This is the time of year when most of the young birds start to appear. I have had a few in the garden such as Robins, Starlings, Blackbirds, Blue Tits and Tree Sparrows. The cutest of these are the Blue Tits and the Starlings. I have noticed that there has been a decrease in the numbers of young birds appearing in the garden compared with previous years. A Magpie has started to come into the garden but this is usually because it is on the hunt for young birds.
Out and about there have been quite a few groups of species with young. At the Enterprise Park there were many Commom Gulls with young and also Oystercatchers. At Blairs’ Loch there were groups of Little Grebe and Mallards along with the usual Mute Swans with cygnets.
As well as the usual butterflies seen at this time of year I saw a Pearl-bordered Fritillary on a walk on Brodie Hill. We don’t see many of these around our area.
This has been a particularly good month for different species of moths in the moth trap. Some of the more impressive ones I have shown here, The ones that are probably the most interesting are the White Ermine, Lunar Thorn, Bordered White and the Poplar Hawkmoth.
The pair of Bullfinches have continued to visit the garden this month. Never before have Bullfinches stayed in the garden for any length of time and fed from the feeders. However, this seems quite common now in many gardens around. Although it is lovely to watch them it may not be a good thing to increase their dependence on us and they might be easy prey for the regular Sparrowhawk which comes in.
We have also had a few Yellowhammers in the garden too. Their numbers have decreased since previous years. This, of course, could be a good sign as they may have found plenty eat in their natural habitat. There has also been a Wren appear fleetingly in the garden . A Chiffchaff came into the garden, a rare visitor, for a short spell only.
It was lovely to discover that the Tree Sparrows had successfully nested in the usual nest box again. I only noticed this just when the fledglings were ready to take flight. Once they have flown they all seem to disappear from the garden.
Out and about there were many young birds to be seen. The pond at Brodie had their usual brood of Cygnets and up at the Enterprise Park there were lots of Juvenile Oystercatchers and lots of families of Greylag Geese on the Dava.
Once again there were many interesting moths in our moth trap, a few of which are pictured here. Along with the moths in the trap we had some unexpected finds. There were three Northern Cockchafers. Although Cockchafers are quite common, apparently these Northern ones were uncommon in our area. There were also sometimes Carrion Beetles which are quite distinguishable with their red markings.
The Bullfinches which appeared for the first time last month have continued to come back to the feeders. Unlike some of the birds which come to the feeders they are not easily disturbed. Otherwise there was not a great deal of activity in the garden. A juvenile Herring Gull was encouraged into our garden by the parent bird. A Wren occasionally came in and on this occasion it stopped long enough for me to get a clear picture. Although the Fieldfares have disappeared from the garden, the Song Thrush remained for a while. Including the Yellowhammers, these birds were the most regular visitors to the garden this month. On one day only a Willow Warbler appeared in the apple tree.
An unusual visitor for Burghead Harbour was a Great Crested Grebe. I had seen many of these while abroad on holiday but it was special to see one so close to home. There are always Tufted Ducks at Brodie Pond along with the Mallards, Little Grebes, Coot and Moorhens. I don’t often see Grey Partridges as they are expert at cowering down and remaining still in amongst the stubble. However, on this day, the grass was fairly short at the edge of a field, where you can usually find them, near Coltfield.
We are well into moth trapping by now and were finding quite a range of moths this month. Here are a few examples of some of the more interesting ones. At the same time I saw my first butterflies in the garden, an Orange Tip and a Peacock.
The Fieldfares have finally moved away, but the Blackcaps and Long-tailed Tits are still around. As well as the pair of Yellowhammers coming in to feed, to my delight I now have a pair of Bullfinches feeding also. There has never been Bullfinches at the feeders before although I have seen one on the apple tree. They were still coming in at the end of the month. There were two Treecreepers came in one day together. That is the first time there have been two.
When on a walk around Brodie Pond there were lots of Mallards, Tufted Ducks, Moorhens, Mute Swans and Little Grebes. There was also a Hybrid Mallard which is often there but I am not sure if it is always the same one.
On a walk up at the Enterprise Park there were lots of Common Gulls pairing up and preparing for nesting. The roofs of the buildings there are very popular breeding grounds. There were also many Magpies in and around the park.
Quite a few interesting moths in the trap this month, three of which are pictured above.
There had been some really frosty days and quite a bit of snow in February. It has been quite a few years since we have had frost patterns on both inside and out the windows. They are always so pretty that taking a photograph of them does not really do justice to their beauty.
The cold weather has kept the Fieldfares, the Blackcaps and the Long-tailed Tits coming back into the garden looking for food. The Song Thrush also came back and there was a daily ongoing battle between it and the Fieldfares over any of the apples, No matter which one went to a particular apple it was chased away despite the fact that there were other apples scattered around. I began putting out grapes and pears as well as apples and the Fieldfares were eating those too.
