Baby Birds

I’ve been eagerly awaiting the first young birds of 2017 and this week I finally saw some. Get ready for the cuteness!

My first young birds of the year were two of these gorgeous lapwing chicks.

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There are currently a mother and two chicks right outside one of the hides at Blashford Lakes. This one chick came right up to the edge of the hide allowing for unprecedented views and photos! As well as agricultural land lapwings nest in areas of wetland with short vegetation. The team at Blashford have been working to create this sort of habitat and it certainly appears to be working.

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Lapwings are on the RSPB’s red list, meaning there has been a severe decline of numbers in the UK, so work like this is vital to support the species.

This morning I spotted this mallard parading with her ducklings.

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If I’ve counted correctly there are 15 ducklings there. Mallards usually have clutches of 8-12 eggs so this was a particularly large one. Of course ducklings are extremely vulnerable to predators so it’s unlikely that more than a handful of these will make it to adulthood.

In other bird news, blackcaps have now arrived in the country in time for the breeding season.

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These birds migrate from Southern Europe and Northern Africa to breed in the UK in the summer. However, increasing numbers are actually staying in the UK over the winter and the RSPB suspects this is due to the good source of food put out in gardens.

Today I saw a grey wagtail on the river Avon.

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This individual is a female as it has more white on it’s head then a male would. Whilst these birds don’t migrate a such they do move from lowland streams in the winter to fast flowing rivers in the summer.

Whilst at Blashford Lakes yesterday I saw thousands of these sizeable St Mark’s Flies (Bibio marci).

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Their name comes from the fact that they usually emerge around the 25th April which is St. Mark’s Day.  Their long legs dangle underneath them as they hover and look around for females. They will only be in flight for about a week but they are important pollinators as they feed on nectar.

Another insect sighting this week was this harlequin ladybird.

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Harlequins are an invasive species and frankly they appear to be have completed their invasion around here. It’s been a good few years since I last saw a native British ladybird around my patch but I see a lot of harlequins now. They eat other ladybirds and pass diseases to them. They have now colonised most of England and are quickly spreading into Wales and Scotland.

That’s all for today but I’ll see you next week when hopefully some peregrine eggs may have hatched!

Birds on the Heath

It’s been a mostly sunny week here once again meaning I’ve had ample opportunity for getting outside. It was announced this week that 2016 was a really poor year for butterflies but thankfully, from my perspective anyway, 2017 appears to be much better so far. I’ve seen plenty of our more common local species like peacocks, speckled woods and commas.

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This week several other species of butterfly have emerged in reasonable numbers such as holly blues and orange tips, as seen below.

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This may have been difficult to identify as an orange tip if I hadn’t seen it land! The underside of their wings is very different to the clear top and serves as camouflage when the butterfly sits on flowerheads like cow parsley. This individual is a male as females do not have the orange wing tips.

Another strong sign of spring is of course the swallows returning and this week I have suddenly seen a whole load on my patch. Situated near the South coast, it’s likely many of the swallows I am seeing are headed further North and have yet to complete their long migration from Africa.

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This week I visited Canford Heath in Poole which is the largest lowland heath in the UK and an SSSI thanks to the rare reptiles it is home to, like smooth snakes and sand lizards. Sadly it was a cool morning on my visit so I didn’t see any reptiles.

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I had much better luck with birds though. Canford Heath is also home to a population of dartford warblers and there were plenty around during my visit. Although the name comes from the location they were first identified the ‘dart’ part of it seems apt as these birds spend a lot of time darting around the heather. Try as I might I could not get a photo of one.

Still, I did stumble upon this linnet on the heath and just about managed to get a photo of it.

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This is probably a female as there doesn’t seem to me much red on it. The numbers of this finch have fallen a dreadful 57% since 1970 probably due to a decrease in seed and an increase of the use of herbicides on farmland.

Another spot was this wheatear, a bird which also migrates from Africa for the summer breeding season.

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Amusingly the name wheatear derives from “white” and “arse”, referring to the prominent white rump of the bird. They are mainly ground-dwelling birds and mostly eat insects.

