Posted by: atowhee | April 20, 2014


Another headline for this blog could be “Wags Wage War.” It is not just human politics that seem cursed with constant civil and uncivil war. While the sunny, lush lawns of Audley End summoned human picnickers and casually hunting Rooks, there was also internecine warfare.
There were Pied Wagtails hunting:PWAG1


pwag-daisies Those white spots in the lawn: healthy looking ENGLISH daisies, of course. And also on the lawn, a foraging Yellow Wagtail come up from the nearby River Cam.




There were two Pied and only one Yellow. As I saw the Pieds begin to saunter menacingly toward the Yellow I knew this would not end peacefully and began shooting:

The Yellow felt threatened and attacked first.
WAG-WARS2 Here is intial contact after the first attack by the Yellow Wag:WAG WARS-CONTCT


In the end I believe the Pied held the field and the Yellow went back to the nearby riverbank which is his more natural habitat than open ground.
Unlike so many human battles I think this one ended with far more bluff than bloodshed. I did not see a single feather fall onto the battlefield.

Posted by: atowhee | April 20, 2014


The Rook is smart enough to play chess, not simply be the name for four pieces on the board. At Audley End, a grand manor house in the Stuart tradition in Essex, I got a chance to watch them in action on the lush lawn.audley rook2 In flight the Rook resembles a Raven not the smaller crows. The Rook can soar and glide on its large wings. In an earlier blog I showed one the bird’s colonial nesting sites.

audley rook4
audly rook1
rook face

Here the Rook is looking at the ground.

rook looks This close-up shows the bare skin at the base of the beak, a prominent field mark: rook head

I can hear those with real estate envy whining to see the housed and grounds…so here you are:AUDLEY HOUSEThe house was begun in 1602 by a supporter of the newly crowned Stuart kings (after QEI’d death). It actually passed into Stuart ownership for a while when the builders went broke.
This little stream is the River Cam which flows gently through the grounds. This is the stream that has a city and university named after its most famous crossing: Cam-bridge. The ornate little shed by the riverbank is the duck house so the little Mallard families can shelter out of reach of foxes at night.

Posted by: atowhee | April 17, 2014


Oxborough is a moated Tudor manor house in village of the same name, western Norfolk. Here young QEI was kept prisoner for some years before she became queen. Today we commoners can roam the halls for a small fee. And bird the grounds.oxbr hall1
y-wag cu
Y-WAG1This is a Yellow Wagtail, one of three species found in England. Wagtails are cousins of pipits, liking water, rock and open spaces. They are slender, perky birds and pipit-sized. Insectivores with quick, energetic motions. I have seen their Pied Wagtails cousins hunting the roofs of castles or lawns at Stonehenge. The Gray Wagtail is almost always on a riverbank.

Here the wagtail’s motion produces a vaporous image as the bird seems to move as fast as light reflects from its wings.
y-wag flutr

Look at top of the barley twist (Victorian add-on) in lower right: Jackdaw snacking amidst speldor.
jaxck snack3

jack snack2

jack snackjack-chim

jack on crown

G-T TAIL Great Tit entering nest box.

chaf-in-bsh1 Chaffinch feeding in espaliered vine.

carp-moatCarp in the moat.

bughouse2 A “bughouse.”

bughouse1oxbr b-fly

Posted by: atowhee | April 17, 2014


We were in Verulamium Park today, named for the old Roman city that preceded St. Albans…and a Red Kite soared over us. It was the first time I’d seen this species in this country. It successfully was re-introduced in the last forty years…after having been exterminated. Back in Shakespeare time the Red Kite was abundant, cleaning the offal and awful off the streets and roads.RKITE1

RKITE2 Those missing feathers on the wings show molt in process. This spring several kites have died in one part of England from poison. Persons or persons responsible have not been found. It is not known whether they were the intended target or simply ate other poisoning victims. Red Kites like Ravens and Bald Eagles are voracious scavengers as well as hunters. I’ve seen them thick at trash dumps in Morocco where landfills are a foreign concept. There they compete with the White Storks and human rag-pickers for the best goodies

Posted by: atowhee | April 16, 2014


BLBD-FML-X Female Blackbird with meal on board, Mundford village green.HOSP BATHFemale House Sparrow having a dust bath in a Mundford driveway.

