No birds on the feeders

BirdFeeder-Feb

Well, OK. I exaggerate a tad It’s not ‘no birds ever’, it’s ‘very few birds’.

It’s winter here in jolly old England, and my least favourite month of the season: February. January can be vicious, it’s true1, but February seems to hang onto the worst of winter with bitter obstinacy, and March with it’s blue skies2 seems months away. Usually.

This year, it’s been quite mild. There have been some days when it’s been warm enough to go out without a jacket, and I’ve been too hot in my walking boots.

We live on the edge of the village, so on one side of us there are open fields, and on the other the houses continue, and grow denser. Usually we get a fair variety of bird visitors in winter, including magpies, jackdaws, fieldfares, goldfinches, blue tits, great tits, starlings, dunnocks and the occasional green woodpecker. Not forgetting the robin (singular) and last year we had Bob the blackbird, who would hop into the conservatory to clean up any dropped bits of kibble from Jeffie’s dish. He got quite impatient if breakfast was late, or if Jeffie didn’t drop any, but Jeffie usually did drop quite a lot so that was alright. OH got quite used to going into the conservatory with his cup of tea only to see Bob’s truculent little face pressed against the glass door. If he’d had fingers, we’re convinced he’d have been tapping them, while muttering things like ‘Bloody lazy humans .. Come on, come on! Do you think I’ve got all day?’

MorguefileBlackbird

This year, the birds have been conspicuous by their absence. We have two bird feeding poles, each with a hanging seed feeder and a mesh tray. I put ‘no mess’ bird food into one feeder and a ‘winter warmer’ mix into the other, and mealworms and a corn mix into the trays for the starlings, jackdaws and the aggressive little bastard robin3. I sprinkle mealworms occasionally into the dormant vegetable trugs for Bob, because blackbirds are ground feeders by choice. I also sprinkle a small amount of seed mix on the ground for the dunnocks, but I don’t know why I bother because the starlings tip enough onto the ground anyway once they get here.

But that’s the problem. This year, the bird numbers are way, way down. I have had, at the most, five starlings on a feeding station at one time, whereas usually, there are somewhere around fifteen or twenty.

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The dunnocks are still hopping around in ones and twos, but the collared doves, wood pigeons, tits and so on are, quite simply, infrequent visitors. I’ve seen a jackdaw once, and I haven’t seen a goldfinch or a woodpecker4 this winter at all. Even Bob is conspicuous by his absence. Good heavens, I’ve only had to buy one pack of each type of food for them! I’m filling the seed feeders once a week, instead of every couple of days.

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I don’t think it’s a lack of bird numbers. I think it’s the unseasonal weather. I think that the birds are finding plenty to eat in the fields and hedgerows without having to venture into gardens – which is why the mealworms are going, I suppose, mealworms being to the winter bird diet as a restaurant meal is to us; something rich and special, to be grabbed if you can.

There’s a ‘Winter Invertebrates’ thread on a wildlife forum I belong to, and it’s really quite busy with sightings of flies, slugs, beetles etc all awake and doing when they should be asleep, and there are flowers blooming which shouldn’t be5. No wonder the birds aren’t at the all-you-can-eat buffet we call the feeders! What with all this untoward activity, plus the habit farmers have of planting crops earlier and earlier, they have the equivalent of a roast dinner out there for the taking!

Ah well. I bet come nesting season they’ll be back. For a brief month or so the feeders will be emptying as if they had holes in the bottom.

Oh .. wait … they do!

1 … and so can March, April, May, September, October, November and December. In fact, you can throw in June, July and August as well, because I can remember some vicious days during those months too, like the day we battled to the get to the school’s summer fete in driving snow one July dressed in our winter’s finest and with our umbrellas turning inside out, and the August day I tried to cycle into Brighton from the north against a full-on, bitterly cold gale. In fact, just go and listen to Flanders & Swann’s ‘A Song of the Weather‘, and you’ll get the idea.

2 See footnote one.

3 People seem to have such an affection for the robin that they tend to overlook the hugely aggressive nature of this little bird. They berate starlings for being dirty, noisy, antisocial and aggressive, but in fact starlings are a) no dirtier than robins, although considerably less dainty, b) extremely social with a very organised ‘family’ structure, and c) only aggressive with each other. I have never seen one chase a bird of another species away or attack them in any way, but OK, you’ve got me on the ‘noisy’. Robins, on the other hand, will kill their own mate if she doesn’t bugger off the minute raising the family is done with, and likewise the nestlings if they hang around once their red breast feathers develop. They will attack small birds of other species without provocation, and will even attempt to kill a stuffed model robin, or their own reflection in a window.

