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Wildlife in (snowy) KingstonSunday 17 February 2013
Much as I appreciated the opportunity provided by the snowfalls at the end of January to see at close range birds that wouldn’t normally venture into small gardens like ours, I was relieved for the sake of the birds themselves when the weather relented.
Our most unusual visitors were fieldfares. These attractive thrushes visit Britain annually from around late September, generally staying until early April but occasionally not leaving before early May. Recoveries of ringed birds have shown that our particular migrants are predominantly from Finland, with smaller numbers from Norway and Sweden, part of a vast movement of birds from Russia and eastern Europe to more clement western areas.
For a short while, we had five individuals, with one making itself at home with us for as long as the snow lasted. The sexes are more or less identical so, whether this was a male or a female, we will never know. Fieldfares are very distinctive birds with their grey napes and rumps and notably black tails. The breast is heavily speckled, with the upper parts an orangey-yellow and the belly white.
The fieldfare was the only bird in the garden able to hold its own - in the battle for food - against one rather fearsome male blackbird that spent so much of its time chasing other birds away it never seemed to get round itself to feeding. Other blackbirds, including some of the males and all of the females, concentrated their attention on wolfing down as fast as possible as much of the food we’d provided as they could, which seemed a sensible strategy. The concentration of birds in our small front garden during this period was quite remarkable, with maximum numbers of 24 goldfinches, 15 blackbirds, 11 starlings, seven chaffinches and five collared doves and lower numbers of at least seven other species. Besides the usual fare of sunflower hearts, we offered dried fruit, muesli, apples, and oatmeal. I even – rather grudgingly, I confess – gave them some of my precious homemade bread.
While the only other relatively unusual bird to appear in our garden at this time was a male pheasant, other people were more fortunate. A red-legged partridge turned up in Lockitt Way while the female reed bunting recorded by Fred and Judy Dawber on 18th January in The Avenue may have been the first of its species to have been reported in a garden in Kingston, although these birds have certainly been seen before around Spring Barn Farm. In a typical year, reed buntings are recorded in fewer than 2% of gardens by members of the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), whose Garden Birdwatch scheme has now been running for nearly 20 years. (Reed buntings are slightly bigger than a house sparrow, with a streaky brown back, white under the eye and white outer tail feathers).
Perhaps the most striking appearance of all, though, was that of a small flock of lapwings in Vicki Scott’s back garden in Wellgreen Lane on 21st January. Although the lapwing (aka green plover and peewit) has suffered a near catastrophic population decline in its breeding population in England, southern England especially, over the last half century, in winter months it can still be seen in reasonable numbers on some wetlands like those in the lower Ouse Valley. As a garden bird, however, it is a rare sight indeed and one to be treasured.
I’d be very interested in any late records of other wildlife that may have turned up during the hard weather. Did anyone have redwings in their garden, for example? They usually consort with fieldfares in the snow but I saw none in the village.