Friday, March 30, 2007


If I wasn't sure the female was sometimes roosting overnight in the box, I am now. At 08:00am this morning, she (quite noisily) flew out of the box. I hadn't noticed her go in earlier in the morning, though that may well have been the case. 8am is a little late for a bird to leave its roost, but I'm pretty sure that is what occurred this morning.
She's probably knackered after all her nest building activities!

Wednesday, March 28, 2007


I have just returned from work (an early shift). It is a glorious day, so decided to see what was occurring in the garden.
The nest box is now getting the full 'force' of the afternoon sun - even though it is facing north-westwards (ish), so it may get a bit warm come late spring/summer.
Midges are gathering on the wooden sides of the box also - not really ideal for nesting birds - but there you go. There is a growing pile of nesting material on the ground, under the box also, moss and dried grass at the moment.

I have erected a make-shift 'hide' very close to the box, by punching a hole through a disused fence panel, and leaning it against the fence proper. I hope to get closer views of the Tits through this hole, and photos also, but so far this afternoon,
I haven't seen the tits approach the box - though I have heard them calling - in fact I can hear one AS I'm typing this, with the window open.

What I HAVE seen a few minutes ago though, would strike fear into any Blue Tit's little heart...

Whilst outside, I suddenly heard a Pigeon's "CLAP". This sound is
produced by the Pigeon's wings clapping together, with force, above their heads, upon rapid take-off. I looked up and saw 2 Collared Doves and 1 Woodpigeon, all enter the air simultaneously, in a hurry. THIS IS ALMOST INVARIABLY A SIGN...

A sign of a predator - often a hawk. I leaped to my feet and scanned. Yes indeed, a lovely brown female Sparrowhawk shot by me over the garden, this time without a bird in its talons.

I have often been amazed how often this sort of thing happens to me, I think its just a case of being in tune with the "signs" and reacting quickly. I have seen a Sparrowhawk take a Blue Tit before, but not here... yet!

Our Tits have a warm box, midges, me and Anna AND a resident Sparrowhawk to contend with - and they haven't even laid eggs yet!

NB. As I finish this post, the male has just landed on the chopstick perch. So he's ok... for now....

[Photo (c)Arthur Grosset] (my view, pretty well exactly of our female hawk today).


At 06:15am this morning, we were sitting outside, before work, having a coffee, and I noticed the female (its always the female who displays this behaviour), shoot out of the box, at speed, in the dark, or at least semi-dark.

This is the first time we know the female has roosted in the nest box overnight. We knew it would happen, we just didn't know when. Looks like last night was the first night she's bedded down in the box for the night.

NB. It IS always the female that does this. The time of roosting varies, but the bird normally settles down on the nest material, (or in the corner) of the site, and fluffs herself up quite considerably, to insulate herself from the cold or any frost. At first light, or before in this case, ( we may have disturbed her a wee bit), she leaves.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007


Sitting at my desk today, on the 5th floor of the Environment Agency building at Caversham lock, gazing into the very blue sky, I saw two Sand Martins fly over the office, heading due north.
At first I thought they were swallows, and texted people to say that, but on careful consideration I'm sure they were Sand Martins.
They were flying pretty purposefully, about 100' height, northwards, across the Thames, and about 500m away from the office did they show typical Martin flight behaviour. By then though, they were dots in the sky! It wasn't the best view of these birds in the world, but never mind - I'm just glad to have seen them!
I know both Swallows and Sand Martins are already in the UK for the summer (we'll have to wait for the Swifts), and I've logged this sighting on the Berkshire
Birds Website.
Summer is nearly here! (Aren't the light evenings welcome...)!

Monday, March 26, 2007


Almost certain now. The male Tit is the plumper Tit (pictured above), and does very little, if any nest-building.
The female Tit is the more svelte tit, with a more erect crest, who does most if not all the nest building....

