Tuesday 31 December 2013

Two-Barred Crossbills, Velvet Scoters, Redwings And A Shrike

It's the last day of the year and I'd better get something written down here of recent trips out. Aside from dipping on the parrot crossbills at Budby Common (Notts) - that was fun, standing looking at a puddle for about 6 hours and seeing no sign of the birds - I have had better luck with their two-barred relatives, a velvet scoter and also a great grey shrike which has decided to (hopefully) over-winter down the road from home.

Two-Barred Crossbills

The two-barred crossbills caught my attention, as there was little else around locally, and they were in a part of the Wyre Forest I'd not explored before. With the help of other interested folks, I was soon peering through a scope at a fine male crossbill, as it fed on one of the cones. Moments later I had it in view through my lens, and despite the distance and low light, bagged some record shots of it.

It was one of maybe 5 around, and amongst a large flock of common crossbills. Best views of these I've ever had.

They soon dispersed, along with some friends I'd bumped into up there too, and I was left hoping the flock would return. After about an hour, I decided to head back to the car, but along the way saw a small flock of commons feeding, so hung around an area and hoped.

My luck was in, they flew over to where I was waiting, and the two-barred crossbills joined them.

Much closer views this time, though typically they were on the wrong side of the tree.

And I took the chance to get some shots of the common crossbills too - wasteful to ignore them!

Velvet Scoter

The next bird to tempt me was a male velvet scoter, seen over in Leicestershire. I had managed to get shots of a female earlier in the year, but the male is much more of a striking looking bird. A birder wandering away from the reservoir kindly explained where he'd seen the scoter, and it meant a long(ish) walk around the edge to the other side to view.

Alas after driving over in sunny conditions, the weather had deteriorated and the water was grey and choppy. Even so, seeing the scoter so close up was a treat.

It gradually moved across the reservoir which was good because the water was calmer over the other side, and it was on the way back to my car!

Watching it feed gave me an idea. It seemed to dive down, maybe 75 yards from the shore, and chase its prey under the water, surfacing much closer in each time. Kneeling in wet mud and goose droppings (lovely) I waited by the water's edge and hoped.

It appeared right in front of me.

Would have been nicer to have had some decent light, but I was pretty pleased with the images of it.


Bramblings have arrived in good numbers again, and whilst I was hoping to get some half decent shots of those, I had a look around the immediate area and found a small cul-de-sac with flocks of redwings feasting on some berries in a hedge.

With good light for once, I was able to take dozens of shots at close range of these lovely winter thrushes, plus blackbirds too.

Definitely my best redwing shots to date.

And rather festive looking too!

And I got a brambling in the end too...

Great Grey Shrike

The great grey shrike was reported some days back and I watched it from the roadside one afternoon, followed by an early start to watch from dawn. I've seen several of them now and had very good views of one at Napton some years back. They're flighty subjects if approached, but as they cover (usually) quite a large area, if you position yourself within range, hide and hope, you might get a good view. After taking a long route to the area, to deliberately avoid the bird, I set up behind a thorn bush and waited.

The bird seemed to favour the fields near the road, but had a larder within one of the thorn bushes, to which it would return to, every so often. It wasn't bothered by buzzards, herons or kestrels, but the magpies liked to mob it.

After about 3 hours I got some reasonable views, but the light was in the wrong direction really, and I rarely got a close, clean view.

When it wasn't being chased by magpies, it got scared off by other folks in the fields, which was annoying but often the case in this game!

Aside from trips to local reserves, I've been kept in by the weather of late, so anything caught in sunshine is a bonus. Still no sign of any shorties yet, though they often don't appear until February, so still time yet.

Nothing else to say other than hope you all have a great 2014! Happy New Year!!

Wednesday 18 December 2013

Nature's Feast Seed Blends

The beauty of Nature's Feast's Twist feeders is that you can easily see which food offering within them is proving most popular with the birds. Hence, when Nature's Feast asked me to test out three of their seed blends, I already had an idea of how to do it.

I was given:

* High Energy No Mess 12 Seed
* Supreme 8 Seed Blend
* Everyday 4 Seed Blend

I have two Twist feeders, so put the 8 and 4 seed blends into two sections of each, and for the third section of each, filled one with the High Energy mix, and the other with a supply of black sunflower seeds.

Then it was simply a case of observing the feeders, which at this time of year isn't that easy, when you go out to work or with the Festive season approaching, have to attend get-togethers, away from home.

I'm quite lucky with the array of birds that visit my garden. I generally see decent numbers of house sparrows, blue, great, coal and long-tailed tits, green, bull, gold and chaffinches, nuthatches, robins and dunnocks, wrens and goldcrests, blackbirds, starlings, collared doves, wood pigeons, song thrushes, magpies, jays, carrion crows, plus at the moment, a most welcome pair of blackcaps.

Last winter, I found that the High Energy Supreme mix from Nature's Feast attracted a siskin to my garden for the first time, so I had high hopes of spotting something new with these mixes.

Unsurprisingly, the High Energy No Mess mix went first. It was popular with finches, tits, robins and the nuthatches, though that made a change from them taking several black sunflower seeds each visit, before darting off into the apple trees at the rear of the garden to stash them.

The 8 and 4 seed blends were a hit with the sparrows mainly, and when I tried some of it on the tray feeders, it was taken by the greedy wood pigeons and collared doves over a few days.

I think at this time of year though, when the bite of winter hasn't yet set in, the birds still have other food sources around, so aren't so reliant on the food we put out. To test this theory, after the 4 and 8 blends had been consumed from the Twist feeders, I refilled with a mix from another supplier, to see how that fared. It would appear to be even slower to be taken, as it's been out there for almost 2 weeks now, and is not in need of being refilled.

So based on this rather unscientific test, the 4 and 8 blends, are less popular than the high energy ones, but in my experience, better than similar mixes available elsewhere.

Having found a local stockist of their products, I hope to test more over the winter, when the weather deteriorates and the birds are visiting the feeders more often, to see if these new blends, as well as the one from last winter, attract siskins again, and maybe something unusual. A redpoll would be nice again.

Disclaimer: Images used for this blog are mine and from my garden, but from before this test took place. Had such dull weather during the test that I couldn't get anything worth airing.