Big Garden Birdwatch 2017

Today has been all about the birds. It started when I switched on the tv to check our new nest box camera. I was amazed to discover something had left a “deposit” in the box  – clearly visible via the camera. Never have I been so excited by a poop in a box! While regaling Chris with the momentous event, it got even better – a blue tit appeared on screen in the box, had a look around and removed the poop. We hadn’t yet got the software to record the video feed (that arrived in the post about an hour later of course!) and I was too surprised to even grab the camera to take a photo of the telly. So you’ll just have to take my word for it. (I could post a photo of the stain left by the poop but that is probably more than anyone wants to see) Hopefully this is all a sign that the blue tits approve of the box and will start using it as more than a toilet in the next few weeks.

The main focus of this weekend though is the annual Big Garden Birdwatch – one of my favourite examples of citizen science. This birdwatch is also the world’s largest wildlife survey – an amazing achievement. We’ve been making sure the bird feeders have been well topped up the last few weeks and there have certainly been plenty of birds in the garden recently.

assorted-birds

So I sat down late morning in the garden to do my allotted hour of bird watching; camera and notepad at the ready. Although not everything showed up in the hour, I was really chuffed to record 14 species and 30 individuals – a significant improvement on last year when I only got 21 individuals of 7 species. I do love a graph and the RSPB sent me this little pie chart (well half a pie) of 10 of my species.

birdwatch-results

So topping the list was the house sparrow with 12 birds – I’m sure we actually have about 20, but I could only manage to count 12 at any one time. Last year I counted for the hour then took photos afterwards. This year I tried to get photos of everything as I counted them, although the best I could manage was 2 sparrows in one shot. I’d tucked myself away in the corner of a garden so that I disturbed the birds as little as possible, so I was actually a bit far away for taking photos – hence the dubious quality in some cases (excuses, excuses).

sparrows

The next most common bird today was the jackdaw – three appeared but only two ever seemed to land at the same time.

jackdaws

Collared doves and blackbirds both managed 2 individuals. The collared doves landed nicely together, the blackbirds of course kept their distance, so I’ve only got one.

collared-doves

blackbird

We’ve got a pair of blackcaps that regularly visit the garden and both male and female showed up within the hour. The female was more nervous though so I only got a shot of the male.

blackcap

The robin, a starling (one of 4 we sometimes get) and the song thrush all turned up on cue for a change.

robin

starling

song-thrush

Earlier in the morning I’d seen several long-tailed tits, a great tit and a pair of blue tits. Of these only a single blue tit deigned to put in an appearance during the hour.

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I’d put up a new niger seed feeder just a couple of days ago and the goldfinches had found it almost immediately. I’d seen 3 or 4 of them on it yesterday, but today I was grateful when just one arrived. Unfortunately when positioning the niger seeds I hadn’t considered trying to take photos from the other side of the tree – so there’s a few too many twigs in the way!

goldfinch

A magpie, a dunnock and a wood pigeon all appeared briefly, but out of range of the camera. The final bird was a wren. This wren has been tormenting me for weeks. It has a tendency to appear whenever I’m in the garden without the camera. If I do have the camera, it appears but hides behind as many twigs/branches/weeds as it can find. So believe it or not this is probably the best photo I’ve ever managed to get of it – which isn’t saying much!

wren

I’d had the trail camera on while I was counting, just in case it could pick up something I’d missed. It didn’t spot anything different, but it did film this goldfinch – probably the same one I photographed from the other side of the tree.

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Of course once the hour was up and I was back on the sofa, the birds returned en masse to taunt me. Leading the mockery was the woodpecker, which I haven’t seen for weeks but chose to land on the bird table just after I’d submitted my results. The long-tailed tits flew back in and the wren perched on the most photogenic spots possible – safe in the knowledge that I couldn’t get a photo from this distance!

Anyone thinking of taking part in the birdwatch has until Monday to have a go. Full details on: https://ww2.rspb.org.uk/get-involved/activities/birdwatch

As I now have the image capture software all loaded, I will probably be spending the rest of the weekend watching an empty nest box with only a dubious stain on the bottom!

 

New Nest Box

With the Big Garden Birdwatch just around the corner, we’ve been reviewing what we could do to attract more birds into the garden. We already get quite a lot, but the more the merrier!  So I’ve added a few more bird feeders and have been keeping the existing ones well topped up. Spring will hopefully be here before too long, so we’ve also been looking at the nest boxes.

