Foraging Party

long-tailed tit11.30 a.m., Lower Lake, Nostell Priory Park: As we walk into the wood behind the house at Nostell Priory, a mixed party of woodland birds is making its way through the trees ahead of us.

Each bird has its own approach to feeding, exploiting a different niche to the other birds in the party:

  • the blue tit hangs upside down to peck at an opened-up capsule hanging from the end of a slender twig on the beech tree. I suspect that it’s more interested in any invertebrates that might be sheltering in the crevices than it is in the beech nut itself
  • the coal tit closely inspects the branches of a holly
  • long-tailed tits flit about amongst the branches
  • a robin flies onto one of the lower branches of a holly then flies down to perch on a log. It’s the only bird in the group that gives the impression that it might be as much concerned with keeping an eye on its territory as it is on feeding
  • the great tit keeps flying down to ground level to probe amongst the leaf litter
  • a wren hops under the massive logs of a felled sweet chestnut, a niche that none of the other birds can explore
  • a magpie follows the foraging group along. If there’s anything going on in its territory, a magpie will always want a piece of the action

Later we add another two birds to our woodland list for this morning: a dunnock flies out from beneath a conifer and, as another feeding party makes its way through trees and shrubs at the entrance to the Menagerie, a goldcrest flies in front of us to investigate the branches of a holly.

We puzzle over a bird call in the trees by the chalets in Top Wood. To me it sounds like something the size of a woodpecker, but it isn’t the mad laughing ‘yaffle’ call of the green woodpecker. We check it out with a search on the RSPB website; it’s a nuthatch. It’s got a loud call for such a small bird, one that can be difficult to spot as it makes its way along the trunk and branches of trees in the wood.

A Good Year for Cygnets

On the Lower Lake, amongst the wigeon, mallards, moorhens and tufted ducks, there are six female goosanders. We don’t see any males.

It’s been a good year for mute swans: the pair on the Lower Lake have three cygnets, the pair on the Middle Lake have four. Last year the Nostell swans weren’t so successful, with only two cygnets successfully reared.

Peony Buds

peony buds4.25 p.m., 40ºF, 5ºC: I find peonies more interesting to draw when the buds are opening up than when they open up into frothy flower-heads, which in our garden often get battered down by summer rain.

There was a dispute over the patio nest box this afternoon: two blue tits looked on anxiously from the clothes line as a female sparrow perched on the front of the box taking a good look in the nest-hole. blue titsparrowSparrows and blue tits took an interest in the box last year but it was finally occupied by red-tailed bumblebees. These birds had better stake their claim soon.

Rhubarb Tree

rhubarbI thought that we’d lost our rhubarb this year but after losing an early leaf or two in the frost, the red buds are pushing up again through the wood chip at the edge of the path at foot of the hawthorn hedge. It’s the sunny side of the garden, facing southwest. The rhubarb has grown here since we moved in over thirty years ago, sprouting every year amongst the nettle leaves and the trailing stems of periwinkle. Snowdrops have spread along the foot of the hedge nearby.

Rhubarb leaves come pre-packed in their egg-shaped buds. As they unfurl, I would describe the wavy pattern of the emerging leaf as carunculated, like an elephants skin.

blue titThe blue tit has a hurried and rather petulant song which hints at the sound of a child’s bicycle bell. It continues this in flight.

Eggs, birds singing in the trees, leaves like elephants’ ears . . . it reminds me of a playground poem, c.1960:

The elephant is a pretty bird,
It flits from bough to bough.
It makes its nest in a rhubarb tree
And whistles like a cow.

11.40 a.m.: The high pressure is holding over the weekend. It’s still with hazy sunshine. Warm enough to simply walk out of the back door into the garden and draw gloveless. For the first time this year as I set out drawing, I’m wearing jeans not insulated outdoor trousers.

A Bird in the Hand

red henDo you ever have one of those mornings when you’re sitting on the sofa relaxing with your morning cup of tea and a woman in wellies walks through the room clutching a chicken. Well, to give her her due, our neighbour Juliet did remove her wellies beforehand and had apologised in advance, explaining that the children had let the chickens out earlier and one little red hen had made its way under the hedge into our back garden and had settled by our shed and couldn’t be enticed back even with the promise of food.

ebook guideBut the odd thing is that at the moment I’m reading How to Publish Your Own eBook, which includes, on a sample page of an Apple iBooks’ publication, a photograph of someone holding a red hen under their arm. Just like Juliet as she breezed through before breakfast (we’re semi-detached so that’s the only way from back to front).

Link: MagBooks How to Publish Your Own eBook

Which was written by journalist and photographer Nik Rawlinson

Tête-a-Tête

daffodils3.15 p.m., 43ºF, 5ºc: As I draw these small tête-a-tête daffodils a dunnock hops about unconcernedly beneath the bird feeders just ten feet from me.

blue titI’m pleased to see that the blue tit with the drooping wing can now fly. It’s spending less time on the ground and more time on the feeders.

catdunnockIt’s as well that it can fly. The large fluffy black and white cat that lords it over all the other cats on our street is on our front lawn, very interested in something but I can’t see what but at least there are no feathers lying around it.

Beware of Woodpeckers

woodpeckernestboxWE’RE A BIT concerned about the great spotted woodpecker that we’ve seen a couple of times by the nestbox by the back door. The blue tits have been busy but as far as we know there are no chicks in the box so far.

This morning the woodpecker perched briefly on the front of the box. It’s not that I want it to go hungry but we did invite the blue tits to nest here by erecting the box so I feel as if we have a duty of care.

blue titWe can’t keep an eye on it from dawn to dusk but if we see peck marks appearing around the entrance hole I’ll try getting a strip of metal cut to protect it. Just hope it doesn’t succeed in breaking in at a first attempt.

Raised Beds

FOR A WEEK or two we’ve noticed the Blue Tits been flying back and forth to the nest box near our back door but we’re concerned today because bumblebees have been flying in and out and flying around the box investigating it closely and we haven’t seen the birds. On one occasion a wasp went in but soon came out again.

We’re relieved in the early evening when one of the birds appears again, making several trips in and out with food from the bird feeders. It could be that the female is sitting on eggs and the male feeding her at intervals throughout the day.

We’ve been making the most of what might be the last of a spell of dry settled weather which seems to have lasted for the best part of two months. There could even be a bit of snow coming so today I’m finishing painting the edges of the raised beds. It’s never a job that would be top of your list of essential tasks in the vegetable garden but there’s never going to be a better time to do it as not only is it so dry but there are almost no crops in the bed, so I can push back the soil to paint the timber.

It’s like clearing your desk before you start a new project.

Woodland Edge

12.45 p.m.: WOOD PIGEONS clatter about and coo in a clump of trees and bushes by Coxley Dam. A Dunnock methodically pecks amongst the gravel, grasses and weeds at the edge of the parking area. Short heavy showers are interspersed with watery sun.

A Wren flits from the post to a clump of nettles, following the same route along this short stretch of woodland edge as the Dunnock but a foot or two higher, amongst the vegetation.

So that’s ground layer and herb layer that are being checked out for invertebrate prey. Up in the tree canopy, around fifteen feet above the ground, a Blue Tit is making an equally thorough investigation of the branches and foliage.

And of course there are those noisy Wood Pigeons too. They’re no doubt doing some feeding in the canopy while they’re there but I suspect most of their feeding is taking place in the surrounding arable fields and pastures, with frequent trips back to the cover of woodland when they’re disturbed.