Monday, 28 December 2009

Good Garden Game

I suppose any garden will pop up odd things from time to time if its watched enough. Ours is very much an urban patch on the north side of Newcastle.  Ok - its got a few mature trees - a poplar, a sycamore and a scrawny copper beech - plenty of ivy and more than a smattering of unkempt corners (or as I prefer to call them 'areas of managed neglect') but it's undeniably urban.

At the more unusual end of the garden bird tick list, we've a treecreeper creeping up a tree,  a great spotted woodpecker wrecking a nest box, a grey wagtail on the patio, a cuckoo on the fence, tawny owls in the trees, a sparrowhawk tearing a pigeon to pieces on the grass....oh yes and a Senegal Parrot (boy are they loud!) that regularly turned up for peanuts for a year or so.

If I cheat a bit and add in the vertical airspace then there's pink footed, greylag and barnacle geese, oystercatchers, buzzard, mallard, mute swan and once - and I'm sticking to this - a goshawk (just don't press me to explain why it wasn't a female sparrowhawk).  Then there's the fox that got the pet rabbit at 3 am but that's another story.

I digress.  About noon today, a cry of  'what's that funny looking bird?' had me rushing to the window just in time to see, strutting its stuff across the grass....... a woodcock of all things.  Not only is that a first round here but its also the best and clearest view of a woodcock I've had for many a year.  Alas it didn't linger long enough for a photo.

Woodcock migrate to this country in late autumn/early winter from colder areas of Europe - Russia, Finland etc and reading up a bit on this it seems they prefer to travel at night by a full moon with an easterly wind - which is close enough to what we've had these last few nights. So I suspect that this was a migrant recently arrived, probably wacked and desperately seeking a worm - not an easy task in frozen, rock hard ground.

I wonder if this bird was part of a larger influx?


  1. I've seen reports of several individuals that have freshly arrived but I also think there is a good deal of cold weather/frozen ground related movement at the moment. I flushed one in darkness a few nights back on some grass adjacent to the local bypass unexpectedly.

  2. Good point Alan, thanks. I hadn't considered the possibility of a more local movement due to the persistent freeze. Either way it makes a queer sight in a Benton garden...

  3. You're lucky to have some maturity in the garden. We've got birch, oak, rowan and cherry, but all less than three years old (ie since we moved in!). I've got nut bags out a-plenty, a new pond, apples on the lawn, bird boxes and a shed with holes in it for bats and what do we get? Not that much. My bird list is limited. Apart from the usual suspects, in three years the most treasured visitors are a grey wagtail, a green woodpecker and a song thrush (2 last week). All manner of things fly over in their droves but none will come to land. Any body got any ideas why a garden with a lawn, a pond and a holy shed can't attract wildlife, despite the best efforts of the residents willing them in? It's not like we're surrounded by concrete, just other similar properties.

  4. Hmm..that's an interesting point Bob. A work colleague of mine also complains that his Harrogate garden gets very few birds in spite of nuts and nest boxes galore.
    Maybe it is just the mature tree factor - plenty of nesting habitat and shelter etc? Also our garden is one of a linear row of gardens that that connect to other patches of mature trees. Maybe its the corridor effect? Mind you I would say that we see much fewer numbers and less variety than we did ten years ago - especially of the smaller birds. Another factor might be that there are now gazillions of people feeding birds so they don't concentrate so much. I'm waffling now...!

  5. A few winters ago I flushed a woodcock that was sheletering under the beech hedge of our suburban garden, next to the compost heap... could believe what I'd seen until it had gone. Just a knackered bird looking for some shelter, I guess, and possibly a worm of two from the compost?

  6. Hi Phil. The more I hear and read, the more it seems woodcock regularly turn up all over the place. The RSPB web site reports that's its not at all uncommon for them to crash into buildings. One Edinburgh office block had two dash themselves to pieces in the space of a few nights, apparently.