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Saturday, 6 April 2013

The return of our summer birds

March is the month that sees the return of our three favourite migratory birds. The one we most look forward to seeing again is the Swallow (Hirundo rustica), a true migrator that overwinters in sub-Saharan Africa. I saw one flying in the field next to my veg patch on the 23rd March and if it had any sense, it would have turned right round and gone back to somewhere warmer like Spain for a couple of weeks! I jest, of course, because so long as it's not pouring with rain continually, there are plenty of flying insects for them to eat and it's normally pretty chilly around the time they return anyway.

The other two birds are ones we hear far more often than see, namely the Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita) and the Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla), both of which are Warblers. The Blackcaps don't migrate far and in fact I have seen them as late as December in the garden, and some of these birds will spend the winter in warmer corners of France. Whilst Chiffchaffs migrate greater distances they too can overwinter in milder parts of coastal France, southern England and Eire. Our first Chiffchaff was heard in the garden on 17th March and the first Blackcap on the 28th. Blackcaps have the sweetest of melodic songs which I love to hear when I'm out in the garden. Even though the weather is not nice right now it still makes me think of summer!

I was lucky enough to see a Chiffchaff through the kitchen window the other day, hopping about in the grass!


We also saw a number of them in the middle of March when we revisited the Marais de Sougeal, a water meadow which is flooded in late winter for the benefit of migrating water fowl. I featured it back in January when there was hardly any bird life except for a load of seagulls. This time there was plenty of interest, but unfortunately the vast majority of interesting ducks were on the far side of the lake! We did see a handful of Chiffchaffs flitting about by the water's edge, and even wading into the water, catching small insects. It was freezing that day and still some snow lying on the ground. Yes, this was my OH's birthday treat yet again, bird watching in the freezing cold. :-)

Chiffchaffs at le Marais de Sougeal.
You can click on this photo to view it larger.

That visit we also saw a Water Pipit (Anthus spinoletta), not a bird we will see in our garden so it was rather exciting and I had to spend some time with my bird books trying to figure out whether this was a Water or Meadow Pipit. I came to the conclusion that it was a male just going from its winter to breeding (summer) plumage. According to Wikipedia and the RSPB site the Water Pipit is a winter visitor to this part of France, and breeds further south in the Alps and other mountains of central and southern Europe.

So this was a perfect example of a winter bird and a summer bird in passing on their various migratory routes, and why I wish that the water meadow was just up the road as I'd be popping by several times a week!

Water Pipit

Back to the garden birds, we had a handsome pair visit during our last lot of snow in the middle of March. Both male and female Brambling (Fringilla montifringilla) visited. These are finches which are winter visitors only, breeding in Scandinavia and Russia. We rarely see them except during harsh weather when they come to feed on the bird food that we put out.

Male Brambling

Breeding season has commenced for the early birds, notably the Magpies (Pica pica) which have decided to use one of our lime trees (Tilia, not the citrus kind of lime!) in full view of the kitchen window. It's been amusing watching both male and female build their twiggy, messy nest and quite astonishing how they start with just a few twigs wedged into place, and in no time at all a whole nest appears. Complete with twiggy roof as can be seen in the photo below this one!

Both male and female Magpie construct the nest together

The top part of this nest is a roof!
I don't think it's very waterproof though.

I haven't noticed the other regular garden birds starting to gather nest material yet but I do know from experience that many of these nests will be lined with lovely duck down courtesy of my ducks!

Female Blackbird (Turdus merula)

More garden birds.
Left top: Great Tit. Left bottom: Blue Tit. We can't tell the sexes apart with the Tit families.
Right top: L-R Mr House Sparrow, Mr Chaffinch and Mrs House Sparrow
Right middle: Mr House Sparrow
Right bottom: Mrs Chaffinch
(Proof reading this before posting I have got too lazy to look up any more latin names!)

Various garden birds

Of course I can't do a bird post without mentioning my ducks, but first here is a wild Mallard drake that has been visiting regularly for many weeks. Often he is accompanied by one or two females. What is funny about his visits is that he is really upsetting my drake, Dirk, who is desperate to see Mr Mallard off. However, whilst Dirk is bigger and can swim faster, he can't fly, but Mr Mallard can. So every time Dirk gets to within a few inches of Mr Mallard, off the Mallard flies to another part of the pond, and really winds poor old Dirk up. All the while the females, both wild and domestic, have been watching these goings on with what seems like the duck equivalent of rolling their eyes around thinking "Boys, oh how typical". We've been having hysterics watching this most days!

Visiting Mallard drake

.....and here comes poor Dirk, who has just missed him again!
(you can just see the Mallard taking off top left)

More duck pics for a friend who likes to see them :-)

And here's a funny picture of the range in egg sizes I collected one day last week. The tiny duck egg is from Freckles, the old white duck, who is into her 7th year of laying! The eggs only contain white but they are rather cute. Then there's a regular hen egg, a slightly smaller than average duck egg, and then.... the monster egg that Doris laid one day. It weighs 223g and an average duck egg will be about 90-100g!! I haven't broken it yet but am hoping it might be a triple yolker. We've had double yolkers before but this is by the far the biggest egg. Ever! Needless to say she had the day off from laying the next day.

The measure is centimetres, not inches, but it gives an idea of scale.

As for the hens, we lost one of the older red hens last week who went the best way possible, just toppled off the perch one night and I found her stone dead under it the next morning. She wasn't laying any more so it is one less mouth to feed, and going that way means no stress to anyone.


  1. Feedly rearranges? That's odd. Do you, like me, use more than one email address?
    That 'recommend' is FB likes and Google +1s (and I know you do get those).
    Unsubscribe on Feedly ... click organise, edit and remove.

    1. Hi Diana, I saw the reply on your blog too about Wordpress. I don't know what Wordpress has as their equivalent of Reader. I have noticed now that actually I have somehow managed to get unsubscribe to work, which is great, but I still have my blogs which I wanted just organised into two categories, in three, all in a bit of a mess with some duplications, and it keeps giving these categories different names and moving things around!

      I may get the hang of it one day but it is very frustrating. I tried Bloglovin which I saw mentioned on your blog but that's too simplified and you can't read the blog post without having to go onto the blog, which is what I wanted to avoid (some are slow to load if they have advertising, plus small fonts, etc).

    2. Oh ignore the bit about wordpress, you were replying to someone else... :-)