Over the Christmas holiday period I’ve been fascinated by the fluctuating numbers of birds visiting our garden. One frosty morning, the first glimpse of sun for over a week brought a noisy group of eleven magpies into our oak tree. They came swooping in from all directions, calling excitedly, hopped from branch to branch and, every now and then, spun off into a short flight before returning to the party. After about twenty minutes they dispersed. It was a familiar bit of corvid behaviour, probably enabling pair bonds to be established or confirmed, a small-scale version of the superb jay gathering reported by fellow WNS members last year.
But, at this season, hunger is the driving force behind most garden visits. Our usual two or three blackbirds have recently been joined by at least six more, all very quarrelsome over territory and food. These are probably incomers from the continent, which join our sedentary population for the winter. We’ve also been attracting small flocks of siskin to our nyger and peanut feeders. This tiny finch is easily recognisable. The males resplendent in olive green and yellow, with black heads, the females more subdued and streaky, they are wonderfully agile and often feed upside down or at an angle of forty-five degrees to the perpendicular.
Large flocks of siskin range the countryside in winter, feeding in the treetops. You can often see them in Timble Ings, where they particularly enjoy the alder seeds. Timble Ings is also a good place to look for a finch you’d be very lucky to get in your garden. Crossbills feed on conifer seeds that their stout beaks with crossed tips are specially adapted to tweak from the protective cones. They are large, chunky birds and clamber about in the branches like small parrots. Their colouring is quite exotic too: the males a rosy red that deepens as they age, the females yellowy-green. They chatter loudly when feeding, so you’ll probably hear them before you see them.
Meanwhile, the white squirrel of Addingham is developing into quite a winter’s tale. We’ve had a report of a sighting in the Addingham garden where the animal was first seen, but this observer says the animal was more “pale milky tea” than white. A further report confirms a white squirrel, this time seen on Remembrance Sunday at the Addingham cenotaph. Who knows, perhaps we’re dealing with more than one animal! More information would be welcome!