Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Breeding behaviour

March was very up and down, with a very cold start changing to warmer temperatures, before the cold arrived back again in what was dubbed the 'Mini Beast from the East' around the middle of the month. Fortunately, this freezing spell didn't last too long and by the end of the month it was back to normal. Now into the third week of April and temperatures are set to reach above 20° tomorrow and it will remain warm all week. The feeders have slowed down considerably, as have sales of food, as expected. There is plenty of courtship going on, lots of beautiful bird song and nesting material being collected. The first baby blackbirds are being reported on social media, although we haven't seen any here yet.

I did witness some interesting behaviour with the dunnocks at the start of April, with the female raising her tail and the male pecking at her behind. This is apparently known as 'cloacal pecking' and is an attempt to remove the sperm from the female's previous mate (it's fair to say dunnocks aren't always faithful to their partner...).

Dunnocks cloacal pecking

Dunnocks cloacal pecking


A pair of kestrels appear to be nesting in the church, which has seen successful broods raised for the past few years now.



Woodpigeons can be seen performing their display flight, noisily flapping their wings as they rise and then dropping back down quietly. Another territorial behaviour the woodpigeons can be seen doing is fighting. This often happens in the depths of a tree but two recently took their fight down on to the ground by the cow shed. The battle went on for about a minute or so before the defeated pigeon took off.



I heard my first singing blackbird at the end of January and they have been vocal ever since. Robins, wrens, dunnocks and goldcrests are all in good voice currently too. Our first cuckoo was reported by Lyn on the farm on Saturday 14th.

Our visiting hawfinches were last seen on the 25th March, rather amazing how long they stayed for after arriving in early December and what a privilege it was to have had them. There are still siskins around however, as usual they tend to arrive later in the winter and often stay until early Summer.


And finally a few photos of a red-legged partridge which made a rare and brief appearance on the 7th April.




Saturday, 7 April 2018

First Spring Arrival Dates 2018

2018 Spring Migrant first arrival dates at Feathers, Salehurst, East Sussex



Swallow: 7th April (2017: 7th April)

House Martin: 20th April (2017: 19th April)

Swift: 8th May (2017: 26th April)

Chiffchaff: 3rd April (2017: 17th March)

Blackcap: 8th April (2017: 7th April)

Whitethroat: 20th April (2017: 20th April)

Cuckoo: 14th April (2017: 7th April)

Swallow - 07/04/18

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Winter roundup

Temperatures and rainfall were about average throughout December and January, but things changed a bit in to February as the colder, drier weather arrived. A sprinkling of snow early in the month didn't last long, but late February into early March brought the 'beast from the east' as it became known. Temperatures plummeted, with the 1st March recording the coldest temperatures on record for March. Significant amounts of snow accumulated, although we didn't get as much here as many other parts of the country. We stayed open all week so the birds were well looked after, with extra supplies put out to keep them going. Nothing out of the ordinary visited our feeders but lots of customers recorded fieldfares, redwings, lapwing and snipe coming in to their gardens. None-the-less, consumption increased dramatically as did sales. 160 boxes of 50 fat balls sold in under 2 weeks as the birds looked for high energy foods to help them survive the freezing weather.

Female pied wagtail

Blue tit

Goldfinch

Cock pheasant

Male blackbird

Blue tit

Robin

Robin

Our feeding area outside the shop

The shop

Without a shadow of doubt the talking point of the winter was the hawfinches, which I have highlighted in my other blog posts. Our last sighting here was on the 3rd March, nearly 3 months after their arrival in December. My best photos were taken on Monday in Beckley as a good few were hanging around the small stream near the village hall.




It's not outside the realms of possibility that some may stay to breed, though most likely they will all be returning to Europe where they are more common.

Temperatures now are set to return to double figures, some 15° warmer than last week. As we progress through the month the feeders will quieten down as the birds begin nest building and the availability of natural food increases. We'll be looking out for summer visitors and keeping a note of their first arrival dates to see how they compare to previous years.