Sunday, March 25, 2007


I have changed my opinion on the sexes of our Blue Tits, for the last time (with any luck).
I have been desperately trawling through books and websites trying to get a relatively accurate picture of Blue Tit ecology and sexual dimorphism (if it exists).
What I have come to understand is that the male does none of the nest building in the main,and if anything is slightly brighter than the female.
I was under the impression until yesterday that we had a "new-age Man-Tit" building the family nest for his "wife". This doesn't seem to be likely in Tits, and after yesterday, when we watched the smaller (skinnier) of the two do all the nest material work, under the watcful eye of the plumper Tit, I have certainly come to the definitive conclusion that the larger bird is the MALE, and the skinnier (more hard-working, nest-building) bird is actually the FEMALE.
Many websites have shown me that the male will visit the box first, and may call the female if the coast is clear, the female will then arrive, and pretty well as soon as she does, the male will bugger off.
The websites that I've seen documenting this VERY COMMON behaviour, all have the male enter the inside of the nest box and crouch in the corner, out of the way of the female. OUR nest box has a chopstick perch however, so in the case of our Tits, the male has no need to enter the box and crouch out of the way - he simply keeps a lookout, and out of the way, by perching on the chopstick! Our female will then fly straight into the box, when he will join her and then bugger off quickly.

These websites (some with box-cams running NOW) have also shown me that our Tits are quite precocious, yes indeedy. Most boxes have the odd bit of moss in at the moment, and Tits struggling to know quite how to build a nest or whether they should or not.
Our Tits must have half-filled their nest box by now, with moss, twigs etc... and seem to be having no problem at all with their nest-building technique. We have SKILLED TITS.
I'm sitting here overlooking the box now and the female is heaving another 'log' into the box, 12' away from me...

One last thing, because we think we know now, that the male is the more rotund of the two, it is clear that on bottom of the rhs of his face he has what looks like a black scar (from around his 'Craiggggg Davvviiddd beard'). I hope you can pick out this tiny detail in the photos above - it seems to be a relatively good way of telling the male and female apart.
The female is more 'svelte', at least at the moment, before she starts producing eggs, and rather confusingly enough, seems to have a more mobile, erectile crest on top of her head. This would suggest again, that I've got it wrong, and she is in fact a he, but I don't think so. She's just excited about her des-res nest I think.

The last four above photos are of the male Tit. In the final photo (Tit facing right) you can make out the male's anomaly in his "Crrraiggg Davvvid beard".

The first photo is of the female (facing away from the camera) with a (tiny, for her!) twig in her gob.

Saturday, March 24, 2007


Last of all from our little trip yesterday was another bird that has seen its population and range steadily increase and increase over the last thirty years.
You would have to go down to the South Devon estuaries like the Dart 30 years ago to (only with a lot of luck) see one of these pass through.
Not any more though - we've seen Large White Egrets by reservoirs in Tottenham, and Little Egrets are getting to be almost common!
They are absolutely wonderful birds though, like a small snow-white heron with a yellow eye, dark bill and legs and yellow feet. Some exhibit quite delicate trailing head plumes.
The Egret we saw yesterday didn't hang around long, but it is always a pleasure to see these "little white herons" and made a very cold day very worth the effort!

[photo (c) Arthur Grosset]


We took a very short trip to Dinton Pastures again yesterday (as in the changed date and time of this post), near Wokingham, or more specifically Lavell's Lake, where we KNOW Bitterns roost!
No Bitterns,(we were too early in the day - we were visiting the cinema in the early evening), but some wonderful views of other birds.
First up, the Teal.
I remember being transfixed by the adult male Teal's plumage when I was a small boy, visiting my Grandfather in Suffolk. There was a captive (wing-clipped) population there, and I spent hours drawing the Teal when we returned back to his cottage for tea!
A chestnut head with a bottle-green pattern around the eyes, some incredible barring down the flanks (at a distance this just looks plain grey, but look closer, the detail is wonderful), and two very obvious yellow flashes by its rump (Anna noticed this immediately yesterday), make this bird unmistakeable.
The Teal is our smallest duck at 36cmlong and unlike a lot of ducks, takes off vertically from the water like a little harrier jump jet.
Teals also exhibit a bright GREEN speculum (wing flash) making them quite easy to identify in flight, in the right conditions.
We logged TEAL in the little birdwatchers log book in the hide we were sat - (it wasn't logged before even though there were a dozen or so of them, male and females). Teals, in the main, are winter visitors to the UK from Siberia, although some do breed here. I'll never take them for granted - very possibly my favourite UK duck.
NB. Teal are meant to be very tasty also. Our local farmers market sells them sometimes, every fortnight. I think we may just see if they really are that good to eat...!

