Friday, 31 May 2019

Where are all the hirundines?

This year there seems to be a real shortage of swallows, house martins and swifts across the county (and maybe Country?). Here at Feathers we used to have dozens of pairs of house martins nesting between the old vicarage and the farm house, whereas now we are lucky if we see any at all. Swallows have bred on the farm in years gone by, but again we now only see them occasionally. Fortunately, the swifts that call the church home still seem to be stable, with about 8 birds back again this year. Other birders in the area and plenty of customers have noted the lack of hirundines this year and it would be interesting to know whether this has been a trend for the whole of the UK.

Swift at Feathers, 25/05/19

On a more positive note, we have had a firecrest present for at least a month now. Throughout the day I can hear it singing somewhere just over the road. For the most part, owing to their protected status (Schedule 1 species), we haven't been even trying to look for it, but just knowing it is here and potentially breeding is great news for us. However, we were afforded wonderful, albeit very brief, views of it earlier in the month.

Firecrest at Feathers, 02/05/19

It seems to have been favourable weather for the breeding season, if anything perhaps a bit too dry! Hopefully it will mean great success for many species. So far we have seen young starlings (although the boxes weren't used this year), sparrows, great tits and blue tits. No doubt the blackbirds, robins and dunnocks have fledged but we haven't been introduced by the parents yet. The great spotted woodpecker parents have almost been a fixture for the last couple of weeks, taking food away but back within minutes. Perhaps there is more than one pair. No sign of the juveniles yet but I hope it won't be long.

Male great spotted woodpecker

Juvenile and adult starling
Adult and juvenile blue tit

Friday, 12 April 2019

Spring Migration 2019 first arrival dates

2019 Spring Migrant first arrival dates at Feathers, Salehurst, East Sussex



Swallow: 10th April (2018: 7th April)

House Martin: 10th May (2018: 20th April)

Swift: 11th May (2018: 8th May)

Chiffchaff: 1st April (2018: 3rd April)

Blackcap: 13th April (2018: 8th April)

Whitethroat: 19th April (2018: 20th April)

Cuckoo: 20th April (2018: 14th April)

Saturday, 16 February 2019

A dearth of unusual visitors

I haven't 'blogged' for months, the reason being there hasn't been much to share. So far this winter, apart from a very brief cold snap at the end of Jan/start of Feb, it has been pretty mild. The feeders have still been busy but only with the regular visitors; we haven't seen siskins, redpolls or bramblings, while the redwings and fieldfares occasionally fly over but are finding plenty of food around. Lots of customers are also reporting a dearth of unusual visitors.

Now the birds are thinking ahead to spring; the great spotted woodpeckers have started drumming, the blackbirds have started singing, and great tits in particular have become very vocal.

The rarest visitor was a female black redstart in late November.


A recent poll on our Feathers facebook group asked 'Which is your favourite bird?'. A tricky question, with lots of suggestions posted, but the clear winner was the long-tailed tit. These gorgeous birds are popular for their character as well as their sweet looks, as they stick together in family groups. While they are around all year, the winter is the best time to spot them in your gardens, and good quality suet and peanuts are their preferred foods. During this past month we have had a group visit our feeders outside the shop regularly. Here are a few photos for your viewing pleasure :)








Saturday, 10 November 2018

Stoatally amazing experience

I moved to Rye in March this year, having been living with my parents after my separation in 2016. It was a tough time for me, and I found myself spending more and more time Rye Harbour Nature Reserve to walk, relax and unwind. It was the one place more than any other I found I could switch off my thoughts and just focus on what was around me. I can honestly say my visits to the reserve were, apart from the support from family and friends, the biggest help in my recovery.

When I found my flat up to let at the start of the year, it just felt like fate. I now have the reserve almost on my doorstep, and throughout the summer with the long, warm evenings, I was getting out as much as possible. I have enjoyed many memorable moments watching foxes, cuckoos, hobbies, marsh harriers and barn owls. Now the days are shorter I only have my days off from work to enjoy the wonders and wildlife of the reserve, so on Monday I took myself out to a part of the reserve known as Castle Water.

This area is not as accessible as the rest of the reserve and therefore I very rarely meet more than half a dozen other people out walking. It's also one of the best parts of the entire 1100 acre site for bird watching, with the habitat suited to a number of species which aren't seen an often on the beach reserve. With its reed beds, birds like bearded tits, bittern and marsh harrier are regular here (though finding them isn't always as easy). While I have a special place in my heart for birds, sometimes another animal steals the show...

I spotted the stoat in a place I fondly call 'rabbit corner'. My past sightings of these magnificent mammals have been brief, a quick view as it darts down a burrow or in to the undergrowth. So I was quick to pick up my camera and grab a photo before it disappeared.


As you can see, it was very aware of my presence, but none-the-less darted out further in to the open. I took to my knees to get a better angle and kept still.


It's quite obvious at this point it was somewhat intrigued by me, but I still expected it at any moment to turn back and run the other way, but that wasn't to be the case.


By now I was somewhat baffled by what was going on. Why was this typically shy animal running towards me and not away? How much closer would it come? The only thing to do was to keep still and keep taking photos.



Having come so close, I was having a hard time keeping up with its movements and certainly struggling to fit it all in the frame. If I haven't made it clear I am completely out in the open, on the footpath which runs adjacent to the fence line separating the field from the reserve boundary. Up to this point, the stoat had been running towards me on the very footpath I was on, but decided to cross through the wire fence to my left.


