We’ve recently started feeding the birds again after taking a break over the summer. This was partly to reseed the bare patch in the lawn trampled by the pheasants that had spent so long pacing about in tight circles below the feeders, pecking at the spilt sunflower hearts but also because two or three small mounds of earth had appeared at the edge of the lawn.
We thought that this might be a sign that brown rats were moving in but a neighbour has since told me that at that time there was a lot of mole activity in his garden, which is the most likely explanation as there were only piles of soil but no sign of any entrance holes.
Today the feeders were visited by coal tits, blue tits, great tits, nuthatch and greenfinch but outnumbering all of them were goldfinches. At one stage all eight perches on the feeders were occupied by them, with another ten on the ground below and six or seven waiting their turn in the branches of the crab apple.
Pigeon Food Pyramid
At breakfast time, a loose flock of wood pigeons flew over the house, followed later by a grey heron, which appeared to be struggling to clear our roof.
This evening down by the canal, a sparrowhawk perched briefly in a tree then flew off on its rounds. I suspect that a sparrowhawk killed the pigeon that we found on our back lawn a few days ago. It’s not going to be short of prey with so many wood pigeons about.
The black-tipped feather, lower right, is definitely wood pigeon, probably a secondary from its left wing. The others, I’m not so sure about; the white leading edge of the top feather makes me think gull.
The brownish cast to the feather, lower left, might be from a pink-footed goose. There’s a pinioned goose which we often see preening by the path beside the Middle Lake at Nostell, where I picked up all these feathers.
2.15 p.m., 29°F, -3°C: I’ve switched to fibre tip pen this afternoon; it tends to speed up my drawing as moves about so smoothly in any direction. That is just as well because the temperature has dropped below freezing so I can’t get too involved with the intricacies of the fronds of the male fern growing at the corner of the raised bed behind the pond.
A dunnock delivers its thin trilling song from a perch in the hedge. A female blackbird gives a scolding alarm call from the crab. There’s a rattly call from a mistle thrush. The redwing has been back, feeding on the squishy brown crab apples.
There’s a monotonous song from a wood pigeon. It’s a five note phrase, repeated two or three times, which The Handbook of British Birds gives as “cōō-cōōō-cōō, cōō-cōō “.
Making a note to remember the rhythm, I write ‘I don’t like plumbing’, but more memorable mnemonics that have been suggested are ‘my toe bleeds, Betty’, ‘take two cows, Taffy’, or ‘a proud Wood-pig-eon’.
6.05 p.m.; There’s a limping wood pigeon that has been a regular at the bird feeders for a month or more, so much so that it has trampled a ring of beaten earth around the foxglove beneath the feeding pole. However, as soon as I sit down at the dining table to draw, it turns its back on me then flies off to the wood.
Reach for the Rowan
In the front garden, the rowan is at its best in fresh leaf and blossom. The flowers have a sweetish musky scent and attract a variety of species of flies. Because of all that happened this winter, I didn’t get around to pruning the new growth of straight upper branches but I’d like to do that because otherwise it will be on its way to towering over the house. I’d like to keep it to the height that I can reach with my telescopic handled pruner, about ten feet or so.
I’ll check with my arboriculturist friend Roger that pruning during the spring won’t cause the sap to run, leaving a sticky residue that might result in fungal damage.
A wood pigeon flies in to perch on a branch of the ivy-covered ash. A few seconds later there a puff of ‘smoke’ two or three feet across which drifts off to the right.
When I remember the powdery silhouettes that wood pigeons make when they fly into our patio windows, the most likely explanation is that it this was part of preening routine. Side-lit by the midday sun, the powdery wisp showed up against the dark background of the ivy.
This happened again a couple of times over the next few minutes.
WE SAW two great-crested grebes the last time we walked by the lake at Newmillerdam but I’m sorry not to spot them today. I hope they’re nesting in some hidden backwater. Much in evidence are the black-headed gulls, every one of them now in breeding plumage.
In our back garden this afternoon the grey male sparrowhawk zooms into the bottom of the hedge. Twenty or thirty seconds later he pops up again from our neighbour’s side arcing over so swiftly that for a moment he’s flying upside down.
Emerging unsuccessfully again from our neighbour’s side he leaves the hedge with nothing, sitting for a few minutes on next door’s sumac. If it wasn’t being anthropomorphic, I’d say that there was distinct look of grumpiness in his hunched silhouette.
He flies over the corner of the meadow to the wood, putting up a flock of goldfinches and sending the wood pigeons into clattering panic from the ivy-covered ash trees.
The ivy berries on next door’s front garden fence must be at their best because for much of the day a wood pigeon is contentedly eating them.
The blue tits are showing an interest again in the nestbox on the back of house.
With the snow gone and the pheasants and wood pigeons trampling the border beneath the bird feeder I was beginning to think that all mole activity had ceased. Late this afternoon the mole started re-excavating its tunnel system and we watched as it piled up the earth by the edge of the lawn, obviously coming very near the surface but never once showing itself.
