Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Relieving the Boredom

I was sitting in the conservatory over lunch, watching it rain and blow a gale and relieving the boredom by watching the uncommon winter sight of Goldfinches on my sunflower hearts feeders. The photo below shows one of them - I know its not one of those "count the individual feathers on the back" close-ups that are the norm these days on blogs, but at least you can see that its a Goldfinch.
Anyway, whilst watching them I was struck by how wasteful they are when feeding. We go to the trouble of providing de-husked sunflower seed and yet the birds still twirl it around in their beaks as though de-husking and end up dropping two thirds on the ground below. Once again, unlike other blogs, I don't have legions of mixed finches photogenically marching across my lawns sweeping up this dropped seed, just the odd Collared Dove, and so much of it just rots, or flashes "canteen open" signs to the local rats.
Looking at my regularly deserted, bird-wise, garden and seeing these photos on other blogs of gardens swarming with finches, I often speculate if there is a secret E-Bay site where you can buy stuffed finches by the dozen to scatter round your garden in order to take such photos.

Last year I was given a new re-print of a fabulous old book called "British Birds in their Haunts". Despite being originally published in 1862, I've been surprised whilst reading through its 600-odd pages, to see how akin to today's knowledge on birds it was. OK, there have been a few name changes and habitat losses down the years but the knowledge imparted in the book is remarkably as it is today.
Each bird has its own write up, illustrated by a simple but effective pen and ink style drawing and what makes the book particularly delightful are the accounts of each bird's habits and associated folk-lore. Take the Common Swift for example.

After recognising that the bird was only a summer visitor, it goes on to state that "it never proceeds far north and occasionally even suffers from un-seasonably severe weather". It went on to refer a case from Deal in July 1856 where after a mild but wet day the temperature suddenly fell till it became disagreeably cold. The Swifts were sensibly affected by the atmospheric change and fluttered against the walls of the houses and some even flew into open windows. The witness to this occurrence was then surprised when a young girl came to his door and asked him he he wanted to buy a "bat", which he quickly identified as a Swift and that they were dropping down in the streets and the boys were killing all these "bats". Going outside it was true enough, the children were charging them everywhere and on arriving at the church in Lower Street he was astonished to see the poor birds hanging in clusters from the eaves and cornices. At intervals, benumbed individuals dropped from these clusters and many hundreds fell victim to the ruthless ignorance of the children.

As I have already stated, some names have changed, the Corn Bunting was then known as the Common Bunting and the Reed Bunting as the Black-headed Bunting. It is also interesting to see the Wagtails that are listed - White, Pied, Grey and Grey-headed but no Yellow. However their is one called Ray's Wagtail (Motacilla Rayi), whose description is clearly that of a Yellow Wagtail.

All in all its a fascinating book and if you get the chance to purchase it, it's well worth it. It was published in these modern times by You might also find it at Amazon.


  1. Great storyline as usual Alan. Very interesting read.

    I have to agree with you about the sunflower hearts. I am lucky to get a reasonable number of both Gold and green finch to my feeders, around six of each per day. I am constantly being moaned at by Mrs H about the mess they make over her neatly manicured garden.!!!

  2. Mike, I'd like to get as many finches per day as you do and I'm Derek by the way.

  3. Derek sincere apologies of course i know who you are and as Alan Paveys blog from Sissinghurst appears before yours I got confused again. I think its becoming an age thing, now what was your name again !!

  4. Mike, I guessed that you had Alan P. in mind. It gets worse, believe me.

  5. Derek Bob and I called in to see if we could track down the Lapland Buntings yesterday and thanks to your pond dug out that we both recognised from your blog we knew we were in the right fields!

    Among the Corn Buntings and the Linnets and the skylarks were at least 12 Laplands! Beautiful!

    Shame what the farmer has done to the surrounding fields!

    Lovely Hare whizzing around as well.


  6. Hello Corinna, great to see you've been back on Sheppey again, and successful in finding the Laplands, I had just the 4 alongside there yesterday morning.
    It is indeed a traversty what has happened to the farmland out there but blame lies with meddling from the EU, the farmer felt he had no choice.