Magpies are common in UK, and can be a bit of a pest, thieving food intended for other birds. But catch them in the right light and they can be rather beautiful, like the above recent shot from Tatton Park.
They are particularly active in spring, with spells of amorous behaviour interspersed with avid feeding from what they can find in the ground.
We’ve been fortunate to visit Brazos Bend State Park in Texas a number of times over the years. Apart from the more exotic birds (from a European perspective) there appeared to be plenty of coots and moorhens, just as on most lakes in the UK.
However, the loquacious and overactive ‘moorhens’ did not appear to behave at all like those in UK. Yes this was usually the mating season around March, but surely these were not the same species. A web search shows that they are common gallinules, which were given a separate categorisation from moorhens only in 2011. Their mating behaviour is quite spectacular!
Moorhens are one of our commonest water birds, and indeed are quite common worldwide, under names such as marsh hen or common gallinule. These members of the rail family appear fairly undistinguished, so are not first choice photographic subjects. I’ve tried over the years, but he result is usually not particularly impressive.
Here a strong low afternoon sun brought out the brown colours in the body, which usually appears black.
Their gait is quite ungainly, which does make for an interesting profile when backlit.
Our recent walk around the local Shakerley Mere showed some unusual visitors, in addition to the usual ducks, Canada geese, grebes, swans and the odd heron. There were cormorants in the trees, but also three unusual ‘ducks’. It soon became apparent that these were not dabblers, as they sped around the lake much faster than a mallard, diving under water for periods in the manner of grebes. Their speed made for difficult photography. This was the best one, at the limits of my pocket superzoom.
There are lots of gulls on Knutsford’s Moor at the moment, almost all black-headed gulls, as on the featured image. Then there is a single larger gull, which stands out from the rest, does its own thing, and is treated with some suspicion by them. It is not one of the gang.
Looking back to March, just before transatlantic air travel became pretty impossible, we were lucky enough to get to Brazos Bend State Park. It was a delight to reacquaint with the subtle colour variations of the little blue heron.
This heron is medium-sized, much smaller than the great blue, and more blue.
Following their previous encounter, the grey heron and the mute swan stayed around awhile at the same distance from each other, each studiously ignoring the other. This was from a vantage point further around the lake.
The twigs around provide quite a pleasing foreground.
For less than a minute this grey heron and mute swan faced off on Shakerley Mere. They were perhaps in each other’s way. I managed to pull compact camera out of pocket and take this before the confrontation ended, the heron backing off. The heron seemed to be hissing at the swan, but I couldn’t capture that moment.
The limpid water gave rather good reflections of the individual birds.
Another mass of migrated birds we recently found at Cley and Salthouse Marshes in Norfolk was these Brent Geese. The white patch on the neck is distinctive of this bird.
These appear to be dark-bellied Brent Geese, which migrate back to their breeding grounds in the tundra of northern Siberia via the Baltic in April. The other sort are light-bellied, and these migrate the other way, to Iceland and then Canada.
According to Wikipedia these are also known as Brant Geese, after the genus Branta. Apparently, the Brent Oilfield, off the Shetland Isles, is named after these geese.
Whilst we were watching, these geese stuck together, occasionally flying off in unison to a nearby field, almost taking turns with a herd of cows to feed on a particular area. Maybe there is some synergy there.
The European robin must be our most friendly bird in the UK. This one, in Devon recently, was just sitting around inquisitively, fearlessly waiting to be photographed.
The colours look very fresh, so this is probably this season’s bird, but must be a few months old (see eg post on Robin juvenile.)
Of course, this bird was traditionally called ‘robin redbreast’. Why? Because the colour orange was only recognised as distinct from red from the 16th century, when the orange fruit had been introduced. That’s what Wikipedia says…
Our small apple tree in a raised border by a fence usually has a crop of 20-30 smallish apples. About half of these are usually riddled with bugs and/or bird peckings. I don’t use any pesticides.
This year I recently picked the ‘crop’ – just ten apples, but each rather larger than usual. This summer’s weather must have somehow encouraged this by shining and raining at the right times, as I’d hardly bothered to thin them out.
The funny thing is, there were no blemishes on the apples, no peck marks, no bugs, no caterpillers, no sawfly larvae, no aphids… Now this is scary. We know about declining numbers of insects, but NO BUGS AT ALL? And no birds fancying a tasty peck? Even the army of slugs enabled by the lack of deterrent couldn’t be bothered to climb up.
I have never known such an occurrence before. Another piece of evidence of the alarming reduction in the natural world that is taking place before our eyes. What will future generations say when they look at David Attenborough’s films and literally cannot believe their eyes, and that this wonderful biodiversity was all lost by negligence?
So yes, there are more important things than unblemished apples.
The southern screamer is a large South American wetland bird. What is it doing in the UK? This pair are at the Wildlife and Wetland Trust’s Martin Mere centre, now reopened for a limited number of visitors. The centre contains specimen birds from all over the world, as well as providing the space for thousands of local and migrating birds.
We were lucky to find the birds in photo-posing mode, rather than screaming at all and sundry.
Unlike geese and ducks this bill is not designed to filter water; they mostly feed on vegetation. These birds are thought to be the ‘missing link’ between wildfowl and game birds.Read More »
Black swan theory is a metaphor that describes an event that comes as a surprise and has a major effect, based on the observed historical fact in Europe that black swans did not exist.
I guess we could call covid-19 a black swan event, although it was actually predicted that such an event would happen at some time, which was always ‘in the future’, until it wasn’t. Of course, globalised trade made this black swan event a worldwide phenomenon pretty rapidly.
Globalisation also means we can now see black swans in Europe without travelling to Australia. This one was at WWT Martin Mere, caught in the act of biting off chunks of reed.
English jays are usually careful to stay hidden, unlike their black crow cousins and magpies. This one stayed around on the grass at Anderton Country Park just long enough to take a photograph before he flew off.
These are also known as ‘brown jays’ or ‘old world jays’ to distinguish them from more colourful variants, such as the American blue jay.
The other day we heard our first cuckoo of spring, in fact the first for several years, in Anderton Country Park. Cuckoos were ubiquitous in my youth, but alas no longer.
We then saw these small white flowers by the canal, which I had seen other years and been meaning to look up. What a surprise, when they turned out to be cuckoo flowers – so named because their appearance tended to coincide with the hearing of the first cuckoos!