The first Yellowhammers of the year appeared when two came into the garden regularly this month. Their colours stood out brilliantly against the white snow. Another first visitor this year was a little Goldcrest which was seeking shelter and food in the cold weather. Even the regular small birds are fighting with each other to survive over the food and water. A House Sparrow and a Blue Tit had a standing battle at the bird bath. The House Sparrow eventually saw off the Blue Tit.
On a visit to Sanquhar Pond there were two Goldeneye and a rare Scaup.
Our moth trap went out one night and this lovely Chestnut moth was in it. This was the first time it had been out this year. We had some lovely moths in the trap last year and are hoping to get the same again this year. We are finding it difficult to name them without help.
January started again with another lockdown which meant we could not go far out and about, so most of the bird observations had to done in the garden.
Most of the usual winter garden visitors had returned. The ones that remain in the garden are the Blackbirds, of which we have many, Siskins and Chaffinches. However, on New Year’s Day a Fieldfare came in. At this time last winter we had one Fieldfare which hung around on its own well into February and it used to chase all the Blackbirds away from all the apples on the ground. I did wonder if this was the same one. This one however, was not so keen to eat the apples in the garden but rather eat apples that had landed in the grassy area over the fence. It was later joined by another Fieldfare and both of them hung around all month. A large group of about sixteen Fieldfares came in on a few occasions, but once the stock of apples diminished they were off leaving just the two. A Song Thrush sometimes came in with the Fieldfares and then there would be a squabble over the apples.
A group of eight Long-tailed tits came in regularly all month at different times to feed on the suet balls. They tended to come in either first thing in the morning or just as it was getting dark at night. Towards the end of the month a pair of Blackcaps came in and were still around at the end of the month.
Some birds came in fleetingly and then disappeared just as quickly. I got a glimpse of a Brambling but never saw it again. A male Bullfinch landed on the apple tree and disappeared and a Great Spotted Woodpecker was feeding for a short while on the suet balls. Also a Lesser Redpoll appeared with some Siskins but again it too fled quickly, It was disappointing that they did not linger but it was lovely to even get a glimpse of them.
I have had Wrens in the garden sometimes and one came in occasionally this month. I worry about the little Wrens because two neighbouring cats come in daily to catch birds and the Wrens would be easy prey for them.
We had one trip this month down to the coast where there were Eiders , Long-tailed Ducks and Golden Eye off the coast at Burghead and unusually in the harbour there was a Great Northern Diver. A good one to tick off the bird list at the beginning of the year.
On a trip along the coast to Cullen we saw very little at the coastal towns except quite a few Ringed Plovers and Turnstones as Cullen. It was a lovely sunny day and the Ringed Plovers stood out in the sunshine.
Previous winters at the Enterprise Park there have been Waxwings, Fieldfares and Redwings feasting on the abundance of berries there. This winter although there were some Fieldfares and Redwings the trees were stripped very quickly of berries and they all moved on. I did not see any Waxwings. Indeed I have not been fortunate to see any at all this winter. When we go up to the Enterprise now we have only seen one Fieldfare and that too has disappeared. However, at the end of December, one appeared in my garden and has continued to appear every day since then. It spends all its time eating the apples on the ground and chasing the blackbirds away. I wonder if it is the one that had been at the Enterprise Park.
On a walk around Sanquhar Pond I saw a Little Grebe. That was the first time I had seen one there.
The winter visitors have started to come into the garden. Long -tailed Tits are starting to come in, in groups of eight or ten, and I saw my first Lesser Redpoll this winter in amongst a large group of Siskins. The occasional Blackcap and Treecreeper have also appeared but not lingered long. I fear the presence of the cats and the Sparrowhawk keep them away.
The weather had been quite mild until the middle of December and at the end of November a Hedgehog walked through the garden, After a short feed it moved on. It appeared quite healthy and it was possible it was taking advantage of the warm weather. We have a Hedgehog house in the garden but so far it has not been used.
What made this year particularly special in the garden was that we had a Badger visit. Living in the town I certainly did not expect this. We have a night time camera which we had not used for most of the year. After watching Autumn Watch one night we decided to put it on and that night a Badger came in. We have no idea how long it had been coming into the garden but over the next few weeks it appeared five times in total. It came in in one direction and went out in another. The camera has gone off again for a while so not sure if it is still around.
If that was not enough excitement for me this year , three days after Christmas a friend told us that there was a Grey Phalarope in Burghead harbour. We went along to see it. I was surprised how small it was as I was expecting it to be about the size of a Gull. It was definitely way off course. It was very tame and swam about the harbour unperturbed. I was glad we had gone out that afternoon to see it as it had gone by the following day and for me that was probably a once in a lifetime experience.
We are back into almost extreme Lockdown again so who knows what wonderful things will appear in my garden in 2021.
The easing of Lockdown allowed us to go a bit further than the garden although we did not go that far. Heading towards the Dava on a few occasions we really did not see that much. There was the usual Stonechats near Refouble and also Red-legged Partridges. On one occasion we stopped off at an old skating pond in the wood of Achnatone where there is usually an abundance of dragonflies. On this occasion I only saw a Four-spotted Chaser and a Large Red Damselfly.
