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September 25th- marsh tits, bullfinch and autumn skies

Today feels like we have taken a short cut through autumn straight into winter. There is a howling wind, the trees on the edge of Gilling Woods are taking a battering with many leaves taking flight. However such weather is inspiring to me. Beautiful though the weather was recently, I soon crave clouds, showers and wind when faced with blue sky for more than a few days. Yesterday, we found ourselves near the centre of the low pressure system that now sits above the North Sea. The winds were slack and the unstable air encouraged the development of some huge Cumulonimbus clouds. I found a glorious view of them near Oldsted. Here, looking south across the Vale of York, I could see areas completely obscured by the torrential rain or hail and could study the height of the impressive shower clouds.

Marsh tits have returned to the garden on a permanent basis. They leave us for a few weeks in the summer but they are now around from dawn until dusk. Last winter we had at least five individuals (including a distinctive white tailed bird) visiting the feeders. I suspect these are birds which breed in Gilling Woods and Yearsley. They are very partial to the seeds of honeysuckle which they extract from the bright crimson berry. They grab a berry and fly off to consume the seed or cache it for winter. In the winter period after Christmas we sometimes attract the very similar willow tit. Comparing the two species at the same time is interesting, they are behaviourally quite different and usually at that time of year plumage differences are obvious.

Bullfinches compete with the marsh tits for the same honeysuckle seeds. By contrast they sit messily munching through the berry flesh to extract the prize. This individual was at an interesting stage of moult. Clearly it is a male as it is starting to display areas of pinkish plumage on its breast and flanks but its head has not started to turn black yet.

We had a very sad end to our first year with house martins. Yesterday I decided to inspect the nest. The adult female was found dead alongside her three dead chicks. The male bird left earlier in the month with the main departure of martins. It was always going to be tough for the female to raise three chicks on her own , especially this late in the year, but I rather expected that she would save herself by migrating if food was scarce. Perhaps she was an older bird and this was just her time to die, or perhaps the poor weather of June and July contributed to a decline in her condition. Whatever the reason we have plenty of hope for next year with so much martin activity around the house and birds visiting other nests on many occasions.

I saw a few skeins of pink-footed geese heading south yesterday. This follows a large arrival of the species from Iceland. They will continue south to The Humber estuary and Norfolk. They are a wonderful sight and sound, spine tingling for me; just as the first swift indicates the return of summer, the arrival of pink-feet signal the excitement of autumn and winter, still all to come.

Below- 24th September, Vale of York from Oldstead.

Below- pink-footed geese over Bransdale

Below- marsh tit.

Below- young male bullfinch moulting into adult plumage.

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