Thursday, 19 January 2017

Bring out the feeders

During the summer, birds should be finding their food  - seeds, insects, fruit - in the environment, thereby teaching their young to do likewise.
So we put the feeders away until times get harder.
With regular frosts overnight in our frost-pocket of a valley bottom from late November, by early December we feel that times are hard enough.
And with the current freeze, they come into their own....

We have two sets of feeders.
One set is under the cherry tree outside the sitting room windows, where three feeders are suspended from a naturally twisty pole.
Tim has attached the pole to the wall using a carabiner, so that the entire set can be released and swung towards you, making restocking much easier.
The cherry, elder, hawthorn and alder provide plenty of perches for incoming birds to size up the situation, and for outgoing birds to eat their plunder.
A chicken-wire partition segregates the cats from the birds, giving the ground-feeders a safe area for themselves where the cats can't rush them.
The chickens haunt this area too, when they are allowed, picking up dropped morsels.


Late for lunch

These four feeders are stocked with:
  • peanuts (guaranteed no fungal infection)
  • a fat block "aux insectes" (dried mealworms) from the UK via the RSPB Amazon store
  • fat balls "aux graines" also from Gamm Vert but probably in the future from the LPO
  • mixed grains for "les oiseaux du ciel" from E. Leclerc or Super U
  • insect rich suet pellets... new last year... and share the same feeder as the peanuts
The peanuts are going down well with the bluetits and great tits.

If I just twist it that way a bit, it'll come out
I think I'll have that one
The fat block took a little while to catch on last year, but once the tits worked out what it was, they went at it with jack hammers, after the dried larvae. On sunny days for most of the winter so far, however, there have been plenty of insects around, and the insectivores were well supplied with fresh meat. Long-tailed tits swirl past, picking insects off the cherry bark, and are gone in an instant. An agile team of Chiffchaffs kept us entertained last year with their acrobatics. They snatch flies off the wall, off the windows and out of the air. Every so often there is a bang as a chiffchaff hits a window, and several times one of us comes eye to eye with a fluttering bird not two feet away on the other side of the glass. They even land on the windowsill as we stand watching them.

Chiffchaff
[photo transformed into a watercolour by Tim using Photoshop and a Redfield plugin]
Where they are this year... who knows??

Normally, the seed eaters still find much food in the wild at this time of the year and the grain feeder hardly goes down at all. That changed this weekend when the seed started to vanish rapidly.

Also, normally, big flocks of assorted finches work the field edges further along the road to Le Petit Pressigny. Since October we have only seen half a dozen goldfinches in our meadow, no quarrelsome greenfinches, and no siskins. This is a repeat almost of last year... except we had greenfinches... this year, one pair... and that was last week. The first bramblings (charcoal grey hood, orange breast, white underneath) are yet to be spotted.

A male Brambling on the sunflower feeder we've just replaced.
This held a good bucket load...
and we'd blocked up two of the holes to slow the flow of seed...
but was a devil to fill!!


We rely on the greed of the goldfinches to knock down seed for the ground feeders. We give the seed feeder a shake every so often to make sure the dunnock, the sparrows, the blackbirds, the moorhens, the chaffinches and the pheasants can find something to eat on the ground.

Sometimes the block inside its holder....
gets to the "tits only" stage!

We introduced the sunflower seeds in January 2015, when the goldfinches finished gleaning the crumbling sunflower heads that remain in those tricky corners of fields where the man with the seed drill will go but the man with the combine harvester won't.The pheasants like sunflower seeds too. We have seen up to nine females and one splendid male who spent his time herding the females and posing about rather than eating.



Last year the cherry tree had a visit from a woodpigeon which behaved rather oddly. It gave the impression it was hiding from something, possibly the hunters making a racket on the hillside opposite. It did not seem concerned to be so close to the house, or that it could see us through the windows. When Tim went out to check that it was OK, it merely stood up. Well feathered and plump, it looked healthy enough, and we could see no signs of injury. It flew in to the lowest branch of the cherry tree, sat there peering across the meadow for half an hour, then flew away.

But the self-appointed king of the cherry tree feeders is the robin.
He bullies everyone else, squaring up to the great tits as they come in for some tucker.
He emulates the tits in hanging from the peanut feeder to mine for cacahuetes.
His favourite is the fat balls, and he stands on the topmost ball to hammer down on it.
Ever watchful, ever busy, he keeps us entertained for hours - but there's so much to do!
Can't sit and watch birds all day! Just another five minutes.....

New for this year is the GRAND feeder... 

This is how grand...


six ports for the birds to feed from...
it was destined for the meadow set-up to be filled with sunflower seed...
but, has proved far too long... so long in fact....
that the pheasants would have been able to stuff themselves out of the bottom two ports!!

It has its own hanger!!
Fixed to the tree!!

