An early blackbird sings

The blackbird was singing quietly from within this tree on 28 January

The blackbird was singing quietly from within this tree on 28 January

I was just about to begin one of my least favourite jobs this morning – washing the car – when I heard a blackbird singing. I was in the garage fixing the hose to the pipe, and stopped while I listened to the soft tones. I walked to the front of the garage to try to locate the bird. It seemed quite far away but as I listened more closely I spotted the singer not 10 feet away, perched low in a young evergreen tree. It was singing so quietly that it seemed to be afraid that it was not quite up to scratch with its melody and that other blackbirds listening might mock it. It seemed to be a practice, with probably me as the only member of the audience. I slipped quietly past it and into the house for the camera. Normally when I do this the subject is gone on my return, but thankfully it was still there. It’s not often I get a chance to photograph a bird so close but it allowed me that, as well as a very private song session.

As I type this, one of the great-spotted woodpeckers, the female, is at the peanut feeder. Thankfully both dutifully attended yesterday for the garden bird count. It was difficult to get an accurate account of the bird total, as some feed at the front of the house, some at the back, and there is a regular exchange of birds between the three main feeding stations, as well as to the ground, where I have half apples, mealworms, and a mix of seeds and nuts for the red squirrels (though more are eaten by birds than squirrels).  Chaffinches were the most common species yesterday when I did the count. I estimated there were 35, but with some at the feeders and some in the larch trees, and none of them remaining still for more than a few seconds, an accurate count was impossible. In fact I may even have erred on the low side. Surprisingly bramblings were the next most common bird. Though in recent days I have regularly had 30+, yesterday I reckoned there were ‘only’ 25, still an amazing number. Next on the list were greenfinches, at a rather disappointing 11. They are usually the most common bird at the feeders but seem now to have been overtaken by chaffinches.

The apples and mealworms attracted a total of 8 blackbirds, pretty much the usual. Their food supply is normally finished by midday and they must drift off elsewhere, though many seem to come back in the evening to roost, as I hear their high-pitched chatter as they prepare to settle down for the night. Woodpigeons and coal tits were next at 5 each, though the numbers of these species are often much higher. Blue tits came in at 4, with one of them no doubt the one that roosts in the garage, meaning I now can’t close up the garage until after dark, and must remember to open the door in the morning, even if I’m not using the car. Birds are definitely spoiled here! Great tits, collared doves and robins came in at 2 of each (joined of course by the pair of woodpeckers). Single birds were tree creeper, wren (pecking at some grated cheese I’d put under a rhododendron bush), and dunnock.

Bringing up the rear was a fieldfare that arrived just as I was finishing the count. It is the first I’ve seen in the garden this year and only just made it into the records. Occasionally a flock come into the garden but there has been a single fieldfare for the past four years, and it seems to dominate the garden, wasting as much time chasing off blackbirds as it does eating apples. It may well be the same one (at least it shows the same aggressive streak) but I’ve no idea how long they might live (if anyone can help I’d like to know the answer to this). I was pleased at seeing 15 species in the hour, but of course a mistle thrush – a rare bird in the garden –  had to frustrate me by arriving an hour late for the roll call.

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