Sunday, 22 March 2009

nuthatch and terrotorial robin

Yesterday (Saturday 21st) I ran a course on Urban Birds in Crawley for the West Sussex Gifted and Talented Programme. After learning about a selection of birds and their adaptations to an urban environment we split into two groups and undertook our first of two guided bird watch in the grounds. The group I led was lucky enough to see some nuthatch.

Three nuthatch were chasing each other around the shrubs and tree. We stood still and the birds almost flew into us as they chased each other around. It is an attractive bird, blue-grey above and whitish below, with chestnut on its sides of its body. It has a black stripe on its head, a long black pointed bill, and short legs which make it look rather like a small woodpecker. Nuthatch eat insects, seeds and nuts.

Also as part of the course we did an experiment into bird song and territories. I played some blackbird song, but got no response.
I played robin song and a robin appeared in a tree outside the classroom. It came nearer and nearer singing very loudly, attempting to drive us (robin rival) out of its territory.
After about 3 minutes I turned the tape off and the bird went to the top of the tree and sang a more leisurely song.
This was a great experiment and very dramatically illustrated the use of bird song and territories to the children. This kind of experiment is fine to do as a one off and for a short period of time. It is quite natural for other robins to intrude into its territory from time to time, so our recording was okay for a short time. Its important not to play the tape for too long. 2 -3 minutes was fine. We did not want to keep playing the tape and be seen as a robin that was going to stay and challenge the robin for its territory.
The children were also encouraged to think about other ways that birds communicate, including this activity where the children had to predict the meaning of 5 different herring gull postures.
The aim of the 2 guided bird watches (in two groups) was to record the various birds seen in the grounds onto a habitat map. This and the information recorded about each observation was used by the children to summaries how birds use the grounds.
The children undertook a food chain activity

While looking in the leaf litter for potential food for birds, we discovered this unusually marked common frog.

Friday, 20 March 2009

crows nest building

Two carrion crows flew down onto the dirt track outside our house. One started collecting materials in its beak while the other strutted about nearby.
When the crow had collected enough materials both flew off across the road to a large tree, in the next street.
A pair of crows nested there last year and these are probably the same birds. They came to the bird bath quite frequently last year, often bringing lumps of dried bread which they deposited in the bird bath to soften them. I will keep an eye on them this year.

Monday, 16 March 2009

Nesting blackbirds

While clearing the garden yesterday we noticed a lot of moss on the path from the gutter. I have seen magpies pecking at the moss, presumably looking for inverts. This morning I heard a strange tapping sound coming from the conservatory. The sound appeared to be coming from the edge of the roof. I very carefully opened the door in time to see a female blackbird fly up onto the fence. She had a beakful of debris she had collected from the gutter. It appears that she is nesting in the tree that overhangs our garden

(No time to focus so this picture is cropped from a very wide angle distance shot - the female blackbird is on the fence)

The male blackbird was up on the roof pecking at the moss. When he saw me he flew up onto the chimney. The female came back to the gutter at least twice more. Later in the morning I saw her collecting the dried grass clippings from the garden.
The final pictures are a good illustration as to why you should always check the lawn for creatures before mowing - which I always do. Especially important if the edges are overgrown or the grass is very long. As I went to plug the lawn mower in, the handle fell against the path and a frog jumped out of the long grass next to the mower.
I checked the lawn as usual before mowing and did not find any other creatures to avoid or move first.

Sunday, 15 March 2009

First peackock butterfly

A nice warm sunny Sunday morning. A peacock butterfly was sunning itself of a piece of stone in the front garden. It was being stalked by our neighbours cat, which is what caught my attention.
Later in the morning 2 peacock butterflies flew over the garden fluttering together. After a while they would separate, so these are probably two males fighting rather than a male and female.

Thursday, 5 March 2009


As I walked up the road from home to the shops to get some lunch, I disturbed a sparrowhawk that was perfectly camouflaged on the low brick wall where it was perched. I was about a garden away when it took flight, which is when I first noticed it. It glided down towards the house, the garden slopes down quite steeply, turned left and glided along several gardens before an effortless flap of its wings took it up onto a rooktop. Usually I would have noticed it before I got so close, but I was looking down into the gardens thinking how much further developed everyone elses crocus and daffodils were compared to mine. Having said that I did not plant mine until October into November last year.

There are still a couple of frogs in our pond, but most seem to have left now. large areas of the pond are covered in frog spawn