MUNFRD SIGN-AMy only Stone Curlew picture, on the back of the city coat arms, Mundford village green.

rape flwrs Rapeseed field in bloom. The seeds are pressed for oil and used as a biofuel. In the mustard family, obviously.

ROK SIGN Sign of the Rook.
ROOK COLONY Rook colony at Oxborough. At one point a common Buzzard (Buteo) floated past and the colony erupted in screams and alarms.
RROK-FLT1 Here’s how the Corvids sort out here generally: Carrion Crows in cities. Magpies almost anywhere where man is present. Jackdaws (semi-colonial) in rural towns and around stone ruins or towers, both sacred and secular, from castle to abbey ruins. Rooks: neasting in tall deciduous trees near farms and water, colonial. Chough, in remote Cornwall and western Ireland where cattle graze near ocean cliffs. Ravens: Tower of London (semit-domestic) and remote coastal areas of Wales and other outer reaches. Jays: secretive bird of woods and city parks.

Great Tit above.
mndfrd dawnDawn over Mundford.

Eurasian Wren, recently separated as species from Winter Wren complex, close cousin of Pacific Wren (but much shorter song) and the only wren in the Old World. Along with Song Thrush it is singing all the day long right now




soth sing1
Song Thrush, this species alone can make a dawn chorus, the finest mimic of all European birds. No Mockers or Thrashers here.
soth dawn1

soth back


Red-legged Partridge, an introduced game bird.

P1940775 Just before we left Mundford today I saw my first swallow of the trip, a lone House Martin.

Posted by: atowhee | April 15, 2014


In rural villages and towns with old castles or tall cathedral steeples the English Jackdaw is omnipresent and omnivocal. Next to the astounding astronomical feat that is Stonehenge the most interesting part of a visit is watching the Jackdaws fly to and from crevices between the megaliths…and watching the Pied Wagtails cruise the lawn.
Here in Mundford the Jackdaw rules the town in daylight. He hides at night when we saw a Tawny Owl hunting from Chimney pots.
jackK-FTHR1Clearly it’s time for any self-respecting Corvid to feather his or her nest. And Jackdaws are never short of self-respect. They preen, court, cavort and call from dominants perches all over town. In flight you hear their sharp “jack-jack-jack” calls over the modest buildings of Munford.





Here we have Jackdaw on chimney pot, or simply put: jack-pot.
JACK-POT The Jackdaw is the smallest of European Corvids, about the size of a Flicker but heftier. They are social, unafraid of humans and busy all day long. I never see them in London and rarely in the open countryside where the larger Rooks dominate. Here is Jack in his natural habitat:

Posted by: atowhee | April 15, 2014


In English-flavored movies there is always the hackneyed moment with some British git (pretend git, of course) says about the known villain, “He always seemed like a jolly good chap.”
Well, I’ve been hanging around lately, here in outer Norfolk, with some jolly good ChaffsCHFF-2





CHFF7This sequence shows a male Chaffinch drinking from a moss=-covered stone bird bath in front of a three hundred year old flint and brick house near the center of Mundford, Norfolk, England. In the lasty image he launches himself into the air as he departs.


CHAF-ROADChaffinch pair on roadside, Mundford.

CHAF-VINE Chaffinch feeding on espaliered vine at Oxborough Manor House, Norfolk.



Posted by: atowhee | April 13, 2014


American writer Jonathan Franzen has written of the senseless murder for fun across southern Europe. Now a British naturalist is trying to get something organized to stop this semi-annual slaughter of migrating birds. This takes places in numerous countries from Spain to Turkey. The poster-child for this killing has become Malta, an island amidst the stream of north or southbound birds twice each year. Gunners stand on cliff faces and fire away at the migrating birds each spring and each fall. Keeping score.
If you can help Chris Packham with his campaign to expose and eventually stop this bird slaughter, click here for more information. He’s hoping crowd-funding will support his campaign.</a
One of the birds you can help save is this talented songster, the Blackcap:
bc sings1

Posted by: atowhee | April 12, 2014


I have most of the easy-to-find urban birds but I did manage to add three more species to my trip list today:
Grey Heron, Long-tailed Tit (related to our Bushtit) and Goldcrest, one of two kinglet species found in Europe. I have yet to see a woodpecker or a cormorant or a falcon. Starting Monday we will be in Suffolk and in more rural habitats.
bc sings1
Blackcap singing from a trretop, a melodious, full-throated song. Looks very much like a smaller version of the American Catbird.

