Wildlife Wednesday – Varmints, scoundrels and opportunists

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A very wet and bedraggled long-tailed tit stocking up on peanut energy

So suddenly winter has decided to be wet. The days of clean, frozen dog walks are over and now there is a lot of mud,  hosing down, damp towels and smelly fur. Even the birds are looking like they’ve been hung out to dry, with their clumped, bedraggled feathers sticking close to their tiny bodies.

And that pretty much sums up the conditions for the 2017 Big Garden Birdwatch that took place at the weekend. From humble beginnings as a child-orientated activity to find our top 10 UK birds, the annual Big Garden Birdwatch (with 35 years of collected  data) now allows organisations like the RSPB to monitor trends and understand exactly how birds are doing.

For instance, over that period of time the number of wood pigeons visiting gardens has increased by a huge 800%. Since we have a lot of damson trees, which still have dried fruit on the top most branches, we certainly see quite a few of those around. This year they were bolder than usual in frequenting the ‘mosh pit’ under the hanging feeders.

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But their presence was not appreciated by the other birds, because they stomp around like giants amongst the small ground feeders, like dunnocks and blackbirds, snatching crumbs from under their beaks. They are bullies and their considerable size lets them get away with it. Mostly.

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This rather smaller pigeon, a collared dove who lives in the adjacent conifer hedge, decided to play David to the wood pigeon’s Goliath. It chased after it, head down, routing it out away from the dropped nut zone and then started to herd it further away using aerial manoeuvres.

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This carried on for nearly twenty minutes, the bemused wood pigeon was persistent, but the collared dove never gave up and in the end Goliath ambled off. After all that dramatically expended energy I hope that David managed to catch a few more seeds.

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He would have had plenty to eat later in the day, because it became a free-for-all on the ground. One of the local black squirrels, who has been repeatedly (I chase him away each time I noticed him) visiting the feeders, had his revenge. Around dusk I looked out to see the round sunflower seed feeder on the ground and its contents stewn across the patio.

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Amidst this mess the culpit was gorging himself on seeds and the blackbird probably couldn’t believe his luck! Grrrr.

I counted birds for an hour on both Saturday and Sunday. On Saturday there were a couple more species, but overall the numbers counted were lower. That leaves me with a small dilemma as to which day to submit.

The most numerous species on both days were blue tits. When the whole tit tribe shows up to eat it is hard to keep track of them. They tend to swirl around taking peanuts from the feeder and retreating to preferred perches on the wisteria, then back again. Continuously. Visually, the effect is like winged ants swarming up grass.

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This time though I gradually registered that after finishing a nut they didn’t just return to the feeder but would fly on round the corner of the house to do something else for a short period. And this is what I discovered …. round that corner they were swapping peanuts for eating my neighbour’s mahonia flowers!

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One bird that was surprisingly absent on Sunday was the robin. Funny that, because he is always around when I am outside. Last week he even followed me into the greenhouse.

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And he was quite hard to oust!

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Anyhow, it will be interesting to see the trends once this year’s numbers are in and analysed.

It’s the first Wednesday in February, so I am linking my Big Garden Birdwatch efforts to Tina’s Wildlife Wednesday meme. Her colourful feathered friends are just stunning, so do take a look at her observations.

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About Frogend_dweller

Living in the damp middle of nowhere
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23 Responses to Wildlife Wednesday – Varmints, scoundrels and opportunists

  1. Chloris says:

    A great wildlife post Allison, I enjoyed reading it. What drama in your garden. Your black squirrels are as big a nuisance as the grey ones but they look more exotic. Many of our local rabbits are black, but I imagine that has come from breeding with an escaped tame one at some point. I wonder how your black squirrels came about.

    • Oh how strange, black rabbits hopping around in the undergrowth is a deeply disconcerting notion. The black squirrels are a genetic sub-group and are spreading because they are allegedly more agressive.

  2. nexi says:

    ….Have seen black squirrels in Canada, but didn’t realise they were over here as well.

  3. Me too, I didn’t realise black squirrels were in the UK until I read one of your posts last year. Your garden birds are very entertaining, well done for capturing so many characterful moments in action.

  4. Tina says:

    Terrific post, thanks for joining in! I guess doves are adaptable wherever they are! Those blue tits are darling and funny how they were munching on the mahonia flowers. In my garden, they’d have to share with the honeybees!

    • I just saw my first honeybee of the year today on some snowdrops! I’ve not seen any on the mahonia, although it is now fairly stripped. My neighbour also participated in the Big Garden Birdwatch and she was interested to hear my observations because she was disappointed in the flowering of the shrub after thinking it was loaded with buds.

  5. Great post and gorgeous images especially that naughty black squirrel.

  6. Julie says:

    Hi Allison, which results is a quandary – the milder weather on Saturday and Sunday meant less birds during the allotted hour, yet the day before, with much colder temperatures way more birds were in our garden. Last week I saw a Black Squirrel in Woburn, guessing they are migrating nearer to us. One positive of the Wood Pidgeons is they clean up the ground, Mosh pit is a great way to describe that. Interesting to see the Blue Tits on Mahonia, is it the nectar they are seeking I wonder?

    • I would guess that that is what they are after, but there are a lot of unopened buds on the ground too. I haven’t submitted the results to the RSPB yet, but my neighbour said that the site when down a couple of times on Sunday, so I think that it has had a lot of support again. Interestingly, she saw several species that I didn’t (she did go out to buy special fat-based products which may explain it).

  7. Eliza Waters says:

    A lot of action in your yard! The American bird count is in two weeks. The data is so helpful to scientists. Its the 30th anniversary of the program here and Cornell’s quarterly had some interesting (and some sad) articles about the trends in bird numbers. Nature is in a constant state of flux, helped by the hand of man as well.

  8. Brian Skeys says:

    Mahonia and Peanuts, blue tit sweet and sour?

  9. Great post. I never tire of observing birds, or hearing about birds, or reading about birds. My grandmother, who was disabled by arthritis after her mid-50s, loved birds and shared that passion with me. Do you photograph the feeding area from inside? Your pics are excellent.

    • Ah Marian, that’s a heart-warming story and lovely to hear. My Gran loved birds too and even when she moved into a first floor apartment in sheltered accommodation, she would hang up nuts for them on her window. When you’d visit you could hear little tap, tap, tapping of the tits on the feeders.

  10. Hoe hoe grow says:

    Enjoyed your post, and the birds in your garden broadly reflect what we are seeing here in the north east midlands. Where do all the wood pigeons come from ! I can remember that they were a much more unusual sight when I was a girl. Same with magpies.
    I also share your pain about wet, muddy dogs! Much better when it is cold sunny and dry!

    • We back on to fields, so I suspect we will always have too many wood pigeons. When we first moved here there were tons of sparrows about and I used to chase the starlings off the feeders to give other birds a chance, but now we see hardly any and I miss them!

  11. Sue says:

    What a cheeky squirrel! Great to hear you guys have a bird watch event, we have a backyard bird count in October here in Australia. It’s quite surprising what you see in the allotted time. Great post with some great photos, I enjoyed reading it. 🙂

    • Thanks. It is great to hear about bird counts happening around the globe. Birds do seem to have rough meal times though, so the trick for our count is to start the allotted hour when a wave of birds to arrive, else you can be waiting impatiently for nothing.

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