Monday, 27 February 2017

Sparrowhawk Pilates

The sparrowhawk doesn't spend all his time watching for or chasing birds in the garden.  He finds time to look after himself as well, preening, stretching and doing his exercises.  He seems to go through the same routine each time. These two photos are from different exercises half an hour apart.

As are these

And these.

Here he's checking his feathers

and this is his impression of a headless chicken.

Saturday, 25 February 2017

Bird of the week - Stock dove

The stock dove is a commonly overlooked pigeon.  This one was pretending to be a sparrowhawk by standing on my sparrowhawk perch but none of the smaller birds was fooled.

Stock doves aren't often found in gardens, preferring open countryside.  Despite living in the city I am in a fairly rural setting so I do get them in mine.

The stock dove is smaller and neater than a woodpigeon and the two often go around together, as below.  There is usually a gang of them under my bird feeders.

This one didn't fancy the food on the floor and flew up to get its own - something I haven't seen a woodpigeon manage.

Stock doves are widespread in England with fewer in Wales, Scotland and Ireland.

Numbers increased the 60s and 70s and are now stable.

The stock dove gets its name from an old English word for stump as it typically nests in holes in old tree stumps.  The stock dove is Columba oenas, the first being Latin for pigeon and the second Greek for - pigeon.  Thomas Bewick knew it as the wild pigeon (as opposed to domesticated pigeons - which are descended from the rock dove, Columba livia). Below is his engraving for A History of British Birds (1797).  However, this looks to me much more like a rock dove because it has large and prominent wing bars (compare with the photos above and paintings below).  Bewick includes only three pigeons in his book - the ring dove (woodpigeon), the wild pigeon (stock dove) and the turtle dove.  I wonder if the stock dove and rock dove had not been recognised as separate species in his time.  

This is Archibald Thorburn's painting of a wood pigeon, a stock dove, a turtle dove and a rock pigeon.

This is Thorburn's stock dove and turtle dove.

You can watch a short BTO video on identifying pigeons here.  You can listen to recordings of stock doves here.  And listen to Kate Humble's BBC Radio 4 Tweet of the Day here.  These last two pictures are from Big Waters yesterday.

Friday, 24 February 2017

It's a shore lark, Jim, but not as we know it

Another surprise - a skylark on the beach.  This bird ran out of the dunes onto the sand, probably attracted by the seed put down for the real shore larks.

You can see it has a beak deformity with elongation and downcurving of the upper mandible.  It's bit unsightly but is unlikely to interfere with feeding and preening.

I hadn't realised what enormously long rear toes skylarks have.  Of course they are normally seen in the air or standing in grass when you can't see their toes.

Because of its strange upper mandible and the way it ran around the beach (and its crest and colouration) it reminded me a bit of a roadrunner!
By Jessie Eastland (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Rare bird

I had to look twice.  There are lots of sparrows in the garden but they are all tree sparrows.  This is a bird I have seen here only once before in the last 20 years (in 2000 according to my BTO Garden BirdWatch data) - a house sparrow. House sparrows do live only a mile or so away but because this is a largely woodland setting it seems not to suit them.

As luck would have it, one of the locals popped in to share a seed or two with the stranger.  Lets hope he decides to stick around.  If he does I hope the others tell him about the sparrowhawk!

If you want to make the comparison, here's a better view of the tree sparrow.

Monday, 20 February 2017

Panic and terror in the kitchen garden

At this time of year the tribes of long-tailed tits break up into pairs as the birds choose their nest sites and set up home. As usual, this year there is a pair in the garden and they spend a lot of time around the feeders.  I was going to post a couple of pictures of them to show you.  When I got home I checked the sparrowhawk window and could see he wasn't on the perch.  However, I could hear alarm calls from the other side of the window and could see a very agitated blue tit jumping around in the gooseberry bush just below.

Looking farther down I saw the sparrowhawk on a kill right below me.  The angle was very tight with reflections in the window so these were the best pictures I could get.

When he had finished plucking and eating his prey the sparrowhawk just sat under the gooseberry bush, occasionally looking up at the agitated blue tit which was too frightened to risk flying away.

Then the blue tit was joined by a long-tailed tit and the pair of them were jumping about and calling alarms in the gooseberry bush.

I began to worry that the sparrowhawk had been eating the other long-tailed tit but just then the second one appeared in the bush (looking at the feathers afterwards I think it was a great tit that was caught).

The sparrowhawk didn't seem interested in chasing them but also didn't move so they could escape.  At times he was falling asleep.

I watched for a while but eventually went to make a cup of tea (one of the advantages of this sort of hide) and when I came back the long-tailed tits had escaped and the hawk was back on the perch. 

He sat for a while but again he was falling asleep.  His head kept drooping and he would wake with a start (it's called a hypnagogic jerk).

Then he glided across the kitchen garden and landed under the beehives in the opposite corner, out of view.  I watched for 10 minutes or so but he didn't reappear so I think he must have gone there for a snooze where he wouldn't be disturbed by alarm calls.  He seems now to be a fixture in the garden (and is in danger of taking over this blog).  I don't mind him taking blue tits and great tits, as there are plenty of those, but I hope he leaves the two long-tailed tits alone.