seldom see those in small flocks behaving like this.
Having set out spa and banqueting facilities in the garden (a dish of warm water and some old bread), larger birds have been visiting frequently. Larger than the usual tits, finches and their ilk at least - I'm not talking about Golden eagles here! Not in Hertfordshire, though I do regularly see Red kite circling above our suburban garden, which is testament to their growing success over recent years. But I digress.
Starlings, Blackbirds, Magpies and Jays have all been taking advantage amid the snow. I'm pretty sure I saw a Sparrowhawk swoop through too, but it probably wasn't interested in the bread. I haven't yet seen any Redwing or Fieldfare, which were plentiful last winter - perhaps they're still to come or have decided that Scandinavia's warmer than the UK right now.
As per yesterday's post, my bird feeders have been swamped with birds of every kind (well not every kind, obviously) including some colourful additions to the usual fare. This Bullfinch has been a very regular visitor. It's notable what a short powerful bill it's got. The super-bright plumage really stands out in the snowy landscape, but even the black and white tail is eye-catching as it flits about.
I also notice that being a larger bird (amongst small birds) it struggles with this feeder, since when it's perched it finds the hole is around its midriff, so it needs to keep hopping between orientations to get its head in for the seeds. I imagine this is why some feeders have larger hooped perches, though I hadn't appreciated why before now.
About 6 inches of snow fell in just a few hours here at UKNB HQ in St Albans today, which is really the first that we've seen of this winter that the rest of the country has been going bananas about.
This seems to have been an invitation for birds to flock to the feeders en masse. With the leaves off the trees and everything else white over it was a bonanza period for bird watching. I saw the following on or around my feeders: Robin, Chaffinch, Blackbird, Black cap (excitingly), Coal tit, Dunnock, House sparrow, Blue tit, Great tit, Green finch, Bull finch. That's much more variety than on an average day and the feeders were definitely much busier than usual.
Which reminds me, maybe I should put out some warm water, as I understand birds can struggle to find non-frozen water to drink at times like this.
It's set to get very cold indeed over the next few days, with snow for many. Don't forget to keep your bird feeders well filled as it would be easy not to notice that they're empty when you're huddling inside!
The cold weather and short, dark days have rather cramped UKNB's style of late. Sorry about that!
Above is a Sedum plant, creeping across the ground and catching the frost as per most things in the garden. Some days have seen even the tops of tree white with frost. But that begs a question: how do some plants survive the icy onslaught whilst others quickly whither and die? The answer is (in its very simplest form) by making sure that the water within themselves contains various other compounds that stop it freezing into ice crystals within the plant. See the rather more in depth description on the HowPlantsWork blog if you're interested in the details.
I saw an odd looking bird up in a tree today, just sat there for quite a long time. On closer inspection it had an interesting dark triangular mask through its eye and some grey around the back of the head. Perhaps a female of some exotic species? Actually no - just a Dunnock - which I see all the time, but I think this one fooled me by not being down on or near the ground. I'm used to seeing them rooting around in the flower beds or flitting nervously through low bushes, so it was a unusual to find this example sitting proudly up in a tree. Also I suppose I never noticed the subtle but interesting patterns on the head.
All that said, it does look rather different to my existing stock of Dunnock pictures, so perhaps I'm not going mad. It is a Dunnock, right? Compare to that below.