At the end of out garden we have – or had until last week – four trees. All were planted by us and all have taken well to the rather clay-rich soil. There’s a copper beach, an amelanchier, an apple tree (cookers) and until a few days ago, a pretty silver poplar.
The poplar, being soft wood, started to attract great spotted woodpeckers. After a couple of years chiselling into the trunk without much enthusiasm, they decided to press ahead and build No 1, The Poplars. The following year, they hatched and raised a brood, and I recorded their progression from tiny almost inaudible peeps to full-bloodied yelling for food. They ran both parents ragged with their insatiable demands. We were quite pleased when eventually they left the nest and peace was restored.
And so it went, first with an old hole being cleaned out frantically to make the nursery; then another hole was started higher up. Then, two years ago, we had our bienniel pollarding done, and done badly. Without a terminal ‘knuckle’ for the new growth to sprout from the following spring, the tree began to die back.
By last summer, the foliage was pitiful – the tree was more dead than alive. The leaves were withered and crispy. Before the end of July, they had all blown off. Inevitably the tree had to come down and we arranged to have it done this month.
Which brings to us 2019, with a male woodpecker rushing up and down the trunk to find a perfect spot to drill a hole. We watched as he went about his work, spraying shards of wood-chip over a wide area. There was a sad franticness about it – especially as we knew that in a couple of weeks the tree would be gone.
After the crime scene had been cleaned up once the tree had been felled, the woodpecker came back and seemed genuinely puzzled (as well he might). He appeared to be looking for his vanished home. We watched him try half-heartedly on the other trees. They can’t have suited him – he flew away and we haven’t seen (or heard) him since.
As these photos show, the death of the tree may not have been entirely due to bad pollarding; the trunk itself had had its core removed at two or three levels. As you can see, we kept a souvenir cavity from the woodpecker days.
The woodpecker in happier times
I saw black-tailed godwits for the first time (to my conscious knowledge…) this summer in southern Ireland in Timoleague, at the head of an estuary to the west of Kinsale, Co. Cork.
Mostly they were on the far side of the water, and hard to capture in detail on camera. We watched them foraging, sticking their long probing bills into the squishy sand. In fact, their entire heads.
Eventually one of the godwits took flight across the estuary and landed in the muddy margin on our side. Here are some of the photos that resulted. These birds seem to be rare for the area, so they were a lucky and unexpected find.
Now I have met these lovely godwits, I’ll know what to look out for next time. As long as I don’t get confused with the similar bar-tailed godwit…
All photos: Keith Salvesen
During a recent short trip to Dublin, we hired a car for a day to explore the Wicklow Mountains and to visit Russborough House in Co. Wicklow. This wonderful country estate has a fabulous collection of paintings and furniture – and has been the location for some spectacular burglaries. One was by Bridget Rose Dugdale, for example, for those with long memories. It is also home to the National Birds of Prey Centre of Ireland, which we had time to visit briefly.
I took some photos of several uncaged birds that were tethered out in the open. Many were, or at least looked, familiar. They were unlabelled and when I came to check IDs later, including on the centre’s website, some of them didn’t add up. Eye-colours were wrong. Facial and frontal markings were unusual. And so on.
I emailed some low-res imaged to the centre, and they quickly explained the reason: we had been looking at hybrids. This post shows one example, a juvenile female gyrfalcon crossed with a saker falcon. Here are wiki pics of each of the pure-bred birds.
About 10 years ago I was given a terracotta ‘bird ball’ as a birthday present. Over the years it has been hung in several shady positions around the garden. We have seen blue tits give is a cursory once-over in April. It’s been ‘perch on the top, head through the door, quick discussion, fly off never to return’. This year it was different: late April interest and preliminary inspections, followed by moving in, furnishing, egg-laying, incubating, hatching, frantic activity, tiny squeaks and cheeps… then we went away for four days. Bad timing – we had missed the main event.
The nest is now empty, the occupants all flown. With some difficulty, I managed to get a shot of the little nest made of dry grass and moss. The birds left the nest very tidy, with just a single tiny thank-you feather left behind…
A flash of sunlight across the lake, and suddenly assorted wildfowl emerged from the half-gloom and showed their true colours. This pochard was closest so I seized the moment…
MEA MAXIMA CULPA
My attention levels to this blog have dropped from the insouciant to the negligent, and right down to the culpably neglectful. A prosecution for recklessly wasting precious space in the diminishing capacity of world’s supply of ether must surely be close. I have considered closing it down, but somewhere in the mix there are a few things that people obviously find interesting or useful; things I have researched and photographed in detail. Followers may be comparatively few, but the daily hit tally remain surprisingly high – whether I post anything or not. So for now, I’ll keep this running… But there’s only so much time in the day, and this blog is one project that takes a hit.
The ring-necked parakeet (rose-ringed parakeet) Psittacula krameri
These pretty, noisy, gregarious birds, originating from the Indian subcontinent and (as a subspecies) the central Africa belt, are survivors and prolific breeders. Feral colonies, often expanding from a handful of escapees or released birds, are now found in many regions throughout the world. They are very adaptable, and populations spread rapidly. There are many thousands of them in south-east England, from the very heart of London to the outer reaches of the Home Counties to the south and west.
It comes as a surprise to learn that the UK population has only become established in the last 60 years or so. Some colonies are several thousand strong. We have a smallish colony in our part of west London. I can only imagine the noise (and mess…) emanating from a huge population of many hundreds as they swarm in to roost at night.
We get the parakeets passing through our garden most days, mainly in small groups of about half-a-dozen. After pausing to make the most of any filled bird feeders – from which they swing upside down – they head to the park at the top of the road, where they roost. That’s where I took these photos a couple of days ago.
We get pleasure from these green exotics, with their long tails and beady eyes. Elsewhere, they have undoubtedly become a nuisance. In places there are far, far too many of them and there is talk of culling. I don’t think anyone suggests complete removal; and by now it’s probably too late for eradication. But I do see that there is need for control where populations are out of control and breeding exponentially. I hope ours will stay around. I also hope the numbers stay much as they are now.
Our house provides nesting opportunities for sparrows on all sides. Somewhat ramshackle, with plenty of holes in the thick walls and under the eaves, it is perfect for the communal sparrow lifestyle. Every year we think of filling the holes, and then to decide not to. The sparrows do no harm. We’d miss them. Here are some chicks in the most easily accessible hole for photography. It is used every year, usually twice. An iPhone is best for the purpose because the flash is right next to the lens.
This young robin assisted me while I was gardening by encouraging me to turn more soil for his benefit. He was mostly within arm- or foot-length, and when we got tangled he flew to the edge of the garden rubbish bag. It was there that noticed the intricacy of his feathers, and so I took advantage of a bird’s eye view, so to speak. Click an image twice for a full-scale close-up.