Brockwell Park, situated between Brixton and Herne Hill in south London.
CROW-LAWN Crow out for a stroll.

magsx4 There is a folk rhyme here that even my grand-daughters know: “Magpie”
“One is for sorrow
Two for joy
Three for a letter,
Four for a boy,
Five for a secret never to be told,
Six for silver,
Seven for gold.”

mstl-1 Mistle Thrush, larger than most New World thrushes, alover of grasslands.



brkwell green Looking to the top of Brockweel Park across its lush greensward.


gry-hern Grey Heron in Brockwell Park pond.

P1940449 Chiffchaff, looking much like an American Orange-crowned Warbler. The bird’s call can be characterized as “chiff…chaff…chiff…chaff.”


Below: Goldcrest moving through the treetops.
GOLDCSTgoldcrst leap


Brockwell Park, London, GB-ENG
Apr 12, 2014 8:15 AM. 19 species

Canada Goose (Branta canadensis) X
Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) X
Gray Heron (Ardea cinerea) 1
Eurasian Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus) X
Herring Gull (Larus argentatus) 7
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon) (Columba livia (Domestic type)) 35
Common Wood-Pigeon (Columba palumbus) 20
Rose-ringed Parakeet (Psittacula krameri) 15
Eurasian Magpie (Pica pica) 8
Carrion Crow (Corvus corone) 60
Great Tit (Parus major) 2
Eurasian Blue Tit (Cyanistes caeruleus) 4
Long-tailed Tit (Aegithalos caudatus) 1
Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla) 1
European Robin (Erithacus rubecula) X
Eurasian Blackbird (Turdus merula) 16
Mistle Thrush (Turdus viscivorus) 3
Common Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs) X
House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) 2

Dulwich Park, London, GB-ENG
Apr 12, 2014 3:00 PM. 19 species

Canada Goose (Branta canadensis) X
Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) X
Tufted Duck (Aythya fuligula) X
Eurasian Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus) X
Eurasian Coot (Fulica atra) X
Herring Gull (Larus argentatus) 1
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon) (Columba livia (Domestic type)) X
Common Wood-Pigeon (Columba palumbus) X
Rose-ringed Parakeet (Psittacula krameri) X
Eurasian Magpie (Pica pica) X
Carrion Crow (Corvus corone) X
Great Tit (Parus major) X
Eurasian Blue Tit (Cyanistes caeruleus) X
Eurasian Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes) X
Goldcrest (Regulus regulus) 1
Common Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita) 2
European Robin (Erithacus rubecula) X
Eurasian Blackbird (Turdus merula) X
Common Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs) X

Posted by: atowhee | April 11, 2014


BTIT C-UBlue Tit in treetop.

cherry petals
Cherry petals in the gutter as nature’s profligacy makes April an ephemeral bouquet.
crowfileCarrion Crow in a shot that can be called a “crowfile.”

EUR-JAY CLR The reclusive Eurasian Jay, hasving gathered some food meant for pigeons.




nuth “The” Nuthatch.

parathree Ring-necked Parakeets, a highly successful introduced species.

rbn in tree European Robin from below.

wopi stareWood Pigeon.

Dulwich Park, London, GB-ENG
Apr 11, 2014 4:00 PM. 18 species

Canada Goose (Branta canadensis) X
Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) X
Tufted Duck (Aythya fuligula) X
Eurasian Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus) X
Eurasian Coot (Fulica atra) X
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon) (Columba livia (Domestic type)) X
Common Wood-Pigeon (Columba palumbus) X
Rose-ringed Parakeet (Psittacula krameri) X
Eurasian Jay (Garrulus glandarius) 1
Eurasian Magpie (Pica pica) X
Carrion Crow (Corvus corvus)
Blue Tit X
Eurasian Nuthatch (Sitta europaea) 1
Eurasian Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes) X
Common Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita) 1
European Robin (Erithacus rubecula) X
Eurasian Blackbird (Turdus merula) X
Common Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs) X

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