One more bird from my Canford Heath visit was this jay, a more common bird but also a beautiful one to see.

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Down by the river Avon this week I came across this plant which was covered in insects.

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I put it up on iSpot, which is a great website where community users can often identify species you might now recognise instantly. The general census seems to be that this aren’t true flies (diptheria) due to the long antenna. They are probably alderflies (meglapteraas they are insects that live near rivers. I can’t come up with a convincing reason for them to be swarming like this though- maybe it’s just a good food source?

That’s all for today and I hope you have a good Easter.

Spring Sunshine

It’s been a glorious Spring week here. The temperatures are creeping over 20°C but there is still a pleasant breeze meaning it’s ideal for getting out and watching wildlife. I haven’t seen any clouds for days- here’s a blue tit to show off the blue sky.

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And another bird surrounded by blue sky is my local great spotted woodpecker.

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I’ve seen and heard woodpeckers a lot in this small patch of trees over the last few weeks. It’s the time of year of their drumming display. Both sexes drum at trees as a way of making first contact with potential mates. An unpaired male can drum as many as 600 times a day! Interestingly these woodpeckers have a gender equal society with both sexes drumming, excavating a nest, incubating eggs and looking after young after fledging.

This week has seen a dramatic increase in the numbers of butterflies around. I’ve so far seen brimstones, peacocks, large whites, orange tips, red admirals and speckled woods.

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It’s amazing what a difference a week can make- last weekend there were no speckled woods to be found whereas this weekend they seem to be everywhere. These butterflies have interesting mating behaviour. Male speckled woods either find a sunny spot and defend it from other males, waiting for a female to come along or patrol the forest actively looking for females. The females are monandrous, meaning they only mate once in their lifetime, and have to make the decision to mate with either a defender or a patroller.

Today I ventured up into the New Forest where I was treated with some magnificent views.

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I mainly hoped to see some reptiles and eventually I got lucky and found this slow worm.

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I thought at the time that this was a particularly long individual. In hindsight I should have placed an item near it for scale. These legless lizards are supposed to grow up to 50cm long but I am convinced this one was longer.

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It’s frustratingly impossible to know quite how long it was but it’s clear this was a particularly long individual. It was calm and basking in the sun to warm up and was happy for me to have a close look at it.

There were lots of birds hopping around on the gorse and under the heather and eventually I managed to get a good look at one and discover they were meadow pipits.

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Meadow pipits are the main host bird for cuckoos in the New Forest. Interestingly I heard a cuckoo calling today which seems remarkably early. I’ve been keeping an eye on the BTO tagged Cuckoos (see here) and Selborne, who was tagged in Hampshire, is only in the North of Spain whilst all the others are still South of the Sahara! That all suggests that the cuckoo I heard today is a really early arrival and likely hasn’t been in the forest for more than a few days.

I was saddened to learn this week of the extreme plight of New Forest curlews. Over the last 12 years the numbers of Forest curlews have fallen by two-thirds, from about 100 breeding pairs in 2004 to just 40 in 2016. At this rate they could become extinct in Southern England in as little as twenty years (Full story).

The main reason being attributed to this decline is nest disturbance. Curlews are ground-nesting birds and it’s likely that nests are being disturbed by runners, walkers and dogs who are not keeping to the main tracks. People seem to think they have a right to go anywhere on the Forest and this is the impact of it.

Anyway, let’s hope the good weather continues into this week and I’ll see you again soon for more.

Top Birds

The results to the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch 2017 came out this week and as always, make for interesting reading.

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This isn’t too far off for our garden, though we have considerably more starlings than house sparrows. We regularly have as many as thirty starlings descend on the garden, squawking and fighting for access to the food. It’s easy to imagine that starlings are doing well when we see that many around but numbers have decreased 79% since the first birdwatch in 1979.

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It’s also bad news for greenfinches whose numbers have fallen 59% in the same year. This is much more noticeable here as they were one of our most common birds and now we never see them at all. They have fallen victim to Trichomonosis disease which is why cleaning bird feeders is so important.

