I've always had a bit of a soft spot for the Fieldfare. Seen well, they are a patchwork of colours and textures, with russety back, grey rump and head, white belly, and sharp-chevroned chest on a bed of soft orange. This snowy spell I've had the opportunity to get to know them that bit better!
I normally never see them where I live in Sussex, but this last week, arriving on the coat-tails of the Redwings, I started to hear them over the house, their 'chack-ack' call redolent of winter walks in the fields where I grew up in the Midlands. Indeed, Fieldfare means 'traveller of the fields' from the old Anglo-Saxon.
Then they began to get more desperate, or bold, or both, coming down into my trees (left) and then to cotoneaster berries that the local Blackbirds clearly felt were not suitable for consumption. But they made no attempt to come down for any of the fat or seed I put out.
I went for the 'cut up apple on the snow' option and, ta da!, down they came (right, on my frozen pond). At one time there were 15 in the garden, and a riot ensued as one particularly bolshie Fieldfare tried to lay claim to three pieces of apple at one time, attempting to shoo off Blackbirds, Song Thrushes and Redwings, cocking and fanning his black tail like a pumped up miniature Capercaillie.
Needless to say, he couldn't be in three places at once, and many a shy bird managed to nick a piece of apple while he wasn't watching, while he barely managed to take a break from his posturing to eat.
All in all, this past week has been quite a thrill, seeing all these unusual visitors finding such satisfaction in my garden. But of course what it really goes to show is how in weather like this, life is oh so tough for birds, and us garden-owners can actaully make a difference.
Are you taking advantage of the RSPB’s free wildlife gardening advice? Check out RSPB Homes for Wildlife here.
So here it is, the big one of the year, hopefully half a million of us all taking the time this weekend to count our garden birds.
It's our once-a-year snapshot of the health of the nation's gardens.
And I've got my Coxes and Spartans out and ready to try and ensure I get this beauty back in my garden.
Isn't it stunning? Yes, the snows have pushed the Fieldfares over the Downs and into gardens all around here in Sussex.
I took the photo on Wednesday. I don't have a garden big enough for a lawn, so this is actually on my garage roof where I let a bed of moss grow. It's such a safe place for them to feed up above all the cats below.
Every now and then as you're walking around you hear their loud 'chak chak chak'. It is really distinctive from this winter visitor from Scandinavia.
And then if you get a view like this they're easy to identify - it is a identikit bird, with grey head, dark streaked breast over a warm buff background, white belly, yellow bill, chestnut back and grey rump.
But the bit I like the best? The black chevrons along each side.
May your Big Garden Birdwatch be blessed with Fieldfares too!
Please excuse my wimpishness, but given the driving wind and lashing
rain I failed to venture into the garden this weekend, bar to clear the
leaves from the pond (the Flowering Cherry is moulting madly) and to
top up the bird feeders.On the subject of bird feeding, I’m
passionate about trying to let the garden provide as much as possible
by growing plants that harbour insects and produce seeds and berries,
but that doesn’t stop me doing a fair bit of supplementary feeding.
Without my seed and peanut feeders, the number of visits that birds
make to my garden would be only a fraction of what they are, despite
all my efforts to actually grow their supper. I liken the feeders to
dangling, magic seedpods – birds must marvel at how they replenish
themselves.The good folk at The Lodge must have sensed that I’d
be a frustrated couped-up bunny this weekend, and so sent me through
some online RSPB links for indoors birdfood activities. If you’ve got to keep the kids or grandkids occupied, you might like to try these family activities: to create a bird feeder, or to make a bird cake
(and no, that’s not a cake with a bird in it, cheeky!). These photos
show children at some of our recent Feed the Birds Day events getting stuck in, making bird cake, making wooden seeds feeders that can be hung on a wall, and making hanging bird feeders out of wire and logs.
If you’re wanting something to do more cordon bleu, here are some recipes bird-friendly celebrity chefs have suggested.
And if you just want some information on the best foods to use, then check out this RSPB guide.
The RSPB is actually just embarking on some new field trials to further our knowledge on what supplmentary foods birds like best. I’m one of their volunteers testing out the products in my garden. Sadly all volunteer places are taken, but I’ll keep you updated on how I get on, as daily I measure consumption rates at my seed feeders and weigh my fatballs!