A Swift Surprise

Recently I have been working very hard at school as it is assessment week, but our school is nice enough to give me a bit in return. Every morning when I arrive early I have to wait on the terrace overlooking the Headmaster’s Field and Garden, all the way down to 9 Acre and beyond. Also, our school has been standing for a while so there are many nooks and crannies under the eaves. And guess what likes to nest there… House Martins in their numbers! So far this season House Martin numbers have climbed from 5-6 in the first week of term to 30+ now! It’s not just House Martins either, Swifts too! There has only been one pair around the school since a week after I first spotted one, then there were two pairs but one probably just wasn’t interested. I haven’t seen the Swifts go into a nesting site yet, but remember that they are quite late nesters. I didn’t see a single Swift last year so that’s a bonus for me, especially as I saw them as early as early May, when they were only just arriving in the county!

Part of the Package?

On Sunday the 15th March, I sent off an application to participate in a British Trust for Ornithology survey: Garden BirdWatch. The Garden BirdWatch is an easy to do survey, where participants count the birds in their garden every week and then send the records off at the end of every quarter.

I received the welcome letter and the introduction package on Thursday and I eagerly read through what it contained: information leaflets; a  ‘Garden Birds & Wildlife’ book; welcome letter; example of a paper recording form; ‘Bird Table’ magazine and a quick start guide. Although I didn’t know that I was going to get another gift though…

On Saturday (today) I did a one hour bird watch for the Garden BirdWatch, which was scheduled to begin at 9am and finish 10am. However I chose to start 20 minutes earlier than planned as my gift arrived in the garden; two Goldfinches at the nyger feeder! I haven’t seen a Goldfinch in our garden for around a year even though I recently saw a flock of 50 about 200 metres up the road, and later a group of 20 Chaffinches, 30 Greenfinches and 50 more Goldfinches!

The Goldfinches stayed around for 15 minutes while I counted the other birds and then were spooked by defensive Blue Tits, but they came back for a short visit of 2 minutes in the bushes around the garden and then weren’t seen again for the rest of the count. They are now though, as I write this post, once again being tormented by the local Tits.

I am pretty confident that they are a pair, one has more red on the face than the other and they seem socially close too. One particularly aggressive move from a Great Tit made the two Goldfinches spilt up and scatter, with one closer to the feeder than the other. The closer one returned to the feeder in about 30 seconds, while the other stayed out of sight behind a bush on the other side of the feeding station. They must prefer the company of one another as the one already on the feeder wouldn’t start eating until the other one joined it a few minutes later!

I really hope they stay around, an unusual splash of colour in our garden!

Goldfinches at the nyger feeder!

Goldfinches at the nyger feeder!

Garden List expansion

Like many other birders, I keep a Garden List as well as a life list. This morning I was hoping to expand my garden list by maybe a species or two by doing a simple Birdwatch for an hour. I set up my binoculars at the windowsill in my bedroom and started watching my garden from 10:30. The first species to arrive was a pair of Robins, foraging in the leaf litter. Then a Blue Tit flew onto the feeder followed by another and another and another until there was about ten on and around the feeder. Just then some action started to happen. A flock of six Redwings flew into our garden then another six and the number of Redwings kept going up and up and up. by ten minutes I had counted just 100 Redwings in our garden. It was a spectacular sight, but not a new species for my garden list. More birds kept on coming, Chaffinches, Carrion Crows, Woodpigeons, even a Buzzard flew overhead. No new garden species though. Suddenly I spotted a small streaky bird at the foot of our giant Oak Tree, it was a little smaller than a chaffinch and probably a type of finch. I looked at it through my binoculars and spotted a patch of red on its forehead. A Redpoll. I had seen a Lesser Redpoll in our garden before, washing in our bird bath, but most of its features seemed to point to a Common Redpoll, such as the fact that going from its head downwards, there was a smaller, thinner white wing bar followed by a larger, wider one. I found out that a Common Redpoll was only seen once in Sussex in 2012 and even experts have difficulty telling them apart. It would also be a new species for my garden list! I couldn’t get very good photos due to the fact that it was so small, it was quite far away for my camera to reach and we were looking at it through a window. After it had flown into a laurel bush on the west side of the garden, I put the sighting into BTO’s birdtrack as a redpoll species. At the end of the birdwatch, I had seen 199 individual birds, a record for my garden. That number included:

7 Robins

20 Blue Tits

20 Common Wood-Pigeons

1 Buzzard

100 Redwings

10 Great Tits

10 Chaffinches

2 Dunnocks

3 Blackbirds

3 Jays

16 Carrion Crows

3 Magpies

1 Bullfinch

1 Redpoll spp.

2 Collared Doves

One of the Redwings