Still, at least it’s better news for other species. Since 2007 goldfinch numbers have risen 44% and robins have gone up by 24% in the same time. Both are regular visitors to our garden and I’ve particularly noticed a large number of robins in the area at the moment.

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The bushes around my patch are teeming with birds at the moment and it’s delightful. A couple of my favorites have been this pied wagtail sat on dead wood in the middle of the River Avon and the long-tailed tit hopping around the brambles nearby.

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One day this week the great crested grebe came unusually close to the shore of the fishing lake giving me a clear view of the beautiful bird.

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I’ve spotted my third butterfly species of 2017 this week, the lovely comma.

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When they close their wings commas look a lot like dead leaves and with only early growth on bushes I found it tricky to watch the two I saw. There are actually two forms of commas. This form has a darker underside so as to survive the winter in the dead leaf disguise. The other form develops directly to sexual maturity and has a lighter underside as it has no need to survive the winter.

An invertebrate I’ve seen a lot this week is the Melanostoma scalare hoverfly. You can see it here at the top of a dandelion flower.

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This species is very common, found in most of the ‘palearctic zone’ (that’s essentially Europe, Northern Asia and Northern Africa) and even as far South as Zimbabwe and New Guinea. Despite how common this species is hardly anything is known about it! It visits a large variety of flowers which suggests it’s probably an important pollinator and is thought to be a predator of small insects in leaf litter. It’s amazing that something can be so common yet we know so little about it.

Nettles are really important for insects and have just started going into flower recently. This is a red-dead nettle, an important species for many moths and is a prominent source of pollen for bees at this time of year.

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I’ve also seen white-dead nettle, which is also very good for bees. Neither of this nettles sting, hence the ‘dead’ part of their names.

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That’s all for today, see you next week!

The Egg Thief

I will start today’s post with an update on the nests I have been following. Last week I introduced you to the collared dove that is nesting on the bracket of our satellite dish. It had laid two eggs.

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Yesterday there the mother was not sat on the nest which has been very unusual over the past week. I went and had a closer look at the nest from an upstairs window and discovered it was empty. Something had taken the eggs.

We have a magpie who is a regular visitor to our garden and it is likely it found the nest and ate the eggs. It’s easy to feel sad about this but it’s nature. The magpies will be laying eggs soon so this meal can help to give them the energy to build their nest and look after their young. Our collared doves will likely try again elsewhere and maybe they will have learnt their lesson about building a nest in such an obvious place. Only a few hundred yards down the road is this nest which is harder to reach.

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Having better luck are the Bournemouth peregrines who this week managed to lay another two eggs, bringing the batch up to four (the same as last year).

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The eggs should start hatching around the 20th April. At the moment the eggs are being incubated virtually 24/7- this experienced pair certainly know what they are doing.

With Spring well and truly underway, the early butterflies are now fluttering around. I’ve seen a fair few brimstones around and also some peacocks which look absolutely stunning in the Spring sunlight.

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I have also noticed plenty of early bees and hoverflies buzzing around too. You would have thought pollen was limited at this time of year but this Tapered Drone Fly (Eristalis pertinax)  is covered in it!

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Fortunately I saw this adult rather than the maggot form as they sound really unpleasant. Tapered drone flies have ‘rat-tailed maggots’, the long tail acting like a snorkel as the organism breathes underwater. These larvae prefer water badly polluted with organic matter such as drainage ditches and pools around manure piles and sewage.

Not far away I saw some roe deer in a field.

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There were six deer here, five does and one buck. I can’t work out where these deer come from. There is the herd I usually see by the Avon not too far away and the lower New Forest deer are even closer but from either direction the deer would have to walk through built-up areas.

These deer will lose this site soon. A large development is being built on this site, at least sixty homes and likely more if the next phase of planning permission is granted. This is green belt land where I’ve also seen a kestrel hunting and a flock of meadow pipits. Then there’s the other environmental effects, like how this will affect the water drainage and adding even more cars to the local roads. In their wisdom New Forest District Council have decided none of that matters.

Let’s end on a happier note shall we? Here’s one more nest I’ve seen this week, a mute swan.

