Monday, 21 January 2013

Siskin winter flocks

ResearchBlogging.orgI have come across a flock of Siskins in my street a couple of times this week. Today, about 20 birds were quietly feeding on seeds of a large Italian Alder (Alnus cordata), a widely planted tree along avenues. They were easily disturbed by car door slamming or a passing dog and tweeted while they flew to a higher tree. Given that my photos are quite distant, I decided to draw a male feeding on alder catkins (above).
Siskins - like Waxwings - are nomadic birds that follow unpredictable resources: tree seeds, with conifers, alder and birch being favourites. In the winter, substantial numbers of Scandinavian Siskins join the British breeding population and disperse more widely. In Scotland, Siskins appear in gardens in higher abundance in years with poor spruce cone crops, indicating more nomadic behaviour in these years and search for alternative food sources. Conversely, they barely come into gardens when their conifer seeds are found in abundance. Sitka Spruce, one of the most widely planted comercial conifer in the UK, has good crops every 3-5 years and this seems to be synchronised across large areas. The large plantations of this tree appear to have benefited Crossbills, Coal Tits and Siskins, which feed on the small seed of the tree. According to the BTO, nesting Siskin populations have increased by 77% since 2004 as the trees in plantations reached maturity and started producing seeds. But Siskins have also altered their behaviour outside their nesting grounds, increasingly using garden feeders - especially peanuts and niger seed - on poor crop years. I wonder if Italian Alder planting in streets might also make easier that we come across this lively little bird.

More information

AILSA J. MCKENZIE, STEVE J. PETTY, MIKE P. TOMS, and ROBERT W. FURNESS (2007). Importance of Sitka Spruce Picea sitchensis seed and garden bird-feeders for Siskins Carduelis spinus and Coal Tits Periparus ater Bird Study, 54, 236-247 : 10.1080/00063650709461480

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Snowy Common Gull

A flock of Common Gulls winters in my local park. Today they have been perfecting their dancing on ice skills as the pond is mostly frozen. They seemed to feel safe on the ice, some of them even sitting for a rest on the ice. This handsome adult one sat nicely for a portrait. I like how snow on the ground makes seagulls look a purer white.

Friday, 11 January 2013

Frisky Pigeons

All of January, Collared Doves have been playing their the three note song in a repetitive, mesmerizing soundtrack. Outside, display flights, in which the doves fly across the street of over roofs with wings held low as they descend, indicate that Collared Doves are starting to gear up for the breeding season.
Woodpigeons too. In fact, they seem to not have stopped breeding. In early November, I watched a fledgling begging for food in the park (above), and yesterday, I saw an immature with no signs of white feathers, feeding on the grass (below). The individual on the top shot appears to be a young pigeon growing its neck and head feathers.

Today, in the lime tree just outside my house a male Woodpigeon nest-called persistently while the female checked a pile of loose sticks on the first fork of the tree.

Even the Stock Doves, a normally quite discreet bird, also showed a lot of exuberant activity in the park. High flights, chases, courting and persistent song. A male tried to approach a female on a brach and she flew off (below).

The - so far - mild winter might be fooling them into an early breeding season.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Goldcrest acrobatics

One of the birds I find most tricky to photograph is the Goldcrest. It is not lack of opportunities. This tiny bird is often common and oblivious to human observers so it can be quite approachable. In addition, during the winter period the UK population increases with birds that migrate from the continent in search of milder climates. The problem is how energetic it is. Moving incessantly while feeding on tiny invertebrates - aphids, spiders, springtails - and their eggs in cracks on bare tree trunks and branches, or in between the needles of conifers, while constantly calling with high pitched 'see, see, see, see' notes. After a particularly frustrating photographic attempt I tried drawing the little bird (above).
 Today I searched for the first Goldcrest of the year on a front garden that has several large conifers (Norway spruce and Leilandii) and is a place where they likely breed. I heard their calls and spotted a bird high up on a bare tree, feeding upside down on the underside of a branch like unbothered by gravity. When the Goldcrest moved low on a conifer almost next to me I thought I would try a video, as I was pessimistic about my chances of success with taking a still photo. The bird obliged by performing their hovering flights at the tip of branches, and I was quite pleased with the result.