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  • A white-headed blackbird and a lucky young toad

    Miranda Hodgson on 22 Aug 2010 at 05:14 PM

    Working in a garden the other day, I was surprised to see a white-headed blackbird (Turdus merula). I shouldn’t have been surprised, because blackbirds with white heads are not especially uncommon. This one was a male and looked very healthy, if a little peculiar. The yellow beak does look better next to black feathers rather than white ones.

    When blackbirds have white feathers, rather than being white all over, it’s referred to as leucism. All-white birds are albino.

    This autumn should be a good one for blackbirds, since almost every apple tree I’ve seen is so heavy with fruit that many branches reach the ground and the fallen fruit will provide a feast for blackbirds, as well as for other creatures like hedgehogs. If ever a blackbird could get fed up of apples, then this year might be the one for that to happen.

    In the vegetable garden, the frogs and toads continue to make us jump as we come across them sheltering under plants or in the ground. Digging up potatoes the other day, revealed a young toad (Bufo bufo) hiding beneath the moist soil - it was lucky to avoid the tines of the fork and be carefully relocated to the other side of the garden, by the pond, where no digging is carried out. Before we moved it, we paused to admire its beautiful eyes which were a rich reddish-brown and looked very much like polished red Tiger’s Eye gem stones. 


  • Young wrens in the garden, ladybird hiding places and we bid farewell to the wasps

    Miranda Hodgson on 16 Aug 2010 at 11:25 AM

    Sitting in the living room the other day, I heard a loud and insistent cheeping through the window that looks on to the courtyard. It sounded close, so I got up to look; there, in the branches of the little witch hazel (Hamamelis mollis) just outside, two baby wrens (Troglodytes troglodytes) were hopping up and down a stem, whilst a parent bird was feeding them as fast as it could with spiders and flies. From the witch hazel, they moved to a potted Acer, then back to the witch hazel, down to the ground and through the border that runs along the path to the door. Back and forth between the plants, under and over the garden bench, moving so fast and cheeping non-stop. In the kitchen later on, I heard the same cheeping coming from the garden and saw them in the big magnolia tree. This went on for a week and then suddenly stopped, so I’m guessing that the young wrens can now feed themselves. They’re fascinating little birds - tiny, fast and generally secretive and yet they will sing more boldly and with more volume than almost any other song bird. I hope they stay around.


  • Young robins and a quiet wasps' nest - summer is ending

    Miranda Hodgson on 05 Aug 2010 at 01:12 PM

    The robins (Erithacus rubecula) have starting singing again and I heard the first sweet song a few nights ago, though I could not pinpoint the singer, as it was hidden in a cherry tree. Robins sing all year round but, like other birds, they go quiet during the summer moult because they can’t fly as well and sensibly don’t want to draw a lot of attention to themselves. For some reason, wrens keep singing. At least they do round here. It’s good to hear them again. I’ve missed the song of my favourite birds and it’s very cheering to see young robins in the garden, too, watching as we turn the soil and flitting down to pick up insects, grubs and worms.

    We were joined the other day by a juvenile, which still had some camouflaging speckled feathers and it was quite as bold as an adult. I first noticed it looking at us from a nearby Pyracantha and it then edged a little closer, onto the roof of a nesting box and finally came to stand at the edge of the area that we were digging over, occasionally stretching its body upwards to show its remarkably skinny legs. I’ve never understood how robins can get by with such thin legs - they don’t look thick enough to support the body. Anyway, this one paid close attention and was rewarded several times for its vigilance, though I didn’t identify what was picked up, except for a worm