We have a constant flock of siskins in the back gardens of our road still. They are very discrete. Occasionally a male bursts into song and performs a display flight, but generally they feed very quietly. They use their agility to hang from the leaves to feed on the aphids that hide underneath. I predict that later in the winter gardens will see plenty of siskins as natural food becomes scarce.
We had a lovely walk on the moors near Helmsley this morning. It was cold for July, but the visibility was as good as I have seen it. The Dales were so clear to our west as were Yorkshire Wolds over to the south east. The moors have a hint of purple now, mainly from the earlier flowering bell heather, though the really extensive purple of ling heather is yet to come. We heard a few crossbills and saw…
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Yesterday evening cooled fast and the swifts were reluctant to put on low level flypasts. They milled around in the cool breezy air with the house martins. We had one very fast flypast at dusk and then the non breeding birds could be seen rising higher into the zenith as the breeders descended to their nest boxes.
Today started dry but still cool. We had a few frantic sessions of swift activity where about five birds frantically flew around the house and sometimes perched on the occupied nest box to look in. Mid morning saw a pair arrive and quietly prospect. They flew circuits slowly, flying up to nest boxes but not perching. They frequently indulged in the wing quivering display flight I have previously described, whilst making the soft piping call they first make to each other when they finally settle in a nest box.
All this activity and…
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What a contrast! Stunning views of an adult male kingfisher at Ampleforth Lake today followed by a sighting of a pale giant horse fly drinking from our garden pond. One can only imagine how tough the mouth parts of this horse fly are to bite through cow hide. But what an impressive flier with those spitfire shaped wings, which make a loud and alarming buzz. Variety is the spice of life and the natural world certainly gives us that.
This has been the day many swift watchers have been waiting for. The yearlings are back and performing around colonies. Older non breeding birds are cruising round in pairs looking at potential nest sites. The flying display has been spectacular today. I spent some time sat on the lawn with the watercolours sketching the dramatic aerodynamic shapes they make as they approach the eaves.
There were higher, tight screaming flocks at times, sadly a signal that the end of the swift season is coming. As their time to depart approaches they seem to show increasing desire to fly at high level in social groups, before finally you realise they have gone and the skies are quiet again.
I watched one of our local little owls this morning. It was fluffed up and basking in early morning sunshine. It posed well for fast sketches in pencil and watercolour as…
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I have just returned from Wetherby services by the A1M where I met Martin Calvert of Leeds Swifts to hand over a young swift found in Helmsley. It is about 32 days old and malnourished. Yet another reminder of what a poor summer this has been for swifts. As I have said before, those we find will be the tip of the iceberg as sadly many will have been predated or starved. This bird was simply forced to try and fledge through starvation. Its wings are not long enough, not to mention its lack of strength and so it was doomed the moment it left the nest hole- until it was found by Keith Pickering The Stick Man of Helmsley. Thanks to Keith it now stands a very good chance of fledging under the expert care of Linda Jenkinson. I will write more on this process and other swift rehabbers…
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A hobby coasted through the village this morning. The house martins and swifts reacted quickly . The house martins bunched up high but the swifts rally quickly and position themselves quite close behind the hobby, flying directly in its wake. They are well aware of the deadly capacity of this beautiful falcon.
I once watched a hobby take a swift over Bradford on Avon. The chase started when the hobby piled in to a feeding flock of swifts. It managed to single out one whilst the others retreated fast. The aerial chase that followed was impressive with the swift displaying speed and incredible manoeuvrability. The chase lasted for about twenty seconds. I believe the hobby was deliberately tiring the swift. It then accelerated and took it with relative ease.
Next I watched the hobby carrying the swift whose wings flapped upside down before it breathed its last. Hobbies are impressive…
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I stayed up until 3.15 this morning, mesmerised by the night sky. I woke up my 8 year old son who joined me between midnight and 1am. We had fun navigating our way around the night sky. My birding scope was great for seeing the comet, though due to field of view I think binoculars gave a better overall impression. I saw several meteors and we could clearly see the moons of Jupiter and rings round Saturn with the scope. The milky way looked spectacular incorporating two of my favourite constellations, Cygnus and Cassiopeia. It was a joy being out on a chilly July night with fox, little owl and tawny owl providing the sound track. There was always some glow of daylight on the Northern horizon even a month after the summer solstice, but from about 2.30am this was intensified by a beautiful show of noctilucent cloud.
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We have with a very large population of tree sparrows in Gilling. Now don’t get me wrong, I love tree sparrows and they are a favourite sketching subject. We were lucky to have a pair nest in our garden in Hungerford when I was a child. I remember realising one day with my new binoculars that they were tree sparrows, not house sparrows and felt so privileged to have them in our nest box. I would hazard a guess that having a tree sparrow nesting in a Berkshire garden now would be something of a mega sighting. But here in Gilling we have had an unpaired male in the garden throughout spring and summer that has caused almost constant hassle to other species.
In May it sat on top of the blue tit’s nest box relentlessly, stopping the parents from feeding their young. They only fledged three in the end…
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