chorus

Today is International Dawn Chorus Day, so here is a video taken at 5am this morning. The sound is in stereo so for a more immersive experience listen with headphones or a pair of speakers. Needs no further explanation – enjoy!

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a return visit

33DDED54-0DD9-407D-B782-83B850437716This afternoon a Little Owl began to call very loudly from somewhere in or near our garden. Eventually spotted it in the Elderberry bushes at the end of the garden. Was this the same one that visited the garden in the cold spell at the end of February? Couldn’t say for sure, but it’s quite likely.

Thing is, there is an owl box on our neighbour’s outbuilding, just metres from where it was perching. I will have to keep a closer eye on it, see if there any goings on. Could be an excuse to buy a trail cam. Now there’s a thought…

copse report #1

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Yesterday I took a dawn walk to see what bird life there was on my ‘patch’ – a route that takes me from home, along the lanes and round part of our community copse. This was the first time in some little while that I have done this; recently my resolve to go out early has been eroded by the seemingly interminable winter.

Many of the usual suspects were in evidence – Blackbirds were in full song, along with numerous very loud Wrens. Dunnocks, so easily overlooked, were singing from the tops of hedges in several locations. More unusually, a Grey Wagtail was sat on the ridge of a nearby farm building. Great Spotted Woodpeckers drummed in the distance.

Once I was at the copse, I could hear some of our summer migrants – Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps. I’ve already heard them elsewhere this year, but was keen to see if they were around here, and its good to know they are back on the patch. Both species seem to do well here – no doubt this is down to the habitat. This part of the copse is a mixture of both scrub bushes and more mature top layer trees and it is very noticeable that the warblers tend to be found in the former. Through previous observations it is apparent that several territories are maintained, for both Chiffchaff and Blackcap.

The song of the Blackcap is one of my favourites, and one male was certainly staking his claim to territory in one corner of the copse. A pair nested in this location last year, so I hope they have returned. Later I saw what was probably this male, having a ‘sing-off’ with another male, while a female was nearby.

Blackthorn blossom was still out, and some of the trees are starting to break bud, so there was a flush of green starting to appear. Despite the fact that it was a foggy morning, and cool enough at that time of day to still require a woolly hat it finally felt like spring.

This got me thinking about the arrival of spring. Not the meteorological or lunar spring, but how each of us decides that spring is here. From a seasonal point of view the change in the seasons is not generally sudden; a switching off of one and turning on of the next. It’s a gradual process, where numerous factors slowly transition from one state to another. An increase in day length, warmer temperatures, greater intensity in light as the sun’s path gets higher, along with the dawn chorus, arrival of summer migrants and trees blossoming. All of these contribute to what makes spring, but at what point can we say that the combination of those factors has reached a point of sufficient magnitude that spring can be said to have ’arrived’?

Going through the winter requires a certain mindset, a bracing of oneself for the wet, cold and short days. This year the extension of that season throughout March and well into April has required a resolve that certainly goes well beyond what is normally needed. I think it fair to say that I don’t just speak for myself when I say we have had enough.

This week has been the turning point. Just over a week ago I saw my first swallow, and several others since. There is more of a fresh green look to the landscape than the brown of winter. And although we had two wet days at the start of the week, an upward shift in temperatures, culminating in a beautiful sunny day yesterday really felt like winter had been thrown off. I no longer feel I am bracing myself against the cold and wet.

Going for that walk was specifically about seeing what summer warblers had returned. Without realising, it was also drawing a line in the sand; an affirmation that winter is over. Perhaps the arrival of spring is not only about a change in the season, but also our frame of mind.

a short walk in Aller & Beer Woods

Overlooking the Somerset Levels, this stretch of broad-leaved woodland is both a nature reserve and SSSI.

Making the most of a nice morning for a walk, this is the first time we’ve visited Aller & Beer Woods. A few woodland flowers were showing themselves, including what we think is Toothwort.  An unusual looking plant, it is parasitic, living on the roots of other plants – my wildflower book says it particularly likes Hazel, of which there was plenty. The adjoining Turn Hill affords great views across the Levels. Lots of bird activity, including Song Thrush, Green Woodpecker, a pair of screeching Jays, and as a bonus, we heard our first Blackcap of the year.

More info at the Somerset Wildlife Trust website here.

comings & goings

Little Owl

I wrote in my last post about the mass movement of birds caused by the recent winter weather. It also brought an unusual visitor to our garden, and was likely the demise for another.