[photo (c) Arthur Grosset once more. Thanks Arthur]


At Lavell's Lake again, there was a single male Shoveler feeding in a small pool in front of our hide.
Another unmistakeable bird, with a comically-large bill (hence its name) a bottle-green head, and most noticeably of all from a distance, a large chestnut patch down each flank, with snow white plumage surrounding these patches.
The shoveler seems to be breeding more and more in the south-east of the UK these days. It wasn't so long ago that I felt incredibly lucky if I saw one, they do appear to be much more common these days. Shovelers are large ducks, about 50cm long, and if you see them in flight, their large bill does make their head appear very long - quite distinctive.
Really nice to see yesterday though!

[photo (c)Arthur Grosset]


After watching the Tits mate this morning, (dirty wee bastards), I've got some photos developed.
This is the male, looking pretty peed off that I'd been watching him on the job so to speak...!

Friday, March 23, 2007


These Blue Tits are really moving nest material in earnest this morning.

They are both now selecting material such as dry plant stalks from the flowerbed below the box, and having trouble even lifting these things up, let alone dragging them through the nest-box opening!

I have seen the male? fly up to the nest box with material longer than the nest box! They are dropping bits here and there, but today is certainly the first real day when both tits are spending a long time lining the box, with lots of material, and are returning to the box with new bits, every 30 seconds or so at their busiest...


It has been a week now, since our two Blue Tits have discovered a new nest box in our garden and have begun to set up "home".
Both Anna and I work during the day at the moment, so we're not too sure what happens between the hours of about 9-5, but it is fair to say that earlier than that, both birds are busy bringing moss to the box.
Generally, so far this week, the smaller bird, with the more pointy crest (we think the male), flies to the chopstick perch and calls the more rotund, smooth, female (we think) to the box when he knows the coast is clear.
She arrives at speed, carrying a gob-full of moss (so far), both go in (she flies straight in and he joins her), both are in the box for 10 seconds or so, she flies away quickly and he does a little arranging, and joins her 10 second later or so.
NB. I might have got this arse about tit. i.e. it is the female who is the smaller, crestier bird, who calls the male in with his moss. Time will tell when she lays...
Today, the roles seemed to be reversed, with the larger bird calling in the smaller. Today also, the smaller bird (male?) was bringing in twigs etc... not just moss. It was a real effort for the bird to drag these bits of bedding through the nest-box opening, in fact he struggled a lot with some twigs - these were at least as long as him.
We didn't notice him drop more than one though!

I have been taking photos of the tits all week, not the best quality I'm sure, but I'm learning! I'll try and get these developed asap and start posting them on these entries, so you too can see my tits...!

Sunday, March 18, 2007


On our tour of Cardiff (thanks Hazel) we were treated to the fantastic building that is "The Wales Millenium Centre", right on the bay.
This building looks like a wonderfully huge, fat Armadillo from a distance, but its only when you get close that it really impresses.
It shimmers gold/copper and the windows are so designed that they spell out "IN THESE STONES HORIZONS SING" (and the Welsh equivalent).
A building really has to work hard to float my boat. This one did...


On Sunday (as in the changed date and time of this post), I was in Cardiff with Anna, staying at Hazel's place with her and Dave.
We took a han
gover-busting walk along Penarth Beach in the morning, (about 3 miles south west of Cardiff Bay.
The weather was quite beautiful and we could clearly see the two islands of Flat Holm and Steep Holm in the Bristol Channel.
Flat Holm is pictured here, to the left of Steep Holm. They seem to be well named! Flat Holm is considered Welsh - and includes the most southerly point of Wales. It can only be reached by boat from Barry, and if you do go there, you may witness the Island's famous colony of gulls and Shelducks.
Steep Holm can only be reached from Weston Super Mare, and its wildlife delights include Muntjac Deer!

I could watch the ocean all day long, and let's face it, the Bristol Channel is hardly the most picturesque body of water!
Penarth Beach has a stunning, real olde worlde style pier which has a marvellous (well kept) lick of paint.
A very nice morning indeed..
[photo from Dave's online photo gallery]

Friday, March 16, 2007


I went and bought a bird box from John Lewis on Monday.
It's a very nice bird box, with a sloping slate roof and very solidly bulit, (it actually has the FSC (Field Studies Council) stamp on it, so it should be ok).
I hung it from the lavatory waste pipe at the back of our house, with a shoe-lace, about 7' from the ground, on monday evening.
Then I decided any potential "nestees" would need a perch, so "araldited" a chopstick to the side of the box, to provide it. An old fleece wrapped around the lavatory waste pipe provided all the stability the box needed.
All to do now was wait.

