Tag Archives: Liverpool

What a difference a frost makes

Having bemoaned the lack of wildlife in my garden, last Saturday the weather turned very cold here and after replenishing the bird feeders they were flocking in in droves! These resilient little guys were obviously finding sufficient sustenance elsewhere until the cold set in but now they’re here in numbers daily, and today we have had 10-15cm of snow and it hasn’t stopped yet so I reckon they’ll be around for a while longer too.

One of the species which I have missed because they are normally here all through the winter is the chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs, Dansk: bogfinke):

The cock chaffinch always adds a splash of welcome colour

Chaffinch are resident breeders in the UK and can generally be seen and heard in trees and hedgerows all year round. Another resident breeder I hadn’t in the garden or in the countryside much this year was the dunnock (Prunella modularis, Dansk: jernsurv), the archetypal ‘LBJ‘ or ‘Little Brown Job’. When viewed closely they’re anything but LBJ’s. They feed on the ground so I always throw a handful of seed in the undergrowth for them. This little guy has been terrorised by my resident robin, but the arrival of a second robin has given him respite as my resident no longer has his eye on the ball.

My dunnock keeping one eye on the ground for seed while the other looks for the robin

The coal tit (Periparus ater, Dansk: sortmejse) is a pine tree specialist, seeking insects and spiders in the summer and seeds in the winter. This makes it a bit of a mystery here because we have very few conifers in the vicinity, but there are at least two flitting in and out of the garden all day:

The coal tit waiting it’s turn to get on the seed tray

A blue tit (Cyanistes caerulius, Dansk: blåmajse) about to join the coal tit and grab a seed

Starling – (Sternus vulgaris, Dansk: stær)

Starlings are a bird that used to be very common and would murmurate in humungous numbers but this only happens now in a very few places. When I was an undergrad in Liverpool they would gather on icy winters evenings over Old Haymarket in vast numbers. The aerial manouvres were breathtaking, as was the acrid ammoniacal stench from the guano left behind on the pavements! I generally only see them in small flocks of a few tens these days, but they regularly come and avail themselves of the fatballs in my garden. And they’re more than welcome!

And finally, usually the most visible diner at my avian restaurant, the ubiquitous blackbird. Even they were conspicuous by their relative absence until very recent weeks, but now they’re back in  numbers:

And no English garden is complete without a feisty blackbird (Turdus merula, Dansk: solsort). Having said that, according to the British Trust for Ornithology the blackbird is a ‘Migrant/Resident Breeder, Passage/Winter Visitor’ and they migrate within the UK but also in winter we get an influx from Europe coming from Germany and Poland and other parts of eastern Europe. It makes me chuckle that whilst us folk moan about the weather and then jet off to the Canary Isalands in the winter, the blackbirds are coming here to make the most of our balmy winter climate. Just goes to show, everything’s relative!

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Murmuration

Did anyone see the article about ‘murmuration on the BBC news website yesterday?

This is the technical term for the aerial swarms of starlings that occur immediately prior to settling into their roost site in the evening.

It’s phenomenon I’ve seen before but not for many years. I was an undergraduate in Liverpool in the mid 1980’s and I recall on winter evenings there were frequently murmuratons of starlings going on over St Johns Garden behind St Georges Hall in the centre of the city.

This is a great name for one of natures truly spectacular, and mesmerising, events. I don’t know how many birds were involved in the murmurations I saw but I believe it can be up to tens of thousands. The overhead spectacle is awesome, and in a rather different respect so is the effect it has on the pavements beneath… and the resultant stench!

The BBC article refers to some new research from two Italian biologists who studied the flocks of starlings over Rome, and using clever camera work they divined how the birds maintain the shape of the flock. There was also speculation about why they murmurate. I think it must be down to evasion of predators such as peregrine falcons.

I can’t resist the temptation to gratuitously insert one of my starling photographs here, because on an individual level aswell as in enormous swarms they are beautiful creatures. They have sumptuously iridescent plumage particularly when they catch sunlight at the right angle:


Sturnus vulgaris

Alas, I don’t have any of my own photographs of murmurations but I intend to rectify that situation in the future, at which time I will post again about these endearing creatures.