Close to where our bird feeders hang stands a table, on which there is a tray where we put mealworms for the Robins and Blackbirds. First light, the day before the snow arrived a Little Owl was sitting on the corner of the table. Feathers all ruffled up against the cold, it was so round that it was initially difficult to know which way it was facing. The usual garden birds had of course vacated the feeders for the safety of nearby shrubs and trees, all clamouring alarm calls and flicking tails. It sat staring intently towards the feeders for a while, and then flew to the ground beneath them and rummaged about amongst the plants. Shortly after it went and perched in our walnut tree, before heading off to the far end of the garden and disappearing.

We have had Little Owls in our area as long as we can remember, and have seen them in the garden before, although always at the far end. To have one sitting on the table, just metres from our back door was extraordinary.

Later that day it returned and spent a good hour sitting in a sheltered spot on a wall, shuffling along as the sun slid further toward the horizon, as if to find the warmest spot. And understandably so as the cold easterly wind was making it feel several degrees below freezing.

Over the next few days it appeared around the garden several times, until the weather turned mild and the thaw began. Given that earthworms are a staple of the Little Owl’s diet we speculated that it was perhaps interested in the mealworms although we never did see it take any. Or was it interested in the other birds that visit our garden? Or simply making the most of the limited respite from the weather that our garden provided? I guess we will never know for sure the reasons why it was so emboldened, but I think it reasonable to assume that the Little Owl’s behaviour was brought about by the cold weather. Extreme weather, extreme measures.


For some years our garden has been frequented by a female Blackbird. We recognise her because she has a crooked wing – it sticks out at an awkward angle, increasingly so as time has gone by. We refer to her as Mrs Blackbird – imaginative, I know. Her crooked wing does not seem to have restricted her from leading a normal Blackbird life – she has had at least two mates that we know of and raised several broods, often nesting in our shed.

The thing is, we have not seen her since just before the snow at beginning of March. We have had two males and a different female come to the feeders, but no sign of her. So that’s now three weeks without seeing her and we are used to her visiting pretty much every day. According to the RSPB, Blackbirds have a life expectancy of 3.4 years, but the oldest on record was over 20. We think ‘our’ Blackbird may have been around our garden for more than 8 years. It’s entirely possible the winter weather has brought her lengthy life to an end. Which is sad.

It’s funny how attached to her we became, by virtue of the fact that we could easily distinguish her from other Blackbirds. No doubt it is also about rooting for the underdog. We’d watch her hop around the garden (they jump really, not hop), stop, head tilting as she listened to a worm, and then pull it unceremoniously from the ground. Either she would eat it there and then, or if she had young, it would be gathered up along with a beakful of others and carried off to the nest. When doing the latter, I have never worked out how it is birds don’t drop the food they already have in their beak.

Of the two mates she had, the first had a white patch and quite why, I can’t recall, we called him Elvis. They raised a number of broods, until one year we found him dead on the road, while they had a brood in the nest. Mrs Blackbird went on to raise the brood herself, and the chicks successfully fledged. Later that year another male appeared and he and Mrs Blackbird fought. Some kind of arrangement was quite literally thrashed out and they went on to raise a number of broods over the years.

So now it looks like she has gone, but it’s quite clear now that of the Blackbirds that visit the garden there is a pair. They fly to and fro from the same location outside of the garden so must have a nest nearby. Is the male Mrs Blackbirds former mate? I’m not sure I could have identified him for sure. The female is quite pale, probably one of last year’s young. So this presents a new challenge – can I spot sufficiently distinguishing features to enable me to identify this pair? And of course they are going to need names…

mass movement

Last Thursday morning, as the confluence of ‘The Beast from the East’ and Storm Emma came about, we noticed Lapwings moving westwards. The weather was worsening, snow was starting to fall, and we knew a lot more was on the way.

I watched them on and off throughout the morning – in ones and twos and small ragged flocks. I should think hundreds passed by, presumably seeking unfrozen ground for feeding and roosting.

We just don’t get that many around here. I tweeted about it. Then I started noticing other Twitter users mentioning similar observations. A more thorough search revealed comments such as this one from the Dorset coast and another from the Axe estuary in Devon.

Evidently, a mass movement of birds was occurring, predominantly ground feeding species such as Lapwings, Golden Plovers, Redwings and Fieldfares. From what I can garner many found their way to tidal estuaries, where conditions were better. No doubt for some birds it will have been too much.

It’s a privilege, moving even, to see an event like this. In it’s indifference, nature is both beautiful and brutal. This morning, with temperatures up and the snow melting, I watched a flock of Lapwings heading back eastwards.