Where have all the birds gone?

Monday 23 January 2012, 11:19

Martin Aaron Martin Aaron

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As the milder weather continues, our wildlife is becoming increasingly confused with the fact that we are still actually in winter.

Yesterday I visited Merthyr Mawr with my 2 year old son and his friend for a spot of 'dune surfing' on a snow sledge - hard work dragging/ carrying him back up to the top each time but good exercise and I probably burned off more calories than the fitness 'boot camp' that arrived later!

But getting back to the wildlife...on our way to the dunes, I noticed the verges were full of flowering snowdrops, but aside from the unseasonally early blooms, I didn't see many birds?

This was in stark contrast to a recent visit to Penbontrhydyfothau in North Pembrokeshire. The weather was bitterly cold with NE winds and Penbontrhydyfothau lies in a pretty shady valley but prone to frosts.

As a result the garden bird feeders, packed full of peanuts were absolutely buzzing with life - with non-stop visits from blue tits, great tits, coal tits, house sparrows and nuthatch. I also saw my first bullfinch of the year, such a plump and beautiful bird (the male anyway) but rarely seen these days.

I'd not seen that many birds in a single garden for years, especially when compared to my relatively quiet garden in Porthcawl where frosts are rare - thanks to the close proximity of the Bristol Channel.

Apart from crows, seagulls, the odd territorial robin and occasionally alarmed female blackbird diving into the hedge - I've hardly seen anything of real interest in my garden all winter long.

It made me think about a recent email I received to wales.nature@bbc.co.uk from a gentleman who was very concerned about the lack of house sparrows in his garden. A once thriving population, basically vanished from his garden during the autumn.

The RSPB have also been inundated with similar enquiries asking 'where have all the garden birds gone?'

Don't panic, it's not down to some mysterious migration pattern, an increase in the local cat population or the neighbours having tastier morsels on their bird feeders - it's simply due to the fact that birds are currently finding easy pickings out in the countryside. Birds in the countryside? I know, it's absurd!

The mild weather means that there are still plenty of insects around and the ground is still soft enough for birds to easily forage for their favourite bugs and grubs.

Yesterday I even found a bright green caterpillar chomping its way through an exotic plant I've been carefully nurturing in time for summer.

I'd put it in the garage to protect it from frost and mistakenly assumed it would be safe as the leaves are covered in fine, spikes (which would make them fairly unappealing to most creatures) but this little critter was right at home, so perhaps he came with the plant?

I put up some fat balls outside for the birds a month ago and they are still intact, vitrually untouched - so the birds are clearly finding food elsewhere.

However, we're not out of the woods yet and if the weather does suddenly cool down - food will literally become scarce overnight and birds will once again flock to our gardens, towns and cities for those life saving handouts.

So, don't stop putting food out altogether - but equally don't worry if your feeders aren't busy.

Lyndsey Maiden, a warden from the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales has been in touch with some peculiar wildlife observations in South Wales such as a robin sitting on a nest and currently incubating 5 eggs in Bridgend.

It would good to know what the earliest record of a fledgling in Wales is, as we might just have some local contenders in our midst.

Magpies have been spotted flying around with nesting materials in their beaks and in Morriston Park a nuthatch has been seen flying in and out of a nesting hole.

Meanwhile in the city, coots are mating and building nests at Bute East Dock in Cardiff.

A hedgehog has been spotted out and about in Carmarthenshire and more and more birds are now beginning their dawn chorus including collared doves, song thrushes, blackbirds and robins.

Personally, I'm still hoping we do get some snow in February so I can try out the sledge on snow rather than sand but the Met Office seems to be 50/50 at the moment - depending on which weather model you opt for - remaining mild with occasional cold snaps or snow with hard frosts from the north east.

I'd love to hear about your unusual and unseasonal wildlife sightings so please leave yours in the comments box below or drop me a mail at wales.nature@bbc.co.uk

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    Comment number 1.

    Nine Hundred feet up in the Preselis - primroses out - no snow drops as yet!
    Male corn bunting on the feeders this morning along with a host of finches, (including bull finches!) sparrows, blue, coal and great tits. Buzzards and kites around this afternoon and a kestrel hunting at around 1600.
    23/01/12

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    Comment number 2.

    I live in a small rural village near Stamford in Rutland. I have several feeders and enjoy Great tits, Blue tits, Longtailed tits, Goldfinches with the odd Robin, Starling,Great Spotted woodpecker and Bull finch. I never get sparrows but i have a nieghbour only 300yrds away who has a great number in his tree at the bottom of his garden.

 

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