The journal of the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) is called Bird Table. Gillian Winsey kindly lent me her copy and I found a great deal of interest in it. There is an article on urban birdwatching by David Lindo. He describes how, as a schoolboy, he watched some rarities such as goldcrest, reed bunting, and even lesser spotted woodpecker in his parents’ back garden in the north-western suburbs of London. He draws attention to the similarities of buildings to rocky outcrops with convenient ledges and crevices, derelict industrial sites thick with bramble and Buddleia and odd little bodies of water, all of which are suitable habitats for quite unexpected birds. While watching flying cormorants and lesser black-backed gulls wheeling above central London, David Lindo describes how a small bird landing on a TV aerial turns out, through a small pair of “urban” binoculars, to be a male black redstart. I actually saw one myself very many years ago on a building site in Battersea.
Bird Table also reports a relatively recent disease called trichomonosis which affects finches, particularly greenfinches, and has caused a decline in their numbers. It would be interesting to know whether anyone in Frampton has noticed a reduction in the number of greenfinches or other finches appearing at bird tables, compared with, say, 2007. Christine Chappell has certainly noticed this.
BTO members record bird observations in their gardens and report them quarterly. Unsurprisingly, blackbirds, blue tits and woodpigeons head the list while fieldfare, redwing willow tit and brambling bring up the rear with a less than one in a hundred reporting rate.
Here is an unexpected website:-
You might guess that it deals with hybrids between different species of geese which are really quite common and this makes it difficult sometimes to be quite sure of an identification. The site was set up by Dave Appleton who lives in Norfolk and has made a close study of geese and their hybrids. The number of photographs is quite bewildering. All this arose because my daughter Jane and I saw a large number of greylag geese, four Canada geese and a single pink-footed goose on the river Foss at York. The pink-foot and a few of the greylags looked a bit different, rather darker on the whole. In other words they were probably hybrids between greylag and Canada geese (Granada?). Jane discussed this with her colleague Alistair Fitter who is really a botanist, but has taken an interest in the goose hybrids. He thinks that the hybrids are probably sterile, the more so because the Canada belongs to the genus Branta and the greylag to the genus Anser and hybrids between genera are rarely interfertile. On the other hand Dave Appleton speculates that some of the birds he has photographed may be second-generation hybrids. If anyone has occasion to walk along the Chesil Beach it might be interesting to look out for hybrid geese.
Mike Keene sent me a sensational photograph. It shows a few egrets in the field behind his house among the cattle resting on the ground. So far, so familiar. Mike has seen the egrets with the cows on many occasions but this time a fox had appeared immediately behind the birds and the beasts. He was staring straight at the camera but neither the cows nor the egrets were taking a blind bit of notice of him.
Locally I have seen very little of any particular interest. A pied wagtail flew over the Trinity Street car park: otherwise it is just a succession of woodpigeons, jackdaws, rooks and herring gulls with perhaps a few blackbirds in the shrubbery. At least things are more colourful in south London. Four bright green rose-ringed parakeets settled on a tree in my son Andrew’s garden. Hardly surprising – the south western suburbs are the main stamping ground of these unauthorised imports mainly from India.
A report from Christine Chappell in late November mentions a flock of redwing in the garden, as well as a bullfinch and a goldcrest, both occasional visitors to my erstwhile garden in the Dorchester Road. Henry Wheatcroft told me of a male goosander on the river near the white bridge and, astonishingly, a water rail in their garden at Southover. I have kept the best bit to the end. It is well enough known that the great bustard, Britain’s largest flying bird was successfully re-introduced on Salisbury Plain, having been extinct in the country since the middle of the 19th century. Acting on a tip-off John and Christine Chappell went to Moonfleet and there, wondrous to behold, were two great bustards which had evidently flown down from Salisbury Plain.
January 2011-December 2010
Long-tailed tits are in the news, it seems. Steve Isaacs who now lives in our erstwhile house in the Dorchester Road saw a little group of them in the garden on 29th December. I used to see them too on the various bird feeders but the end of December is certainly a record. No doubt Steve also sees many of the other small birds which used to be regulars in my day. Even more sensational is the appearance of three long-tailed tits on a small tree near the corner of Somerleigh Road and Princes Street. Who would ever have thought of these typical countryside and garden birds appearing right in the middle of the town, but they are absolutely vouched for by a near neighbour of mine in Hascombe Court. Another miraculous sighting was of a yellow wagtail seen by Gillian Winsey on the pavement outside the pet shop in Trinity Street. The grey wagtail has some yellow on the breast and we have seen it quite regularly on the river at Frampton, but we would have been astonished to spot one in the town. The yellow is really quite rare (I have only ever seen one – in the Midlands). Gillian was quite sure of its yellow neck which is the main distinguishing feature between it and the grey which has a black neck. How it came to appear in the middle of the town is a total mystery. There is one “townie” wagtail, the pied. I have seen it repeatedly in Bowling Alley Walk and in South Walks Road.
Ann Wheatcroft has seen a dipper in the river below Cruxton bridge. In Dorset we are very near the dipper’s southern limit, but it does occasionally turn up in the Frome. I last saw it near the weir by the pill box about 15 years ago. Ann also spotted 8 ravens in a field east of Cruxton, an unusually large number. In late November Dave Drake had an unusual collection of birds on his feeders, a greater spotted woodpecker, bullfinches and goldfinches among them. The Drakes also had a single fieldfare in their garden.
After the celebration of Helen’s life (I dislike the word funeral) I went to stay with my daughter Jane in York and had quite a lot of opportunities to do some birdwatching. A company of sparrows had their headquarters in a pyracantha hedge in the garden next to the big seed feeder and monopolised it for most of the day. Starlings were frequent visitors to the bird bath where they splashed vigorously about rather like a rugger team. Among the blackbirds was a male with a little white mark in the wing. He thought he was the owner of the garden and made it his business to chase the starlings away and, occasionally, even half a dozen or so pigeons feeding on the ground. Less frequent visitors were a few goldfinches, an occasional great tit and a blue tit and, surprisingly rarely, a robin.
The river Foss is a tributary of the Yorkshire Ouse and flows near the bottom of Jane’s road. Here there were so many mallard that one could not count them, encouraged by walkers with bits of bread. Also there were coots and moorhensand even a few tufted ducks at times, and about 40 greylag geese with a single stray pink-footed goose among them. The pink-foot is rather daintier with a darker neck and a yellowish-and-black beak contrasted with the bright yellow beak of the greylag. Also present were four Canada geese and two families of swans.
On the campus of the University of York is a large lake with its own population of waterfowl, including a group of snow geese imported when the University was founded in 1963, so there must have been a good many generations since then. Another import were Cayuga ducks, superficially similar to mallard but with no green on the neck of the male. Instead the neck is black and there is big white area at the base of the neck and on the breast. The snow geese have stuck to the lake but the Cayugas have spread: I saw one once on the Foss.
If you go to Photos/HybridGeese you will find an extensive report of various hybridisations of domestic and feral geese, with many photographs. One example is a cross between greylag and Canada which has been named Grenada. There is even a report of a cross between a swan and a goose, inevitably called a swoose.