Bird watching is a hobby of mine – although I’m not as active by any means as I was years ago growing up in the Staffordshire Moorlands, or when I was working in Costa Rica in the 1970s. I’ve never been a ‘twitcher’ however.
Costa Rica is a bird watcher’s paradise. In Turrialba where I used to live, it was not uncommon to see 40 or more different species just in our garden – humming birds, parrots, and toucans, and a range of migrants between North and South America. One Christmas Day (1979 I think it was) I took part in a bird count for the Audubon Society, and a group of us counted all the species we could (and approximate numbers per species) over a six hour period in the Turrialba valley. We managed over 100 species between us, and my birding partner and I saw over 60! When I moved to the Philippines in 1991 I was hoping for a repeat of Costa Rica – the Philippines has a reported rich avian fauna. How disappointed I was over 19 years. Although we lived on the slopes of dormant volcano Mt Makiling, about 65 km south of Manila, which still had some virgin rainforest, in a gated community with many mature native trees (planted in the early 1960s) we actually saw very few different species in our garden, maybe fewer than ten over the entire time we were there. Indeed, one of my friends and former colleagues who grew up in Zimbabwe and is a much keener bird watcher than me told me that bird watching in the Philippines was ‘hard work’.
I now live on the east side of Bromsgrove, a small(ish) town in the northeast of Worcestershire, in the English Midlands. It only takes a few minutes, and I can be walking down country lanes, enjoying the tranquility of local farmland as well as the beauty of the towpath along the Worcester and Birmingham Canal that’s just over two miles from home. And it has been intersting to note and watch the various birds that visit our garden and surrounding houses on a regular basis, and the occasional surprise. So here is a brief account of what we see on a regular basis, and those additional visitors. I’m going to update this post as necessary when we see new species, or I want to comment on those species already recorded.
With permission I am including beautiful photographs taken by Northamptonshire amateur photographer Barry Boswell, and published on his website of British and European Bird Photographs. Just click on a thumbnail to view a larger image.
I’ve also made links for each species to the web site of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) where you can find more information and even audio of each species’ song, and also BBC Radio 4’s Tweet of the Day.
Residents (which we see often in the garden)
One of the commonest birds in the UK, and very frequent in our garden. It’s not unusual for us to see three or four pairs in the garden at the same time, with males vying for females, and fighting among themselves. Also, there’s nothing quite like the song of the blackbird to raise your spirits. During August 2012 we’ve seen up to eight or nine individuals in the garden at the same time – mostly juveniles. We wonder if they are from the same nest. Certainly they are very active.
A noisy little bird, now not as common as it once was. We have a small colony of perhaps half a dozen pairs that regularly come into the garden, but I’m not sure where they nest. Often thought as a rather drab bird, but just look at the plumage on an enlarged image.
The iconic British bird – a feisty creature. We seem to have a very healthy population of robins in the vicinity, and I often hear them singing ‘against’ one another. Although they are regular visitors to the garden, we often go several weeks without seeing any, and then they are back again.
Also known as the hedge sparrow, I think the dunnock is an underrated species. On a closer look, it has a nice plumage, with grey around the head and neck turning to brown on its back and wings. It’s very active in the undergrowth. We have a couple that regularly feed in the garden.
The largest of the four species of tit that regularly feed in the garden. In recent weeks (April-May 2012) we’ve seen two or three each day.
One of the ‘cheeky’ birds, blue tits are not as common or frequent visitors now than they were in the past. But small flocks – families – pass through from time-to-time.
There are a couple of individuals that regularly visit the seed feeder, and were especially frequent visitors during the coldest months of winter.
The delightful little bird has made something of a comeback around here, and we see small flocks of six to ten individuals much more frequently than we did just a few years ago. The plumage is that delicate cinnamon pink, contrasting so well with the black and white. Barry Boswell’s photo is beautiful.
In some ways, the wood pigeon is one of the most regular visitors to the garden, and hardly a day goes by without up to six individuals spending some time feeding or looking for suitable nesting materials, such as thin twigs. Although they are more common in open country, the woodpigeon seems to be one of those species that has made the successful transition to suburban life. They regularly nest and raise young in the gardens roundabout, although they are often attacked by magpies. Although we consider them a ‘pest’ in the garden, they are quite a handsome species. At the end of August 2012, a couple of wood pigeons are making a half-hearted attempt at nesting in our Himalayan birch tree.
The local vandals – but seem to be a highly intelligent species. There’s no mistaking the iridescent black and white plumage and long tail. Magpies have increased in number over the past decade, and we regularly see a couple of pairs or more seeking out ‘opportunities’. I do wonder if the increase in the magpie population (and some other larger birds such as woodpigeons and jackdaws) has negatively impacted on the populations of smaller birds.
This is quite a stunning member of the crow family, with its grey nape. We have noticed an increase in numbers just over the past few months. Not sure where they are nesting. It was nice to see them a week ago in quarry conditions on the coast near Craster in Northumberland. They certainly looked in their element there.
This is another species that we now see on a regular basis.
Occasional visitors (these drop by from time-to-time, or with the seasons such as winter visitors)
This is a winter visitor that suddenly appears out of nowhere, stays with us for the coldest months, and disappears as quickly as it came. We usually see it in flocks of a dozen or so individuals. Sitting at the top of a tree in sunlight, its russet red flanks are very noticeable. A handsome thrush.
