Sunday, October 25, 2009

How To Watch Birds - Part 7: Set Up A Feeding Station

Even the smallest space can be set up to feed birds and it's a great way to see birds close at hand.

While it's good to have some natural habitat to compliment feeding and provide a source of natural food, even a window box or feeders attached to windows in a totally urban environment can attract birds.

Feeders come in all shapes and sizes - ornate, purpose built to the simple.  A plastic bottle can be turned into a bird feeder.  Mesh feeders for nuts, enclosed feeders for seeds and a variety to hold fat balls or suet mixes.  Make sure you use feed specifically for birds.  If squirrels are likely to be a problem, pick a feeder that deters them or makes some attempt at stopping them getting to the food.  Don't put out more food on tables and the ground than they can eat in a day - food left overnight is likely to attract unwelcome visitors like rats.

Provide a range of foods to attract the greatest variety of birds.  Many companies provide bags of seed and feed mixes including the RSPB, Wildfowl and Wetlands as well as commercial companies.  Buy from a reputable supplier, so you get the right food that's safe for your birds.  Even cheese rind, 

You can provide food throughout the year but make sure you clean out feeders frequently and scrub down bird tables to avoid the risk of disease.

Move feeders around the garden regularly to prevent a build up of droppings which can harbour bacteria and parasites.  Don't place them close to cover that can be used by cats to creep up on them.

Always provide water for drinking and bathing.  Any shallow dish will do.  While you can invest in a purpose built birdbath, a large terracotta saucer or an upturned dustbin lid can be used just as successfully.  Place the dustbin lid on a couple of bricks and fill with gravel or pebbles to provide a shallow, level base.  Top up regularly in summer and winter.

See how many different species you can attract to your feeders over the course of a year.

Friday, October 23, 2009

RSPB Feed The Birds Day - 24-25th October

This weekend is the Feed The Birds Day ... or Feed The Birds 'Weekend'.

Check out the FTBD Sussex Event at the Pavillion Gardens in Brighton this weekend and find out what you can do in your own patch.

I'll be over at Pulborough out on the RSPB reserve, as part of their Autumn Fair - local crafts and stalls, guided walks (bring waterproofs) and stock up on bird feed.

If you haven't done so already - clean out the feeders, scrub down the bird table, fill them up, put out fresh water and see what you can attract over the next few days.  Keep feeders and birdbath topped up over the winter.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Malling Down: Autumn 09

A fantastic day up on Malling Down, continuing to clear the scrub on the old quarry workings.  I haven't been able to make it up there so far this year, so it was amazing to see that the whole of the valley we were working on last year had now been completely cleared.

Compare it with what it looked like at the beginning of last year when we were still clearing the valley - Malling Down: Autumn 08.  When we started on it, you would hardly have known there was a valley there, it was completely filled with trees and scrub.

Today, we were starting (or continuing) on the area above the valley - more hawthorn, elder and plenty of brambles to be cleared as well as a patch of cotoneaster and a nice flat area to work on - although by the end of the day, we were starting on the next slope.

Over lunch we watched four buzzards circling out over the valley. Tumbling and playing as they moved along the slope.

Working on two main patches either side of the chosen fire site, we cleared most of the flat area by the time we finished and burnt everything that had been cut in a massive bonfire.

The usual array of scratches, bruises and puncture wounds and a few embedded thorns to keep me busy for the rest of the week - until next time.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Ivy Flowers and Butterflies

The ivy is in flower and is attracting all manner of butterflies and bees.  It's rich in nectar at a time of year when there's not much around for them.

I've spotted a peacock, four red admiral, two painted ladies, several flies, bees and wasps.  Also a plain brown dragon/damselfly with black spots on all four wings.  Not sure what species this is as I can't tell the difference between them all, unless it's obvious.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

How Many Birdbaths Can You Get Birds In?

Well once again the pigeons are monopolising the birdbaths.  Two into two.  They discovered the second one and as one had already taken up residence in the top one, the other finally braved the terracota dish on the ground.

The first one sat for a few minutes, occasionally sticking one wing in the air, then the other - as they do when it's raining and they get a shower.  It didn't quite seem to have got the hang of a 'bath'.  Having paddled around for a few minutes and fluffed it's feathers up in the pretty mucky water, there was a tentative splashing or two until it worked out that was the way to get wet.  Perhaps these are both young birds who really are learning the ropes.

They then sat on the edge looking particularly bedraggled before flying off to preen elsewhere.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

How To: Willow Warbler or Chiffchaff

They're both small birds that flit about in trees and branches and depending on the light, distance, amount of time and how good a view you get of them, can be difficult to identify, unless you're an expert who can identify them with the merest, fleeting glance.

