Redstarts and Siskins

Redstarts are birds that breed in the wooded west and north of Britain. Over the years, however, we do occasionally see one here in the autumn as they migrate through on their way to Africa for the winter. This week, two Redstarts made the Bird Ringers’ day as they flew together into the ringing nets – both were females born this year. That red tail has a pair of distinctive non-red feathers in the middle:

I have included photos of both birds because it was so exciting, but they were pretty similar-looking and probably just one photo would really have been sufficient. It was the first time that a Redstart has been ringed here.

One of these birds was subsequently down having a drink at the baking tray pond, now with its new leg ring in place:

A Siskin is another bird mainly of the conifer woods found in the west and north of Britain, although there are a lot of Siskins around here at the moment. The UK has a population of resident Siskins but their numbers are augmented by birds coming across for the winter from colder parts of Europe.

There have been flocks of these birds flying over the meadows this last couple of weeks and we don’t know if they are British residents or early-arrived migrants. The Bird Ringers have been trying to catch these Siskins – generally unsuccessfully, although they did catch a second one this week, a young male:

There are a lot of Silver Birch trees in the wood and we saw a flock of Siskin there as well – these birds love to eat Birch seed.

They have small, delicate feet for hanging onto the thinnest twigs at the top of Birch and Alder trees to get at the seed. In contrast, Foxes by no means have feet adapted for tree climbing, but that doesn’t seem to be stopping them climbing up into the pear tree to get at the fruit. Here is a Fox in the tree:

The camera below is trained onto the upper left hand bough where there are a few remaining pears:

This is what we got:

The pears have more or less gone now and this entertainment is at an end. Before the camera was removed though, it did capture the fact that we have had a lovely amount of rain in the last couple of days, coming at the end of a very dry September:

Now that the meadows are cut, Kestrels are perched up in the hedgerows pretty much throughout the day. No doubt they can see their small mammal and reptile prey much more easily now that the vegetation is short.

One of the things I most dislike about winter is how early it gets dark. Although another thing is that it is a time of Fox dispersal and I have to steel myself to see Foxes in terrible states come past the cameras, never stopping long enough for me to try to help. One such poor, mangey animal was around one day this week, an early example of what is to come:

Absolutely heartbreaking. I can only hope that someone notices him and helps him when he arrives at his destination, wherever that may be.

Along one side of the allotment, there is a Passion fruit plant romping away untidily along the fence.

It shouldn’t be there, really, because it is not a British native plant. It is also not the variety that produces the delicious Passion fruits – that plant is tender and would need to be in a greenhouse. The flowers of this plant are exotic and beautiful and much visited by Bees but its orange fruits are cotton woolly and nothing seems to eat them.

Well, that is what I thought until I saw this in the allotment:

A small mammal has tunnelled under the raised bed and seems to be eating the Passion fruits. We put a camera on the hole and saw that there was a little Mouse that was making use of the otherwise unloved resource.

Other photos from the meadows this week:

We have been seeing a lot of this black cat in the meadows and unfortunately it seems to be a very successful hunter. I would much rather these small mammals went to Kestrels and Owls, animals that do not have a bowl of kitty food waiting for them in a bowl back home:

There is also a black and white cat that often appears on the cameras in the woods:

My daughters would be full of loud admiration at what a lovely Cat this is. Well, I’m afraid that I have to disagree with them on this:

A classic joke from my youth ran along the lines of ‘An Englishman, an Irishman and a Welshman go into a pub….’ These jokes are wholly unacceptable in today’s world, but this photo below reminded me of them:

I have been seeing this Fox on the cameras around the wood over the summer. He is quite sturdy and distinctive-looking and very different from the willowy Foxes seen in the meadows:

In fact, I am fairly sure that I recognise him as this cub from last year:

It is lovely to see him all grown up and looking so healthy.

I finish today with a Squirrel. There seem to be so many Grey Squirrels in the wood. We had trouble earlier in the year with them stripping bark off several beautiful Beech trees and damaging them such that they will now die. This country needs to plant more trees to help mitigate the climate change emergency that we face, but booming Grey Squirrel populations stripping the bark and killing Oak, Beech and other broad leaved trees are a big problem.

One suggestion on the table is that we humans start eating Grey Squirrels to help control them. Another interesting observation is that, in areas where Pine Martens have been reintroduced, they seem to be eating the Grey Squirrels (and not our native Reds) so that we don’t have to. UK Squirrel Accord is on year three of a five year £1.1 million project to investigate if contraceptives can be given to Grey Squirrels using a species-specific dispenser. I have been reading up on this project this week and getting quite excited about it – it seems the perfect solution if they can get it to work. However, it will be a few years before we can feed contraceptives to our Grey Squirrels and, since we are not prepared to kill them, we are just going to have to put up with them killing our trees for now.

2 thoughts on “Redstarts and Siskins

  1. Wow, a wood pigeon, a jay and a green woodpecker all having a drink together, I love that photo. 🙂
    There are definitely loads of grey squirrels where I live in Lancashire. I do have a soft spot for them. However we have a caravan in Cumbria where there are also red squirrels, a joy to see. It’s always a dilemma if you see a grey squirrel there as you are supposed to report it, then they are gotten rid of. I know the reasoning why. But it’s quite brutal. 🙁

  2. I know exactly what you mean about Grey Squirrels – its a horrible dilemma. Hopefully Pine Martens will return to the Lake District soon and sort the problem out for us naturally! Very jealous of your Cumbrian caravan – I absolutely love it there, although its such a long journey from us.

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