We are Alison and Lee, and we love bird watching around Retford and beyond. We don’t have any fancy equipment: just binoculars and a basic 30x zoom camera. We don’t boast any rare sightings or go chasing around the country to spot something unusual; rather, we delight in the ordinary – the birds you can spot every day if you go out walking around your locality. We aim to encourage you to do just that. Often it’s just being in the right place at the right time – like this kingfisher who just happened to sit there while we were walking past! There’s so much amazing nature right on our doorsteps!
Well, last week we were writing about signs of spring, but this weekend winter has returned with a vengeance!
This majestic hunter turned up in Lee’s garden yesterday to take advantage of the many small birds that visit for food.
There has been a female sparrowhawk in the garden before (see previous post: Drama in the garden ), but we have never been visited by a male one.
The male is smaller than the female, and shows a beautiful orange barred breast. It typically soars over woodland, but may hunt in gardens and parks if necessary. Male birds will eat smaller birds such as tits and finches, but the larger females will take thrushes or pigeons.
The bird in our photographs looks as if it has a problem with one of its eyes. Maybe its impaired vision led it to venture into the garden for easy prey.
It certainly cleared the garden of smaller birds for a while!
After the very cold weather last week, it was nice to experience warmer temperatures and signs of spring this week.
Chaffinches are starting to sing now. Their song is a descending scale, which males use to proclaim their territories ready for the breeding season.
Lee spotted this beautiful female in King’s Park this week.
As you can see, the female is a lot paler than the male, which sports a beautiful blue-grey head and pink breast.
He also found some lovely long tailed tits. These delightful little birds move around in large flocks during the winter, looking for food.
One of the birds appeared to be gathering nesting material, and kept going in and out of the same bush. The nest of the long-tailed tit is a really intricate affair: it is a domed construction made of lichen, moss, cobwebs and feathers. It builds a nest in a thorny bush, and lays 8-12 eggs between April and June.
We found this lovely moorhen down the River Idle close to our home. They regularly nest down there, usually just above the water, and lay 5-11 eggs in 2 or 3 broods between April and August. We’re looking forward to seeing chicks down there soon.
In the meantime, our winter visitors are still here. We saw quite a few redwings down the river, and Lee managed to capture this one perched right at the top of the tree. These birds won’t be with us for much longer, and will be heading back to north and east Europe, so make the most of them while they’re still here!
If you’re a resident of the UK, you won’t have escaped “The Beast from the East” or Storm Emma. It has been our most severe weather for some years, and our birds have been struggling.
We’re on a number of birding sites on Facebook, and all over the country people have been posting pictures of dead birds, birds looking really sorry for themselves, and birds invading our gardens looking for food.
We have been putting more food out in the garden than usual, and the birds have flocked in to take advantage of it.
This fieldfare was a first for us in the garden, and there have been reported sightings of them in gardens everywhere. They generally only visit town gardens when food is in scarce supply and weather is severe. My mum had a flock of 8 of them turn up in her cherry tree.
This time of year is difficult for birds anyway, as winter is drawing to a close and a lot of the berries have already been eaten. The spell of cold weather has made it even worse for our feathered friends.
It’s so important to give fresh water supplies for the birds, especially when we are experiencing freezing temperatures and many of their usual supplies are frozen solid.
House sparrows (male)
Our regular garden birds have been using up supplies pretty quickly, and we’ve had to keep up with them!
Today we’re hoping the worst of the weather is over and the snow is starting to melt.
This little pied wagtail has been visiting more than usual and enjoying the mealworms on the ground. As some birds prefer to feed on the ground rather than from feeders, it’s important to make sure there is food there as well.
This redwing (above) was fluffing itself up in the branches of the tree in the park to keep warm.
Lee has been feeding a robin in the park. As soon as he shakes the bag of mealworms, the robin flies down to take them from by his feet. I don’t think it will be long before it’s eating out of his hand!
Hopefully we’re over the worst, but food supplies will still be low for birds, so keep putting food out for them if you’re able.
Now we’re looking forward to spring and welcoming back our spring and summer visitors. In the meantime, hope you’ve enjoyed our cold weather pictures – here’s hoping there aren’t too many more of these to come!