Song is the obvious difference but when they're not signing and leg-colour the other one if you get a good view of them.  I found this great summary on the British Garden Birds website.

Key Differences between Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler
  Legs Wing Eyebrow Tail
Chiffchaff Dark Short Short/Dull Wags
Willow Warbler Pale Long Long/Distinct Flicks

When my pair returned.  The dark legs were obvious, as was the short wing length and now I know they wag rather than flick their tail - should be easier and quicker to spot next time.

Return of the Birds

The birds seem to be coming back into the garden. After a few weeks when there have been very few if any about - they're back visiting the feeders. This morning I spotted a great tit, three blue tits a chaffinch and a pair of small warblers - haven't worked out which particular one's they were (willow or chiffchaff?) - they didn't stay long enough and of course had disappeared by the time I'd grabbed my binoculars. A blackbird also flew in - they're starting to enjoy the pyracantha berries up against the fence.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

October Sunshine - Working On The E-Piece

Another day, back from a task and looking as if I've been dragged through a hedge backwards ... or at least a bramble patch - which is pretty much the case. It's scrub clearance up on the E-piece and we continued clearing the area we started on a month ago.

Cutting back the bramble as far back as we could towards the tree line.  After last night's downpour it was a lovely, sunny day for a task but hot work.  A good excuse for plenty of breaks and energy boosters in the form of donuts - over a discussion of cholesterol levels!  Well, the occasional treat doesn't hurt - especially when a few hours of strenuous work tends to burn it off.

Talking of burning - there was no chance of a bonfire today - after all the recent rain, so we have that to look forward to next month.

There were a few butterflies around in the warm sunshine - I spotted a red admiral and a painted lady and a couple too quick to identify.  Early afternoon, three buzzards circled overhead - we often see them when we're out working.  Several small woodland birds flying around and a green woodpecker heard calling.

Even though there were only five of us, we cleared the brambles back on either side.  It's grown up in the three years or so that I've been volunteering with the group.  There's nothing else to keep it down as it's not being grazed, so for the moment it's up to us.

We'll be back there next month, when we'll finish off what's left and open up the view from the bench on the Bridleway.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Late House Martins And Swallows

I think I've just seen a house martin fly by. It was quite far away over the rooftops but that's what it looked like - right shape, white underneath.

... Yes it was, either there's another one or it's just flown by again and more easily identifiable this time.

Blimey - now there's a swallow. Now that's late in the year for both of them. I can actually see the sky today as it's been cloudy and raining for the last two days but clear blue sky and what looks like a north-westerly wind.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

How Many Birds Can You Get In A Birdbath?

Well, when it comes to wood pigeons, apparently three. Although I only managed to capture two on film but at one point there were three of them all squished in together - two actually sitting the water and the third perched on the side. They're certainly down most days taking a drink, especially when it's been hot, sometimes just sitting in the water.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Autumnwatch 2009

It's that time of year again. The leaves are turning, the nights are drawing in, the days are getting cooler (although we've had a great Indian summer) and there's a new series of Autumnwatch starting this week. A different format with one hour a week over eight weeks, rather than the daily programmes with Springwatch.

The summer migrants have gone but the winter birds are on their way in.  Not that I've been out to see them yet but I'll certainly be dropping over to Pulborough soon to see the ducks, geese and waders.

Catch Autumnwatch on Friday's at 9.00pm on BBC2, repeated on Saturday 6.15pm also on BBC2.

London Wildlife - St James's Park

I was up in London yesterday and decided to take a walk through St James's Park, as I had plenty of time before my meeting.  A little piece of nature in the centre of the city.  I used to work nearby but didn't often have time to go and sit in the park at lunchtime - shame on me.  I'm sure there's plenty of wildlife there that goes almost unnoticed by the constant stream of workers and commuters going to and from work.

I've never seen so many squirrels in one place.  Now I'm sure this isn't unusual for most London parks but every few feet there was another squirrel and often half a dozen in view at any one time.  Pretty tame of course and used to people.

The plane trees are just starting to turn, with their maple like leaves and lovely patterned bark.There's now an allotment in the park - that certainly wasn't there before but has probably been there a while.

I didn't spot the pelicans but there were several waterbirds on the lake - plenty of coot, morehen, tufted ducks and greylag geese feeding on the grass.  There were also a pair of bar-headed geese.  No mention of them in the exotic bird list for the park but I'm sure they're residents.

Straight back out of the peace and quiet into the mellee of traffic and hustle and bustle of central london.