A Red-throated Diver had appeared unusually in Burghead harbour. When I went to see it, not only was there the Diver, but also quite a few Guillemots and Razorbills in the harbour too. The weather had been quite stormy so this must have brought them in.
The moth trapping continued during these months. The trap did not go out every night but twice a week so that we were certain that we were not repeating the same moths. One night we had Bridled Green moth in the trap. This turned out to be a good find as it was quite a rare moth for this part of the country. At the same time when I was sitting in the garden, I spotted a Humming Bird Moth fluttering around the Buddleia. This was also quite rare as was the beautiful Comma Butterfly which appeared also on the Buddleia. Again these were lucky finds only because I was spending more time in the garden.
Lockdown has continued throughout the next three months. However, the weather has been surprisely good and I was able to spend a lot of time in the garden. One advantage of this was the fact that I was seeing things that I might have missed otherwise.
Every year for the last three years we have had a pair of Tree Sparrows which roost in one of our nest boxes over winter and nest in it during the Spring with three broods of young over Spring and Summer. As I was sitting out in the garden I watched a Blue Tit systematically pick out all the nesting material in the box for about twenty minutes. I thought it was perhaps planning using the box for its own nest. I had never seen this happen before. However, a few days later, the Tree Sparrows started to build up the nest again in the box and successfully had their first brood.
I have now two neighbouring young cats which persistently come into the garden despite my best efforts to dissuade them. They sit behind the bushes close to the feeders and have on lots of occasions caught some young birds. I was aware that the numbers of young birds in the garden was greatly reduced from previous years but this may have only been one reason. Another reason was a Sparrowhawk which frequently sat on the fence. There were quite a few young Starlings about they did not hang around for long.
Three early Butterflies came into the garden. I do not recall seeing them in the garden before : a Speckled Wood, a Meadow Brown and a Ringlet.
The highlight for me at this time was a first visit ever in the garden of a Jay. Had I not been in Lockdown I would possibly have missed it. It came in and fed on the ground below the feeders. We watched it out of the porch window but the slightest movement and it was away. Although it came in regularly for a few days I only got one distant shot. However, I was delighted that it had come into the garden if only for a short time.
Another good thing about lockdown is that it gave Frank and I the opportunity to take up a new hobby that we had been considering for a while. Frank had been speaking for a long time now about getting a moth trap. Less enthusiastically I agreed. We don’t see many moths on our windows here during the winter. Our first venture in moth trapping meant getting up at five thirty in the morning to see what was in the trap before they flew. There were about twelve moths on that occasion. The two most interesting and lovely ones that day were a Peppered Moth and a Poplar Hawk Moth. A few days later we had a beautiful White Ermine. As the days went on our repertoire of moths increased and there was a feeling of anticipation each morning as if we were opening a Christmas present each day. We could not have imagined there were so many different moths.They had all to be photographed as we would never have found out what they were. The joy of moth trapping is the expectation each time of what we are going to find. It was so easy to become hooked. On one occasion we had fifty moths in the trap. The hard bit is naming them all! There are about 2500 moths species in the UK, but of those 1600 are micro moths. We were spending many hours trying to identify them all. Thanks to the help of friends who were moth experts our confidence is growing but it can still take us both quite a while to identity them. With the darker mornings we don’t need to get out so early to the trap and there are no longer so many moths. I started out as a sceptic to moth trapping but am now looking forward to continuing this hobby. We are beginning to get more and more moths each time.
The winter birds that come into the garden in January are usually the ones that I have seen in the garden in November and December of the previous year. As long as there is food on the ground they hang around. I did not have many apples on the apple tree the year before so there was not a surplus of apples to feed any passing Fieldfares or Redwings.
A male and female Blackcap visited the garden regularly right through until March. In winter they enjoy the suet balls as do any visiting Goldcrests and Long-tailed Tits. I had the occasional visit of a Treecreeper and on one occasion, surprisely, it was feeding on the seeds on the ground. The first Yellowhammer came in at the beginning of February and from then they regularly came in. At one point there were eight in the garden at one time.
On a short walk up at the Enterprise Park I saw a small group of Bullfinches feeding on the ground and the bare trees allowed me to get a decent glimpse of Great Spotted Woodpecker. One of the buildings there had a large group of Feral Pigeons huddling together for shelter from the cold. There must have been well over a hundred.
The usual winter ducks were to be found at Burghead also – Eider and Long-tailed Ducks – but not in particularly large numbers.
Signs of Spring were beginning to appear in the garden when the Tree Sparrows and the House Sparrows were checking out the same nest box and deciding which of them could use it. In the end neither of them used it.
It was March before I made the first trip of the year up the Dava. There were lots of Pink-footed Geese near Little Aitnoch flying overhead and in the fields. There was also the usual Stonechats that can be seen all year round near there.
Little did I know then that this would my last trip away from home for a while as Lockdown started.