March, 2008


We're about more than just birds (though obviously we like them a lot).

Notes on nature

We love nature... from every little bug on a blade of grass to birds, butterflies, otters and oaks!
  • Caw!

    Rook. Image by Steve RoundIts eyes are too small and too close together. Its powerful beak is too long for its head, and there's an ugly patch of grey, wrinkly skin.

    Its 'trousers' are baggy. Its nape is glossed with violet and its long wings have a blue sheen. Strong feet gripping the fence, it hangs on tightly as it bows its head three times, giving three loud 'caws' and becoming a triangle of black crow.

    Jumping off the fence and onto the lawn, the rook waddles across the grass towards the scattered sunflower seeds. The food wasn't really put out with rooks in mind, but it's too late now...

    The seeds will soon be history as they're gobbled up, one by one. They're all safely stored in its now-bulging crop, protruding from below its chin like a half-inflated balloon, and the rook leaves, mission completed. I watch its flightpath and it flaps directly back to its nest, a jumble of sticks in a tall tree down the road. There, presumably, the sunflower seeds make a nutritious breakfast for a female rook incubating eggs, as I guess that it's a bit early for there to be young rooks (rooklets? rooklings? rookie-rooks?).

    I love the fact that whenever I look out of my kitchen window, I'm never sure of what's going to be out there.

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  • Getting a lift

    Buzzard. Photo by Steve RoundThis week, we've had the pleasure of watching up to four buzzards at once, while seated at our desks (and working hard, obviously).

    Mostly, they spend time going round and round in circles, as if going up a spiral staircase. They're riding 'thermals', currents of warm air caused by the sun heating up the bare ground in the quarry, which in turn heats up the air near it.

    It's fascinating to watch the buzzards getting a free, effortless ride up into the sky. Watching them through binoculars, we can see them looking round from side to side, as their wings are held out, motionless. Meanwhile, their tails twitch from side to side, acting like rudders, and they continue their ascents hundreds of feet above the ground.

    It looks like really good fun - no wonder humans have always had a yearning to become airborne themselves...

  • All things bright and beautiful

    How come everyone else's birds are more colourful than ours? I was idly flipping through a book about North American birds the other day, and that's what struck me. Lucky Americans get all manner of exotically-coloured birds frolicking in their gardens and nature reserves - try searching for pictures of Blackburnian warbler, northern cardinal or blue jay to see what I mean. Meanwhile, we get fobbed off with a multitude of rather dull, brown birds. It's not really fair, is it?

    Siskin. Image by Steve RoundAs Kevin mentioned last week, it's been a good year for siskins in this neck of the woods, and this morning we saw a grand total of four on the peanut feeder right outside our window. As I watched them through binoculars, it dawned upon me that, actually, siskins are pretty good-looking birds! The males are a dazzling combination of daffodil-yellow breast, rump and delicately-striped wings, with lime-green back and smart black cap.

    Then I remembered that yesterday lunchtime, I'd spent a quiet few minutes sitting in the hide. Outside, munching their way through the niger seed, were two lesser redpolls. Redpolls' bodies may be brown and streaky, but now they're moulting into their breeding plumage, their heads carry a splash of bright blood-red and the males' breasts are washed a shade of raspberry.

    A little further away, a jay was hopping around the meadow. It's often hard to get a good look them, as they're rather shy and retiring. This one was bolder than the average jay and perched obligingly on a bare branch. I don't know why jays sport a patch of blue wing feathers, but they do, and it's a dazzling electric-blue. What purpose could it have, other than to impress other jays (and maybe, anyone else who happens to see it)?

    Finally, this lunchtime we were out and about, enjoying the springy sunshine. The sky was blue and the clouds fluffy, though the breeze could have done with being warmer. A green woodpecker rollercoasted through the air and latched onto the bark of a tree. Yep, another vividly-coloured bird - bright red cap, grass-green back and golden rump and tail. You can't beat it, really...

    • What do you think? Is brightly-coloured better than brown and... bewitching? Write a comment (you will need to register first - this is free - then log in).
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