Birds in Spring


'See if our chicks aren't home by sundown, this time I'm just going to leave the key under the nest.'

The birds seem to be getting bolder in the spring; or maybe it's just that it's worth coming down from the trees because there's now more to eat on the ground?

Just as well for me, though. I was pleased with the range of birds I'd snapped in winter (see here), and as spring rolled in, I began hoping for pretty pics of little birds among the beautiful new growth overhead. But damn these leaves: I can hear cheeping everywhere but can see nothing till the smaller birds flutter down onto walls and bushes.


The snap above is of a male chaffinch on the wall near the University Library. The subtler female was less easy to spot at first, but here she is on the grass:


And here's a quarrel of house sparrows around a Forsythia bush on South Meadow Walk. There were about six of them hopping around the branches and the neighbouring wall.


Rabindranath Tagore once said "The sparrow is sorry for the peacock at the burden of his tail"; this one below has acquired his own swanky train.  


Presumably sparrows have the same flower-munching habit that woodpigeons do. A neighbour tells me that a sparrowhawk has been spotted just over the road on Warrender Park Terrace, so it's just as well the other sparrows are keeping guard.


Here's a little dunnock on the same wall, another day.


And below is a puffed-up dunnock, looking like a cinema greeter welcoming customers at the front door of his/her nest in the Forsythia bush. It can be hard to distinguish a sparrow from a dunnock, but the dunnock has a narrower, pointier beak. The females aren't monogamous, so whatever sex this one is, it ain't Mrs Dunnock.


The overwintering redwings have now flown home. However, new birds are arriving, and the permanent dwellers are up to new activities. Nest building is the big preoccupation in spring


I'm glad that's not my car.



Nest-building, and just generally singing.
A budding maple is a fine place for a chaffinch to regale the park.


Here's a shakycam video of another chaffinch. This one was way up high on a sycamore on South Meadow Walk: you can just about hear his song, though (over some passing chatter):



Blackbirds have haunting, exquisite songs.  On spring evenings they sit on the highest points of the rooftops and sing. I'll put up a video of the Warrender Park Terrace blackbirds when I get a chance: there are a few pairs there and you can often see one particular couple singing in the Grignon Hawthorn that overlooks the terrace. A neighbour tells me they're nesting under the outdoor stairs of a basement flat nearby. Here's a female.


Here's one of the males in a cherry tree nearby, another day.


And here's one of their chicks out at 9pm at the end of June, sitting on a fence just beside their nest under the stairs. 


Who know what the fledgling is thinking; even more so the highly intelligent crow family, including this enigmatic magpie


When the blossom is fully out, the wild and the bird cherry trees are popular spots for birds. Here's a robin in one on the Links, near the foot of Whitehouse Loan.


The other main activity is feeding the offspring. Bleagh.


The starlings too are wolfing down the worms, swooping down in flocks




Some birds seem content to stuff their own faces with anything in sight at this time of year: this is a woodpigeon eating the new flowers on an ash tree near the tennis courts. I'd already seen woodpigeons eating crocuses last month.



And here's yet another woodpigeon eating cherry flowers on the Links


And yet another, a bit out of focus here, about to pounce on some horse chestnut flowers beside the Library. Well, honestly. 


Crows and gulls don't waste time looking for the thin bounty of nature when human resources are so much more generous. Late in May, I noticed a carrion crow and what I reckon was a yellow-legged gull quarrelling over a pack of raw bacon that the clever crow had levered out of a bin and on to the roadway beside the croquet club. 

There was quite a squabble, to the amusement of a carful of young women who had difficulty getting them to budge off the road, but both birds did pretty well out of the box of treats.






Back in the world of smaller birds with more chocolate-boxy charms, but an equally omnivorous - indeed carnivorous - diet, there are the tiny insect-eaters, treecreepers.

Treecreepers are beautiful, but it's their little darting movements that are so charming, so here's a second very shakycam video (I haven't the patience for a tripod). This little treecreeper was on another old sycamore, this time on North Meadow Walk. You can hear the occasional little cheep - plus an emergency siren, some passers-by coughing and a fair bit of chatting:


Below is my first ever sighting of a greenfinch in the Meadows, up high on yet another sycamore, on South Meadow Walk. I'm hoping for a clearer picture next time.


This is also the first time I've managed to spot a coal tit, though I've often heard them. This one was on an ash twig. 




I later spotted a family of coal tit chicks in a pink hawthorn tree that had just begun to bud. The tree is on Leamington Walk. They were flitting about, hard to photograph, but lovely to watch and listen to.


Another rare sight - because there is no pond, of course - is ducks. Sometimes when it buckets down hard enough, for long enough, the mallards appear in a puddle


On this occasion they were joined by wee pal, the pied wagtail


(It's not easy to get a sharp picture of a pied wagtail: even though they're not exceptionally cautious around humans, they never seem to be still. Any photo of one is a photo of a bird that's at least partly in motion. It's fun trying, though, because they're such personable little birds and they're usually skipping about the Bruntsfield short-hole golf course in pairs.)


The nearest place for a more reliable chance of seeing waterbirds is Blackford Pond, about half a mile north of the Meadows. In May 2016 the swans and their cygnets owned the pond, and I'm gratuitously going to include some pics of them, just because they're so damn cute




And here's a wee video of them. Awww 


Further afield, have you been to the Figgy (Figgate) Park and seen Jerry the Mandarin Duck and his mallard girlfriend (they're nesting together)?  Ah you have to.


You may not have to wait long to see him. As one friendly Porty neighbour said, "he's not shy".


I hardly have the right to complain about bird shyness, though, because we're a danger to them in so many ways. There's been dunnocks nesting in the Meadows by the tennis courts: a sharp-eyed watcher saw four beautiful blue eggs in a nest earlier this year, and I wonder if that was here. 

Unfortunately the reason I came across the nest was that the hedge has just been burnt out by a deliberate fire. 


The play tunnel through the fence had been packed with cardboard and set alight, and the hedge beside it scorched. I've often fancied having a slide through the tunnel myself when no-one's looking, but it's in a hell of a mess now.

So much for the nice wee No Smoking sign. At least it survived the blaze.


I'd been photographing the dunnocks back in April when they were running out cautiously under this hedge, but hadn't guessed back then that their nest might have been just a couple of feet away.

There's a large hole in the hedge on the other side and the nest is quite easy to spot. I suspect the privet has been pulled apart to expose it. 

As you can see, the magnificent construction is still solid, but there's not a sign of a bird or even a broken egg nearby. I hope it's just an old abandoned nest, but there were some pieces of green vegetation inside it. 


A hedge is usually an excellent home for birds: just not when humans are around. If you've got one of your own, here's some bird-friendly advice for it from the RSPB.