This week we’re focusing on one of our very common and well loved garden birds: the blue tit.
Lee was walking in King’s Park this week, and spotted this one having a bath.
He watched the bird go down into the water and it stayed and had a good bath while he took some pictures.
You can see the bird seemed to be enjoying itself!
The bird is almost completely submerged in this one!
And then it was off – back to flitting about in the trees around the park.
These at the top of the trees were also taken in King’s Park, on one of the sunny days we got this week!
This delightful little bird is one of our favourite garden visitors. They will eat from feeders of all kinds, and also eat insects and spiders. Their young need a great number of caterpillars to survive, and these are best found in woodland. They will also nest in boxes in our gardens, but have a better chance of survival in woodlands where there is a plentiful supply of caterpillars.
Although these birds are small they make lots of noise. Their ‘tsee tsee’ call is quite easily recognised.
We love these little birds!
On several of our walks lately, we’ve seen the lovely greenfinch. Our local cemetery is full of them, in the tops of the trees, making their distinctive “tzoo-ee” call.
We’ve also seen them around Lound, down the Chesterfield Canal and in King’s Park in Retford, but haven’t yet been lucky enough to have them visit the garden.
There were loads of them in the trees in the cemetery, and they kept flocking from one tree to another. They were quite far away right in the tree tops, so sometimes difficult to make out and photograph.
Greenfinches will often visit gardens in winter; I remember as a child they were regular visitors to our feeders. They are also common in parks and woodland, and they tend to gather in large flocks.
The male bird is more brightly coloured than the female and the juvenile birds, and can be quite striking in the breeding season. They are seed-eaters, and will take seeds from trees to short plants, often feeding on the ground. They also eat berries and nuts, visiting bird tables and feeders.
They are present in the UK all year round, and lay 4-6 eggs in 1 or 2 broods between April and July. Their nest is made of grass and twigs in thick bushes or trees.
We’re sure you’ll agree these birds are delightful; we’re always happy to see them wherever we go!
Last week Lee spotted some siskins down the Chesterfield Canal and we wrote a little about them then.
This week, he’s found more of them on his regular walks in King’s Park, so we thought we’d share these pictures with you.
They were really high in the tops of the trees, so these pictures have been taken from quite a distance.
Siskins are delightful little birds, very agile and always flitting about, so this makes them quite difficult to capture.
As we mentioned last week, they are present in the UK all year round, but often more easily spotted in the winter as they move around in flocks looking for food, and their numbers are boosted with more birds arriving from colder climates.
Their call consists of twittering phrases, and they are often seen in woods and parks. You may even be lucky enough to get one in your garden!
It’s a joy to see these lovely little birds on our doorstep!
And finally, a bathing blackbird…
Although the weather is still wintry, it’s encouraging to see longer daylight hours and birds getting ready for the breeding season – an exciting time for birders! We’re looking forward to what we might find in the weeks ahead, and sharing with our readers.
On Sunday afternoon we had a wander down the Chesterfield Canal hoping to spot some redpolls and siskins which we’ve seen down there before.
It was a good decision as we found some really interesting birds! We first spotted a buzzard sitting on a post, then came across these beautiful bramblings.
Bramblings are winter visitors to the UK, and often found with their close relative, the chaffinch.
We found three of them sitting in a tree near some feeders. They sat there quite a while and let us take pictures of them. Lee saw some back in October, but I hadn’t seen any this winter up until now, so it was really great to spot them.
We didn’t find the redpolls and siskins, but Lee went back today, and there they were! Above is a lesser redpoll, easily distinguishable by its little red cap, giving it its name.
The female lacks the red cap of the male, but still sports its streaky back. In the above photos you can see them with a great tit and a blue tit.
Siskins also turned up on the feeders! These birds are present in the UK all year round, but are more widely distributed in the winter, when more birds arrive from Europe. The siskin is smaller than a greenfinch, and has a forked tail and narrow bill. Its body is streaky, and it has a yellow rump and yellow flashes on its wings.
As you can see, they are really pretty, and enough to brighten up any winter’s day!
And as a bonus, a great spotted woodpecker also appeared on the feeders.
A good couple of days’ birding!