Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Black hats in the cherry tree

On Monday night, the temperature in our verger fell below -20°C, according to our weather station. It has not risen above freezing since Sunday. In this severe weather, we have seen several species using our bird feeders for the first time, including cirl bunting, collared dove and great spotted woodpecker.

Picture of Weather Station readings showing the lowest temperature yesterday!! [And what it got up to by 6.30.]

A male Blackcap (Sylvia Atricapila) Fauvette à Tête Noire has started helping himself to a couple of apples that we hung in our cherry tree. This handsome fellow, with his dove-grey cloak and smart black cap, is a member of the warbler familiy and a familiar summer visitor, but is resident in this part of France and in parts of southern England. We've seen winter Blackcaps (browncaps, if female/juvenile), but he was a first on the feeders.

Even apples turning to cider-mash are needed by this male Blackcap
The other, slightly more unusual, species is the Reed Bunting (Emberiza Schoeniclus) Bruant des Roseaux. In summer, the male Reed Bunting has a black head and bib, separated by a splendid cream moustache. In winter he retains the moustache, but his head becomes striped in shades of grey and his bib becomes more or less speckled with grey. He mainly feeds on the ground under the cherry tree among the dunnocks, blackbirds, song thrushes and moorhens, under a light rain of seeds kicked out of the feeders by the goldfinches.

A chilly looking male Reed Bunting

We only get the occasional greenfinch or chaffinch at the cherry tree feeders - our best customers there by far are the great tits, blue tits, house sparrows and goldfinches. Here they have a choice of peanuts, wild bird mixture, fat balls and home-made fat blocks. A feeder full of black sunflower seeds hangs from a young willow in the meadow. There the finches are the main customers, both at the feeder and accompanying several young pheasants on the ground.

The Field Feeders
From left: Female Greenfinch, Goldfinch on feeder and Greater-Spotted Woodpecker on his way to the fat balls.
The fat ball feeder is a coiled tube of fencing wire... cost = zero!
It allows fat balls to be used without the netting - now considered to be dangerous to birds' safety.

Despite today's unscheduled snow, there are signs of spring in the meadow. The robins are chasing each other around the cherry tree with their usual aggression. A pair of hares started boxing before disappearing into the blackthorns on the riverbank. Two female blackbirds are disputing rights of possession under the cherry tree. The male finches are starting to look splendid in their summer costumes. By providing food for the small birds we are setting out a dining table for the sparrowhawks, a no win situation I'm afraid. At least we can protect the birds from the cats to some extent. We have set up a chickenwire screen around the foot of the cherry tree to stop the cats rushing the ground-feeders there. Before the snow, Jerry would sit inside it, being teased by the wrens who kept just out of pouncing distance, but it's too cold there for him now.

Greater-Spotted Woodpecker on his way...

1 comment:

Niall & Antoinette said...

Had a goldfinch today. 2 greater spotted woodpeckers hang around the back of the house but don't come to the feeders.
I usually have taken the fat balls out of their netting, but not the last few times as it's been so cold! Didn't know it was dangerous; will always do so in future.