Monday, 28 November 2011

Feeding Frenzy

Winter must be nearly here - the bird feeders in our new garden (new-ish: we only moved here in March) were very busy this weekend. On Saturday the were twelve species feeding on the seeds from just one feeder, all at the same time: Great Tit, Blue Tit, Coal Tit, Robin, Dunnock, Blackbird, House Sparrow, Chaffinch, Goldfinch, Greenfinch, Collard Dove, and Wood Pigeon - either on the feeder or on the ground below.

Also in the garden at the same time were: Starling, Mistle Thrush, Wren, and Magpie, with Carrion Crow and Jackdaw on the roof opposite, and Black-headed Gull overhead. All this from just a couple of minutes looking through the kitchen window while the kettle boiled: 19 species in all. We struggled to get that many in a whole year in the garden of our last house! The garden list stands at 30 species now, after the flock of 15+ Fieldfare that flew over on 9th November.

Seeing so many birds on our feeder reminded me of my trip to Dumfries and Galloway with the family during the cold January of 2009. We had a week in a cottage on the edge of a farm near Kirkcudbright. During our stay I put a feeder up on one of the farm buildings near the drive, and recorded the birds that came to it.

Before the feeder was up (Sunday 18th) I’d seen a maximum of 2 Chaffinches in the drive area (I didn’t record any other seed-eaters). On the first morning after the feeder was up (Tuesday 20th), there were 6 Chaffinch, 1 Greenfinch, and 1 House Sparrow on/below the feeder. On Wednesday 21st, there were 8 Chaffinch, 1 Great Tit, 1 Blue Tit, and 5 House Sparrow. By Thursday 22nd: 17+ Chaffinches, 10+ House Sparrows, plus Blue and Great Tits present (no numbers recorded).

It’s interesting (well, to me anyway) how, after the feeder is first put up, the Chaffinch and House Sparrow numbers practically doubled from one day to the next. It’s also interesting that the Greenfinch numbers didn’t increase – perhaps the seeds were not suitable. Also the Tit numbers didn’t increase significantly (not that I recorded anyway); maybe the larger finches and sparrows intimidated them. Unfortunately, we didn’t stay long enough to see when the bird numbers levelled off.

Looking back at my notes from the time, I noticed that I didn’t record the birds on the feeder on the last morning. This is because I left before dawn to go birding at Loch Ken - nearly putting the car in a ditch on very icy roads in the process. It was that morning I found probably the rarest bird I’ll ever find: a Snow Goose. It was with a very flighty Greylag flock on the banks or the River Dee at Glenlochar. I managed to photograph it through my scope before they all took flight.

Snow Goose - Glenlochar, Dumfries and Galloway, 24th January 2009

I did plenty of research into this bird after I got back, to find out if this was known locally as an escape (it wasn't). I also discussed it with Chris Baines on the Dumfries and Birding Yahoo Group, before I was happy it was the real deal. Local birders seemed happy it was genuine, and the sighting even got a mention in Bird Watching magazine - it certainly was the high point of that holiday.

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