Birds, Humour

The Curious Incident of the Bird in the Night-time

1 am awoken from deep sleep by Magpie calling from very nearby.

“That’s odd!”

Stupor ensues.

“Owls!” I hear from the edge of perception.

Then there is a clomping down the stair, crash, expletive, flash of light and the sound of a something heavy being moved.

Then I hear it: “Qweeik! Qweeik!” Very loud and very near. In the midst a chorus of twit-toowooing from all around the rim of the bowl of hills in which we are presently contained. Every urgent, insistent queeik answered by a reassuring, low pitched owly sound from a different direction and each queeik parried by the rattling panic of a magpie.

Now my eyes are open and there is wild illumination from outside the house. Trees flash on and off like Christmas lights; I wonder about hallucinations in confinement — hypnogogic perhaps. Better go with the flow — I rise and grab a dressing gown, descend the stairs in darkness (mustn’t alert whatever it is — that’s odd someones moved the toolbox — I’ve got good night vision). The front door is wide open — I follow the flashes.

The qweeiking and corvid football rattling are unabated and can now be localized to the tall leylandii on the bank just above the house below which a man in a dressing gown and carpet slippers is scanning the tops of the aforementioned trees with the beam of a powerful flashlight.

The sky is clear, crossed by a shooting star. The moon is bright but still quite new so the stars are not so dulled by the moonlight. “Watch out!” calls the man who is hearteningly familiar, “Watch where you step!”

Looking down, there is a middle sized black and white bird sitting at my feet, looking up at me but not moving.

“He’s petrified!”

Now there is a moral dilemma. Farmers hate magpies, I’m not keen on them — they raid nests, eat loads of fledglings, do unspeakable things to defenseless, sick and trapped creatures and desecrate the bodies of the dead (true, they don’t drive to County Durham).

In the interest of balance — magpie pauses after grooming sheep.

Now the tables are turned: Magpie has met its match. Its nest is under attack by Tawny Owl — female tawny owl egged on (sorry) by male members of her family from a distance (typical) and we feel a wave of sympathy for the magpie mum whose only just fledged baby has parachuted onto the patio and into our protection.

First thing next morning there are no feathers on the ground and later an adult magpie is seen feeding a fledgling in the big pine tree at the other end of the house near to where the baby bird had landed the night before while the other parent feeds its sibling in the leylandii.

Tawny Owl (Strix aluco) by Martin Mecnarowski (CC BY_SA 3.0)

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Ecology, nature

Lockdown Liberty —

or are we just seeing what was there all along, albeit in the shadows.

My daughter lives in a modern development in the centre of Peterborough, a city of over 200,000 people. They don’t have jackals in the subways (like Tel Aviv) but since lockdown she has been working from home and has noticed snakes in the garden, grass snakes and there are adders too. Her neighbour recently opened the door to a Roe Deer.

Roe Deer in Peterborough thanks to Amberley McKeen

Feral goats have come down off the Great Orm, a hill in North Wales, to roam the streets of Llandudno left deserted by the tourists.

Locked down in Mid Wales we are spending much of our time out of doors and seeing more of the wildlife than I have ever done before.

Local Common Lizard making a hasty retreat

In the wood there are flashes of Pied Flycatchers and all around the sound of Wood Warblers, starting their little engines. A Redstart poses briefly in the sunshine:

We have discovered lizards for the first time, basking in the unseasonal sunshine — skittish and shy, unlike this celebrity cousin down the road at Ynes Hir — posing for the visitors to the reserve when I last visited.

I always knew we had newts in the pond but we recently noticed something very strange — some have great big (relatively) floppy, webbed hind feet and pin-like tail extensions —

Bigfoot newt — Actually a Palmate Newt (Lissotriton helveticus)
Rest assured they are breeding in our pond — here photographed with 2 larvae –babies still with external gills, unlike tadpoles they develop their front legs first.

In case you are in any doubt about the identity of these little beauties — look! No spots under the chin:

Ventral surface of Palmate Newt

Now we know that they are Palmate Newts we put them back quickly as they are protected!

Back home for tea having guiltily spent the afternoon pond dipping without even the pretence of a single grandchild but not before checking out the Pied Flycatchers nesting in the oak tree by the track.

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Birds

Visitors!

Spring is a frenetic time but this year is different — rather than dashing about doing what Humans do, we are locked down at home so we can look around and see what most years we might miss. All within walking distance of home! Suddenly we have visitors!

