Wednesday, 1 February 2023

Simple Pleasures From The Office Window

February is here at last, I can feel the days relaxing, just a little, as the sun gains strength and lengthens the daylength.  Like many people I'm trapped in front of a computer most days, however since the Covid pandemic I've been able to work at home for three days a week. Three days which usher in the most simple of pleasures, watching garden birds from the office window.

This male great tit [Parus major] is in fabulous breeding form. His colours really pop in the dull beige-ness of a late winters day, especially the wing coverts which now are an almost lime green against a slate grey. In the garden I only ever see a single pair of great tit, therefore I can assume these are a resident pair. Although our own cat Gingernut has absolutely no interest in birds, we have neighbourhood cats marauding with intent within the garden. This means most of my feeders are high in shrubs outside the garden wall to keep preying moggies well away. Similarly I don't have a nest box which would invite trouble, but neighbours do. Hopefully then come the late spring there will be a few juvenile great tit coming to the garden, as I love watching them quiver on the wall waiting to be fed. 

My office is located in what can be comically be called the third bedroom. You'd have to be very thin to use this as a bedroom. As an office however it is perfect, book shelves, my desk and what I ostensibly call my reading chair, a much loved Cintique arm chair that the cat sleeps on when not being used as a storage facility. However from the desk where I'm writing this I have a view out over the countryside or look down to the feeders, from where all these photographs were taken. Adhering to strict health and safety guidelines while working on a laptop my regular long distance views are mandatory to save my eyesight, though to be honest there are maybe more views than close work script writing on some days.

Exotic and rare birds are always a fascination, yet for me I obtain just the same pleasure watching the birds using my garden as a territory. I love watching the house sparrows [Passer domesticus] bicker and squabble at the feeders. They've been a little in decline recently. They roost and nest in the roof space not just in my house but in a few neighbouring properties.  Not so many years ago I could count forty or fifty sparrows in the garden. Today half a dozen or maybe a few more is the norm. It's worrying as house sparrow are a species which require a colony to maintain a threshold size to remain viable as a breeding group. Here in the northern parts of Somerset there are whole areas which do not have any house sparrow present, and so those areas with sparrows are isolated refugia populations. Although not present in February of course, house martin [Delichon urbicum] too have all but disappeared from this area, with 2019 being the last time they nested successfully on my house. Last year I counted only a handful flying overhead in the evening and no active nests in the street. 

While this male house sparrow is easily identified from the female, the blue tit [Cyanistes caeruleus]  patiently waiting top right could be either sex.  Identifying male and female individuals of some common species is a tough ask.  Great tit males have a broader chest stripe to that of the female, but blue tits are pretty much identical. The books say females are not as brightly coloured as the male. In the field though this is a pointless piece of information when you have a single bird on a feeder. We get a lot of goldfinch [Carduelis carduelis] in the garden and while the males and females can be identified with a decent view, mostly they fly off before that occurs. Same with long tailed tit [Aegithalos caudatus].

Another bird exhibiting more or less sexual monomorphism [as it is called where both sexes look identical, as opposed to sexual dimorphism where they look different] is the collared dove [Streptopelia decaocto]. Now technically the males and females only look different close up, with males having a 'pinker' colouration to the neck and upper body, the female a more grey-sandy colouration. In the two images below I think - note think - the female is the one below looking left, and the male the one below that is looking right. But I may be wrong.  My inability to be certain of which sex these are by no means diminishes the joy of watching these doves with their gorgeous ruby eye during my frequent screen breaks. The same goes for the other species coming into the garden today, a pair of male robin [Erithacus rubecula] vying for domination of a feeder, or the male and female blackbird [Turdus merula] duo, the male having a well defined yellow eye ring, which at this time of year may mean it is a European migrant rather than a resident. Even the five magpie [Pica pica] cackling their annoyance in the fir tree could be of either sex, and no silver was offered either.

None of what I've noted really matters, what does for me is taking time to properly study these very common species of bird from the comfort of a warm house. In other words, detailed observation. Of course putting feeders up encourages their arrival and use of the garden but that's part of the joy. That and really studying what happens a stones throw away. How blue tit will not come to the feeders if great tit are there. Female house sparrow also dominate the feeders to the almost exclusion of males, often the latter only nip in when the females have gone, or the stand off between two male robins, or the beautiful colouration of a great tit. These really are for me quite simple pleasures on the first day of February.


  1. Lovely photos of your garden visitors. I have noticed with the milder weather over the last few days that there is a feeling of Spring in the air.

    I too get much pleasure from observing the species that visit our garden and feeders. You can learn a lot and get much pleasure. Worryingly, the house sparrow population here is much lower than it used to be although we still get a nest in the roof in the summer.

  2. It is sad isn't it how a once abundant species is in serious decline. I can recall recording a nightingale in Somerset in 2011, little did I know this was the last confirmed nightingale on that RSPB reserve, and now only one or two are recorded across all of Somerset.