Monday 26 January 2015

RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch 2015

I took the photos on this post some time ago as I was too busy looking and recording during the Birdwatch!
However, I am guessing that the Woodpeckers are our two 'semi-regulars'.

The list below shows the results of my BigGarden Birdwatch 2015 ... The birds (and Grey Squirrel) have been logged on the RSPB site.

We were thrilled when both Woodpeckers, the Green and the Great Spotted, showed up within minutes of each other in the last quarter of an hour. Sadly the Song Thrush failed to put in an appearance, but most of our usual birds were represented.

Ringed Long-tailed tit

I hope your surveys went well!

Wednesday 21 January 2015

New Years Eve Caterpillar on the move at Sutton Hoo

Our most unexpected wildlife sighting over the Christmas holiday was a caterpillar. It was humping slowly along the path at Sutton Hoo on a frosty New Year's Eve afternoon. It looks similar to the Fox Moth caterpillar (see here, also) I saw on the site in October 2013.

If you are reading this post and know about these things, please feel free to leave a comment below (or contact me via email) as I would love to know whether it is indeed unusual to see a moving caterpillar in December.


 Other sightings that day included a charm of Goldfinches in the car park.

We turned for home, casting a backwards glance in the direction of the last sunset of 2014. 

Sutton Hoo, 31 December: Last Sunset of 2014

In advance of the Big Garden Birdwatch, my 2015 Bird List to date

Goldeneye, Essex Wildlife Trust's Abberton Reservor Reserve

These are my 2015 January lists, thus far. I am only counting each species once, even if it is spotted in several locations ...


Home Patch
  1. Blackbird (about five)
  2. Blue tit (small cluster) 
  3. Buzzard (one - a first!)
  4. Chaffinch (one)
  5. Common Gull (about eleven)
  6. Goldfinch (small flock)
  7. Great Spotted Woodpecker
  8. Great tit (about four)
  9. Grey Heron (one)
  10. Long-tailed tit (about eight, possibly more most days)
  11. Magpie (about five)
  12. Robin (one most days)
  13. Song Thrush (one - and also one in the park)
  14. Starling (five)
  15. Wood pigeon (plenty!)
  16. Wren (one)
Abberton Reservoir, Essex Wildlife Trust
  1. Common Gull (a few) 
  2. Goldeneye (two)
  3. Greylag Goose (a flock)
  4. Lapwing (colony)
  5. Mallard (quite a few)
  6. Mute Swan (about twenty)
  7. Tufted Duck (ditto)
  1. Barn Owl (one)
  2. Carrion Crow (one)
  3. Kestrel (one)
  4. Lesser Black-backed Gull (one)
Christchurch Park
  1. Redwing (about seven)
  1. Turnstone (twelve)
Current total of bird species seen: 29


Home Patch
  1. Grey Squirrel (one on several occasions) 
  1. Muntjac Deer (one)

All species can be found on the RSPB site here.

If you live in the UK and would like to take part in the 2015 Big Garden Birdwatch, you will find details here

Monday 19 January 2015

Redwings in the Park

It was a bitterly cold weekend, though the snow flurries were minimal. We visited Christchurch Park, where this Grey Squirrel was busy foraging at the edge of one of the grassy areas.

After our sighting of a Barn Owl last weekend, we thought it would be good to see if Mabel the Tawny Owl was 'at home' since I had read that she had been back in her favourite spot. There was, however, no sign of her on this occasion. I expect the afternoon was too cold for her to sit at the opening of her usual tree hole. 

This magnificent Song Thrush was hopping about, and we looked hard to see whether (s)he was ringed, but there was no ring in sight.

The Blackbird gives an idea of scale for the Redwing

Suddenly on this muted January afternoon, our eyes were alerted by movement in front of a female Blackbird. We thought at first that it might be a Brambling, a bird I would love to see, but it was a Redwing, another winter migrant. According to the RSPB site, it is 'the UK's smallest true thrush' and is on the Red List for conservation. There were, in fact, several Redwings hopping about in the dead leaves. I failed to find a good setting for my camera in the dim light, but at least I have a couple of record shots and another bird to add to my January list.

Monday 12 January 2015

Our First Barn Owl of 2015

What a windy weekend!

I was given a copy of Claxton: Field Notes from a Small Planet by Mark Cocker for my recent birthday. I grew up only a few miles from the Yare-side village of Claxton, so was particularly keen to read the volume. Mark Cocker writes compellingly about his Norfolk owl encounters in the book, and it was these accounts that made me feel the urge to seek an owl encounter of my own.

We headed for the Suffolk coast, watching for birds of prey on a small road that runs along the River Deben, keeping a weather eye on the state of the wind and high tide.

