Tag Archive | heron

Birds in our village

We’ve had a few special bird sightings from our cottage this year, but sadly I can’t illustrate any of them with photos as my camera was not to hand …

The first was a strange occurrence indeed. In the 25 years we have lived here we have only once ever before seen a heron (Ardea cinerea) flying over the village. There is not a lot of water round us: we are on the chalk and a lot of the streams are winterbornes ie they only flow in winter, and the nearest lake is 2.25 km (1.4 miles) away and the nearest river about the same distance. So we were very surprised one morning not only to see a heron flying very low over the gardens near us, but to then see it pitch up on a telephone wire over our neighbour’s garden.

Grey heron (Ardea cinerea). Imagine this, but on a telephone wire … Photo by ErRu.

It perched there, swaying slightly, and it was the most amazing sight: such a massive bird, hanging around the cottages completely unconcerned. For such a huge, ungainly bird we were very impressed at its balancing act. It stayed for a few minutes, and then flew off, leaving us delighted.

The second lovely sighting was earlier this week: a lesser spotted woodpecker (Dryobates minor) on one of the telephone poles (I’m not going to call it a telegraph pole because we’re not living in Downton Abbey times any more), going up and down poking insects out of the drilled holes in the pole, and also banging away at the wood.

Lesser spotted woodpecker (Dryobates minor). Imagine this, but on a telephone pole … Photo by Zaltys.

He flew off and then was back again, scurrying up and down the pole. We’ve seen both lesser spotted woodpeckers and green woodpeckers (Picus viridis) doing this, so there must be rich buggy harvests in all the holes.

The third sighting was last night, and a very exciting one: my first ever starling murmuration over the village. When we moved here we rarely saw starlings (Sturnus vulgaris): maybe one or two every now and then. Chap has been feeding our wild birds regularly for a few years now, and in this time we have noticed various bird species increase (and sadly, decrease – or at least, populations seem to fluctuate). One of the success stories is that of the starlings. In the last year the numbers have increased hugely – we now have a biggish flock that seems to stay around the village all day. This might well be to do in part with Chap putting out vast quantities of dried mealworms as well as sunflower seeds several times a day. The starlings (or stormtroopers, as we affectionately call them, due to their strutting walk and bolshy behaviour) come down in droves and hoover up the worms in no time, and I like to think that this regular supply of protein-rich food throughout the year has helped them thrive and breed and raise broods successfully. We regularly see twelve or fifteen juveniles perched on a television aerial or hanging round on the chimney stacks.

Starlings (Sturnus vulgaris). Adults left and centre front; juveniles right back. Photo by Daniel Plazanet (Daplaza).

The murmuration was so exciting to see. It was at about six thirty – so not near dusk, really, but the sky was very overcast (so overcast that we didn’t get to see the partial eclipse later on last evening, bugger it). I reckon there might have been several hundred birds, and they flew in a long, snaking, undulating group over the houses and perched in one of the large beech trees. Having seen with envy footage of huge murmurations over the Somerset Levels and elsewhere in the UK on the telly, it was magical to see one myself, and from our cottage. I hope this will be the first of many.

A starling murmuration. Photo by David Kjaer.

And here is the most wonderful video of a murmuration. Stick with it: it starts with some photos, and then …

Lucky ladies!

We have found the cheapest place to bulk-buy mealworms is Croston Corn Mill: we buy a 12.55 kg (!) bag at a time and pound-per-kilo it seems to work out much cheaper than other places, both physical shops and online. We get through a bag every two weeks or so ….

A pterodactyl over my house

Since Chap and I moved to our cottage 22 years ago, we have kept a nature diary. We record what’s going on in the garden, what wildlife we have seen, what the weather is doing, and general impressions of the natural world about us. We have a bird species list, where we note ‘new’ birds when we see them in or over our garden.

Yesterday morning I was chatting to Chap on the phone, looking out of the study window as I always do when I’m on the blower (my desk faces a wall so it’s nice to see the world …!), when I had a wonderful, chance surprise. A heron was flying towards our cottage, not very high at all and coming right at us. It is the first time I have ever seen a heron here (though there are some on the nearby streams and rivers and lakes). I squealed down the phone at Chap and near-deafened him, I think.

Grey heron (Ardea cinerea). Photo by Kclama.

Grey heron (Ardea cinerea). Photo by Kclama.

It flew right over me and I had a great view of its belly as it passed. Beautiful.

Herons (Ardea cinereaare such wonderful birds. We sometimes see them standing stock still in the local shallow chalk streams, poised and ready to strike, or walking with that slow, high-stepping tread through the water. They are a beautiful cloudy-sky grey. But it is when they are flying that they intrigue me most, and remind me of nothing more than the illustrations of flying pterodactyls in my dinosaur books from my childhood. Watching a heron fly you can quite easily believe that birds are feathery dinosaurs … Their heads are pulled back, their legs trail behind them and they beat their enormous wings with slow, steady flaps.

Grey heron in flight. Photo by Paweł Kuźniar.

Grey heron in flight. Photo by Paweł Kuźniar.

Grey heron in flight. Photo by Mediamenta.

Grey heron in flight. Photo by Mediamenta.

Their wingspan is among the largest of British birds, at between 155 and 195 cm for an adult bird.

(I know their proper title is Grey heron, but they are just ‘herons’ here as we don’t have any other type here in the UKand they are, after all, the original bird to be called a heron).

Not a grey heron. Drawing by Matthew P. Martyniuk.

Not a heron. Drawing by Matthew P. Martyniuk.

Such an exciting day. But I think of all our heron sightings, the top one still has to be the day we saw a buzzard (Buteo buteo) and a heron having an aerial dogfight. We used to live in the Woodford Valley north of Salisbury, and were driving close to Lake House when we saw a tussle going on in the sky, just above the trees by the road. The two birds were circling round and round each other and occasionally clashing, and as they are both large birds it was quite a spectacle. We couldn’t quite make out what was going on, but we wondered if the buzzard was harrying the heron to make it regurgitate its catch.

PS. Our lone fieldfare is still with us, 36 days+ and counting. We had some snow the other daynot deep, but enough to remind him of home.

UPDATE Saturday 6 May 2017: This morning we had only our second ever sighting of a heron from our house in the near-twenty five years that we have lived here. And what a close encounter it was: it flew its slow flapping flight very low over our neighbours’ garden, and to our amazement landed in a very ungainly fashion on an overhead line just above the garden. It stayed perched there for about a minute or so before flying off. I hurried to look at our garden to see if it was heading for our pond, but sadly no – although I should be grateful that the tadpoles and newts and frogs live to see another day. Seeing such a massive bird perched on a wire was quite a thing.