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


Cock pheasant

Male blackbird

Blue tit



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


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.

Coal tit
Blackcap (female)

Friday, 6 October 2017

Spotlight On: Goldcrest

The main attractions of Autumn migration tend to be Geese and Thrushes as thousands make their way in to Britain from the north. There are, however, thousands of other small birds which flock to our shores to spend the winter. Many of these, like Robins, Coal Tits and Goldcrests, are also resident breeding species, so tend to go unnoticed. In fact, it's really thanks to ringing that we now know Goldcrests migrate to the UK from as far away as Russia but more commonly Scandinavia.

October is a great time of year to look and listen out for these diminutive birds, as not only does the population get a boost from European migrants, but also as the temperatures drop and nights grow longer, Goldcrests will need to spend more of their time searching for food. Couple these factors with the falling leaves, it's easier to find Goldcrests now than during the summer months. Photographing them, however, is an entirely different prospect! As Europe's smallest bird (alongside its rarer cousin, the Firecrest), they don't exactly fill the frame unless they're close, and their constant movements in search of food doesn't give you much time to get a photo.

None-the-less - I implore you to get out searching, as simply watching these birds is a real treat. Here at Feathers they can be found on a daily basis, often in one of the trees in the car park. If you're setting out in search of Goldcrests, try your local woodland or country park. Their high pitch call will often alert you to their presence before you see them, so try to learn that first!

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Summer roundup

June's fine, warm weather seemed to be the best of the summer as it made way to cooler temperatures and plenty of rain throughout the school holidays. Apart from the odd day, the feeders in our new 'nature area' outside the shop have remained busy throughout the season. The bulk of the birds using the feeders have been Blue Tits, Great Tits, Coal Tits, Collared Doves, House Sparrows, Robins, Dunnocks, Chaffinches and Goldfinches. We do see Greenfinches occasionally, although of course their numbers have declined dramatically over the past 12 years thanks to Tricho. The Great Spotted Woodpecker family have mostly disappeared, going back to natural food which is most abundant for them at this time of year, as is also the case for Blackbirds and Starlings. Nuthatches visit fairly regularly but are always in and out in a flash.

Blue Tit
Coal Tit
Great Tit
Non-feeder visitors include daily Goldcrests & Chiffchaffs, with Swallows and House Martins overhead. The Swifts departed some time in August without so much as a goodbye. Our first Spotted Flycatcher sighting of the year came on the last day of August down by the cow sheds where the Chiffchaffs have been so active. Unfortunately the bird didn't stay long!

Spotted Flycatcher, 31/08/17
A week later on the 9th September, in the very same spot, came our 95th addition to our species list. Once again the Chiffchaffs were actively searching for insects when another warbler arrived, sat and had a quick preen before flying off. The visit lasted no more than 10 seconds but fortunately I managed to get a few photographs to confirm its ID as a Reed Warbler.

Reed Warbler, 09/09/17

Last week saw our first sighting of a Treecreeper in a while. I recognised the call immediately and managed to find the bird on the Oak Tree in the car park. My photos aren't particularly good but it was nice to see none-the-less!

Treecreeper, 15/09/17
Most likely the same pair of Grey Wagtails which successfully raised a brood here in May/June have been back recently too, joining the Pied Wagtails.

Pied Wagtail
Grey Wagtail
Finally, this afternoon I have seen a pair of Marsh Tits back for the first time since February. I had gone out after hearing the Treecreeper again, and while looking for it in the oak tree I spotted the Marsh Tit at the feeder. They were going for Black Sunflowers, presumably caching them for the winter.

Marsh Tit, 19/09/17

Shop News:

At the start of September we became a Premier Dealer for Zeiss binoculars. This addition to our range furthers our reputation as the best place in the county for trying out optics, and gives customers an opportunity to compare two alpha brands in Swarovski and Zeiss. We now have around 60 pairs of binoculars in stock so the cabinets are looking pretty grand!