We pulled in at a favourite lay-by and looked around. Intitially the surrounding area seemed devoid of avian wildlife, but all of a sudden a Kestrel swept into view, hovering near the tree-line on our left. It did not hang about, but David was quick to spot a Little Egret in a dyke on the opposite side of the road.

We had watched Barn Owls, these magnificent giants, from this spot in the past. Astonishingly we did not have to wait long before a graceful, if ghostly, form spread out before us, quartering the fields. It circled round for a short while before taking roost in the dense bare branches of a tree. The photos below were nearly all taken behind the glass of the car windscreen and the conditions for photography were far from good. But the joy was in the seeing and the watching, and the record shots below testify to the excitement of what could otherwise have been a dull January afternoon. 

 We finally reached the waterfront, where we looked out on Felixstowe Ferry and its martello towers ...

For more Suffolk wildlife and superb photography ...

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Thursday 8 January 2015

Tree Following ~ Silver Birch in December 2014 and early January 2015

                 and early 2015

This post is the ninth in my Tree Following series, part of a wider project run by Lucy Corrander from the Loose and Leafy blog. It is the first post of the new year, but is actually largely about December 2014. I am following a Silver Birch, B. pendula, in Suffolk, UK. You will find the other Tree Follower links on the Loose and Leafy blog ... so do take the chance to catch up with happenings in the arboreal world!

2015! Silver Birch Sunrise

Welcome or welcome back!

December has, inevitably, been a month of bare branches. Unlike this time last year when the weather was mild and damp, we have had a run of sub-zero temperatures, with wonderful frost-flower patterns on the car roof.

The chill factor has not prevented the Silver Birch from developing: take note of those forked 'twig ends'! Spring may not quite be on the way and last year's seeds are still winging their way on to my windowsill, but this kind of new 2015 growth is good to see. As I write the sky is overcast and the air is saturated with moisture, but it was bitterly cold at dawn.

New growth at the end of each twig!

I see the occasional Grey Squirrel in the tall tree that marks the start of the Local Nature Reserve, some 200 metres beyond our garden, but I have not seen a squirrel our side of the fence since December 11th. We have been trying hard to keep our supply of bird food topped up, and the squirrel in question discovered a feast of fat balls inside the feeder that hangs from the Silver Birch.

 The creature climbed, dangled, hung upside down and gorged. 

There came a point at which s/he could no longer reach the remaining bits of food, so s/he tried biting the wood on the outside of the feeder to enlarge the hole. I hope it didn't cause indigestion!

Then when that ploy no longer seemed the best option, the creature simply flipped off the lid of the feeder and climbed inside the cylinder. One very overstuffed Squirrel, and the only mammal noted in the vicinity during this period.

I can't *really* count this as a Tree-Following sighting as it was way up above the Silver Birch, but it was lovely to watch a Grey Heron flying past. This is an infrequent occurrence in my neck of the woods. I noticed a charm of Goldfinches on the Nature Reserve tree on 15 December: I have not seen this species in the vicinity of the Silver Birch since the early summer (May-June post).  

David, my husband, spotted the Green Woodpecker on the Silver Birch for the first time. I went to grab my camera, and the bird flew off, so alas, no photos.

We have hardly seen the Great Spotted Woodpecker this month. The Starlings have been frequent visitors, and when they are busy squabbling among themselves and slicing of bits of fat, there is usually a wily Robin underneath, waiting for the bits that fall. I have also noticed the Blackbird in the undergrowth and the Magpies up to their usual dive-bombing antics.

The Blue tits and Great tits have been constant visitors to the coconuts. A Thrush has been seen under the drooping birch branches from time to time. I'm guessing it is a Song Thrush. According to this BTO fact sheet, the little heart-shaped markings would suggest as much, since Mistle Thrush markings are more pointed like arrowheads.

The stars of the Christmas show (acrobatic squirrel apart) have been the Long-tailed tits, who have delighted us with their intermittent appearances. They visit the coconuts on the Silver Birch in groups of three and four and are such fascinating birds to watch as they interact with one another.

Moving on to insects and other creatures, I have seen a few moths, but these have been less frequent sightings. It was slightly off-limits in terms of distance from the tree, but we had a sleepy seven-spot Ladybird on our front door over the holiday. This morning there was a spider, but it vanished before I could take a close look.

For a list of species seen in, on or around the Silver Birch to date (nothing new to report for this last month), please follow the link here and scroll down.

Don't forget that the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch is just around the corner, taking place on 24-25 January. And if you can't wait until then, you might consider subscribing to the BTO Garden Bird Watch, which I have only just heard about.

What surprises does February have in store? 

* * *

Just to show that I am keeping my eyes open, here is a mature Silver Birch I noticed on Dunwich Heath some days ago, making my tree seem barely more than a mere sapling! Look at the rather grotesque fungus ...