2012 12 - December

This winter, I’m participating in a project that aims to find out more about our thrushes in winter – their distribution and numbers, and also how they use the resources of the countryside, especially berries. We’re also looking at how berries are eaten in gardens – which berries are eaten first, and whether some birds prefer particular berries?  In the first six weeks of the survey, it’s clear that in the wider countryside, both the common resident thrushes (Blackbirds and Song Thrushes) and the wintering thrushes (Fieldfare and Redwing) much prefer to eat Hawthorn berries (haws). Even in the garden, the haws were first to disappear, mainly due to the attention of our local Woodpigeons. But the Woodpigeons and Blackbirds rapidly moved on to one of our Cotoneaster bushes, and then, to the Pyracantha. Other species seen eating Hawthorn, Cotoneaster, and Pyracantha berries, have included Green Finch, Blue Tit, and Robin – but I’ve not yet seen our wintering Blackcaps that normally go straight to the Pyracantha. The other thrush species that I haven’t yet mentioned, is the Mistle Thrush. You never see these in large numbers, but their particular preference at this time of year, seems to be Yew; look out for them in our churchyards. One Mistle Thrush has also occasionally been feeding on my Pyracantha, and if past winters are anything to go by, I’m expecting a pair of them to soon take ownership of the big holly at the bottom of our garden. Holly berries are a favourite of all the thrushes, especially Redwing, and when the weather gets colder and the haws are exhausted in the hedgerows, we can expect our local Mistle Thrushes to fight a losing battle as they defend their holly bush from hungry flocks of Redwing. The other fascinating thing that we can expect to see later in the winter, is that all the thrush species will gradually change their diet. At the moment, they all eat berries and you see them in bushes and hedgerows. But as the berries disappear, the birds turn to feeding on the ground – probing for worms and other invertebrates, or eating fallen apples where they can find them. But every winter is different, and in the February magazine I’ll tell you what transpires for our local thrushes.

West Down working parties

Despite the valiant efforts of the Highland cattle, the wet summer has spurred on much scrub growth in areas where our butterflies don’t want it! So we’ll be once again having monthly working parties this winter.  Dates for your diary are Sundays 30th December (opportunity to work off some of those excess calories!)& 27th January. We’ll be removing small thorny scrub, so wear stout footwear, and bring loppers and gloves if you can.  Meet 10am at the top car-park.

Glynne Evans  (hantsbto@hotmail.com

Additional information