15 February 2008

Back to basics - garden birding

I guess most people first get interested in birds when they see the ones in their garden. For the last couple of weeks, with no real opportunity to get out and about, I have been once more confined to watching this most local of patches.

Fortunately the temperature has dropped, and that always drives birds into the garden in search of food. Our hour spend doing the RSPB's great garden birdwatch at the end of January turned up everything we would expect to see (Wren, Robin, Dunnock, Collared Dove, House Sparrow, Starling, Greenfinch, Chaffinch, Blackbird, Blue Tit, Great Tit and Magpie), but since then a few of the less common locals have started to appear.

First there was a noticable increase in the number and frequency of Long-tailed Tits, wonderful little delicate birds that are equally at home on the fatballs and the peanut cage (archive photo by the way). A couple of these have almost been guaranteed most mornings for the last week or so.

Then the Song Thrush began singing every morning, a joyous addition to the start of every day. In the distant farm fields you can hear the Great Spotted Woodpeckers drumming out for territories and mates (and perhaps the odd Green Woodpecker 'yaffling' by).

And then earlier in the week we got a surprise return from one of our rarest visitors, Siskins. A pair of them alighted momentarily on our seed feeder, giving great views of their vivid streaky yellow flanks and black-blob heads. Sadly they were quickly off, and haven't been seen since, but they were the first we have recorded in the garden since 2004.

Bird of the week: Siskin (Carduelis spinus), a small, lively finch which is a resident breeder in Scotland and Wales but only a winter vistor to these parts. There are plenty around at this time of year, but they are still scarce enough to be a nice surprise.

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