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

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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.

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