Birds of Marlpit Community Garden – December 2015
In November I saw the Rose Ringed Parakeets which first visited the garden in October, but haven’t seen them this month. They draw attention to themselves by their raucous screeching calls, which seem so out of place coming from such exquisitely beautiful birds. It remains to be seen whether they will survive this far north. There are now thriving colonies in the south of Britain; the royal parks in London hold large numbers, and they are increasing their range all the time, probably due to a combination of global warming and an increasing number of people putting out foods for the birds: they are frequent visitors to garden bird tables.
A skylark flew over the Garden yesterday. They don’t appear to be resident there, but are common a mile or so further along the Marriot’s Way. They are one of the many farmland birds whose population has declined thanks to the intensification of agriculture, and their survival in relatively large numbers here is probably due to the farmland being farmed sympathetically for wildlife, with large unploughed margins to the fields. The farmers are paid by the European Union for this environmentally friendly farming.
We have been planting a large number of trees which we obtained from the Woodland Trust over the last few weeks. They should encourage more birds into the Garden, especially the rowan and hawthorn, whose berries provide such an important source of food for thrushes such as the redwing in cold winter weather when the ground is too frozen to probe for worms and there are few insects about.
Yesterday, while we were out planting trees along the southern boundary of the site by the hedge we saw a hedge sparrow, or dunnock. These unassuming birds are not true sparrows, having a thin bill and eating mainly insects and spiders, in contrast with the house sparrows and tree sparrows which are the only members of the sparrow family commonly found in Britain, whose thick bills show that seeds form a large part of their diet, especially in winter. Dunnock have a beautiful warbling song, and a very interesting sex life, being polygamous, unlike most birds who are monogamous.
The beautiful twittering calls of goldfinches can be heard nearly all the time along the edge of the Garden, where the birds call from the trees and hedges before coming down to feed on the seeds of the various wild flowers which are common on the Garden. Their cheerful songs and colourful plumage nearly led to their extinction in Britain early in the last century, when they were extremely popular as cage birds and many were trapped to be sold as pets. They were saved by legislation outlawing the sale of British birds other than those which had been bred in captivity.
A few gulls were feeding on the ground in the horses’ field in the north of the Garden yesterday, and included a Lesser Black-backed Gull. These gulls are migratory; our breeding “LBB”s leave for the Mediterranean at the end of summer, and are replaced by wintering birds from Scandinavia. Five years ago, when Marlpit Community Garden consisted entirely of grazing for horses, a large pond used to appear at the northern end of the field every winter, and attracted large numbers of gulls. It will be interesting to see if our efforts to provide a marshy area and a pond there attract more of them.Chris Keene
Photos by Jim