Sunday, 10 December 2017


I have been suffering from various minor but unpleasant illnesses over the last few weeks and combined with the occasional bout of bad weather I haven't been able to travel much to see wildlife. Rather than have a second week running with no post I thought I'd share some things which didn't make the cut over the last few months.

The roe deer group near the new development is reliably within a few hundred metres of the same place. They are virtually a guaranteed sighting at the moment. I continue to be surprised just how close to the building site they venture.

Roe deer split into groups in the winter and so members of the herd near the Avon can be seen at various points along the river. I've counted up to 12 different individuals on one day, though there is likely to be many more out of sight. 

One of the birds I've been seeing most regularly in recent weeks is the familiar robin

Robins are associated with the festive season and there are several reasons for this. Robins probably ended up on Christmas cards because they were delivered by postmen who wore red jackets and were therefore nicknamed 'robins'1. There is also a more natural reason- robins are one of the few birds that can be found singing over the whole winter2. They do this to warn off intruders from their territory. The typical Christmas card image of a robin on top of a spade or a postbox really depicts a robin on a lookout post. 

You might imagine them as cute little birds but they are highly aggressive and males fight off intruders viciously. These fights regularly end in fatalities and it's thought as many as 10% of robin deaths in some areas comes from this fighting!

I recently spotted this blackbird having a drink out of a puddle. 

You might think of the humble blackbird as such a familiar bird that we know everything about them but we are still finding out so much. It's recently been discovered that as many as 12% of the blackbirds we see in winter have migrated here from Europe3. Ringing tells us they come from Finland, Sweden and Denmark with some just passing through and others staying for the season. 

A famous song opens with the line "Morning has broken like the first morning, blackbird has spoken like the first bird". The BTO have proved that blackbirds are the first birds to arrive at garden feeding stations on dark winter mornings 4. This is because of their large eye size which means their visual capability in low light is much better than other birds. This is the literal case of the early bird catches the worm. 

Finally, here's one more bird that I see all the time but rarely makes an appearance here, the local great crested grebe

These are now common birds but we were very close to losing them in the UK altogether. Towards the latter half of the 19th century there were as few as 32 breeding pairs 5. They were sadly hunted for their spectacular breeding plumage- as you can see, my grebe is now in it's paler winter plumage. It's thought that many grebes migrate to the UK but because they spend virtually their entire life in water they are tricky to ring and so we know little of their migration habits. 

I walk past the fishing lake at least once a week, much more often outside of winter, and so I know that this grebe is resident and is virtually always found on the lake. I've never seen any young grebes here and actually it's quite unusual to see more than this one individual on the lake at a time. 

That's all for today but I will hopefully be back soon with more!

4: Ockendon, N., Davis, S.E., Toms, M.P. and Mukherjee, S. (2009) "Eye size and the time of arrival of birds at garden feeding stations in winter" Journal of Ornithology 150:903 pp.903-908 

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