It didn't take long...!

Wednesday, and a Blue Tit sat on the perch, popped its head in the opening and flew away. Working all day, we saw mothing else, but we assume it came back for more "inspections".
Thursday, and A COUPLE of Blue Tits went inside the box! They were in there for a minute or so, (needed some privacy I reckon)!

Friday (today), and for some time, both Blue Tits were lining the inside of the box with clumps of moss!
One bird would fly to the chopstick, make sure the coast was clear, and then call the other.
The other would arrive with a gob-full of moss, and they would both go in the box. Feng Shui and all that, probably.
This went on for as long as I could watch, before I had to set off for work!

Blue Tit boxes, so I'm led to believe, should be in place by the end of February, because pairs of Tits start checking out sites in early March. They SHOULD lay by the end of April, up to FOURTEEN eggs!

We feel very fortunate that two birds have taken a liking to our box, ALREADY, and I will endeavour to provide updates, and PHOTOS of the Blue Tits, regularly.

We haven't named them yet, but as they do seem to like the chopstick, something Chinese may be in order. They do look a bit "Chinky" anyway! We so far have come up with "Tai" and "Chi". I quite like "Crispy" and "Duck" though.

There is one plump Blue Tit (possibly the larger female) and one more "svelte" Tit (possibly the male), although I will only know for sure when the female does most of the brooding, (IF they lay eggs).

I post a photo not of OUR Blue Tits, but a photo from the Arthur Grossett site again, but do hope to start posting actual photos of our Blue Tits, very soon...

Watch this space for updates on our Tits... (ooh nooo, matro
n etc... etc...)

Tuesday, March 13, 2007


Sitting in the garden this evening, I saw a fantastic hot air balloon in the distance, drifting eastwards slowly.
My guess was it was about 2 or 3 miles north-east of Reading when I saw it, and descending.
We've had a lovely week of weather recently, it got up to 18c yesterday and the wind has become a very gentle breeze. (That's about to change next week, but I won't go into that here).
Anna and I did see a hot air balloon earlier in the year, but for the life of me, I can't remember when or where! (Maybe from the "Ridgeway" (See short-eared Owl post).
Anyway, another sign that spring is here!
The hot air balloon I saw tonight was coloured very much like this one...

[NB click on "hot air balloon" above for website where I obtained the photo above (legal stuff)]

Sunday, March 11, 2007


Anna and I took a nice walk through some villages and towns in south Bucks today, to soak up the glorious early spring weather.
Nature came out of its winter hiding in a big way today. It was 16c in the sun, blossom is everywhere, bloody great bumblebee bombers are in the air, the sparrowhawks are catching the first big thermals of the year and we saw our FIRST Brimstone Butterflies of the year today!
The Brimstone is very often the first sign of summer around the corner, and although the first one in Britain this year was seen on January 9th in Linco
lnshire, TODAY was the first day they became widespread. We must have seen at least half a dozen on our walks today!The male Brimstone is bright yellow, the female more of a pale green colour, both sexes have very distinctly-shaped wings, and MARCH is very often the month you'll FIRST see them, in the year. If you keep your eyes open!
It wasn't that long ago, that one couldn't expect to see Brimstones until May, and many reference books still suggest that they are only regularly seen in June, July and August.
Ah you see... global warming blah blah blah... we're all doomed... etc etc...!


[photo (c) Fraser Hilton Bird Photography]

I'm lucky enough to see a Jay every day from my garden. This morning was no exception, so I thought I'd give my Jay an entry on "Blue-Grey"...
Jays are fantastic-looking members of the Crow family, with a pink body, a mottled-white cap, a great black "moustache", a snow white rump, and I think, the most beautiful feathers of ALL British birds on their wings - electric blue and jet black barred feathers, (the primary wing coverts).
For such a beautiful bird, they don't half make a bloody awful racket!
I always feel very lucky indeed to find one of the Jay's blue wing feathers on a walk. I've only found two in my entire life - one of which I have deliberately left in our old flat in Tottenham. (I found the feather in that estate).