4 Though I know the woodpeckers are around because I hear them.

5 Like the white rambling rose at the bottom of the garden, and the periwinkles, for goodness’ sake!

The Digital Age

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When I was very young, my father had a camera. It was a fixed-lens model, and when you opened it a bellows popped out, which moved in and out to focus the lens, but it folded up small so it nearly always came with us on outings and holidays. That’s it on the left in the picture. Dad would carefully sort the resulting photos, and stick the best into post-bound albums1 that he’d made himself, and he’d paint little designs on the pages. Sometimes there’d be a caption and date and sometimes not, but those albums – which I still have – are a record of our family from the beginning of WW1 to some time in the sixties. I don’t know why he stopped, but it was shortly after we moved out of London and he took a management position at a local printing press, so maybe he was simply too busy.

I so wanted a camera of my own, and when I was about sixteen years old I bought one with the miniscule wages2 from my first job. It was a Kodak Instamatic. I took pictures of our cats and our house and the family, and places I’d been and where I worked … and at some point I won a ‘young people’s’ photo competition, which did nothing to dampen my enthusiasm.

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When I met OH, I got my hands on a half-decent camera – a Praktica SLR. We met on a residential course, and something clicked between us. He lent me this camera, which had a removable lens and looked horribly complicated, but he showed me how to use it and I got some surprisingly good results. When we went home at the end of the week, he took the rolls of film I’d used and developed and printed them for me, sending them to me in a fat envelope. Looking back, he must have been besotted, because he wasn’t very well-off either, though certainly more solvent than I.

Feb5-CarlbPraktica

I’ve been through several cameras since then. After we were married, OH bought a Contax 127 Quartz, which I used more than he did. In no particular order3, we’ve since had, between us, a Contax Aria, a Bronica ETRS, and an ETRSi, a Minolta twin lens reflex, a Canon Powershot, and about four Panasonic Lumix point-and-shoots. Apart from the current point & shoots, we now have a Canon DSLR, and a Lumix bridge camera. And I’m looking to upgrade.

Every time I go on holiday I take a camera, and sometimes two. I love taking photographs – I suppose you could say that it’s one of my hobbies. I take photos of my family, of family events, of things I’ve made, and places I’ve been. I can’t wait for spring, because the insects will suddenly be everywhere and I’ll have a thousand new subjects to try to capture in all their miniature and startling detail.

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My trouble is that I very seldom do anything with the photographs I take, apart from when I use them on my blog. I have thousands upon thousands of photographs sitting quietly on hard disks and CDs and in my own personal storage galleries online, but that’s about it. Oh, I have made a few note-cards and so on. I’ve printed off the odd tee-shirt and had the odd mug made. I might even have a photobook made of some of the nicest, but that’s quite daunting (I did one once with over a hundred pages for a gift, and I nearly turned grey overnight4). Anyhow, very few of them end up in albums like this one:

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But now I’ve disovered Picfair, which seems to be quite interesting. It’s an online image market to which anyone can contribute. I keep the copyright on all my photos, and I can upload what I like, when I like, and I can delete them if I like. The fun part is that I can set a price, which can be a nominal £1 if I so choose, or I can be ambitious and ask £50. I can change that price when I like, too. Picfair make their money by charging the buyer of the license a small percentage. And I’m finding that this is addictive. I’m going through my digital albums and finding pictures I’d forgotten about, and putting them out there to see if they can help me justify the cost of a new camera5. The next step will be to scan in some of my film photos, though some I might need to get them reprinted first. They fade, in time, you know.

If you would like to see some of my favourite images, go take a look. Click here to be taken to my home page on Picfair. I’d welcome your opinion. Tell me which your favourites are, and why!

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And if you feel generous, do click on any that you particularly like and view the full sized version, because that will help my ratings and maybe one day I’ll sell – or rather licence – one or two.

It’s amazing, but that picture of a hoverfly on my finger was taken one-handed with a Lumix bridge camera. Perhaps Dad, being a keen entomologist, would have kept up the photography if he’d had a modern camera with a macro feature that could do that, but sadly, they simply didn’t exist in those days.

1 Post bound means that the covers are simply two separate covered boards, and both they and the pages are punched. You buy special bolts, otherwise known as Chicago screws, or post screws, and when you want to add or remove pages, you simply unscrew them and take off the cover/s.

2 Six pounds and sixpence, if you must know! I could barely afford my bus fare into work and suitable clothing. I was officially ‘poor’ and could get free glasses and dental treatment and everything. So the Instamatic – a very cheap camera – was bought on the ‘never-never’ – that’s hire purchase for those non-Brits who don’t know the term.

3 Because I’ve forgotten.

4 Well, I would have done, if I weren’t grey already. And in fact I should have said ‘over several weeks’ because that’s how long it took me to try to upload my photos in the correct order, and in the correct size, with the correct backgrounds and captions where required.

5 So far, the answer is no, but I live in hope.