Tag Archives: blue tit

Getting ready for spring

Right now the weather’s a bit miserable, but there are definite signs of spring outside. In the garden there are a few little irises in flower, their rich, stained glass blue a shot of colour amongst the browns of late winter. Our bluebells and daffodils have made an appearance, but aren’t yet in flower. And, as I walk to the station each morning, it’s light, and birds are singing.

So, it’s time for me to emerge from hibernation, and start getting ready for spring. Dr C and I spent yesterday in the garden, making preparations. Pruning. Tying in honeysuckle. Feeding and mulching the fruit trees. Planting seeds to germinate indoors, and lily of the valley to provide scent in April.

We’re not the only ones getting ready for spring. The birds seem to be checking out potential nesting places. Yesterday was the end of National Nestbox Week. We did our bit by getting our nest boxes ready: clearing out old nesting material from last year, and putting the camera back in, ready for whoever occupies it this year.

House sparrow about to fledge
One of last year’s brood fledging

Last year our camera nest box saw a pair of house sparrows successfully rear two broods of chicks. The year before bluetits had tried (unsuccessfully) to raise youngsters in it. I read somewhere that house sparrows tend to return to the same nest site each year, so I’m hopeful that we’ll get to witness some activity. I will keep you posted!

 

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January photography challenge

It’s not really news that January is probably the worst time of year to start a new resolution. In fact, I could shorten that sentence to “January is probably the worst time of year.” So it’s not a huge surprise that I didn’t do as much photography as I’d hoped in response to my first photo challenge: wildlife in winter.

On the plus side, I did treat myself to a new long lens with image stabilisation. On the down side, I managed to miss all the snow, so didn’t get to catch the frozen scenes I was hoping for.

I tried out the long lens with a tripod for some garden bird shots, and was reasonably pleased with the results.

This chaffinch is too fast for me!
This chaffinch is too fast for me!
Chaffinch
Chaffinch
Blue tit
Blue tit
Great tit
Great tit

I was even more impressed by the results handheld when I spotted porpoises(?) several hundred metres from the coast path – the image stabilisation makes a real difference. (I’m not 100% sure it’s a harbour porpoise – feel free to correct me if you think I’m wrong!)

A harbour porpoise(?) and gull off the Lizard peninsula in Cornwall
A harbour porpoise(?) and gull off the Lizard peninsula in Cornwall

The final shot came as a bit of a surprise when I downloaded the photos, as I’d forgotten taking it. Little Egrets are such elegant birds, and it looks like this one has hit the jackpot.

Little egret with big fish
Little egret with big fish

Bird nerd part 8: Big Garden Birdwatch 2015

The last weekend in January was the annual Big Garden Birdwatch, when hundreds of thousands of people from across the UK record the numbers of birds they see in one hour. This year I was down in Cornwall that weekend, staying with my parents, so there were four pairs of eyes to keep watch.

The list of what we saw is a little different from what I’d expect if we were at home (see my report on last year’s birdwatch). Here’s what we saw down in Cornwall:

Great British Birdwatch results from my parents' garden
Great British Birdwatch results from my parents’ garden
  • 4 Blackbirds (we usually get a couple)
  • 2 Bluetits
  • 4 Chaffinches (we rarely get chaffinches)
  • 2 Dunnock
  • 2 Great tits
  • 3 House sparrows (we’d beat them on sparrows)
  • 2 Magpies
  • 3 Robins (we usually only get 1)
  • 30 Starlings (We rarely see more than 10 at home)
  • 1 Woodpigeon (we’d beath them on woodies as well – we usually get 2 or 3)
  • 1 Wren
  • 1 Greater spotted woodpecker (We’ve never seen a woodpecker in our garden)
  • 25 Rooks (there’s a rookery in the trees by their house)

No collared doves though – we usually get 2 or 3.

Chaffinch
Chaffinch
Blue tit
Blue tit
Great tit
Great tit
This chaffinch is too fast for me!
This chaffinch is too fast for me!

Later this year they’ll release the full results, which will give a useful snapshot of how the nation’s birds are doing.