So, it is hung, filled with 1.5 kilos of grain, in the cherry tree...
outside the lounge window.
Because of the size, we have also bought a large tray that fits underneath...
to save some of the inevitable spillage onto the grass beneath the whole assembly.
It will be interesting to see which birds eat from the tray.


Our first Greenfinch of this Winter!!
Bully boy Robin... with the pointy tongue....

The final food type we introduced last year was suet pellets with insect minced into them....
these are mixed in layers with the peanuts... and are proving immensely popular with the Blue and Great Tits.

BUT, despite the entertainment we get from them...
the biggest problem with all these feeders is...
stocking them up...

"Tim off to the feeders with a wheelbarrow of tubs!"
BUT...has he got everything....?
The destination.... the meadow feeders!!


Now... just another few minutes... watching the Lapwings in the field next door........


4 comments:

Susan said...

Another consideration is the cost, especially if you are buying quality food. And I always found keeping the feeders clean a real bind. You are advised, ideally, to clean and disinfect them every time you refill, especially if it's been wet, but a) it's cold work; and b) they take forever to dry which means the whole task is lengthened to the point it's really tedious.

Amelia Frenchgarden said...

Your photographs are great. I have never seen a brambling. I cannot remember why, but we did not glean any sunflowers this year. We usually feed them back quite rapidly because we cannot air dry them efficiently. Perhaps I could attract bramblings with a large offering of sunflower seeds in the cold weather?
Dave Goulson has been sounding the alarm bells about commercially bred bumble bees used for pollination and warning people not to buy bumble bee nests as "pets" because of the disease transmission problem. As for honey bees, they share the same flowers with many wild bees so disease transmission, where there is no barrier between species,would be simple. Amelia

LaPré DelaForge said...

Susan, we buy from the RSPB via Amazon UK...
We spend around £50 per annum with them... and all the profits are used by the RSPB...
Additionally we get Beaks suet pellets from Amazon UK and their fat blocks...
the insect and peanut one....
Peanuts are large, round ones from Extra Select... the same people that the RSPB use... but they have stopped supplying these abroad in bulk quantities!!
Fat balls and wild bird seed come from Gamm Vert...
the manufacturer, Coustenoble is the same people as the LPO supply...
they seem to be the only firm that supplies fat balls without nets and their seed is not wheat-heavy.... our other source is SuperU for the occasional sack of seed and all our sunflower... the latter are bigger and fatter than anyone elses!!
Personally, I would like to use Vine Farms and give The Wildlife Trusts some of the money... but they do not supply anywhere but mainland Britain... except the very North of Scotland.
As for cleaning, what a load of rollox.... ours get cleaned at the end of the season... and during the season if they get mucky... I've a couple of dirt cheap feeders to put out when that happens... and pre-season, I clean them all with VWP which I use for cleaning my brewing equipment. Anyway, even the ones that need cleaning dry out soon enough in the bathroom.
I also do not clean out birdboxes by the way... there is no need... the birds do it themselves... until we started putting up boxes, they nested in their OWN holes... no one cleaned those out but themselves. Here they nest in cavities in the stone walls and other inaccessible holes... the sparrows use disinfectant anyway... they use young fresh Absinthe tips as they build... very clever!! And that is an evolved trait, no one cleaned their nests out!!

LaPré DelaForge said...

Amelia... Brambling are an over winter species... I have just checked in the French bird atlas and they do get down as far as you, so it is worth a try... but a selection of feeders in Winter is always a good idea... but fresh water regularly during the day is more important when we have a freeze like now... ours are OK, they have the river and the millstream...yours may be as well provided the banks aren't too "propre!"
K will be on top of that, anyway, I presume!! You will have noticed that the feeder near the house is under a tree... and the field feeders are attached to an old branch... that allows for photographs without feeders!!

I am worried by the idea of purchased bees... much as Susan and I are concerned by the sourcing of quality seed for feeding... I found some peanuts in Bricomarché that were very obviously old stock... wrinkled and some were black... the latter a sure sign of mould... and fat balls in nets are a complete no-no... many birds have been trapped by their feet in the net bags. Also, what is the provenance of the bees... given that many sources of "wild flower" seed are non-native, the same mentality is likely to source bees from abroad... or even bees that are pollinators but have never been seen in Europe!!
I also hate the Yankee system of trucking hives all over their country.... I feel we are very lucky in France to have local beekeepers who sell fine honey at reasonable prices.... but, worryingly, they are an ageing species in themselves...

Anyway, even if you don't get Brambling... you will get other passerines, such as Greenfinches and Goldfinches, Chaffinches, etc... the Greenfinches are a particular worry at the moment in France... the LPO have been asking people to look out for them and report numbers... we have only a couple this year... we usually have dozens... we've only a couple of pairs of Chaffinches... a tenth! Half a dozen Goldfinches, no Siskins, no Wagtails at all... the birds seem to have vanished.
We haven't seen the large flocks of mixed small birds in the fields, either!!
Worrying, very worrying!!