Some interesting Blackbird behaviour

There has been some drama happening with our Blackbirds this year. Before exactly a month ago, we had a regular pair of Blackbirds that inhabited our garden and regularly visited the space under our feeders. We could tell this pair from the other Blackbirds as both were ringed earlier in the year. They had built a nest in the middle of March, which had 3 eggs in by the time I left on holiday to South Africa. When I returned the eggs should have been at the nestling stage, but the nest was empty.

On the 1st of May I noticed 4 male Blackbirds chasing each other around the garden pursued by a female. They disappeared out of view until a few hours later I spotted a male singing in the tallest Oak that I can see from my bedroom window, which leans over into our garden from our neighbour’s. It wasn’t ringed.

A few days later something I wasn’t expecting appeared below our feeders. A juvenile Blackbird. There was still no sign of the original pair, so this one must have been brought in by the currently dominant pair. But why only one? I think that as this is still quite early in the year, the parents might not have been able to find enough food for all 3 or 4 of their chicks, especially considering the strange weather we have been having. I will keep watching the Blackbirds to see if the ringed pair re-appear.

From what I have researched about Blackbird territories, I think that my garden must be quite a good habitat for them. The RSPB say that they are solitary birds, but “Small feeding and roosting aggregation sometimes form at good sites”. We have around six Blackbirds in our garden throughout the year and more in the winter when migrants from the mainland come in. There currently seem to be 3 pairs and therefore 3 territories in our garden, one in the front garden, one in the front half of our back garden and one at the back of our back garden. The size of these territories seems quite small for Blackbirds, so there must be good concentration of food. Inevitably, there have been squabbles from time to time.

I will continue to watch these Blackbirds. Who knows what interesting behaviour I could see next or will I locate the ringed pair?

 

 

 

 

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The spider on my wheelbarrow

When I was five or six, I used to play with a small green and yellow wheelbarrow, ‘helping’ my dad transport sticks to the compost heap. It has been sitting outside the garage on a bit of patio since then, contributing nothing except a few algae species that have accumulated at the bottom. However, on Sunday, I had a big surprise.

On Sunday I went out for a complete circuit of my garden and my first stop was the dry bit of patio where the wheelbarrow was. Except for the Tree Bumblebee nest in the wall and the Procumbent Pearlwort growing out of a crack, there wasn’t much else. That was until I bent down to look at a small spider running across the patio – Salticus scenicus. Not a new species for me nor anything rare but the first for me in the garden this year.

Turning around to get up I noticed another spider, even smaller, running intermittently along the yellow handle of the wheelbarrow. I got up and moved into a better position to see the spider and it paused, allowing me to get a few quick photos. I was doubting the fact that it could be identified so I didn’t try until that evening, when I put it on iSpot. Soon enough, to my surprise, I had an identification!

Steve Gregory, one of the invertebrate experts on iSpot had added an identification to my observation: Bianor aurocinctus. He wasn’t certain as it was quite a rare species, he said, although he added in the comments section that he didn’t think there were any similar species. Looking on the NBN Gateway I think he is right that it is quite rare. The Gateway doesn’t hold all the records but the Bianor aurocinctus records on it at the moment are mostly along the River Thames with a few scattered records in central England and east Wales.

The most striking and distinctive feature of this spider are its swollen, hairy front legs. I’m not too certain about the purpose of these legs, but I am assuming that they are used in attracting a mate. They are definitely useful in identification though! Despite being so rare, this spider doesn’t show much of a habitat preference. All it needs is a dry area, so our patio is perfect. However, it is more often found on short vegetation, which there is none of on our patio, in sand and chalk quarries. Sites such as Portland Bill are perfect for it. It has only been recorded in 38 hectads (10km x 10km squares) since 1992 and is Na (Nationally scarce A).

I’m excited to find out what other rare species are hiding in the unlikely corners of my garden over the coming summer…

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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