Friday 30 January 2009

A Surprise Visitor to Barleycorn

On the weekend of the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch, my hubbie replenished the feeders with peanuts and wild-bird seed, hung several fat-balls from the birch trees and prepared the bird-table with a mountain of scraps, in order to attract as many of our feathered friends as possible.
There’s always great excitement when, on red-letter days, a buzzard, or a sparrowhawk, or a great-spotted woodpecker make an appearance in the garden…and, equally, disappointing when they are absent on the official Garden Birdwatch.
Imagine our great surprise then, when, during the hour in which we were ‘doing the count’, a huge pheasant flew over the stone-dyke wall into the garden. Suddenly, our focus shifted onto this large, hen-size bird.
There is open countryside adjacent to the back garden at Barleycorn and mixed woodland bordering the field, and in this area pheasants are common on game farms where they are reared for commercial shooting…hence two possible reasons for his appearance. Not that we haven’t seen one in the garden before, for we sometimes find one korkk-korkking on the wall when one of the cats is nearby.
Phasianus Colchicus, better known as the common pheasant, is not native to Britain.
Some sources claim pheasants were first introduced 2000 years ago when the Romans invaded Britain. Others claim they were brought here with the Normans in the 11th Century. One fact appears to be indisputable. They originated in western Asia.
This male probably came into the garden because it was attracted by the overspill of seeds from the feeders and the fat-balls, which hang from the birches bordering the adjacent field. Pheasants and other game-birds often keep to the margins of the field where the stone-dyke wall, which borders the entire field, affords them shelter and camouflage.
As you can see he is very colourful, with a dark-green face and red wattles, and a body and tail of rich chestnut, with golden-brown and black patterns. We were transfixed, for he looked as if he was wearing Joseph's technicolour-dreamcoat on this otherwise dull day in January with the garden looking somewhat drab in tone, while awaiting its Spring coat.

He wandered around with his long tail cocked up at an angle. At first, the smaller birds flew upwards but soon settled down again when they realised he was only interested in feeding on the seeds, and not on them.

After he’d had enough seeds he strutted across to the rockery and pecked at a few shoots on the lithospermum, pictured in one of the photographs below. It is a heather-like plant, which comes in beautiful Gentian-blue shades and has a lovely trailing habit, covering slopes in the scree bed.

On our bird count sheet, we had to note down the largest number - of each species - we saw together at any one time during the hour. Here are the totals.

Blackbird - 3; Blue tit – 8; Carrion crow – 1; Chaffinch – 17; Coal tit – 3; Collared dove – 4; Dunnock – 1; Feral pigeon – 20; Great tit – 1; Greenfinch – 1; House sparrow – 10; Jackdaw – 5; Robin – 1; Starling 14; and Pheasant - 1

It was interesting to see how easily a twiggy rhododendron shrub camouflaged his brightly-coloured plumage when he ran behind it. He felt safe enough to wander around, as I was filming, and taking photographs, indoors.

After taking a few photos, I set my camera to video mode, the results of which you can see below. There is no sound, for if I had opened the window, he, along with the rest of the birds, would have flown off.
Since then, we have seen him most days strutting about the garden picking up seeds. Taz has given him a wide berth, which is fortunate for both. There's no mistaking his presence when he starts his korkk-korkking to warn Taz, in no uncertain terms, to keep away. He is the first of three surprise visitors we have had during the past week. I shall reveal the identities of the others in the next post.

Monday 19 January 2009

Garden Birds At Barleycorn In Winter

In spite of the clocks being changed last October, so that it would appear to be brighter in the mornings, today was the darkest one so far this winter. It looked so inky black when I looked out of the bedroom window, I thought there had been a powercut.
After Cookie and Taz, the barn cats, had been well fed, and had been for their stroll around the garden, and were well ensconced in their cosy nests in the barn, my hubbie went out and filled the bird feeders.

Within seconds the garden was filled with a variety of birds which had flown down from their roosting sites to feast on the goodies. We were both busy watching their antics , when suddenly, as if by magic, large flakes of snow came fluttering down, changing the panorama from blackness into a bright, shining landscape.
Taz suddenly re-appeared to explore the snow, but his tummy was too full by then to be bothered by the sight of twittering birds squabbling over the pecking order at the feeders. As a lover of wildlife, I appreciate the presence of the birdlife in winter when there are less insects to admire and the ponds are frozen; so I have to make doubly sure Cookie and Taz are not around when the birds are getting their feed.
In spite of the thorny question of having cats in a garden, it is still possible to encourage birds to the garden and maintain the interests of both. The main thing is to make sure the cats are well fed first, before seeing to the birds.
While the snow was falling I stood, warm and dry, just inside the back door and took a few photos. Then I did the same from the front door, and from some of the windows in the house. The snowfall was too heavy to be out walking in, while trying to balance an umbrella to keep the camera dry, and take photos.
Besides, whenever I walk around the garden, regardless of the kind of weather, Taz follows to keep me company. Cookie does the same when the weather is warm. But, being an old cat now and quite frail, she seems to feel the cold in winter and almost hibernates in her downie, which is inside the drum of an old tumble-drier in the barn.
When we go to feed her in the mornings her little head pokes out from inside the drum to greet us...and when I stroke her, she feels so warm and cosy. She used to live in a different part of the barn, but, increasingly, we found her in the drum on a rug. So, my hubbie halved a downie and made two nests, hers and Taz's.
Occasionally, they come indoors, but they prefer to be out and about, roaming freely. Though they came of their own volition to live in the barn, and were not especially chosen by us as Baby, Jaffa and Monster had been, I am very fond of them. Taz is an excellent mouser, and both are friendly and very lovable cats.
Watching the birds, as we do, from our little 'hide', through the patio windows overlooking the back garden, the birds feel safe. Taz stays away when I am indoors too, so this position gives me the opportunity to take little videos as well as photos.
This morning was no exception, as you will see from the little video below. There was no sound save for the quiet ticking of our clock. If I had opened the windows the birds would have flown away.

Happy New Year, Everyone!
If you are a bird lover, the Royal Society For Birds (RSPB), is giving everyone the opportunity this weekend, 24 and 25 January, to participate in the world's biggest garden birdwatch. The details are below. Enjoy...and happy birdwatching :)
'He made their glowing colours, He made their tiny wings.'
from: All Things Bright And Beautiful.