Wildlife Wednesday – And then there were none

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Blackbird (Turdus merula) taste-testing the holly berries

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!

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Reduced to throwing the leaf litter around to find food

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.

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Hopeful … in a queue for the crab apples

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.

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Fieldfare in the crab apple (always on the far side of the tree!)

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.

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Standing on the old woodpigeons’ nest, ready to chase away the blackbirds

Don’t worry too much though, the blackbirds get a reasonable share of the apples.

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Haha, I got one!

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.

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It is a bit tiring, all this defending and bullying!

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).

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But who is this, looking coyly over her shoulder?

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!

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A lovely mistle thrush enjoying the newly mushy apples (since the snow last week)

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.

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Another member of the thrush family, a Redwing (Turdus iliacus)

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!

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Full house for the thrush family!  Song Thrush (Turdus philomelos)

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????

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Long-tailed tit on the re-established pergola bird feeders

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.

I am linking these November observations to Tina’s (@mygardenersays) monthly garden wildlife roundup, so click over to Texas to see how things are faring there (especially the drooling Opussum!).

About Frogend_dweller

Living in the damp middle of nowhere
This entry was posted in birds, fruit, Wildlife and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

21 Responses to Wildlife Wednesday – And then there were none

  1. Eliza Waters says:

    Thrushes do love berries. You have so many species! My winterberry is slowly disappearing into the beaks of Eastern Bluebirds. If a flock of Cedar Waxwings comes in, it’ll be gone in a matter of hours. Like you, I have to scramble to cut mine for decorating by the end of November.

  2. Tina says:

    Oh, such great shots and narrative to match! I was feeling rather sorry for the blackbirds, but your next photo erased any sympathy; there seems to be plenty for all. Loved the fieldfare yawning, but the mistle thrush in the midst of the crabapples was also delightful! Thanks for joining in!

    • It’s a really good year to see the migrants and they seem less skittish in the garden than normal. Let’s hope there are enough berries to see the winter through, ‘cos the tree was full of birds eating the day it snowed.

  3. shoreacres says:

    When I first saw the fieldfare, I thought, “That looks like our (American) robin.” Then I saw the genus, and realized there’s a reason for the similarity! I grew up with them in the middle west, but rarely see them here in Texas. I miss their singing. Your whole post was a delight. I’m glad I found you through Tina.

  4. Sue says:

    I loved seeing the birds that have come to visit you. Most I I’m not familiar with of course, being in Australia, but I do know the blackbird as it’s introduced here, and we do have some types of thrushes as well, but I don’t think they are all the same as yours. The fieldfare looks interesting and the tit hanging off the feeder looks cute!

    • Do you know why they introduced the blackbird there? I wouldn’t have said there was an obvious niche for them to fill. Thrushes do seem to migrate alot, so I suppose it is not too surprising to see them all over (e.g. see previous comment from the States).

      • Sue says:

        I believe the English brought the blackbird to Australia with them in the 1850s, like they did with other birds and animals. Probably seemed like a good idea at the time.

  5. Brian Skeys says:

    You are lucky to see Mistle Thrush, even the song thrush is rare here. Our crab apple, Golden Hornet, is usually among the last to to go. I have replaced peanuts with fat balls due to the price, I feed them in the same feeders. I use Vine Tree Farm for my bird food, there are details and a link on my wildlife page. ( I have no connection to them).

    • Brian Skeys says:

      It should be Vine House Farm.

    • Thanks for the info on birdfood Brian. I am going to get some fat balls as well. Unfortunately they seem to particularly attract the squirrels. I looked up why peanuts are so expense this year and it seems to be a result of farmers gambling on higher cotton prices, therefore planting fewer peanuts, then suffering drought conditions, which led to poor yields. Peanut butter has shot up in price too. We are definitely seeing more thrushes around this year and certainly it is unusual for mistle thrushes to be in the garden at all.

  6. thank you for the info on the thrush families, I had not known fieldfares and redwings were thrushes, are they winter residents in your area? both migrate across the islands twice a year and travel together, they make quite a din when they land in my garden they like to stay over a few nights in the pine trees, sometimes the resident blackbirds and song thrushes look bemused by the invasion into their territory!

    lovely photos and stories, Frances
    ps. glad you saved your christmas holly

    • Thanks Frances. Yes, with the large scale agriculture and hedge network (hawthorn largely) around us, we get lots of the thrush migrants visiting over the winter, but not usually in the garden so much. Fieldfares are incredibly noisy aren’t they? And no where near as lyrical as song/mistle thrushes. I bet you get some interesting birds in your pine trees!

  7. Really enjoyed your photographs of the thrush feeding on fruit – and yawning!

  8. So lovely to see your visitors up close

  9. spugwash says:

    Nice shots, shame you didn’t get any waxwings

  10. Ali says:

    Aw. Love the yawn. I need more crabapples. Love your pics.

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