Bird feeder news – a feathery ménage à trois.

Well I was planning to bring you some stunning photos of the ever-widening range of birds that have been visiting the feeders lately. Sadly, like most plans, this one hasn’t really gone the way it was supposed to and it’s been a very frustrating weekend.

To be fair we are probably getting a bit over excited about the two new species that have turned up lately because that still only brings our total tally to less than ten but it is progress of sorts I suppose. We can now boast fifty percent of the resident British tit family which I admit does sound slightly disturbing when taken out of context but in practice means that coal tits have joined the other varieties of blue, great and long-tailed. That only leaves willow, marsh, crested and bearded to give us the full set but as they have fairly specialized habitats we aren’t holding our breath. The crested and bearded ones are probably just blue tits in disguise anyway. The other new addition is a dunnock. This small brown/grey bird is often mistaken for a sparrow and even has the common name hedge sparrow but it isn’t actually related to them at all. It hasn’t made it to the feeding station yet but has been singing it’s heart out on top of the hedge behind the house. What it lacks in spectacular plumage it makes up for with a song to melt your heart.

The elusive long tailed tit

The elusive long-tailed tits

And talking of blue tits, it’s been like watching a feathery version of East Enders over the last fortnight. It’s hard to tell the ladies from the gents in the blue tit world so I have no idea whether we are talking gay, bi or heterosexual but for a while we were definitely witnessing a ménage à trois as three of the little blighters pushed in front of each other to check out our neighbour’s nesting box. After a fair bit of argy-bargy and some serious sulking it seems to have settled down into something that has all the hallmarks of a beautiful romance. One of the pair spends most of its time in the box while the other one, when it isn’t perched high on top of the hedge gloating over the loser that didn’t quite cut it, visits its mate with flowers and the occasional bottle of wine.

The winner

The victorious suitor

Well I may have imagined the flowers and wine but it definitely visits and we are sure it won’t be long now before it stays the night; if you know what I mean.


The sad loser

So, we have all this entertaining activity going on and I thought it would be nice to try to get a few better photos for you. (Those of you whose minds just turned to lurid sex scenes from the nest box well shame on you.) I have tried sitting in the bedroom partially obscured by the curtains waiting patiently with the camera, but it hasn’t been very successful and most of the time I just feel like a sneaky press photographer at a private garden party. So I have turned to technology.

We bought a reasonable quality compact digital camera in preparation for our trip around Britain and two years later I’m still trying to work out how to use it. Amongst other things I recalled from my initial exploration is that it is supposed to be possible to link it up to our Nexus tablet computer and operate it remotely. This sounded like the perfect set up for candid bird photography, so out came the manual and in just a matter of hours, well OK days, I had it cracked. With the camera mounted on a railing opposite the feeders I can now sit discretely in the lounge or bedroom monitoring activity on the tablet and taking photos of our unsuspecting visitors.

Remotely controlled camera

Remotely controlled camera

Armchair wildlife photography

Armchair wildlife photography

It’s absolutely brilliant and all I have to do is sit with my finger over the shutter icon and pounce whenever something comes into shot. In theory I should have got a whole collection of stunning action shots and close-ups to show you by now. But I haven’t. The first reason for this is the fact that the birds that have visited have tended to do so just as I have been taking a sip from a scalding hot drink or while I have been unavoidably detained in the loo. The second is that there haven’t been any birds.

I have never spent such a lot of time actually bird watching, albeit remotely, and I have learned something about bird behaviour which is fascinating. It seems that, just like humans, birds go away for the weekend. Well ours certainly seem to. Either that or they have found somewhere where they can watch the rugby through somebody else’s window with a ready supply of crisps and beer and no sleazy photographers to bother them. Our garden has been like the aftermath of bird apocalypse all weekend. At one point I resorted to taking candid photographs of a neighbour as he rooted through next door’s recycling bin, looking for an old copy of the local paper. He said there was an advert in it that he wanted to look at which struck me as a dubious explanation but who am I to pry. Or speculate.

