Friday, 30 May 2008

Elvis is in the building......

.... or maybe he's down the chip shop. Wherever he is, Border Reiver however is back on line, actually he's not as this is the first blog posting on a new wireless connection. Seems odd sitting on a sofa writing this, but we must continue to struggle for our craft .... the cider seems to be helping anyway.

So since my last posting I've had a spell in Dorset, a few days in the North East and now I'm back in Somerset. All of which has meant I pretty much missed the awful rain in the South West, and of course the damp weather in Norfolk which was well documented in Springwatch. I hope you're all watching it. Anyway on with the wildlife with this posting covering a bit of garden wildlife and over the weekend I'll post my brief trip to a seabird colony on Tyneside yesterday.

Lets begin with what is vital for wildlife. In my view it's about the future, and who are the future? Children. Get children interested in wildlife at an early age and the rest is easy. I was lucky in that my parents allowed me free rein and I grew up in a time not that long ago when I could leave the house at dawn wander the fields and lanes and return at dusk without my parents worrying where I was. Sadly these days, this is pretty much impossible for young people. So we need to find other ways and a garden is perfect.

Take these two Dorsetshire monsters, Lea 4 and Liam 3, grandchildren of Thelma. Having Border Reiver as their mentor is a cross they must bare. They will be marked for life sadly. This photograph was taken last Sunday when after lunch, we got my camera out and we watched the wildlife in the garden. They were especially keen on the Song Thrush as it ate things.... nice.

But they were not that keen on the spiders.... but I'm bigger than them so this huge Pisaura mirabilis gets into the blog. Remiss of me I forgot to add a size reference like a coin, so you'll need to believe me it was about 2 inches tip to toe. A common hunting spider of gardens and if you notice it's lost part of it's leg, I think it's a male as they have bolder markings than the female.

These are very interesting as the female carries it's egg cocoon with her and when the cocoon is about to hatch, pops it onto vegetation, builds a silk tent around it and then stands guard until the spiderlings emerge. Keep a look out.

That was Sunday, by lunchtime on Monday I was in Tyneside for a brief visit to the ancestral pile. Being built in 1837 the garden is somewhat well established and a haven to birdife even though nowadays the Tyneside Conurbation is becoming its backdrop. I was amazed however to be sitting with a post drive cup of tea in the garden to see a Mistle Thrush land on the lawn. I've never seen one here but following a bit of detective work Sherlock Holmes would be proud of, located the nest in another garden.

What a beauty the male was. I photographed him from the bathroom window, and hope you like the views of what is a declining species across the UK, so it is good to see it nesting in the Tyneside Conurbation, which now it's being cleaned up is becoming a great wildlife area.

I thought it may also be useful to show the female in the photograph (above right) with a Starling and youngster, to illustrate the much bigger size of a Mistle than with its cousin the Song Thrush which is about the same size as a starling.

If one has a Mistle Thrush in the garden don't expect peace and quiet. Both birds were very aggressive at defending their territory, as this photo above shows, even a bird the size of a Jackdaw will be mobbed. In the wild I've seen Mistle Thrushes chasing Rooks, something I would not have believed if I'd not see it myself. But this pair did a sterling job with their fast and furious flight around the garden, accompanied with that distinctive metallic chattering call.

But it's not all mayhem in my parents garden. Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Jackdaw, Robins, Wren, Starling, Great and Blue Tit all live more or less harmoniously. Strangely enough very few Sparrows. I'd spotted 2 House Sparrows which my parents said were the first they'd seen for months. Another sadly declining species in Britain.

And of course Blackbirds. This fella-me-lad rules the roost in this garden. There are two males holding territories, this one near the house is very tame and easy to recognise with the white patch on the head. He is so tame that my mother is chastised severely if she delays the morning porridge left overs she puts out for him. What a racket.

His wife though prefers normal food but sourced in a way I've not seen before. How many of you have seen a blackbird taking sunflower seeds from a feeder? I'd be interested to know. She has developed a technique of perching on a chair, flying to and then frantically clinging onto the feeder, before dropping to the ground with her winnings. This is repeated over and over again, and on one morning saw her do this 11 times. Surely the amount of energy used outweighs the benefits. But maybe not.

Just before I left yesterday the male was doing this right next to where I sat. Now usually this "anting" behaviour is done to rid the feathers of parasites, something which is particularly common when feeding at the nest, a hot bed of parasites. But I just wonder if it was actually sunbathing. Like the rest of us, we need warm sun now and again.

Finally, a very short video of a Coal Tit, because I like these birds, and this years star attractions on Springwatch, but also because it is the first video taken on my new stills camera and I'm quite impressed, though the background noise is a bit annoying. Seabirds next posting.


  1. Lovely post, the photos are really good...are they with a digital SLR?
    I haven't seen a mistle thrush for years, what a beauty that one is that you saw. BW Goosey

  2. So you're back now...love the post and totally agree with your point on the freedom we had as children - I used to go off on a friend's pony for the day into the woods and miles away - my parents never knew where I was and to be honest I never worried but I do feel for people bringing up children today and feel sorry too that they miss out on the freedom we had... one of the reasons we moved to Brittany. I walk a lot round here and never have to worry, whereas I don't think I'd feel the same back in the UK - apart from hiking up the odd Munro maybe! Getting children interested in lots of things to do with the outdoors is SO important... they don't know what they're missing half of them, and just need someone with some time, which most people never seem to have! A much better way of growing up than being stuck infront of endless video games!

    Have a good weekend - Miranda

    ps Spring Watch has been great!

  3. Hi Goosey, it's not a SLR, but a top end compact, a Canon G9. I was going to go with a SLR but too bulky for the pocket while out walking :-) Thanks for the info too about the Swanage houses.

    Hi Miranda, sounds like you had a similar childhood to me. I believe it will return as we become less frenetic, not least because it's getting expencive to travel, so we may stay at home, more people at home, safer? maybe? Glad you're enjoying Springwatch