Meadow yellow

Meadow yellow
Bulbous Buttercup (Ranunculus bulbosus) in a Devon meadow

Monday, 18 January 2010

Charming birds

The snow has gone from the local area refreshing the landscape view. The picturesque Narnian outlook blanketing fields and coating trees with a magical sparkling white has been transformed back to the drab winter norm of browns and sludgy colours. However admist the relative gloom are suprising signs of spring that at least gives us future hope from the winter hues. Pointy snowdrop growth mixed with bluebells push upwards despite the weather, eager to make the most of well lit woodland before the shade of leaves.

The birds also seem to have shifted their poise, from puffed up hungry desperadoes seeking food, to pulling back a notch on the survival scale, to find time to sing and think of spring activities. Late this afternoon I was therefore taken aback by the noise of a large group of goldfinches, known collectively as a CHARM, that had landed in a tree in the field next to our garden. Quick scans and counting revealed a flock of at least 50, as groups came and went with their constant lively chatter. The latin name Cardeulis cardeulis is presumably derived from it frequently feeding on seeds from thistles, including those from Carduus family. But why a 'charm'? It would seem to be a collective noun used for goldfinces and some other birds since medieval times. A quick internet research did not reveal an answer, but they are certainly very charming birds! If you know, or would like to make a suggestion, please email me at

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Why knot?

Do you know how the knot, a small sandpiper, got its name?

I recently came across the answer whilst reading this weekends Guardian. The author Margaret Atwood wrote an article, 'Act now to save our birds', in which she describes her new role working for Birdlife International, personal birding experiences and her fears for the future.

The knot (Calidris canutus), a wading bird that feeds on British shorelines in the winter, is named after King Canute or Knut, who infamously tried to stop the incoming tide.

The full article can be found at

Monday, 11 January 2010

Murder at the Pinfold

I sat eating beans on toast with the family at our home, the Pinfold, with half an eye on the garden. Outside the kitchen window we have a birdtable, fat ball and peanut hangers. These have proved increasingly popular during the recent cold snap, attracting; tits, robins, thrushes, the occassional nuthatch and woodpecker. We have also observed several failed attempts by a sparrowhawk(s) to catch these birds unawares. We rarely see more than it flash past, often alerted by the sudden panic that it provokes. Yesterday however it was successful. A flash. Panic. Empty swinging hangers. We looked about and spotted a male perched on a nearby horizontal tree bough beginning to pluck a long-tailed tit. Before long the snowy branch was stained red as it expertly processed its meal. For at least fifteen minutes the family took turns to watch; partly in distaste (well at least my recently converted vegan daughter), but mainly in wonder at the perfection of the bird and its efficient execution technique. We could also take our time admiring the bird's sleekness, orange facial blush markings and striped pyjama like legs with yellow stick legs. It may seem to be a cruel act, but we can't have such top predators without the numerous small birds. Fortuneately the long-tailed tit is a rare success story over the last decade or so as they have adapted to feeding on garden hangers, and as a result is now one of our top 10 garden birds according the the RSPB.