Friday, 9 February 2018

Feathers' finches

Our last blog post revealed our 97th species here at Feathers - the hawfinch. This winter's influx has been unprecedented, with an estimated 12 times as many in the UK than normal at this time of year. Sussex has certainly seen good numbers, with plenty of sites recording them across the county for the first time. I wrote before Christmas about our surprise of still having the hawfinches here two weeks after their arrival and expecting them to move on. Well, here we are in February with another sighting in the church yard yesterday and our biggest count of 7 late in January. Dozens of birdwatchers have visited to see them and most have been successful.

Hawfinch at Feathers, Salehurst, Sussex, 07/02/18

We've also recorded our first siskins and redpoll in the feeding area outside the shop. Redpoll isn't a species we see very often here so that was a nice surprise.

Redpoll, 21/12/17

Siskin, 03/02/18

Another species we don't see here as much as we'd like is bullfinch. In February 2015 a small flock spent much of the month feeding on the buds in the flowering cherry outside the shop, but we haven't had them often since then. This winter I have spotted one or two on the odd occasion, but they're always very elusive and difficult to photograph.

Female bullfinch, 05/01/18


Thursday, 21 December 2017

Hawfinches!

When we first noticed a trend on the Sussex Ornithology Society's recent sightings page of hawfinches being spotted all over the county in November, it didn't cross our minds that they would arrive here. But arrive they did, on the 9th December, with 5 birds feeding in the yew tree over the road, bringing our total species count at Feathers to 97. Little did we know they'd still be here after nearly 2 weeks, still the 5 of them feeding with greenfinches. A very special bird and a great tick for our list.







Saturday, 25 November 2017

First of the winter frosts

We've had a few cold starts and maybe a touch of frost earlier this month, but this morning's hard frost was the first of the winter. Generally it's been warmer than average over the past few weeks but with a cold front moving in now, I'd expect the birds to really start picking up on the feeders. Numbers of goldfinches have dropped since last month's blog post as expected, with many heading further south for the winter. Coal tits are still plentiful however, more so than great tits but not as many as blue tits. The marsh tit is popping in regularly and long-tailed tits are beginning to visit more frequently.






At the start of the month we had a surprise in the form of a little owl roosting in the oak tree in the car park. It stayed for a couple of days and is probably still in the area, having heard it occasionally since around the church. When roosting, they are very difficult to locate unless they move or call. Fortunately it was doing both as it was getting some grief from the smaller birds, but once it had settled down it was very difficult to find once you took your eyes off it!



Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Last out and first in

Although the number of breeding house martins has dropped here over the years, there were plenty of visitors up until mid October. Then, only a few days after the last hirundine had departed, the first of the redwings arrived - the characteristic 'seep' unmistakable as it flew over. I had heard and seen a few flocks on Ashdown Forest just a few days earlier so knew they were around in Sussex. During the same excursion, I became familiar with the flight call of meadow pipits, which were in good numbers at Old Lodge Nature Reserve. The next morning at work after getting out of the car, the first thing I heard was the same call before spotting a small flock flying around. Since then, I have heard and seen them on numerous occasions, so I can only imagine there are a few more around here in the Autumn. The addition of meadow pipit brought our species list at Feathers up to 95.

Probably the most notable change this month has been the increase in the number of coal tits. Their behaviour of caching food makes it hard to count, as they are 'in and out' in a matter of seconds, but the most we have counted at once up to now is 6. This is fairly unusual for coal tits in the south east, and the increase has been noticed by many customers too. Subsequently, sales of black sunflowers in the shop have increased exponentially. Sunflower hearts and niger seed are also selling fast thanks to the huge number of goldfinches around at the minute. Goldfinches are a resident species but many spend the winter in France or Spain, so October sees a huge movement of birds heading south, but feeding up in the south east before crossing the channel.

Goldfinch
Coal tit
Blackcap (female)
Goldcrest
Treecreeper