I cheated once, and bought a whole Jay's wing from a Game Fair at Blenheim Palace. (Fly-tyers use it to make lures for fishing). I did once have an old hat which I used to don on my walks, with a few Jay feathers in it, from that Game Fair. Very... er.... dandy?!
I do feel fortunate to see a Jay every day though, and hope I find another feather soon...

Saturday, March 10, 2007


I work in a top-floor office (presently) that overlooks the River Thames (at Caversham lock, Reading). Before work yesterday (as in the changed time and date of this post) I took a little wander along the river. I often do!
I was treated to a (very brief) site of a Kingfisher, flying very low, straight and fast (typical ) from the lock to the river proper.
I always enjoy seeing these wonderfully-coloured little birds.

The Kingfisher is steeped in Greek myth
ology. In case you don't know the legend - I'll give it to you in a nutshell below...
The Kingfisher is sometimes known as the "HALCYON", its latin name is "Alcedinidae".
Alcyone was the daughter of the wind in Greek mythology. She was distraught when she found out that her husband has been killed in a shipwreck, so she threw herself into the sea.
Both her and her husband were transformed into kingfishers, and they roamed the oceans together.

When they nested on open waters, the sea was smooth and calm - "HALCYON DAYS", the 7 days before and the 7 days after the Winter Solstice - when the Kingfishers (Halcyons) nested.

Very often you will hear a Kingfisher before you see it. They very often give a small, highly-pitched "PEEP" as they are flying low and fast up a river or stream. Listen out for this very distinctive call, then immediately train your eyes no more than 6' higher than the body of water and scan quickly - invariably you'll see (if nothing else), the cobalt-blue flash down the Kingfisher's back, disappearing at speed, low over the water.
If you possess a very keen set of eyes and a high-powered set of binoculars or telescope, it IS possible to differentiate between the se
xes of the Kingfisher.
The male Kingfisher has a dull brown beak, whereas the female displays an orange lower mandible. (I used to remember this by thinking she'd gone and put
some orange lippy on, and only done her lower lip!)

I've posted three photos ( the bottom two again from the Birds of Berkshire website). You will see one photo of each sex, male top, female bottom. The top photo is courtesy of Arthur Grosset once more. I've included it because I think the Kingfisher is a "niblet" in it. (Family "in" joke).

Monday, March 05, 2007


If you were awake at around 06:30am this morning, you may have thought "Blimey, it's finally getting lighter in the mornings..?!"

Today was most certainly the first day I noticed decent light at half-six in the morning - really nice to see, at last! (Especially after yesterday's miserable weather).

British Summer Time will race up on us I'm sure, now that February is over. The clocks "go forward" at 01:00am on Sunday 25th March this year - and that's less than three weeks away!
The (white) Blackthorn blossom is out in hedges and gardens all over the place, and in this month, I hope to see the first Swallow of the summer (I'll let you know as soon as this happens). Then, it's just a case of seeing the first of my favourite bird species - the Swift, and then summer will have finally arrived!

Saturday, March 03, 2007


Last night (as in the changed date and time of this post) we saw a (well predicted) spectacular lunar eclipse over Britain.
We were all very fortunate that the viewing conditions were perfect - not a cloud in the sky (unlike the last one in the UK, 3 years ago, which was obscured by cloud).
The Earth's shadow began visibly moving over The Moon at around 21:30 and "Totality" occurred between 22:45 and 11:58 approximately.
The Moon turned a wonderful coppery colour.
People often expect a "blood-red" moon during lunar eclipses, probably down to the media hyping it up. The colour of the eclipsed moon is produced by refracted light from The Earth's atmosphere hitting the moon. If The Earth has, for example, had a recent period of heavy volcanic activity, the lunar eclipse will appear blood-red due to all the dust in the Earth's atmosphere.
We haven't had a recent period of volcanic activity, so the moon turned orange or copper coloured. But what an absolutely fantastic sight and so lucky with the clear night sky! The next lunar eclipse in Britain is not due for almost a year - February 21st 2008, and I dare say we probably won't be so lucky with the weather in February next year!
The photo above is of course a photo of the actual lunar eclipse, last night.


