I am talking about holly berries here. Two weeks ago I had a hedge full of shiny red berries, but now it is completely green, denuded of its fruit. At some point last week I noticed movement amongst the branches and saw a blackbird hopping around, selecting succulent scarlet morsels, chucking them back whole. Luckily, I knew from previous years that it only takes a few days for the berries to disappear once the birds have decided that they are ready, so I cut a few loaded branches and have put them in water in the greenhouse. Phew, that is christmas pudding saved!
Meanwhile the blackbirds have moved on to hurling wisteria leaves across the patio in an attempt to find and dislodge insects. That is better than emptying my pots of bulbs I suppose.
But there is another hotly sought after fruit tree on the driveway. It is a crab apple (a brilliant garden tree for year round interest and beauty). In the springtime I mentioned how amazing it was to stand and listen beneath its bee covered boughs when it was in blossom. Well, now that we’ve had a good frost and the apples are nicely soften, it has become Thrush family central.
The blackbirds are in it as often as they can be. However, they are frequently reduced to queueing or collecting bits from the ground underneath, because there is a new group of players in evidence: Fieldfares (Turdus pilaris), recently arrived migrants.
Fieldfares are large, colourful thrushes and they typically start arriving in the UK in October. They tend to gather in big, sociable flocks to strip the sloe and hawthorn hedges and pick over the arable fields. Their noisy calls are very much a soundtrack to my daily dog walks now as they move, from tree to tree, down the alleys, always just a bit ahead of us.
They don’t usually come into the garden for food this early, but two or three have taken up semi-residence in the crab apple tree. They drive off any rivals for the feast. Hence the poor blackbirds waiting in the birch.
Don’t worry too much though, the blackbirds get a reasonable share of the apples.
I spent some time trying to capture the moment the birds manage to tear off the whole fruit and then manipulate it into position to eat, but I accidentally caught this fieldfare yawning. Definitely yawning, not singing.
The next day, when I checked for activity in the tree there were a couple of different thrushes dominating the branches. These were mistle thrushes (Turdus viscivorus).
They are big, like the fieldfares, but much duller in colour. They have distinctive white edges to their outer tail feathers. They are UK residents. They are strong and can be aggressive, certainly in defense of a good resource, like a tree full of apples. Poor, poor blackbirds!
There are two further thrush family members that I’ve seen in the garden recently. Neither seemed bothered about the ripe crab apples that I’ve noticed. The first is a Redwing (Turdus iliacus). It is apparently the smallest true thrush in the UK. It is a rare garden visitor, preferring fields and orchards. It migrates to the UK from September onwards (i.e. slightly earlier than the fieldfares). This one was interested in getting a drink.
Finally, to complete our Thrush family ‘spots’, we often see Song Thrushes (Turdus philomelos) around the patio area, under the vegetation, searching for food. There are several favourite stones around the area where bits of shell testify to snails meeting grizzly deaths. Yay!
Since we’ve been noticing the trees and hedges being cleared of fruit, it looked like time to put the bird feeders back up on the patio. Most of them are filled with peanuts and sunflowers seed and occasionally niger seeds. To be quite honest we were a bit shocked at the price of peanuts this year. More or less double last years’ costs. Did the harvests fail????
Anyway, so far we are mostly seeing tits use them. Once the weather turns more grim, I dare say we shall see a wider variety of visitors. Fingers-crossed for next month.