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Goldfinch by Tim Squire

Garden birds and summer migrants

Caroline Russell, membership administrator of Friends of Hastings Country Park Nature Reserve, shares her love of local bird life.

Garden Birds

Like many of you, I spend a small fortune on birdfeed each year. I’d hate to tot it up but I’m sure you’ll agree – it’s worth every penny for the simple, everyday pleasure of watching the garden birds!

My garden is awash with birds. It’s all go, all the time, throughout the year!

Goldfinch are the most frequent visitor. A small flock – or ‘charm’ – come and go throughout the day. I’ve counted 20 plus at times. Goldfinch bring the colour with their red faces and yellow wing-bars. They’re quite skittish and at threats unbeknown to me, they fly up together to bounce away twittering. Delightful!

Chaffinch and  Greenfinch also enjoy my hospitality. They arrive in dribs and drabs, of no more than four or five. Look out for the male chaffinch – a bird with a pink face and chest, a grey cap and nape and two white wing-bars. His song is that of a fast cricket bowler, picking up pace before the ball is released to whistle through the air. Greenfinch are chunky greenish looking birds with flashes of yellow in their wings and tail. In recent years, greenfinch were particularly hard hit by a nasty parasitic infection but it’s good to see that they are making a recovery.

Greenfinch by Tim Squire

House Sparrows visit the bird feeders in mostly twos or threes. A colony resides in my neighbour’s thick viburnum bush. The chirping and chatting from that bush is loud and constant. I’m pleased to hear it as this bird species is on our high priority conservation list. This is somewhat surprising when you consider that the house sparrow has held the No. 1 spot on the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch for the past 17 years!

House sparrow by Tim Squire

The Wren is another Little Brown Job. But don’t dismiss it too quickly. It’s got some lovely, delicate markings and that bold eye stripe is a corker! They’re difficult to see for any length of time as they dash between the shrubs. They make up for this poor show with a belter of a song – a loud trill that lasts for several seconds. A pair of wrens occupied my nest box three years ago. When their chicks were born, they were none too happy each time I stepped foot into the garden. A constant, harsh alarm call was instantly set off. Aargh!

What other birds do I get in the garden all year round?

Well, there is the RobinBlue TitGreat TitCoal Tit and Dunnock. A pair of robins bred in my tool shed two years ago. After they’d raised one clutch, they built another nest and raised a second. Their nests are a work of art and I put them on display on an outside windowsill (as you do!).

Great Tit by Tim Squire

Take a look around the margins of your garden if you want to see a dunnock. I once found a speckled pale blue egg shell in the garden. A quick Google and I identified it as a dunnock’s.

I get the graceful Collared Dove and in contrast, the fat, plodding Wood Pigeon (for the song of the latter, conjure up Frank Spencer saying ‘My toes hurt, Betty’). Both birds come to feed on the seed that has fallen onto the lawn. I can’t help but think that the wood pigeon would make an easy catch for a Sparrowhawk, although I’ve never seen one in the garden. I live in hope!

I’ve got wary Blackbirds that watch my every move.

There’s the Starling, with its patches of green and purple iridescence and impressive sound track, and the grey-headed Jackdaw, the smallest of our crow family. Both tend to keep their distance by staying on my roof. The main exception is when the starlings have chicks to feed and they devour my mealworms in breakneck speed. When fledged, whole families join in the feeding frenzy. The young wait to be fed with their bills wide open. It’s comical to watch.

I currently have the upper hand with the jackdawsbecause try as they might, they have yet to succeed in removing the metal mesh that covers my chimney tops. In defeat, they’ve moved in with the neighbours.

Summer migrants

You know that spring has finally sprung when you hear your first Chiffchaff singing out their name. These warblers started full on chiff-chaffing a good three weeks ago. I only see them in the garden when they migrate through. Yet I can hear them singing nearby from the fields that back onto my street.

Blackcap by Tim Squire

Last Monday, during my daily exercise, I had the joy of hearing the wonderfully fluty song of the Blackcap. It was the first of the season for me. I didn’t manage to see the bird but I made up for that on the Saturday.

Sightings of our first Swallows are already trickling in. The House Martin seems to be a bit further behind on its migration, with the only one so far reported in Sussex having been at Hastings on 16 March.

I’m waiting to hear my first Cuckoo, which should be any day now. I’m lucky enough to hear one from my house each year. The same one perhaps? I like to think so.

We’re getting ever closer to the arrival of our Swifts in early May. With lockdown still likely, their arrival will be warmly welcomed this year, particularly by those fortunate enough to live in Hastings Old Town where the birds breed.

Hastings Country Park is a great place to see all these birds flying in straight off the sea!

In mid-March I had the thrill of being in the right place at the right time – our back patio! A Red Kite was flying low over the back gardens of my street. It got as close as two doors down before it got bored and flew off. It was a great sight and a whopping garden tick for me. Red kites and other raptors have been on the move recently. So it’s always a good idea to look up every now and again.

Binoculars and bird book at the ready

There’s much birdlife to take in at this time of year. With the lockdown, we’ve been afforded a chance to strengthen our bond with nature. Let’s grab it with both hands.

If you haven’t already done so, gather up your old pair of binoculars and favourite bird book and keep them to hand on your windowsill. Maybe start a garden bird list. Birdwatchers across the UK are doing just that and revisiting where their love of birds first began – in the garden.

As well as brushing up on your bird ID skills, now is also a great time to learn those bird songs that you are unfamiliar with. The dawn chorus is sounding pretty darn good at the moment and it’s only going to get better. This year, International Dawn Chorus Day is on Sunday 3 May and although many celebration events have been cancelled, how about we all partake by setting our alarm clock to an ungodly hour and flinging open our bedroom window or back door?

We’d love to hear how your birdwatching and bird listening is going. What bird do you enjoy the most and why? When did you see your first Swallow? Who’s nesting in your garden? Are you one of the lucky ones to have nesting swifts or house martins?

You can share your discoveries with other Friends of Hastings Country Park by posting on our Facebook page.

Or you may like to email us. We’d be happy to send out an email compilation of everyone’s accounts.

With thanks to Tim Squire for the photographs. If you liked what you saw, head to his new website for more great images on birds, butterflies, insects and landscapes.

Posted 16:57 Tuesday, Apr 7, 2020 In: Nature

1 Comment

Please read our comment guidelines before posting on HOT

  1. Andrew Colquhoun

    To find out how to join 220 other local people as a member of the Friends of Hastings Country Park Nature Reserve and about our activities, please go to our website: http://www.friendsofhastingscountrypark.org

    Comment by Andrew Colquhoun — Thursday, Apr 9, 2020 @ 18:27

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