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  • Where I see the most house sparrows

    Miranda Hodgson on 27 Feb 2011 at 03:06 PM

    As I visit quite a lot of gardens, I’ve been paying attention to how they differ and what type of garden attracts house sparrows, which are declining in number in the UK. Most of the neat and carefully tended gardens attract birds, such as blackbirds, bluetits and chaffinches, but it is those gardens where the shrubs are tall and close together where I see the highest number of house sparrows (Passer domesticus).

    They seem to go for dense growth, like hawthorn hedgerows, or thickets such as you get with rambling roses or Wisteria, where they can sit a few inches down, in amongst the higher growth. From that vantage, they can look out and shout to their heart’s content, without worrying about cats or sparrow hawks. Walls and arches with thick masses of stems and leaves growing over them are ideal. Away from domestic gardens, bramble thickets are also popular. There is a big bramble thicket in a field near here which is always full of sparrow song and you can see the birds distributed throughout the canopy, especially the males with their black ‘bibs’. The paler females blend in more with the plant stems and don’t show up as clearly.



  • Red kites over Witney

    Miranda Hodgson on 15 Feb 2011 at 11:36 AM

    As I work, I like to listen to the birds singing. Listening to the songs of birds can give you an idea of what’s going on nearby without having to look – I call it ‘looking with my ears’. The song might change from tuneful territorial singing to an alarm call, which may mean that a cat has come into the garden or that a blundering human has disturbed a bird. Bird songs are hard to describe, but most people would recognise the shrieking rattle of a blackbird that has been inadvertently startled.

    To start with, I was listening to the usual high-pitched "tsee-tsee-tsu-hu-hu-hu-hu" (listen to it here) of two bluetits (Cyanistes caeruleus) who were busily searching up and down the branches of the Magnolia tree for small insects. This song changed abruptly to what is described as a ‘churring’ sound, which is their alarm call. The other birds heard it – the blackbird rattled loudly and flew at ground level to the tangled safety of a large Cotoneaster, while the pair of robins, who had been watching us work, suddenly started a loud ticking sound and quickly made for shelter.

    A quick look round revealed no cats, no one had come in through the door in the garden wall and there were no sudden loud noises. In fact, the air was still and quiet. What had disturbed them? Looking up, I saw what it was – a magnificent red kite (Milvus milvus) was gliding overhead, possibly looking for carrion or an unobservant small bird to make a meal of. This is a first, I’ve never seen a red kite over this town before and I stopped to admire its graceful flight until it disappeared out of view over the neighbouring rooftops. What a treat that was. The other birds gradually calmed down and went back to their usual behaviour, singing and foraging, but it was interesting to see and hear them warn one another of danger. They will do this when cats are about as well.



  • Blackbird subsong during a weekend tidy up

    Miranda Hodgson on 07 Feb 2011 at 11:27 AM

    It feels warm for February. The mildness has kick-started my annual plant frenzy and the urge to be outside and doing is irresistible. Just as well, because the garden plants, including the weeds, have the same idea and are suddenly bursting into growth. Cleavers (Galium aparine) are growing fast just now, as is Dock cress (Lapsana communis), which is coming up in every bed and seems especially good at hiding close to the foliage of primroses (Primula vulgaris). As is the case in so many gardens, there are also ivy seedlings popping up in numbers.