It may just be that we’ve been watching too much Spring/Autumn/Winterwatch, but we (well mainly I) have been longing to get footage from inside a nest box. Last year we were delighted to get shots like this of our blue tits using the old nest box.

Blue Tit on Bird Box

Of course as soon as we have a bit of success with one thing, we want more. Last year we could only film the adults coming and going, so this year we’re hoping to get the action from inside the box. So we’ve gone wild and bought a new bird box complete with fitted camera. We’ve only a limited number of places where we can put a bird box, so decided to take the old one down and replace it with the new one. We may of course regret this if the blue tits reject the new one and we get no nesting activity at all! So first job was to take down the old box. On opening it up we found last year’s nest still pretty much intact inside. It’s the first time I’ve ever really had the chance to look at a nest up close like this. It was very well made and still held together firmly. We were intrigued by the bright green stuff, which looks remarkably like the green fluff you get off a tennis ball – they certainly didn’t get that from our garden. The rest was made up of bits of grass, moss and possibly wool.

blue-tit-nest

There was still one tiny perfect intact egg inside – not even the size of a 5 pence coin.

blue-tit-egg

Slightly less attractive was a couple of tiny skeletons – presumably chicks that didn’t make it to fledging. Blue tits can lay large clutches of eggs, so we just hope that these skeletons and unhatched egg, were just the unlucky ones and most made it to adulthood last year.

blue-tit-skeleton

The new nest box is now up (still complete with wire netting to prevent next door’s cat getting an easy meal) and all ready to go. The new box has Perspex panels each side to increase the amount of light getting in for the camera. The transmitter is the black box to the right.

birdbox-system

The whole thing came pretty much set up and was all very easy to install. So we can in theory now watch all the action – assuming there is any – from the comfort of our living room. This is the current view of the empty box. Hopefully we won’t still be looking at an empty box in a few months time!

tv-view-of-birdbox

We’ve got plenty of blue tits (as well as great, coal and long-tailed tits) using the garden at the moment, so hopefully some of them are from last year’s brood and will remember what a great place our garage wall was to grow up!!

blue-tits

While searching for information on nest boxes, I discovered that the British Trust for Ornithology runs a survey called the Nest Box Challenge. They want people to submit observations on nests/nest boxes in their gardens. Since I can never resist filling in a form and a bit of citizen science, I have registered our new nest box. Fingers crossed it gets occupied and I don’t end up just submitting “empty” as my observation each time – although even that would apparently be useful data. Anyone interested in registering their own nests can find all the info at: https://www.bto.org/volunteer-surveys/nbc

Wildlife Hides – Part 3 The Kestrel

This is the third and final part of the blog about our wonderful day spent at the Wildlife Hides near Droitwich. Our last hide of the day was the Kestrel one. Once again we were a bit worried when the previous 2 groups had all seen kestrels feeding – would they be too full to fly down for us?

Initially all we could see was a very distant kestrel perched on a telegraph pole way across the field.

distant-kestrel

Dead mice were positioned in front of our hide, so we just had to hope she was still hungry. While we waited (with everything crossed) for her to fly down, we could at least enjoy lots of the small birds that were flitting about. The blue tits and great tits posed obligingly on a branch in front of us and a chaffinch was poking about in the mud on the field. A wagtail and an absolutely stunning bullfinch also made appearances, but we didn’t manage to get decent photos of either.

blue-tit

great-tit

chaffinch

While we’d been watching the small birds, the female kestrel had been joined by the male on top of the telegraph pole. After what seemed like an age they eventually both took off and after a bit of hunting about, the female landed on one of the posts in front of us. All 3 of us clicked away frenziedly, to the point that we didn’t even notice the male had landed until it took off again – d’oh! So we only got photos of the female, but she was stunning. I’d never been so close to a kestrel before and hadn’t realised just how beautiful they were.

kestrel

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I think we made a bit too much noise and spooked her (and the male) off, but it wasn’t long before she returned. She was clearly wary of us though and decided to sit on the ground (actually on what looks like a great big turnip?) in the middle of the field for a while, probably hoping we’d go away.

kestrel-in-field

But as we stayed put in the hide and kept quiet, she decided to have another go for the mice.

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We could have happily stayed and watched the kestrels for a lot longer, but by now the light was starting to go. Before we packed up for the day though we had one final visitor – an inquisitive squirrel. I know it’s not a red one, but I still can’t resist them.

squirrel

As before while Chris was taking most of the photos, I had a go at videoing. They are such beautiful birds to watch, but you get a real sense of their strength when you see her pulling at the mouse. I wouldn’t want to be at the wrong end of those claws or beak!

