February 6th- bramblings and song thrush

I’ve been painting further watercolour studies of bramblings. They are a fascinating bird to paint. You can’t just paint a male brambling, they vary so much in plumage. This is due to a process of moult described in an earlier blog. Abrasive moult sees the outer tips of feathers gradually wear down to reveal the colour of the inner feather. A male brambling will have fully black upperparts by May. In addition his beak will turn jet black making it a very striking bird indeed. Not that bramblings are not striking at this time of year; their bold orange and white underparts and bright orange shoulder stand out well amongst the superficially similar chaffinches. The female, though duller has a subtle orange glow and very light underparts. Both sexes have a striking white rump easily seen when they fly up from the lawn. Pay close attention to your chaffinches and you might pick a female brambling out. A male brambling is usually very obvious.

I still remember my first sighting of bramblings. My granny in Newbury had them regularly feeding beneath her bird table. We missed them on visit after visit over several winters, then on one visit there were, about twenty feet from her kitchen window. She showed me the identification plates in her bird guide; the bramblings and my granny’s enthusiasm significantly added to my growing passion for birds and the wider natural world. Never miss the opportunity to show nature to a child.

We have up to seven bramblings visiting the garden at the moment and they always remind me of granny. I scatter black sunflower seeds widely over the lawn and amongst the flower border and this suits them very well. Individuals break away to use the hanging feeders at times. They are a lovely addition to the garden list, shy but so colourful, they often announce their presence with a rather cross sounding “wheeze” call. They feed in the company of chaffinches and greenfinches. The last week has seen a real increase in greenfinches in the garden with ten or more regularly present. Siskins have joined them. Siskins chatter constantly in the trees when not feeding. Some of males are looking really smart now.

Song thrushes are arriving back on their territories. Their loud song is most often heard at first and last light. We had one down on the lawn a couple of mornings ago, such a beautiful bird with warm browns and ochre on top of white belly. The dawn chorus is picking up nicely now with song thrush, robin, wren the earliest songsters, joined later by blue, great, coal and marsh tit. Sparrows and finches start late with house and tree sparrows here chirping loudly by potential nest sites. Drumming great-spotted woodpeckers accompany piping nuthatches in the woods whilst green woodpeckers utter their rather mournful yaffle call with increasing frequency. Blackbirds remain silent for now…

I am looking forward to painting more winter this week, though the forecast weather will undoubtedly present some real challenges for birds. At this stage of winter many natural food supplies are exhausted; seeds, tree mast, berries and orchard fruit have been consumed, though ivy berries are just ripening, highlighting how important this plant is to birds for food and shelter. Do put out extra food for birds- I feed husked black sunflower seeds in feeders and on the ground, sunflower hearts, peanuts, home made suet cakes and apples. This has been a very testing winter for many birds and this coming cold spell could well prove to be the hardest test yet.


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