Saw a male Pheasant feeding on my lawn yesterday morning when the temperature was about -2°. That was a first for my garden! First he looked round, lordly but nervous and walked the length of the garden away from the house, then returned to feed under the nut and seed hoppers hanging from the lilac bush. The Blackbird looked a bit affronted, but then, doesn’t he always?
The Mistle Thrush has now begun visiting the garden. In the weeks leading up to the first frost in November, he and his mate had stuck to perching briefly in the topmost twigs of the Ash tree. Even there, tension between them and the Blackbird was obvious. Six Blackbirds at that time used to chase each other round the tops of nearby trees, and this behaviour was soon extended to include harassment of the Thrushes.
Pausing for elevenses mid morning, I noticed a Mistle Thrush perched on the hedge dividing my back graden from my neighbour’s on the left. Nearby on the same stretch of hedgetop sat a desolate youngster, possibly the young Blackbird I saw a few days ago, with the feathers on his rump in disarray. He kept closing his eyes. His colour is a similar brown to the thrush, so I wonder if in fact he is a thrush and not one of the Blackbird’s brood at all. The Thrush, on that frosty morning, was seen to chase of almost every other bird, with a great show of aggression.
The Blue Tit has also been harassing the Coal Tit, trying to thwart every attempt at feeding on the suet and nuts. The Blue Tit flies to the very twig on which the Coal Tit has just alighted, and it happens too often to be put down to coincidence! The Coal Tit seems to know when the Blue Tit is busy elsewhere, and loses no opportunity of helping himself to the provisions when his bullying cousin is away! He is such an acrobat, and no angle defeats him to get what he needs to survive.
I had a visit from the female Blackcap last week, the first time I’d ever seen her in the garden. Like the superficially similar Coal Tit, she is quite reclusive. I didn’t actually see food pass her beak, though when I scoped her she was perched in the berberis by the pergola where lots of winter goodies were available.
The various local Woodpigeon are never far away, either roosting in the surrounding trees or coming to share the spoils on the lawn. One I’ve nicknamed “Old Spavin-Head” as his head and neck seem permanently wet and dishevelled! Plenty of courting is still going on, with a male bouncing along in ungainly pursuit of a less than willing female. At other times, a single Woody will graze quietly for ages under the lilac, perhaps inspired to discretion by the unobtrusive Dunnock pair who never draw attention to themselves.
The Robin blows in and out of this scenario, more often heard than seen. His sweet thin metallic song punctuates the year’s descent from autumn into the bleaker days of winter. When he does grace us with an appearance, he bounces on his elastic legs like a wind up toy, assuring himself that his kingdom is in order before flouncing out again with a dried mealworm in his bill. The Magpie, often the target of prejudice for his own bullying, is always a welcome visitor here. His beauty is stunning, pied and glossy, with his intelligent large skull and corvine character. He seems unaware that he is supposed to be the bully and pantomime villain, and instead, snatches a large chunk of food before jumping away, alarmed at his own daring!
For a week now, I haven’t seen the male Great Spotted Woodpecker at his usual perch on the lilac, in contemplation, looking around with his calm eyes for any clues where the insects might be, before pecking at the suet slab. In the Summer, he regularly visited with his mate (never both at the same time). But recently he has been on his own. Maybe he has been every day, but at times when I wasn’t looking.
The resident family of ten to fourteen House Sparrows is never far away, feeding from the pergola, gossiping in the hedge or chirruping on the clothes post, or over in the front garden, perching in the holly bush and cotoneaster along the wall. They have the bulk of the suet balls and seeds for themselves every day, ganging up to monopolise with safety in numbers, but they still insist on squabbling among themselves on every opportunity.
From time to time, I am visited by a stray Greenfinch, a Chaffinch or two, the Great Tit, a flock of Starlings, a Black Headed Gull flying high overhead, or even the Sparrowhawk who one afternoon perched for a nanosecond on the pergola, moments after the whole crowd of House Sparrows had been feeding there. No other bird was seen in the garden for the rest of the day!
Friends on the other side of the dual carriageway tell me they have regular visits from a Nuthatch from woods at the back of their house. It would be great if the one I’ve heard “Too-oit”-ing my nearby wood would come and check out my feeding stations as the going gets tougher through December!