Anyway, the long and short of it is that the few shots that I did get were quite disappointing apart from the very blurry one of our super-fast robin as he made yet another commando raid on the sunflower hearts. Fortunately he appeared moments after I had put my tea down otherwise I may well have been typing this from my hospital bed and nursing a red breast of my own. Such are the trials of a dedicated wildlife photographer I suppose. Don’t worry, I’ll keep trying.

That's a robin. Honestly

That’s a robin. Honestly

Bird feeder news – exciting update

There is a famous tea shop in Harrogate called Betty’s. It’s very genteel and renowned for its beautifully presented afternoon teas. When you look through the window you can see delicate and perfectly formed dainty cakes and sandwiches adorning doily clad silver serving stands whilst over attentive waitresses in crisply starched traditional black and white uniforms fuss over the customers that sip Earl Grey from fine china. It’s the archetypal perfect English tea room setting. Now imagine that scene of sweet charm and refinement and then imagine Giant Haystacks and Big Daddy sitting down to tea.

That’s the kind of image that comes to mind when I look out of the kitchen window at our lovely delicate bird feeding station. We have been thrilled to witness an increasing range of birds visiting the half coconut of compressed fat and the seed feeder over the last few days.

Blue tit

Blue tit

Tiny little blue tits and long tailed tits are delightful as they perch precariously to peck at the rich food source whilst the larger great tit (clue in the name) sits confidently on the perches and munches on sunflower hearts.

Great tit

Great tit

The blackbirds, both male and female love the special food that Gill puts in the small shallow feeder tray which suits their less agile nature. And of course, the super charged robin is still raiding the seeds like a small red breasted bolt of lightning. It’s exactly what we had hoped for when we set everything up apart from one thing. Just like those great burly wrestlers visiting Betty’s, a couple of great big, fat, loved up wood pigeons are hoovering up all the food like a couple of avian vacuum cleaners on turbo mode. They are enormous! They are like the silverbacks of the bird world and I’m worried that the feed station might be suffering from metal fatigue. And their appetites! No sooner have we filled up the tray and the blackbirds have eaten the equivalent of one quarter of a cucumber sandwich, sans crust, of course, but the oversized, over weight pigeons have cleaned up and they are stomping around and demanding seconds. I mean really! We’re not made of meal worms and fat pellets you know?

Fat git

Greedy git

Then there are the magpies. They have been less inclined to raid the food stores but they do take great delight in tap dancing on the roof, particularly early in the morning. We’ve only actually spotted two of them at any one time but when they decide to trip the light fantastic at five am they could give a line-up from River Dance a run for their money.

I suppose I should just be glad that the variety of visitors is growing and we are doing our bit, or lot, in the case of the pigeons, to help our native wildlife.

It’s funny really how we make these arbitrary choices between different species, blue tits and robins being almost universally fawned over whilst the poor old wood pigeons and magpies are castigated as vermin more often than not. But if some visitors are clearly loved or hated the next feathered friend on our spotting list definitely has the potential to divide the judges. I had seen this bird flash between our unit and the next one a couple of times and I had an inkling of what it might be. My hopes were confirmed the other day though when it actually alighted on a fence and sat still long enough for me to identify it clearly as a hobby. A small but lethal bird of prey and one that I have only ever seen on a handful of occasions. I would never have expected to find a bird like this making regular visits to our domain and I was sufficiently intrigued to do some background reading on its habitat and behaviour. It’s a small bird, somewhere between our blackbird and the pigeon in stature but what it lacks in size it can more than make up for in deadly accuracy as a hunter. Which raises a bit of an issue for birds such as robins, blue tits and great tits. Because for the hobby, they are a spectacular lunch. Not only can it pluck them clean out of the air with its razor sharp talons but it can then perform the rather neat trick of dismembering and eating them on the wing. Pretty cool eh? But maybe not if you are blue tit.

Just a random picture of a hobby

Just a random picture of a hobby

So it would appear that we may have created a bird feeder like nothing we could ever have imagined. To the tits, blackbirds and robins it’s like Betty’s tea shop. For the pigeons we seem to have put up a transport café serving all you can eat breakfasts while our newest visitor, the hobby, must be absolutely delighted to have found a new fast food drive thru’ in the neighbourhood. It’s not quite what we had in mind but I think it could be very entertaining.