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All the hides featured in these last 3 blog posts were at Nature Photography’s site near Droitwich, which is only a half hour’s drive from Malvern – brilliant! Other hide rental sites are no doubt available, but we were very happy with our day and couldn’t have asked for better views of the birds. If anyone’s interested in trying something like this for themselves, here’s their website: http://www.naturephotographyhides.co.uk/  They also have hides in Scotland for red squirrel and mountain hares – very tempted for next year!!

I know in an ideal world we would have gone out and found these animals for ourselves, but when you have limited time and resources, sometimes it’s good to take a short cut. The birds were all still wild and there were no guarantees of seeing anything, so it was a big thrill for us just being able to watch them. For beginners like us, it was also a good way of practising taking birdy photos – it’s very hard to practice if there’s nothing there to photograph!

Wildlife Hides – Part 2 The King of Fishers

This is the second part of the blog on our amazing day out on Saturday at the Nature Photography Hides. After the Reflection Pool Hide we moved to the Kingfisher Hide. The group before us reported seeing the kingfisher feeding about half a dozen times, so we were a bit worried that it might be full and not visit while we were there! We were joined in the hide by another photographer (nice to meet you Dave) and the three of us settled down to wait.

First bird to appear was not the hoped for kingfisher, but a rather round looking robin. I took a photo of him anyway, just in case this was all we were going to see!

robin

Turns out I needn’t have worried. An absolutely stunning kingfisher arrived fairly quickly and sat on the bulrush perch. It then moved to one side to sit on the reeds. He (or she) then proceeded to sit in the same spot for about 25 minutes. It was there so long, we actually started to get  a bit tired waiting for it to do something different! (never could have imagined before that I might tire watching a kingfisher, not that I’m complaining) But it gave us plenty of chance to take loads of photos – here’s just a very small percentage of the ones we took at this point.

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After about 25 minutes, it decided a bit of preening was in order.

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It then regurgitated a pellet of presumably unwanted fish bits. This was something neither Chris nor I had ever heard of and was fascinating to see. It also explained how it had managed to scoff so many fish earlier that morning. It only digests the good bits and spits out the rest! Chris just about managed to catch the fishy pellet being expelled.

kingfisher-regurgitating

Once the fishy waste had been disposed of, it obviously felt it now had room for more fish, so flew back to the bulrush perch.

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The bulrush was positioned over a tub containing small live fish. After a while bobbing up and down to judge distance through the water, we finally got what we’d been waiting for – it dived for a fish.

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Once caught the still wriggling fish was flown back to the perch. The kingfisher then manoeuvred the fish around to get a good grip, before bashing it repeatedly to kill it and then of course eventually swallow it.

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It tended to fly away for a few minutes between fish, but came back and repeated the process a couple of times. It didn’t always catch a fish when it dived, but was successful more often than not.

The thing about taking wildlife photos is that it makes you greedy. Before we started, we thought we’d be happy just to see one. Once we’d seen one, we thought we’d be happy to get a few good photos. Then we wanted to see and photograph it catching fish. Then the ultimate goal became to catch it diving down towards the water. I clearly don’t have quick enough reflexes as I didn’t manage it at all. But Chris managed to get this (admittedly after several missed attempts) – quite possibly his best shot of the day.

kingfisher-diving

Since I’m not as good a photographer as Chris, I had a go at videoing the kingfisher instead. I took several short video clips, so here’s just a selection of our beautiful bird in action. (the clicking noises on some of the videos are the sound of camera shutters frantically going in the hide!)

Kingfisher
Kingfisher
Kingfisher

The hide was so close to the kingfisher we got stunning views for the couple of hours we spent there. It was so much better than either of us had dared to hope. Kingfishers must be one of the most sought after subjects for any British wildlife enthusiast and to have spent 2 hours watching one like this was a dream come true.

Wildlife Hides – Part 1 Reflections

We ventured out from the Too Lazy garden yesterday and had an absolutely fabulous day at Nature Photography’s wildlife hides near Droitwich. I hate to admit it, but the big five oh is looming for me, so this was my birthday present – a day freezing my proverbial off while clutching a camera – but I couldn’t have asked for better. We’d gone for one of their “multi hide” days where you get to try out 3 different hides. We took so many photos that I’m going to have to split this blog post into three – one part for each hide we tried.