Yesterday (as in the changed date and time of this post), Anna and I took advantage of the sunny weather and went for a walk on "The Ridgeway" about 10 miles south of Didcot, to look for Short-eared Owls. I hadn't ever seen one of these (moorland or downland) owls before, but knew they are regularly seen on "Bury Down" and "Cow Down" south of Didcot, on "The Ridgeway".
As is often the case with this type of activity, the journey to destination or your trip back often proves more fruitful in terms of 'things seen
', and so it was yesterday.
Half way up the A34, about 5 minutes from the "Bury Down Car Park" (which is right on top of "The Ridgeway", I witnessed a (unmistakeable) Short-eared Owl flying relatively low over the A34, right in front of and above our car. The first I'd
ever seen! A wonderful view, from about 50', and from the sodding car! If we'd have been 30 seconds earlier or later we'd have seen bugger all, as we didn't see any owls on The Downs, (every man, woman and dog were out for a walk also) - "The Ridgeway" does have stunning views though, and we did see Buzzards, Sparrowhawks, a Kestrel, Skylarks, Lapwings and Yellowhammers during our walk along "The Gallops" at the top of The Ridgeway.
Short-eared Owls can often be seen during the day, rather like Little Owls, and because they hunt over moorland or downland, they are (or should be) easier to see than nocturnal woodland owls for example.

If you want to see Short-eared Owls, always look along fence posts around such areas - very often, if it isn't disturbed (like yesterday), a Short-eared Owl will be sitting on a post like that, watching you WELL before you see it!
I've added two photos to this post - the first (above) is a marvellous 'portra
it photo' of a Short-eared Owl, taken on "The Downs" that we were walking on yesterday.
The photo to the right is a photo of a Short-eared Owl taken in the same area as we were walking in yesterday, and is pretty well the same sort of view we got from the car.

[Photos (c) Jerry O'Brien and Mike Prince, from "The Birds of Berkshire Website"]

The last photo of this wonderful owl is courtesy of Arthur Grosset again, (c)Arthur, showing the owl engaging in typical moorland quartering behaviour. A fantastic photograph - note the owl's "pyjama bottoms"!

Friday, March 02, 2007


As I watched the Goldfinches (mentioned below), I saw a Sparrowhawk being mobbed by a Carrion Crow in the distant sky, about half a mile from where I was sat. The Sparrowhawk was too small to be a female Sparrowhawk, and as the two birds continued their 'dogfight', they got closer and the orange breast of the male hawk was revealed to me briefly, in the very clear winter sunshine.
I've noticed sparrowhawks regularly from our old address (14 doors up the street), but this was the first I have seen from the gard
en of our present address.
NB. The photo (above right) was taken by Tim Ball (from the excellent Birds of Berkshire Website). This is the same geezer who snapped the photo of the Peregrine mentioned on "Blue-Grey" also.
The Sparrowhawk in the photo is a male Sparrowhawk, ringed on the 24th November 2006 (when the photo was taken) at Caversham Heights, Reading - less than a mile from the position of the Sparrowhawk I saw this morning.

I will never know if it is the same individual, but it most certainly could be!
The photos below are taken from the fantastic Arthur Grosset site, [(c) Arthur Grosset] (a birdwatcher in Scotland) and shows dogfights between two sparrowh
awks and the same (Hooded) Crow. This will give you an idea of the sexual dimorphism of the Sparrowhawk. The First photo is of the "Hoodie" chasing the smaller male Sparrowhawk, (slate grey back, orange barred breast); the second is of the larger female (brown above, barred brown below) seeing off the same Crow!


Having returned from haircut which involved a 2 mile walk up and down the River Thames where I saw nothing of real interest, I sat down in the garden with a cup of coffee to see a dozen or so strong, winter flock of Goldfinch "bouncing" from tree to tree at the end of the garden.
These are glorious little finches that always appear to be 'enjoying themselves', with a bouncy, undulating flight and a bubbly call. The collective noun for Goldfinches is a "Charm".
Their old english name is "King Harold's bird", a nod to the blood-red patch around their eyes. I happen to like that a lot! The gold part of the Goldfinch name refers to the magnificent yellow flash on their wings - very obvious from a distance.

[photo (c) Arthur Grosset]