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Nesting Season

As I’d been hoping, the peregrine falcons nesting in the a clock tower in Bournemouth laid their first eggs this week. The first was laid sometime in the early hours of the 16th March.

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Then a second egg was laid at some point on the 18th March.

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Peregrines usually have a clutch of 3-4 eggs so I would expect one more egg to be laid in the coming days. The eggs should begin to hatch around about the 20th April. Getting these glimpses of the eggs was tricky as the majority of the time the mother has been sat on the eggs, keeping them warm.

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Meanwhile I’m really excited to have another nest to be able to share with you and this one is very close to home. Some Collared Doves have decided to nest on the bracket of our satellite dish!

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This is surprisingly a common place for this species to nest. Collared doves are one of the few species that benefit from living close to humans. They actually only nested in the UK for the first time in 1956 and the nest then was heavily guarded. Satellite dishes are actually decent nesting sites as they are well away from predators and if their is bird food around then there is a ready supply of food- like we have in our garden.

The position of the dish means it is very close to one of our windows which means from the right spot we can see directly into the nest.

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As you can see there are two eggs in the nest. This is the usual clutch size of collared doves and their may be as many as nine clutches in a year! They take about 14 days to hatch but I’m not totally sure when these were laid- hopefully they will hatch successfully and we will have some chicks within the next two weeks.

When I’ve been out and about this week I’ve seen lots of birds singing and displaying. The breeding season is here and as a result birds are suddenly very visible and audible. Here are a few of my favourites:

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Blue Tit
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Robin
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Little Egret (with a particularly long plume)
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Great Crested Grebe

This week I’ve noticed that the wood anemones (Anemone nemorosahave come into flower.

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For most of the year these plants are not visible- they are just ‘rhizomes’, a sort of lumpy root under the soil. In early Spring they grow out of the ground and flower from now until May. They are actually ineffective at spreading via seeds and mostly spread through their roots which is why you can get carpets of wood anemones in some woodland.

Finally, let’s end with a fungus!

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I’ve been all through my fungi book but still have no idea what this is. It looks spectacular though!

If you want more regular updates on the peregrines and collared doves then you can follow me on Twitter @dangoeswild1. You can also find the peregrine webcam here– I’ve just watched the male feed a pigeon to the female!

Primroses and Peregrines

Spring is so very close now and the temperature is starting to reflect this. We seem to have spent much of the week here trapped in mist which doesn’t feel very spring-like at all.

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I found these wild primroses (Primula vulgaristhis week. The colour of the flowers vary but these are the more common pale yellow colour. The name comes from the old French ‘primerose’ meaning ‘first rose’, highlighting the fact it is one of the earliest flowering plants of the year. Despite the name it bears no relation to true roses.

Not far from these primroses I spotted this grey squirrel munching on something on top of a fence.

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It is likely that this squirrel has recently had a litter of young, or is about to. Grey squirrels usually have two litters a year, the first around February/March and the second around June/July. This is likely to be a male squirrel as females are probably with their young in the drey at the moment. Male grey squirrels do not form pair bonds so don’t worry about looking after their young, hence why this individual looks so relaxed!

My other mammal spot of the week were the Avon roe deer. They appeared to be very relaxed when I saw them today, sat on the grass.

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Here we can see a female (doe) and a male (buck). This particular doe caught my attention as she is unusually pale for this herd of deer. The colour of the buck is typical for the deer I’ve seen by the Avon but this doe is much lighter. It’s always interesting to see the natural variation of animals, especially when they are likely to have fairly similar genetics. This doe should be easy to identify so I shall name her Sandy and look out for her in future.

I’ve been eagerly awaiting by first butterfly of the year and it appeared today. I didn’t get a great view so couldn’t be sure on the species but from my limited view and the time of year it seems likely it was a brimstone.

I also saw my first moth of the year yesterday, sat on a fence post on the cliff top in Bournemouth. It’s probably a Common Plume moth but is certainly a member of the plume (Pterophoridae) family.

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Whilst I was in Bournemouth I also had a look for the peregrine falcons that nest in the clock tower of Bournemouth and Poole college. There were plenty of pigeons around the building, an excellent source of food for the peregrines, but no sign of the falcons themselves. Fortunately there is a handy webcam of their nesting eyrie.