 

Bird Nerd part 3: feeding habits

As I mentioned in my last bird nerd post, I have quite a lot of data on the birds that visit my garden, and am keen to hear ideas for questions I could look at with it. Someone suggested that it might be worth looking at whether birds with similar feeding habits have similar patterns of visits over the year. So I gave it a go.

First I tried to work out how I could group my avian visitors, and settled on the following categories:

  • those that feed from the seed feeder (house sparrows, great tits, chaffinches)
  • those that feed from the suet pellet feeder (blue tits, coal tits, black caps, long-tailed tits)
  • those that eat seed from the table (wood pigeons, collared doves, feral pigeons)
  • those that eat suet pellets or mealworms from the table (starlings, magpies, jackdaws, crows)
  • those that feed from the ground / other sources (blackbirds, song thrushes, pied wagtails, wren, dunnock, robin)

Of course there is a certain amount of overlap. For example, sparrows and bluetits will feed from both the seed feeder and suet pellet feeder, but do seem to have preferences.

I then created some simple line charts, using the average number of each species seen per observation day for each month of the year, based on data from June 2012 – May 2013. Here are the charts.

seed

suettableseed  tablesuetground

For most of them it looks like the average number seen per observation day is independent of feeding habits. But there may be some relationship for those that feed from the ground or suet pellets or mealworms from the table.

The patterns are unlikely to be driven by changes in the availability of food in my garden, as this is broadly steady throughout the year. However it could be linked to the availability of other food sources beyond my garden. It may be that birds in this category are more influenced by the weather than the other categories, so fluctuations are more in line with each other.

It’s not conclusive evidence, but it’s an interesting hypothesis. When I have time I will use data from the whole 3 years to draw up scatter plots for pairs of birds whose average numbers seem correlated. Can you think of other ways I should test for a relationship? Are there any other questions you think I should look at?

Bird nerd part 2: summary stats

So, having collected all this lovely data, what do I know about the birds that visit my garden? Here are some summary stats from the last three years of data collection.

  • In 2010-11 I saw on average 7 different species per observation day. In 2011-12 this went down to 6, and in 2012-13 it went up to 8.
  • In 2010-11 I saw on average 14 individual birds per observation day. In 2011-12 that went down to 12, and in 2012-13 it went up to 15.
  • These averages hide quite a bit of seasonal variation: September is generally pretty quiet, while the bird table is unsurprisingly busy in December and January.
  • The most regular avian visitors to the garden were: bluetits in 2010-11, being seen on 55 out of 64 observation days, starlings in 2011-12, being seen on 35 out of 43 observation days, and woodpigeons in 2012-13, with only one observation day out of 44 when they didn’t make an appearance.
  • The most numerous visitors to the garden were starlings by far (which won’t surprise anyone who has seen hoardes of them descend on a bird table), although in the last year house sparrows have almost managed to catch them up.

    Bluetit
    Bluetit gathering nesting material

Changes in which species visit over time

As I mentioned in the first ‘Bird nerd’ post, altogether I’ve seen 26 different species of bird in the garden, although never all in the same year. In 2010-11 I saw blackcaps on 15 observation days (in the winter), but only once in 2011-12 and once in August 2012-13 (which is a shame, as they are pretty birds).

There have been no records of jays since 2010-11, but even then they were not frequent visitors. Other birds missing in 2012-13 that I have seen (infrequently) in other years include crows, greenfinches and siskins.

On the bright side, in 2012-13 I saw chaffinches and some kind of warbler for the first time. It’s quite encouraging that 4 years after moving here we’re still spotting new species.

Future analysis to be done

The few stats I’ve presented here are only the tip of the iceberg in terms of what I could examine from my data. One question I would like to look at is how the weather affects bird numbers. I’ve got very basic data on weather for most observation days, but only as far as whether it was sunny, snowy, rainy or overcast. Since we had solar panels installed last June I now have data on sunlight. My theory is we get more bird visits on sunny days than rainy or overcast (controlling for the month of the year), but we’ll see if the data supports that…

Let me know if there are any other questions you would like me to look at – for example, if you’re interested in a particular species or comparison over time…