THERE’S BEEN a strange looking pigeon around, one that looks as if it’s been sprayed with a coat of grey undercoat. It’s been pecking around below the bird table where it was joined by an adult Wood Pigeon. As the mystery pigeon then started flapping its wings in the ‘feed me! feed me!’ mime adopted by most fledglings, it was obvious that the two were related. This evening the adult was accompanied by two plain grey youngsters.
They’ve taken to the sunflower hearts so adult will now be able to introduce them to the greens available; yesterday three adults Wood Pigeons were nibbling the leaves of our purple-sprouting broccoli. We’ve been using the broccoli flower-stems in stir-fry. The Wood Pigeons know a good thing when they taste it, although they seem to be intent on nibbling the leaves to shreds, but probably the flowers are equally acceptable.
The Dolphin Paint Shop
My attempt at the Create 3D like a Superhero! metablob tutorial has reached the virtual paint shop. It hasn’t quite turned out like author Chipp Walters’ Dolphin underwater recon vehicle, partly, I think, because my version of Vue Pioneer isn’t quite the same as the one referred to in the book but it’s been interesting going through the process and discovering where certain functions of the program are stowed away.
WOOD PIGEONS have been gathering in the treetops – about a hundred of them fly up over the wood on this cold and misty morning. Their regular foraging in the fields has been first snow-covered then frozen solid this week. We’ve got a book delivery to make today and we feel glad that we didn’t have to set out yesterday when we pass a car, which must have skidded on the ice, being towed out of a hedge. Casualty departments were 40 to 50% busier after the freezing rain.
After feeding on sunflower hearts around our bird feeders, the Pheasants often pause to nibble the leaves of broccoli in our cabbage patch as they walk down the garden path back towards the meadow and the wood.
A Heron, looking rather fed up, sits hunched on a perch for an hour or more on a branch of one of the Crack Willows by the stream. It appears to be undisturbed by any dog walkers who may be passing by below.
Voles, Moles and Unwelcome Guests
There are vole holes in the lawn and mole-hills in the flower border near the bird table but the burrow that I’m not so keen to see is one that leads from under a paving slab straight under the plastic compost bin. I can see that the chopped end of an onion has been dragged down from the bin. I want to recycle all our vegetable peelings but we can’t control which creatures are attracted to nibble them. I think that the answer is to re-think the way we compost anything that is potentially edible and relocate our plastic compost bins, currently behind the shed, to the main wooden compost bins at the end of the garden beyond the greenhouse. We never put any cooked food on the compost heap but then, being brought up in the Yorkshire tradition of thrift, we contribute virtually nothing to the estimated 7.2 million tons of food thrown out each year by households in the United Kingdom. It has been estimated that the average family with children throws out about £680 of food each year.
This evening two Wood Pigeons fly down to eat berries on the mass of Ivy that grows over our neighbour’s fence. A male Blackbird also tucks into this seasonal supply.
3.30 pm; THREE Long-tailed Tits join the Goldfinches, House Sparrows, Bullfinch, Greenfinch, Chaffinch, Great Tit and Blue Tit already at or around the bird feeders. While most of the other birds are going for the sunflower hearts in the feeders or spilt below, the Long-tails go for the fat-balls.
Great Tits, Blue Tits and sparrows will also go for the fat-balls but we don’t recall seeing any of the finches feeding on them.
We’ve given up on putting out peanuts. They get left whenever sunflower hearts are available and they soon go soft.
The downside to this is that peanuts – especially red bags of peanuts – are particularly attractive to Siskins and, so far, we haven’t seen this small finch at the feeders this winter.
So far I’ve been saving my lime green A5 landscape format Pink Pig sketchbook for natural history subjects; I managed to draw 14 pages last year between mid-May and the beginning of August before events took over and I had to be content with a few snatched moments of natural history in my regular sketchbook.
That regular sketchbook, a black A5 portrait format sketchbook with soft, bleed-through cartridge paper that I’ve never cared for, is now complete and the drawing of the lime green sketchbook (above) is the last that I’ve got room for.
I’m now going to use the green for my everyday sketches but, of course, I’m hoping that on most days that will involve natural history.
The little black book contains so many waiting room sketches – I take my mum to about 50 appointments through the year, and then there’s our regular visits to dentists etc on top of that – so the lesson that I can learn is always to carry some ‘natural form’ object with me, for those inevitable unplanned periods where I have to wait a little longer than expected; a pebble, a leaf, a fossil or a feather for instance.
The most popular waiting room subjects in the little black book were architectural details (11), chairs (7), hands (4), trees seen through the window (3), piles of magazines (2) and my shoe and the reception desk at the doctors (1 of each). There are also three sets of sketches of the goldfish in the dentist’s.
Here are the last couple of sketches drawn on location in the black book this lunch time at Café Rouge in Meadowhall between my first one-to-one session learning a bit more about my new computer at the Apple store and heading off to Orgreave with a consignment for our book suppliers.
You might be thinking whatever happened to our ideal of getting back to healthy eating, well, apparently the grilled chicken with roast vegetables and bulgar wheat amounts to just 600 calories.
How many calories the chocolate and banana crepe contained we didn’t trouble ourselves to find out.