Redstart Family Fledging

Most years we notice Redstarts arriving in spring and successfully raising a family. This year I have been particularly happy because a pair chose to nest in the double hedgerow that I renovated & planted a few years ago. This has meant that we’ve had the pleasure of watching at least 3 youngsters fledge; quite literally flitting across the hedged walkway that we created. The featured title image above shows the male calling out the fledglings with one vociferous fledgling close by.

Redstarts (Phoenicurus phoenicurus) are members of the Family Muscicapidae or Old World Flycatchers, a group that is well represented locally. In summer the male has quite striking plumage as shown below:

A male Redstart (Phoenicurus phoenicurus) calling to encourage his fledglings to explore.
A male Redstart (Phoenicurus phoenicurus) calling to encourage his fledglings to explore.

They arrive in the UK during April with the males often being a few days in advance of the females. Once paired up, about 5 or 6 blue eggs are laid in a nest. It will take 2 weeks for them to hatch & another 2 to 3 weeks before they fledge.

The female does not have quite such a bright plumage as the male, but she can be seen to flick her warm coloured tail on a regular basis:

Female Redstart (Phoenicurus phoenicurus)
Female Redstart (Phoenicurus phoenicurus)

After the parental collection of many spiders, flies & worms (with maybe a few berries too), the young chicks will have grown sufficiently to fledge. The male has certainly been giving encouragement and guidance to the nestlings that we’ve seen. Sitting very quietly in long grass at the side of our walkway, I watched as first one & then all three tried a first short flight of about 7 or 8 feet across to some young hedgerow trees. Here’s a picture of one of the fledglings perched in his new found tree:

A young fledgling Redstart (Phoenicurus phoenicurus) takes perches in a hedgerow tree.
A young fledgling Redstart (Phoenicurus phoenicurus) perches in a hedgerow tree.

Were there more than 3 fledglings? Possibly, I couldn’t clearly see the nest exit, there was definitely much chirping! Will this year be good enough for these little amber listed passerines to attempt a second brood before leaving for Africa this autumn? They should have the time available, I shall certainly keep a watch. It’s very pleasing to know that our hard work does seem to be helping at least some of the wildlife.

The Atlantic Puffin

These charming seabirds can be watched in a few coastal locations around the U.K. with Bempton Cliffs being perhaps the most well known mainland location. There are however some really great island seabird colonies to visit, where Puffins have a significant presence. All of my images for this article were taken on a fantastic trip to Skomer island, located off the SW coast of Wales. (The Farne islands are great for northern England and consider visiting Sumburgh Head on Shetland or the Isle of May, if you are in Scotland).

A Puffin keeps a watchful eye outside its burrow.

These cute seabirds, with their strikingly coloured bill & worried expression, stand about 7 to 10 inches tall & weigh in at just 500 grams. They are evolved for swimming & diving more than for flight, using up to 400 wing beats per minute to achieve a decent top speed of a little over 50 mph. Life span is about 20 years.
An Atlantic Puffin returns from sea with a beak full of sand eels

Whilst much of their year is spent out at sea they must come to land in spring for their breeding season. This is when they sport their bright colours & striking plumage. Puffins nest in burrows. About 10% of the World population breed around the UK, that’s about 500,000 birds. This April about 25,000 Puffins were counted on Skomer. Breeding is a tough business and statistically a pair of Puffins chance of getting just one chick to fledging is about 0.5 to 0.7. One hazard is predation by Gulls & Skuas, not only are the chicks at direct risk but the parents have to run the gauntlet of Gulls attempting to make them drop their precious sand eel cargo.

Sand eels are the primary food for Puffins. The Puffins have reverse facing barbs inside their mouths & on their tongues, this allows the Puffins to typically scoop up about 10 sand eels with each dive. At 3 or 4 years of age Puffins find a mate, they will bond for life. Once the female Puffin has laid her single egg, each adult will take turns incubating the egg for about 40 days, after which it will hatch. Now starts the busy task of feeding the young Puffling who will fledge when large enough, a minimum of 45 days later.
One Sand Eel carrying Puffin passes closely overhead another.

As the Puffin parents busy back & forth with bills full of sand eels, dodging the marauding gulls & avoiding collisions, its a great spectacle to behold (always keeping the welfare of the birds upmost of course).
A Puffin sets off out to sea after more food for its young chicks.

Once the young Pufflings have fledged (mid-summer) the Puffins will start to disperse again, out on the open Oceans until next spring. Puffins are considered to be a vulnerable species Whose numbers are falling. There are various research projects attempting to find out the causes. One possibility is that the supply of sand eels is dwindling due to overfishing by humans another factor may be changing sea temperatures due to global warming. The RSPB currently (2017) has a call out for pictures of feeding Puffins, to help with their research.
A closer view of the Atlantic Puffin’s exquisite markings

We had a great day on Skomer, I would heartily recommend it to all nature lovers. The Puffins (Fratercula artica) are fabulous. You really do need to be very careful to stick to the paths because there are fragile burrows everywhere. The Puffins are so photogenic and it’s a nice challenge to catch the perfect flight shot. Also, long focal lengths are not required which is great if you’re going to walk the few miles around the island on a hot summers day. Here’s a small gallery of a few of the day’s photos including the above (do look at Natures Universe if you’d like to purchase images) :

The Grey Wagtail (Motacilla cinerea)

Grey Wagtails are a bright active bird, rather more colourful than their name suggests.