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This screenshot was taken this morning where the falcon appeared to be tidying up the nest. Last year the female falcon laid the first eggs in the early hours of the 15th March. If that’s typical then we can expect the eggs to be laid this week! The pair of peregrines successfully raised three young in 2016, two males and a female- with any luck they will do just as well this year.

I shall be keeping an eye on the webcam and will be eagerly awaiting the eggs. You can do the same on this link.

Deer and Daffodils

It’s been a wet start to March here in Hampshire. The lawns and fields are waterlogged and the streams are as high as they ever get. All this means it’s been really tricky to get outside and photograph wildlife. Nonetheless I’ve been out between rain showers to see what I could find.

The local daffodils are looking at their best right now. It’s often hard to work out whether some daffodils have been planted or are wild but to me it doesn’t really matter.

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Daffodils are scientifically known as narcissi, members of the narcissus genus. There are thousands of different varieties thanks how much they have been bred over the centuries. The narcissus genus developed around 24 millions years ago in the Iberian peninsula.

A less familiar flower I’ve spotted this week is the sweet or English violet (Viola odorata).

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This flowers blooms much earlier in the year than other members of the family and is often found at the edge of woods and in clearings- I found it on the edge of the path in the wooded area next to the fishing lake.

I was pleased to see two great crested grebes on the fishing lake this week.

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They didn’t show much interest in each other but as you can see they were close together. Last year I didn’t see a second grebe on the lake until May so perhaps there is a better chance of the birds breeding this year.

The lake mallards are often seen in groups of up to five in the winter but over the last few weeks they have paired off, like the couple below.

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The number of starlings in the garden has increased over the last few weeks- there is often more than twenty on the lawn or in the trees.

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They are always aggressive to each other and noisy but they are worse than ever right now. They spend so much time fighting that they hardly get to spend any time actually eating. I’ve also noticed how shiny and colourful they are looking at the moment.

In between the rain today I headed to the river Avon, where the floodplains are considerably wetter than they were a week ago. This didn’t seem to bother the mute swans though as it provided a bonus feeding opportunity.

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With few people around due to the rain, the roe deer had ventured very near the path today giving me an unprecedented clear view at two different bucks. From the antlers I think this buck is probably two years old and was with a doe which was obscured by trees.

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I also saw this older buck which is probably at least three years old.

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As you can see this buck has quite a gash on its lower neck, possibly from the rutting season. You could see it a little more clearly when it was having a clean:

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The wound looked like it had healed other than the fur and the buck seemed perfectly healthy. The roe deer are fairly shy but this one wasn’t bothered by me being so close to it at all.

 

The Ringwood Waxwing

There’s one bird that I’ve been desperate to see in recent weeks, the waxwing. A few weeks ago a whole flock appeared in Poole but they unfortunately turned up on the day my MOT was due. I went and had a look but I missed them and didn’t have time to hang around. This week though I was delighted to discover online that a single waxwing had been spotted on my patch, right here in Ringwood!

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Isn’t it stunning? This bird was found at the back of one of the churches and could be viewed easily from the public car park behind it. It was on this tree for most of the week and seemed to be enjoying eating the ornamental apples. They are more often seen in flocks but this one seemed to have got separated.

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Waxwings mostly reside in Scandinavia and Russia but visit the UK every few years in ‘irruptions’. They come here in the winter to feed as the current berry crop in their breeding grounds cannot support the population. This suggest there’s a poor berry crop this year or there was an exceptionally good one last year, allowing for a more successful breeding period.

Whilst I haven’t seen anything else as unusual this week I have spotted a couple of interesting pieces of bird behaviour. On the open fields by the River Avon I saw these two cock pheasants squaring up to each other.

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Male pheasants are very territorial, and will fight each other when necessary. They have a sharp spur on their back of their leg for such a purpose. This encounter didn’t quite go that far- maybe a little aggression was enough or they deemed a fight unnecessary so early in the year. It is interesting to note the colouring of the individual on the left here. It’s far darker than a standard pheasant and lack the usual white stripe so it’s likely to be some sort of hybrid.