So first up a section on the Reflection Pool. We did actually start off at the Fieldfare Hide, but the fieldfares weren’t playing ball. There were lots in the field, but none of them came anywhere near the hide. The best we managed were some very distant shots – so far away in fact that we didn’t realise there were redwings amongst the fieldfares until we downloaded the photos at home. So here are some fuzzy photos of a distant fieldfare (top) and redwing (below).

fieldfare

red-wing

The Reflection Pool Hide was right behind the fieldfare one, so we cheated a bit and moved to that instead. The pool is set up so that you’re at water level to get the best reflection shots. In total we took over 1000 photos between us yesterday. A new record even for us. Here are some of my favourites from the pool – I have included quite a few (apologies) but there were just so many to choose from – even after I’d deleted several hundred rejects!

The blue tits and great tits probably frequented the pool the most while we were there. You had to be quick to get a photo though and we ended up with a lot of photos of pool with no bird!

blue-tit

great-tit

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I like this action shot of the great tit – shame the only bit really in focus is the edge of the pool though!

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Between visits to the pool, the birds sat on branches nearby waiting their turn it seemed. This great tit was particularly fluffed up against the cold.

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The robins’ red breasts were of course very photogenic reflected in the water; but even the blackbird looked good with his upside down twin!

robin

blackbird

There was a large group of chaffinches in the hedgerow next to us. Initially they were very timid, but once they’d settled a bit they came down and posed for the cameras. We never seem to get chaffinches in our garden for some reason, so we got a bit carried away (again) with the photos.

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chaffinch

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The prize of our time at this hide though was undoubtedly this Greater Spotted Woodpecker. Chris spotted him in the trees initially and we watched as he gradually got closer.

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woodpecker

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Once he’d reached the bird feeder, we held our breath as he got closer to the pool – everything crossed that he’d land there. And he did! An absolutely gorgeous bird looking back at himself.

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You can’t really go wrong with the reflection pool. Whilst not necessarily always technically brilliant (often far from it), all the photos here had some appeal. I even love the photos that weren’t really in focus, like this one of a blue tit taking off. The colours and the reflection make up for the lack of everything else (like focus) you’d normally look for in a photo!

blue-tit-2

While we were in the hide we could hear geese flying overhead, so Chris stuck his head out to try and get some photos. Not easy against the sky to get the exposure right – but at least you can see they are geese!

goose

geese

So that was the first part of our day in the wildlife hides. We were already really chuffed with it all and it was only 11:30am at this point!

Parts 2 and 3 to follow as soon as I’ve waded through the next set of photos. We’d thought things were going well already, but then we went to the Kingfisher Hide…..

 

Proud Hedgehog Foster Parents!

We’ve become parents! Albeit to a hedgehog and only temporarily at that. But I couldn’t be more proud of our new addition to the family. So here he is – Meadow the Hedgehog.

meadow-arrival

Meadow was found as a baby in Worcester and has been cared for by Viv at Malvern Hedgehog Rescue ever since. Viv has nearly 100 rescued hedgehogs in her care at the moment, so was looking for volunteers to foster some until the spring; at which point they can be released. So this is how Meadow came to be living with us.

Never having looked after a hedgehog before, we had to scrounge a rabbit hutch – many thanks to Michael Reece for the donation. We’re on a bit of a learning curve at the moment, so hopefully Meadow will put up with his novice carers. Under instructions from Viv, he now has a hay filled bedding area, plenty of newspaper and of course food and water. He initially made a bee-line for the hay, but has since chosen to bury himself under the newspapers.

meadow-hedgehog

Other than feeding him and changing any damp newspaper/hay, we will be leaving him pretty much alone. He is not a pet, so we don’t want to treat him as such. Viv has asked us to weigh him once a week though. He is currently 941g. We’re supposed to try and maintain it around that. We don’t want him losing weight, but apparently we don’t want him to put on any more either. If hedgehogs get too fat they can’t curl up properly into a ball (I have the same problem myself!), which makes them vulnerable to predators.

Hopefully if we get a cold spell Meadow will go into hibernation. Viv has told us what to look out for so we don’t panic if he stops moving! I’ll try and give updates on his progress over the next few months, although there may not be many photos, as we will try and handle him as little as possible and generally leave him in peace.

For information on Malvern Hedgehog Rescue go to http://www.malvernhedgehogrescue.co.uk/  Like so many hedgehog rescue centres, Viv gets no funding and relies totally on donations. Please consider helping your local rescue centre – help with food, vets bills, equipment or even just donating old newspapers will all make a difference.