Still watching me, as some on social media have suggested, possibly wondering whether it could take me down. Stoats belong to the family Mustelidae, which includes weasels, mink and wolverines, all with a reputation for punching well above their weight in the animal kingdom. I prefer to think this little stoat saw me as a friend rather than foe. Whatever it thought of me, I was completely awe struck by this fantastic beast, and it decided to come closer still, in fact as close as my lens could possibly focus.


Less than 4m away, this photo hasn't been edited or cropped at all, just resized for the blog. A little look around and it finally turned back, coming back through the fence and taking one last look back at me before taking off.


After watching it disappear down a burrow, I carried on with my walk, feeling somewhat emotional at this wonderful experience.

I recommend a visit Rye Harbour Nature Reserve, but if you can't get there, I encourage you to find a place near you where you can reconnect with nature. I hope you have a stoatally amazing experience like I did.

Saturday, 13 October 2018

Autumn changes

Continuing on from July's heatwave, we had a mostly fine August and September, which are typically two of the quietest months of the year for activity on the feeders. October is often when things pick up, but so far we're still experiencing temperatures in the high teens to low twenties, so only on an 'off' day are we seeing lots of birds using the feeders. From tomorrow onwards the forecast is back to average for the time of year (around 15°) with more rain than we've seen in some time, so I expect the food to start going down more rapidly.

While we expect this downturn on the feeders during Autumn, it normally coincides with an increase in summer migrants passing through on their way south, but this year we've had little more than a few visiting chiffchaffs. We spotted our first redwing on Saturday 6th, yet still this week we have seen a solitary swallow and around 10 house martins passing over. Mistle thrush activity has increased, buzzards (up to 6) have been enjoying the warm weather, sparrowhawks have been dropping by regularly and the kestrels are getting plenty of stick from the local corvid population as always. I've also seen and heard skylarks flying over on a few occassions in the last week. Coal tits are back in higher numbers now, as they often are at this time of year, taking the black sunflowers away to cache for the winter. Long-tailed tits have been passing through, but with plenty of natural food still around, they're not often coming down to the feeders just yet. We had hardly seen pied wagtails in the summer, and then two weeks ago a couple turned up and the number built throughout the week up to a maximum count of over 10. Fleeting glimpses of grey wagtails leave a lot to be desired. Although there doesn't seem to be a bumper crop of acorns, a few jays have been dropping in to the oak tree in the car park for a bite to eat. Finally, our tame pheasant, who looked a right mess at the start, now looks a million dollars.

Jay

Buzzard

Pied wagtail

Pheasant

Friday, 27 July 2018

Heatwave

After May's blog post of thunderstorms and heavy rain, we have since been graced with two months of extremely dry weather. In fact, the south east has not reached even 10% of the average rain seen in June and July. Temperatures have been lingering around 25-30°C for a couple of weeks, but it looks like that is set to change over the weekend with rain expected in the coming days and day time temperatures dropping in to the low 20s.

What this has all meant for July, particularly the latter half, is a lack of activity on the feeders, with most customers noticing a trend of 'disappearing' birds. Our feeders have almost come to a halt, and both the number of species and overall number of birds dropping significantly. Blue tits, great tits and sparrows are still regular, with the occasional visit from a coal tit, robin, dunnock, blackbird, goldfinch or chaffinch. Not forgetting of course the dozen or more white doves which have taken up residence all over the farm, while the tame, scruffy pheasant has taken to coming in to the shop to eat in peace. A few hirundines still grace the sky, but even they seem to be quieter in this particularly hot weather.

The biggest factor for this? Birds eat to sustain energy, a bit like us (although they have faster metabolisms), so when temperatures are like this, they lose less energy and therefore don't have to eat so much to survive. Also, unsurprisingly, there is more natural food around at this time of year. Although the rate at which the feeders have slowed this year is more dramatic than previous, it is an annual trend for July to tail off and activity to remain quiet for August and September.

We've had no notable sightings here recently, apart from irregular visits from a hobby.


While the birds quieten down, butterflies become more active. Our buddleias outside the shop are a big draw, attracting quite a few different species.

Painted lady

Meadow brown

Large white

,

Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Early breeding season signs

Springwatch started this week which gives us a great idea of how the breeding season is going, not just from their location (NT Sherborne, Gloucestershire) but from across the country as the public send in their reports. Of our summer visitors, especially hirundines, many are arriving later and in lower numbers than previous years. 'Our' house martins are in reasonable numbers this year (around 12 birds is the most I've counted), possibly better than 2017, but still much lower than when we started here at Feathers in 2010. I think there are also 5 pairs of swifts back in the church, although they arrived at least two weeks later than last year. We see a pair of swallows regularly so presume they are nesting nearby but once again they aren't any nesting on the farm.

Of our resident breeding birds, the starlings in our nest box were earlier than last year, fledging on the 14th May, although our first juvenile birds visiting the nature area were on the 11th. One of the earliest breeding species is the mistle thrush and we saw fledglings in the car park on the 20th April. Of other species nesting on the farm, we've seen juvenile sparrows, goldfinches, greenfinches, great tits and the first of the baby blue tits today, all of which seem roughly on time, although certainly not in good numbers.

Unfortunately, the timing of fledging the nest has coincided with stormy weather with many spells of heavy rain and thunder this week across the country. This will certainly have a negative impact on the survival rate of many young birds. We would expect the feeders to be busier than they are too, with suet balls and blocks unsurprisingly proving the most popular at the minute (high energy content) but sunflower hearts and peanut consumption is very slow. I hope for many species that second broods will be more successful.