They prefer to live along fast flowing sections of rivers & streams and are native residents across much of Britain, particularly western areas like Wales.

An ideal location would be one with plenty of rocks & pebbles to perch upon and with rocky banks that present ideal nesting hollows & cracks. The further addition of some woodland shade would provide the perfect abode with plenty of insects just waiting to be made a meal of. The two pictures in this post illustrate just such a location and the wagtail in the first picture is holding a scrumptious beak-full of wiggly insects.


Grey Wagtail populations are susceptible to harsh winters, amongst other things, and they are currently considered to be of amber conservation status (RSPB).

Like all Wagtails, the Grey Wagtail bobs & wags its long tail almost constantly. If you are lucky enough to find an upland river where Dippers & Wagtails share the stage, you’d be forgiven for feeling that you were viewing the next energetic dance craze! If you’re visiting my neck of the woods, look out for the action along the Afon Dulas.

For more Wagtail pictures, pop across to my galleries at Natures Universe.

Cool Surveys

RSPB Big Garden Bird watch, it’s amazing how quickly the year goes by.

We chose to do our watch on the Saturday this year and it’s been a beautiful crisp cold day. Most of the expected birds turned up for their daily feed, you can see our results further down this post.

_MG_4954-29Jan2011 A Nuthatch enjoys a black sunflower seed.

But first I’d like to recount some behaviour of the Pecker variety. To be more precise the Greater Spotted Woodpecker. As those of you who follow my posts will know, we have good numbers of these woodpeckers on the farm and some visit the feeders year round. Currently we have 2 males and 1 female who are regular feeder visitors. Peanuts & Fat balls are their usual preference but one male has developed a liking for sunflower seeds. He is however, very particular about his preparation and eating ritual. Once he is confident that the area is safe, he collects several sunflower seeds from the feeder. Next he flies across to an old post that has a small hole in it. He places the seeds in the hole and bashes them with his beak. This appears to not only remove the hard shell but also pounds the kernel in to fine chips & coarse flour that he then heartily enjoys. This process he then repeats, until disturbed or satisfied. I’ve posted a 2 minute video of this to my YouTube channel, which you can watch at the end of this post.

Now back to the BGBW. As promised our results are in the table below, guarded by Mrs Woodpecker:







Blue Tit


Great Tit


House Sparrow






Coal Tit






Song Thrush










GS Woodpecker


Carrion Crow




Tawny Owl


Summary: 18 species 134 individuals

I’m pleased that some of the Bramblings showed up this year. They have been absent or few in numbers for a several winters but this winter has seen a good number on the farm. They have such fabulous plumage too.

_MG_4956-29Jan2011 A Brambling perches on a hedgerow twig.

As you can read above, Chaffinches are in great abundance and each morning the farmyard is alive with the hubbub of gossip between their various families in the surrounding hedgerows. Despite the fact that they seem to find plenty of food around the stables & barns, they are still very prominent at the feeders each day.

_MG_4965-29Jan2011 A Chaffinch in the winter sun.

I think the only regular visitors that didn’t turn up for today’s count, were the Siskins. But then they seem to have been staying up in the forestry during cold spells, only coming down to the feeders when it’s damp & milder; so perhaps their no show was to be expected.

Ah, time to do the evening rounds now. I hope your BGBW was successful and if you haven’t done it yet, good luck for tomorrow.

Here’s the Woody video I mentioned:

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Big Garden Bird Watch 2010

Last weekend was the 2010 instalment of the RSPB’s “Big Garden Bird Watch”. The whole family took part on a day that was beautiful for the event, we were joined by a Robin who seemed to enjoy bird watching himself.

Bird Watching

Chilly with a layer of snow on the ground there were sunny spells with occasional snow showers. I installed myself in the orchard hide for a few hours on both Saturday and Sunday. We took our count for the hour from midday on Saturday, which turned out to be a slightly slim period with no Siskin, Jay or Goldfinch turning up. The Siskins did arrive on Sunday, as did the Jay.

Siskin Arrival

So who else was about? Well an abundance of Chaffinches as ever, 29 or more on Sunday morning; along with a solitary Greenfinch. Four species of Tits: Blue, Great, Coal and Marsh.

Fatball Surprise

Song Thrush and Blackbird were represented too:

Snow Table

Various Great Spotted Woodpeckers visited, as did a few Nuthatches. In total we saw 13 species for our 1 hour count and a few  more over the whole weekend. Then of course there’s those on the rest of the farm that we can’t count because they didn’t land in the garden, like Crows & Buzzards.

The food that we had put out was just the normal fair that we offer:

  • Black Sunflower
  • Mixed Seed
  • Grains
  • Niger Seed
  • Fat balls
  • Peanuts
  • Sultanas

We were out of meal worms so I’m afraid a few may have missed their favourite. This little Coal Tit seemed very happy to tackle the Sunflower seed:


Well that was it, a fun BGBW and looking forward to next year.

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