Normally a species of open countryside around here, we had a couple of individuals visit us on one day this past winter. Just like the redwing it has very typical plumage – also a handsome species.
There was a time, more than a decade ago, when song thrushes were very common in the garden. Now we hardly ever see any. In fact, even in the vicinity, I can’t remember when I last saw a song thrush. The population must be in quite a decline around here.
The appearance of a male blackcap several times over the past winter months was indeed a great surprise. At first I thought my eyes were deceiving me, but the black head feathers were so typical of this species. On one occasion I was able to get a good (and long) look at one individual, sitting on an open branch not far from the living room window – and I had my binoculars to hand. There was no mistaking its identity – and a most welcome addition to the list of species seen in our garden.
Great spotted woodpecker
We’ve seen this woodpecker on just two occasions over the past few months, visiting and pecking away at our Himalayan birch. On the first occasion it was my wife who was lucky enough to spy it land at the top of the tree. On the second occasion I had a great view, since I was already upstairs somewhat looking into the tree from above. The woodpecker stayed there for about five minutes, so there was enough time to retrieve my binoculars. A pleasant surprise.
Our neighborhood has a ‘resident’ heron, that we see circling overhead – at quite a low level – rather frequently. It even comes in to land on a neighboring roof – quite a silhouette against the sky. We’re sure it’s scouting for fish in all the gardens. On one occasion I was watching the breakfast news early one morning when it landed in the garden and began to strut towards the fishpond. I remained still for a few moments, but as I reached for my binoculars it must have seen my movement, and with great beats of its wings, it was up and away. My wife is quite concerned it will re-visit our garden for its dinner one day when we are not around.
Update 17 October 2013: it’s four days since we encountered a heron in the garden after returning from our weekly supermarket shop. It seems likely that it breakfasted on our goldfish because we’ve not seen any swimming around since.
About a decade collared doves were quite numerous nearby, and we’d regularly see a couple of pairs or so in the garden. Then they went away – maybe displaced by the much larger wood pigeon. Anyway, I’m pleased to say that they have returned, and only today, I have seen an individual in the garden about half a dozen times. A beautiful delicate bird, and I wish we saw them more often than the rather dominant wood pigeon.
Although starlings are seen in huge flocks in some parts of the UK, we have noticed a decline in those coming into the garden or even in the vicinity. Once upon a time we’d have a flock of 20-30 individuals descend and carry out some lawn aeration for me in the late afternoon. So it’s quite a special occasion these days when one drops by.
It’s a real delight to see goldfinches in the garden. It must be one of the most brightly plumaged species on the British list. After seeing so many spectacular species in the Tropics it’s wonderful to see this brightly colored species. And although not a very common visitor, it does appear a little more regularly when certain foods are more available (such as thistle-like plants gone to seed); but it’s quite common in the vicinity and I do see goldfinches quite often when I’m out walking.
This species was once quite common in our garden, but has seriously declined in recent years. I believe that it has been affected by a disease nationwide.
I’m sure bullfinches must be much more common to the south of Bromsgrove, in the Worcestershire fruit-growing areas. We get the occasional individual through, but I’ve not seen them commonly in the vicinity either. It has very striking plumage.
Once among the most common species in the UK, we now see chaffinches only occasionally in the garden, although in the vicinity they do appear to be more common.
The second smallest bird – and rather secretive. We get individuals from time-to-time. A delightful species to see, and what a wonderful song.
This species has such a striking plumage, and its wagtail gait is so typical.
A sudden swoop across the garden often leaves me wondering if the ‘resident’ sparrowhawk has flown by. Sometimes it does come into the garden, and it’s most impressive to see it attack and capture prey on the ground. Wonderful to have such a species on our garden list.
In the vicinity
We often see buzzards flying overhead, often at quite a low level, looking for thermals as they circle and rise with the warming air. It seems we have quite a healthy population of buzzards in this neck of the woods. Hardly a walk goes by without me seeing buzzards, and recently I saw four individuals wheeling and tumbling high in the sky, and really quite close to the center of Bromsgrove.
A ubiquitous and common summer visitor, although never landing on our property. But we do see them flying overhead, or gathering in groups along the overhead wires as they prepare for their autumn migration south.
In the height of summer I sometimes think we see more swifts than swallows.
When a new housing development was put up a few years ago on farmland just to the north of where we live, the developers did leave a pond, which is now home to a small population of mallards (and moorhens). Recently a group of mallards has been flying over and landing on neighboring roofs (I’ve not seen them on ours yet). It’s quite strange to see ducks walking up and down a roof where we would normally see woodpigeons, jackdaws or gulls.
There’s quite a large population of these gulls around the town, although they do congregate in several areas. Recently they have moved on to our community, and making a nuisance of themselves. I also wonder if their presence is having an effect on other species.
Until the 2010-2011 winter I had never seen a waxwing. One day in February I was out on my daily walk, about 1½ miles from home, when I saw a couple birds in a shrub about 15 feet in front of me. I knew at once they were waxwings – they’re very hard to confuse with any other species. And then I realised there were about 50 or more individuals in a tree. A great pity I didn’t have my binoculars with me, but I did stop and watch them for about ten minutes, and even without binoculars I had a great view.
So this is the current list of species from my Bromsgrove garden and near vicinity. I intend using this post as the basis for continuing recording additional species, and commenting on any special observations.