Category: Bird Watching
Date: 13th June 2013
Bats are very much a mixed blessing – conservation organizations wax lyrical over the joys of these mystical little creatures – but I doubt if the enthusiasm would be as vocal if the bearded, sandaled ones had a roost in their own domestic roofs.
The little beasts enthusiastically urinate and defecate throughout many lofts creating a strong stench, and little drowned bodies can sometimes be found in your domestic water tanks – and that is where the water that you use to clean your teeth usually comes from! Tightly covering the tanks is almost impossible as bats (our own are Pipestrelles - Pipistrellus pipistrellus) can squeeze through the tiniest gaps. Luckily our own roost is confined to the cavity walls in the extension to the north side of our house.
The winter hibernation ends in April, and they then appear at dusk in ones and twos – flitting in the dim light just a few meters above the ground seeking insects. Now it is June, and the year is reaching mid-term with the longest day only a week or so away – they leave the roost while the sun is still above the yard-arm so we are treated to fine views of the steady progress from roost to feeding areas where they take moths, gnats and other small insects – many thousands we are told in a single night. With a small whisky in hand and sitting on a bench in the garden my wife and I counted over three hundred leave our roost two summers ago.
Scientists (ever interfering) have now – since 1999 - decreed that there are in fact two species of Pipistrelles – the ‘common’ and the ‘soprano’ separate only by a higher pitch echolocation call - 45kHz and 55kHz. Perhaps like humans there are just populations a little shriller in some locations……I wonder if there was a grant funding that bit of research.
Not thought to be threatened regarding population, Pipistrelles enjoy far greater protection than elderly pensioners, and it is an offense to interfere with them in any way – you even, I am told, have to have a license to pick one up if you find a youngster on the ground near the roost in late June/July.
Guilty M’Lord ! Last year I found one below the roost site and placed it on the old stone walling of the house from where it made steady progress upwards and back to the roost, being too young to fly. Expensive surveys must be undertaken before building work is permitted if bats are thought to be in residence.
Category: Bird Watching
Date: 7th June 2013
It is all a question of live and let live as far as the Wood Pigeons go.
Their annual foray into the large trees at the edge of the garden always coincides with the thrusting through of the first vegetable garden seedlings.
Your average courting Wood Pigeon (Columba palumbus – also called Woodpigeon without the hyphen) has a voracious appetite and they will completely destroy the gardener’s hard work in a quick morning visit.
A friend, who is a keen exhibitor at the local Flower and Vegetable Show has no patience with them at all – “Flying vermin” he calls them, and at the first sign of a few scruffy sticks thrust into the branches of a nearby tree he is out with a probably totally illegal long pole on what he calls a “Discouragement visit”.
We tend to try a damage limitation exercise with branches of birch trimmings laid over the sensitive new green spikes – I’m told this works with cats as a deterrent, but our two Springer sisters would probably have the same effect. The dogs are banned from the vegetable garden as they would do more damage chasing one of the grey invaders.
So we enjoy the gentle cooing and laugh at the amateur attempts at the first nest from the younger birds, and chase off any persistent visitors when we see them.
Fledglings are everywhere at the moment with a family of Greenfinches (Carduelis chloris) investigating the bird feeding station at the front of the house as a family group – they of course enjoy the mixed seed in the feeders – spilling a fair amount for the other birds on the ground.
Category: Bird Watching
Date: 31st May 2013
It is currently birdwatcher’s hell here in West Sussex – murder most foul is to be seen in every hedgerow.
Confined by circumstance to the curtilage of my home near Petworth, the carnage is not pleasant to behold – but after all isn’t there something about “Nature, red in tooth and claw...” Tennyson I’m pretty sure…
Magpies, crows, rooks and woodpeckers search the hedges for nests of young birds to provide an easy and rich protein feast for themselves and their own young. My 5am- 6am trips to the paddock behind my home with three dogs for their early morning ‘comfort break’ - sends what seem to be flocks of black (and gaudy) marauders noisily skywards.
The Greater or Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major)is a bright and acrobatic visitor to the feeding stations – but they have a darker side – young birds, eggs and even small rodents are all on the menu – we like to think that ours are so well fed with suet pellets and peanuts that they won’t bother the smaller birds – but they do.
Readers of earlier items will be aware of our Springer sisters – Meg and Emma who have taken to patrolling the hedges which bound our property and are now giving plenty of voice in the event of an attack on a nest site. The distress of the parent victims when an attack is in progress is not a pretty sight and the bravery of the smaller birds is something to behold.
All the more reason to make the breeding season less stressful by keeping up with the feeding stations – the food will usually not feature on the menus of the chicks, who prefer something wriggling, but make life easier by keeping the strength up for the parents !
Looking the part is a large Carrion Crow (Corvus corone) huge, threatening and very hungry who has taken over one of our bird tables with frequent visits and attempts to assure us that he is only there for the peanuts !
