Rare breeds make the most of garden food

Nature's food store is running low now so more birds are coming into gardens looking for alternative supplies.

Several readers have reported parties of redwings in their gardens, a good opportunity to see this very attractive winter visitor with its off-white eye stripe and rusty-red colour under the wings at close quarters rather than it flying rapidly away along a hedgerow.

One or two fieldfares have also been reported; one Yeadon reader had 30 waxwings in her garden while other unusual visitors to look out for include bullfinches, yellowhammers, and over-wintering blackcaps – sightings of the latter reach a peak around now.

One Leeds birdwatcher was delighted last week with the arrival of a male lesser-spotted woodpecker on a peanut feeder in his garden. The bird stayed for 10 minutes.

There is always the chance of a major rarity turning up, such as the female black-throated thrush in a garden at Newholm, near Whitby, and identified quite by chance when the householder put pictures of his birdtable on the Internet.

Next weekend sees the annual RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch across Britain.

Last year, nearly 530,000 people took part, counting nearly eight-and-a-half-million birds in 280,000 gardens, and a total of 73 species were recorded.

Last January's survey showed that the harsh winter of 2009-10 had taken its toll, with sightings of goldcrests down by 75 per cent, long-tailed tits by 27 per cent and coal tits by 20 per cent on the previous year.

It remains to be seen what impact the coldest December since records began will have on the survey results this year.

To take part, all you have to do is to watch the birds visiting your garden or a local park for one hour over the weekend of January 29 and 30, and note the largest number seen of each species.

Then either post your results or use the online reporting system on the Big Garden Birdwatch website. For more information, visit www.rspb.org.uk/birdwatch or ring 0300 4568330, calls charged at standard rate, to request a Big Garden Birdwatch form to be sent to you.

Reserves across the region are now ice-free and, as a result, there is much more activity. At Blacktoft Sands, two hen harriers and four marsh harriers have been coming in to roost, while spotted redshanks and black-tailed godwits have also returned.

A juvenile black-throated diver was seen at Swillington Ings, Leeds.

Three bitterns and two redhead smews are among birds seen at the Fairburn Ings reserve.

Two rough-legged buzzards are present in South Yorkshire, one on farmland near Hatfield Moors, the other on Howden Moor, above Ladybower Reservoir. A juvenile is still being seen at South Ferriby, on the Humber, while one was seen again this week in Sleddale, on the North York Moors.

Great grey shrikes continue to be seen at Storiths, near Bolton Abbey, and Langdale Forest, North Yorkshire, while one is still on Budby Common, in north Nottinghamshire. Nearby, up to 20 hawfinches have been seen in trees near the chapel at Clumber Park.

Parties of pink-footed geese have been on the move across the region, with 200 over Gargrave on Sunday, while five European white-fronted geese have been seen at Fairburn Ings and in fields at Allerton Bywater. A party of 18 called in briefly at the Nosterfield nature reserve, North Yorkshire.

tealebill48@yahoo.co.uk

CW 22/1/11