Crows seem to be very active at the moment and I’ve been able to see first hand how opportunist they are. This one found what looks like a rabbit carcass, likely caught by a buzzard or a fox, and was enjoying a good meal.

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Yesterday I was walking along the Avon and was surprised to see these two crows stood in the middle of the river. The water is very shallow at this spot but it still seemed odd.

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You can clearly see here how the crow has a stone in it’s beak. I can’t really find any information on why it might be doing this but I’ve come up with a few theories. This is a spot where lots of birds like to feed, such as little egrets and a green sandpiper. That suggests that there’s lots of food here so maybe the crow is moving the stones to uncover invertebrates to eat, like a turnstone.

The other possibility is that this is some sort of gift for the other crow, a potential mate. Plenty of bird species do give seemingly random objects to potential mates and I found anecdotal evidence that crows in captivity have presented stones to humans. If anyone reading agrees on my theories or has a better idea please do let me know.

I visited Moors Valley Country Park this morning and caught a glimpse of something in a hole by the river. By the time my camera was on it, this water vole emerged.

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It then sat near it’s hole and munched on some grass.

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Water voles are the UK’s fastest declining mammal so it’s also brilliant to see one. They seem to be doing well on the Moors River with lots of holes along a long stretch of the river.

The Hungry Heron

It suddenly feels a lot like Spring. The temperature is booming, around 13 °C here today. There are buds in the trees, recording stations have detected the thrushes starting to head North again and there are Sand Martins in West Africa on their way North too.

You may remember a few weeks I was talked about the grey heron that seems to be spending its time on the grassy floodplain of the Avon rather than on the river itself. It’s now become very clear exactly why it is doing this as I saw it catch and eat a rat.

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It’s easy to imagine that herons only eat fish but they are happy to eat any prey they can get their beaks on. This must be a sizeable meal for a heron and it appeared to be an easy find so it’s no wonder the heron is spending it’s time here at the moment! This second photo shows just how big a meal it was as the heron struggles to swallow it.

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Nearby on the river itself this little egret didn’t seem to having much luck when it came to hunting.

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I haven’t seen much of the roe deer lately- they put in an appearance last weekend and were very busy eating.

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Over the last fortnight I’ve seen a few birds which are unusual for my patch. None of them are especially rare but they are birds I’m not accustomed to seeing around here.We do get the odd jay locally but this is the first time I’ve managed to capture a really clear image of one.

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Jays are the most beautiful of our corvids, with the lovely pink colour and the stunning blue section on the wing. Like other corvids they are very intelligent and have apparently been recorded being able to plan for future needs and being able to take into account the desires of their partner when sharing food in the courtship ritual.

A more unusual spot was this treecreeper. There are probably a few around in the area but they are a challenging bird to spot.

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I watched this individual as it went about it’s usual behaviour. Treecreepers forage up the tree, working in a spiral around the trunk, and then fly to the bottom of another tree to repeat the process.

The biggest recent surprise was when I stumbled across a whole flock of meadow pipits.

 

Meadow pipits are generally found towards the North and the West of the country but move south in the winter, which probably explains why I saw them here. The name pipit comes from the sound it makes and this species used to be known as things like ‘chit lark’ ‘tit lark’ and ‘titling’.

In pretty much the same place as the pipits I saw a pair of stonechats today. I do sometimes see them towards the east of my patch, close to the New Forest, but they were the furthest west and closest to the town centre that I’ve ever seen them.

 

I’ve seen plenty of the local buzzards over the last few days. Yesterday there was on it’s usual fence post.
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Then today I saw a pair engaged in what I think was a mating ritual. It was very tricky to take photos but you can see the two birds here.

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Buzzards engage in their mating ritual ‘before the beginning of spring’ which would today perfectly. It certainly looked like how a buzzard mating ritual is described. The male rose high up in the sky to then turn and plummet downwards in a spiral. Buzzards mate for life so it is likely these are the parents of the young birds which were in the area last summer. It must somewhat ruin the romantic moment when some crows start getting in the way though…

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