Emma, one of the sisters seems to have a soft mouth and soft heart to match, sometimes bringing a fallen victim of an attack to the house, the tiny bundle of wet feathers often making a fluttering recovery when she drops them at your feet.
Yes lads and lasses – it is a tough old world out there…
Category: Bird Watching
Date: 23rd May 2013
Another dull and cool start to the week on the Monday morning, the second day of my weekend, boded badly for butterflies and as per last week despite visits to many parts of Ilkley, I didn't see a butterfly all day.
Thankfully though, despite a rather chilly westerly wind, the clouds broke up around lunchtime and an afternoon’s sunshine was fantastic for photographing birds. It seems to me that every few years, a particular species of bird or butterfly arrives on our shores in great numbers - remember the influx of Painted Lady butterflies in 2009?! Well, I think this year is the year of the Willow Warbler - no less than 6 pairs nesting/preparing to nest around Ilkley Park alone!
The mornings walk took in several habitats, being around our garden, Ashlands Field and the River Wharfe in the area of Ilkley Cricket Club. The target was to see 50 species of birds in the day which was achieved, just! Getting over halfway before the afternoon’s walk helps and by the time we embarked on exploring Ilkley Park during which I saw and photographed a few species not seen or noticed the previous Monday, the days tally was over 30.
The children were enjoying the skate park in the sunshine after lunch and pre-school and the tractor was busy cutting the grass on the pitch of Ilkley Rugby Club - this helped enormously in ushering the Willow Warblers to my side of the hedge and the sunshine upped the shutter speed on the camera making for some great images. The mornings list included Collared Dove, Blackbird, Chaffinch, Chiffchaff, Dipper, Dunnock, Song Thrush, Goldfinch, Black Headed Gull, Heron, Jackdow, Jay, Kestrel, Magpie, Mallard, House Martin, Sand Martin, Moorhen, Oystercatcher, Woodpigeon, Robin, Mistle Thrush, Rook, Starling, Grey Wagtail, Pied Wagtail, Willow Warbler (a pair nest building next to our front door!) and Wren.
Joined by the children for the afternoon we spent a few hours in Ilkley Park during which I checked out the River westwards as far as Ilkley Tennis Club, adding Canada Goose, Kingfisher, Siskin (image attached), Swallow, Greenfinch, Cormorant, Goosander, Little Grebe, Swift, Common Sandpiper, Siskin, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Long Tailed Tit and Carrion Crow.
The children were pretty tired by 3.30 but we managed to entice them to some scooting in Middleton Woods near the top of Curly hill which offered the chance of a few more species to reach the magic number of 50 species for the day. The sighting of Bullfinch, Coal Tit, Curlew, Great Spotted Woodpecker and Lapwing achieved the day’s ambition. I was all for extending the walk onto the moor to find the likes of Meadow Pipit, Skylark, Red Kite and several other species seen there over the years but the children were too tired and as we walked back to the car a Pheasant called to bring up 51 for the day.
Saw the first Comma Butterfly of the year in the garden this afternoon, and the first Brimstone butterfly of the year walking home from work earlier - summer looks like it has arrived, though one further observation noticed by a friend - The Ash is out before the Oak - which traditionally means we are in for a soak! Well after last year’s summer - I hope not!!
Category: Bird Watching
Date: 17th May 2013
Just a few days ago we were lamenting the absence of Spring then the day before yesterday brought a bit of hope - we saw our first Swallow!
They come every year - making the long migratory journey to the south at the end of our summer and returning as an indication that they - at least - think that the weather is about to change.
Technically they are Hirundo Rustica familiarly known as Barn Swallows because of their habit of nesting in quiet farm buildings - we have a few sites in a derelict wooden building in our paddock which was once used for rearing pheasants.? They feed on the wing, taking insects in flight and love a stretch of open water to perform their aerial acrobatics over.
Last year we found one on the path beside a greenhouse - it had obviously hit the glass whilst its mind was on food!? From time to time we find casualties around the house and garden and the quick well-proven routine is to collect them up and put them into a box with some old cloth in the bottom - this then goes into the airing cupboard and is checked after an hour or so - sometimes we are rewarded with a perky recovered victim - and sometimes not.
The warmth seems to help because the bodies are often tiny and they lose heat quickly - dying from hyperthermia - rather than the original crash. The darkness of the box seems to help with shock.
Last year's victim gave us unprecedented close-ups of this strange but much loved little bird - it made a full recovery and was released.
Many people cut down on their bird support at this time of the year - easing back on the feeding - but this is when you really need to offer a helping hand to parents with broods to feed - they won't feed the seed to their young, but they need the sustenance themselves after producing supplies of wriggling food for their young.
Our defense against Sparrow Hawks is to hand our bird feeders inside a branch of old cut ivy - leaves gone there are plenty of places to queue up for a place on the feeder in the safety of a mesh of branches which make the dive of the Sparrow Hawk that much more difficult.There are five active nests in the garden, but I keep well clear with my camera not wanting the birds to desert the nests in the early stages.