We have had a good autumn for birds in the garden. Meadow pipits have been calling in as they migrate past, as have chiffchaffs, and blackcaps. Migrating blackbirds and chaffinches have also been feeding up in the garden, and are distinguishable from our local birds by their larger size. Generally, birds from colder climates are larger than birds from warmer climates. We can tell their size as we measure them when we catch them in mist-nets as part of our garden bird ringing program, which increases our knowledge if the birds are recaptured elsewhere.
Our best migrant has to be a firecrest, which, along with the more common goldcrest, is our smallest warbler. Unlike the goldcrest which is a resident all across the UK, breeding here and staying all year, the firecrest only breeds in mainland Europe and the South East of England, and is a winter visitor to the South West. They are not that common anywhere, really, and not easy to see due to their small size.
The firecrest on the left has a white face with black round the eye, and lovely yellow/green shoulders, compared to the duller goldcrest on the right. Both have a black and yellow stripe on the head, which in the males will have an orange centre. I think they are delightful little birds, and I was very pleased we caught it, as we hadn’t seen it in the garden. And to double the pleasure, we caught a second one the next day!
The winter thrushes are arriving in force, and we are catching a lot of redwings. These are our smallest thrush, with a creamy stripe above the eye, and a rusty red patch on the flank and under the wing.
Another interesting thrush is the mistle thrush – much larger and greyer compared to the more usually seen song thrush. It has a very upright stance, and seems pale and spotty from a distance.
Interestingly, although common, these are rarely caught in mist-nets, and only two adult birds were ringed in the whole of Devon last year. We have caught two ourselves this year, and are pleased to be able to add to the pool of knowledge about this bird. After all, that’s what it is all about, not just an opportunity to see these gorgeous birds close up!