Why Blue Tits are like Snowboarders & the Brilliant Thing about Gardens in Winter.

The days are short in January and leaves very little time for birding during the working week, but its not all gloom and doom because there's a lot going on if you just take a few minutes to look out of the window. Winter is a great time for watching birds, not only for the big spectacles out on the marshes be they salt or grazing marshes, but also for those birds that get driven by hunger into your garden at this time of year. Chris Packham described it as the "hunger gap" which starts in late January, early February and is when the birds are finding it more difficult to source a good meal in the 'wilds' beyond the garden boundaries. All sorts of species start to sneak in if you put out some treats and wait, some in quite large numbers. I had twenty-four Blackbirds, just like the nursery rhyme, in my tiny garden all at one time last February.

There's a Blackcap back in my garden at the moment. Could it be the same one as last year, I like to think so. His Missus also visited last year, but I've not seen her yet this winter. I was wondering when exactly they dropped by last year so I checked my records on BirdTrack - Its a brilliant app from the BTO which allows you to keep a record of your bird sightings and enables you to be a geek and delve into the records like the BTO do. It helps inform all manner of people making decisions that may affect our wildlife and even assists in criminal matters: http://goo.gl/1hhtl9

Smart male Blackcap who has been enjoying my garden for a couple of weeks

So I compared this January with last for my lists recorded at home, the Blackcap was in earlier last year. I also discovered that I have slightly more species recorded for this January but then that is probably skewed by the total number of lists I made this year compared to last (12 to 4), the picture will build each year.


January records extract from my BirdTrack submissions for the garden
Woodpigeon and Blue Tit are present on every January Garden list and despite being common I really enjoy watching them. Woodpigeon, I have noticed are not great sharers, a scrap seems to break out quite readily, even when there's more than enough food to go around. I've also been watching a Woodpigeon family with an only child since the summer. The squab after a tricky start on fences now does extremely well.




As for the Blue Tits, they remind me of snowboarders the way they move through the gardens, if you've ever been on the piste you'll know what I mean. Small groups of them dash past the window, making a few turns and ollies, and then a last minute deep carving turn into a bush or tree, equivalent to a piste-side stop up the mountain. They wait here for the last one to dive in and then there's a quick vote to see who's leading next and they are off again. It makes me want to get up the mountain on my snowboard - I just realised my jacket is a Blue Tit blue and my board yellow... gonna get Blue Tit stickers for my helmet!


No comments about tits on the piste please!

Blue Tit
Coal Tit after a rapid visit to the feeder (never there longer than 3 secs apparently) stashing a sunflower heart in the Honeysuckle
The Robin makes an almost 100% turnout on my lists and are definitely more conspicuous at this time of year in my garden. I have a pair visiting, and the other day as I was refilling the feeders one sat in the Forsythia, or the feeder launch-bush as I call it, singing softly, it was gorgeous! A young male blackbird thought he owned the Forsythia launch-bush earlier in the month but seems to have given it up lately, he drank a lot that bird! Regularly supping at the birdbath.
This Robin hasn't swallowed a whole fatball, honest!
On the subject of pairs, I submitted one BirdTrack list a week or so ago which had all the hallmarks of spring on it; pair of Robin, pair of Dunnock, pair of Blackbird (hope its Mr & Mrs from last summer, but it's so hard to tell when there could be tens of pairs around - Holt Blackbird Project if you're curious https://holtblackbirdproject.wordpress.com/ ), pair of Coal Tit, several pairs of Blue Tit, pair of Great Tit, pair of Woodpigeon (squab's parents), pair of Jay, pair of Chaffinch, pair of Greenfinch, and a Collared Dove threesome! Full house, I'd say!
Pair of Jay assessing the 'cage feeder' - smaller birds only mate!
I got a bit excited! Imagine all those potential fledglings, and it all starts in winter! I'm not totally disinterested in the garden for the rest of the year, but so many different birds are here all at the same time in winter. Yes I do look forward to when Mrs Blackbird brings her babies in for mealworms in the spring, but I don't want the same stress as last year, when the Magpies ousted the young Blackbirds from the nest a bit early. It was mayhem for both Blackbird parents for about a week or so but I think four out of the five fledged properly in the end. Sterling effort on their part, and on the part of my cat who managed to resist taking them, albeit with a bit of encouragement, or should that be discouragement?


Mrs Blackbird obviously with a big brood to feed last summer!

Go on, look out the window and see if you can catch, something bright glinting in the treetops like a jiffling Goldfinch. Or go out and listen, you might catch a wheezy Greenfinch, or the shakshak call of Fieldfare as they zoom by. I bet you'll hear a Robin!


Goldfinch a little splash of colour, never on my nyjer seed feeder, bizarrely!

Fieldfare, if the snow arrives surely they will drop in for the Cotoneaster berries

I was about to post this blog last night and I had even more winter garden excitement, a Little Owl calling...
Brilliant!

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