Sunday, 27 January 2013

Big Garden Birdwatch

Okay, maybe it’s an age thing, but I did the Big Garden Birdwatch this year.  Well, it takes me an hour to walk from the house to the car these days (poor feet not big garden), so I might as well do something useful on the way to somewhere better.  I recorded a total of 25 species feeding in the garden during the hour.   I have 3 large seed feeders (nyger/sunflower), fat ball feeders and lots of ‘apple trees’ (half apples spiked onto branches).  Tits dominate by far, Great and Blue Tits are near impossible to count but there are easily 25-30 of each at any one time.  Several Coal Tits are regular and a single Marsh Tit has been visiting frequently all month and duly put in an appearance. 

The ‘apple trees’ are a great hit.  Jays, Jackdaws and thrushes love them.  Even the Blue Tits regularly feed from them.  Single Mistle Thrush and Fieldfare have each ‘guarded’ an area of apples during the cold spell.  The local Sparrowhawk regularly raids the feeders about twice a day.  It deters the tits for a minute or two, but then the flight-line resumes.  It’s a bit like a speeded up arrival at Heathrow; look into the garden and Blue or Great Tits are descending from the large tree to the feeders every few seconds, one after another.  Unlike Heathrow, they increase their arrival rate in the snow.  A quick wait on the arrival branch, onto a spare perch on the feeder, and then away.

I’ve been in this house for about 9 months now.  The commonest bird in my last garden was Redpoll, with up to 40 on and around the nyger.  Greenfinches were the commonest birds on the sunflower feeders.  Just 11 miles away, the avifauna of my new garden has a very different feel.  No Redpolls, very few Greenfinches and zero House Sparrows or Starlings.  Although both gardens are located close to woodland (then Epping Forest, now Broxbourne Woods) the current garden has far more woodland birds, with Nuthatches, Green and Great Spotted Woodpeckers all visiting daily.  However, the highlight of the new garden has been the occasional visits of up to three Hawfinches over the last month. One briefly appeared in a tree at the end of the garden yesterday, but they have failed to come down for seed so far.

Count completed, I did then sneak out for a quick look at the nearby Caspian Gull.  Oooo don’t you just love those tertials?  Hmmm maybe not that much.

Pics above: Marsh Tit, Nuthatch, a busy day on the feeders, Blue Tit on 'apple tree'.

Friday, 18 January 2013


Reedbeds under conservation management have traditionally been managed by rotational cutting, with the objective of slowing natural succession. Even on a small site, such an objective is questionable, but with a site of over 200 ha, this is not a feasible option. So Ham Wall in Somerset is the focus of a larger scale ‘reedbed rejuvenation’ project, a trial of a new form of reedbed management.  Compartments of up to 20 ha will be held at a lower water level for a number of years and reverted to grassland by a combination of cutting, burning and grazing. After maybe five years, the ground will be re-flooded to create shallow open water and reeds will slowly re-colonise.  Compartments will be 'rejuvenated' on rotation in order to maintain a range of successional states within the reedbed.

I returned to Ham Wall last week to look at the first compartment to be managed in this way and recently re-flooded after several years of drier conditions.  So what will happen next?  Well, we expect the newly flooded habitat will provide good feeding opportunities for a range of reedbed and wetland birds as the reeds regain dominance over a number of years.  In the short-term, it should attract large numbers of waders, wildfowl, egrets and herons over the next year or so as water levels fluctuate, particularly as they drop in late summer.  The land will be allowed to revert to reedbed, with higher water levels, and continue through its succession to old, littered reedbed, before the process is repeated.

Although early days, the first signs are promising.  Large numbers of duck, including Teal, Wigeon, Gadwall and Shoveler are already using the area, with Lapwing and up to 200 Snipe around the margins.  A dozen Water Pipits flitted around the margins.  A couple of Great White Egrets were in the area and it is hoped they will find the area to their liking.

Thursday, 3 January 2013

New Year thrash

Although a dry and sunny day boded well for the traditional New Year thrash through the Lee Valley, the broken rib (a Christmas present from the log-pile) somewhat slowed me down and it was more of a crawl than a thrash.   A rough tot-up showed a vaguely possible 100 species but in the end I settled for a reasonable 86 seen on the day.

High water level was the theme of the day, with brimming lakes and flooded fields. The Girling Reservoir was as full as I can remember it and typically, once the gulls had departed at dawn, there were very few birds left.   Most of the Black-necked Grebes also seem to have departed, with only 6 noted.  A Chiffchaff along the Girling fence was an unexpected bonus.  Further up the valley, just 5 Smew are around this winter so far, but Bittern number 6-7, of which I managed a couple – at Cheshunt and Amwell.

The long-staying drake Scaup and Long-tailed Duck may seem to be the highlights of the day but they were probably eclipsed by Hawfinch and Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, the first time I have seen both species locally on a day count for many a year.  Pleasingly, the Hawfinch was added in my valley-side garden during a breakfast stopover, with up to three being noted in recent days.

Although water birds are generally in good numbers in the valley, it is the dearth of seed-eating farmland birds that is a problem.   There seems to be virtually no flocks of finches in the valley any more, but given that weedy areas on farmland or around mineral workings have all but disappeared this is not surprising. So while Red Kite, Little Egret and Peregrine now almost put themselves on the list, partridges, linnets and Yellowhammers take some searching out.