This was the first — who gave himself away by his call: Chiffchaff.
Blackcaps are suddenly everywhere with their “irresolute chattering developing into clear, slightly melancholy flute like notes”.
Pied Flycatcher, just arrived –male, perched above our path.
Pied Flycatcher –female, first spotted peeping out of a hole in the old oak tree.
Willow Warbler

Walking in the forestry above the village the din of Willow Warblers was deafening — seemed there was one at the top of every other tree (and not a Willow in sight!) Was this a fall — had they all just dropped en masse out of the sky on their migration?

Competing Willow Warbler

Home again and the first Wood Warbler announces his presence with a call like a tiny quad bike starting (said to sound like a coin spinning on a marble slab!) Usually hidden in the foliage, for the last week or so when the oaks are still not quite in leaf we have a chance to spot these lovely birds.

Wood Warbler —

In the glorious Spring sunshine we took our daily exercise climbing nearby Van Hill

Northern Wheatear, male, on Van Hill
Beautiful female Northern Wheatear also admiring the view.

We’ve seen Tree Pipits doing their parachuting display flight and hear our local Garden Warblers who flit around the shrubs and hedgerows singing their own “irresolute chatter” trying not to be photographed!

Today we walked miles in search of a Common Redstart, up on the hill in a row of mature Oak and Rowan we could hear but not see them — all we have is this chap on the wire.

Tree Pipit showing off during its song flight, parachuting back to a tree with legs down singing for all it was worth.

We have become enchanted by the Pied Flycatchers, Bill checks them out every day, this one we call Orca.

All pictures, except fuzzy Tree Pipit, thanks to Bill Branford (all rights reserved).

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Nature Photography, seasons, Wales

Spring Fever

We know it must be spring because the cock pheasants are rutting, fighting beak and nail while the hens pretend not to notice. These two are spoiling for a fight —

and it all kicks off!

Getting quite violent but balletic!

After several skirmishes the newcomer takes off with indecent haste leaving the resident cock to strut about guarding his territory while the eight females under the bird feeders, seemingly oblivious, continue to excavate the ground for peanuts thrown down by the picky nuthatch.

One hundred yards further up the valley another drama enfolds as the unusually sunny weather is drying out a shallow pond threatening the lives of several thousand tadpoles.

Enter International Tadpole Rescue with a bucket and dust pan!

All re-homed to a bigger pond further up the valley.

Over the road in our neighbors pond things are equally torrid as the toads, who pair later than the frogs, are only now laying their spawn. Here they are, photographed by Sue Whitehead (all rights reserved).

See how different the toad spawn is from the more familiar clumps the frog spawn.

We know that the mud at the bottom of these ponds is full of ferocious dragonfly nymphs and hungry newts and the surface today was sparkling with the ripples of a hundred pond skaters excited by the prospect of a juicy tadpole. How many adults will emerge from all this spawn?

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Birds

Oblivious to Corona

A few days ago, walking past the bank in the town centre we heard an avian kerfuffle, squawking and a flurry of pigeons taking to the air and a fast moving shadow crossed our path — “Raptor!” said Bill.

We checked out the nearest suitable nesting site — the parish church and there it was — sitting on a turret, preening itself. A Peregrine Falcon but neither of us had a camera.

Since then we take our daily exercise past the parish church every day bristling with binoculas and cameras — today we were rewarded!

Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus) high on the spire of the parish church.

And here is her mate, perched lower down the tower having just delivered her lunch.

Here’s tomorrows lunch, looking edgy!

Wood Pigeon (Columba palumbus)

But right now he is cleaning his talons.

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lifestyle, Wales

Give us this day…

When everything you know seems under threat you start to realize what really matters. Here’s a tribute to our local baker.

They make bread in the old fashioned way from simple ingredients — just flour, water, yeast and salt. Here’s some dough proving, slowly — waiting to be put into crocks…

and baked into delicious, crispy wheat or rye sourdough bread. There are wholemeal wheat, rye and spelt loaves and “Llanidloes specials” with the magic cheesy crust. There are olive ciabatte, Chelsea buns and almond croissants.

Baked each day and delivered to local shops. No plastic wrappers, tiny carbon footprint, no waste — they sell out every day but nothing for the birds as the humans fight for every last crumb!

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