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Wildlife Garden : Birding : Hebrides

Wildlife garden
Songthrush by Frank Stark

The BTO have just released a free publication called Get Planting for Birds for WInter
(Available in hardcopy or as a downloadable pdf document)

"It is not just the food we put out on bird tables that attracts birds into our gardens. Many ornamental shrubs produce berries that are favoured by thrushes, while other plants provide seeds or nesting opportunities. Given that early winter is the ideal time to plant trees and shrubs, the BTO Garden BirdWatch Team has just launched a new guide on the subject, full of information to help you select suitable plants for birds ..."

Here in the Western Isles we have a wild oceanic climate - some plants just don't make it to maturity or take a very long time to grow a few inches. Sue at the local pottery said it took 17 years for her Hawthorn hedge just to flower for the first time.

How about we create our own online guide of what we have learnt about the shubs and other plants (wild ones too) which do well here and provide food or/and good bird (and other wildlife) habitat? Considering not only what we plant this autumn, but also what we let grow wild.

Please email your ideas and observations to Suzanne


Initially this page is going to be a collection of notes which will later be developed into a new section

Hebrides Bird Sightings : Siskin

"i have attached a photo of a male Siskin found feeding on Groundsel and Sorrel in my meadow at Leubost.

A good incentive for people to start thinking about growing some wild plants dont you think?

And they do look more attractive than when clinging to a peanut holder.

Frank Stark
3rd July, 2009

Flock of up to 20 waxwings at Anderson Road, Stornoway - Saturday 15 November

Lots of berries down that way perhaps?

'Cotoneaster visited in our own garden!'

Hebrides birds - Wildlife Garden Hebrides birds - Wildlife Garden

I couldn't find the Yellow-browed Warblers, but I did find a Waxwing (poor pic attached - it was under the apple trees!), Goldcrest, Woodcock and a Chiffchaff - some nice gardens in the area which are sheltered even in the gales.
A Blackcap at Earshiadar.


Monday 11th November, 2008
Croir, Great Bernera

Hebrides bird sightings - Blackcap Hebrides bird sightings - Blackcap

'There were quite a few different speciesof birds in my garden today but the highlight has to be the pair of Blackcaps that arrived initially on one of my ornamental crab apple trees.

I have attached a couple of shots, one showing the pair on the tree and another of the female Blackcap feeding from one of the many pieces of apple i have put out.'

Leurbost, Isle of Lewis,
Sunday 9th November, 2008

Any birds in a gale?

"Hi , I did not venture forth in the gale on Saturday other than a quick restock trip to put some food out for the birds, but I did watch them (what I could see of them through my salt laden windows). The sparrows spent most of the day just sitting in the big fushcia bushes (sorry if spelling wrong) near the feeders. They hardly ever visited the feeders. I tried putting food on the ground as it just blew off the bird table but they ignored it although it was very close to them. I think that they would have fed from the bird table if I had had one that the wind would not blow all the food from. I did not see the usual starling crowd at all, nor any hoodies. "

Monday 27th October, 2008

There is lots of in depth advice about ideal food for birds on the RSPB web site including:

"In severe weather, feed twice daily if possible: in the morning and in the early afternoon"

"Pinhead oatmeal is excellent for many birds.."
" Flaked maize is taken readily by blackbirds..."

There is also warning about what can actually do them harm - did you know about dangerous porridge?!
"Porridge oats must never be cooked, since this makes them glutinous and can harden around a bird's beak"

Plus advice on how best to change the foods we put out according to the season, and ideas for bird feeders like "fill the holes and cracks of a post or suspended log with fatty food, such as suet" (An inspiring suggestion, a fence post offers great potential for a feeder that will not blow away)

Read the full article about feeding the birds on the RSPB site


RSPB Feed The Birds Day Saturday 25th October, 2008
(80mph winds in the Western Isles)

Any birds in a gale?

"A very wild day in Point, at times it was difficult to move from the house to the shed to put feed out but made it. We have had the odd Greenfinch and Sparrow at the feeders (just) and Rockdoves and Redwings on the ground. The Sparrows have been sheltering all day under the oil tank and wheelbarrow perhaps they were having a prayer meeting - asking for the wind to drop so they could get to the feeders."
John H

Saturday 25th October, 2008

Any birds in a gale?

Hebrides bird sightings

"5 sparrows and a greenfinch shelter on the edges of the raised leek bed. All around them the hedges and tall foliage are battered to and fro with the raging gale. The wind is too strong for them to even reach the bird feeder which is tied securely to it's post. I feel I should put some food on the ground for them but I know that by doing so my presence will make them fly, when they need to conserve what little energy they have."

Later that day..
Hebrides bird sightings

"More sparrows, perhaps 8 came and sheltered together in the tumbled down sweetpeas for the rest of the day, I am so very glad I had not cleared the sweetpeas away. They were joined by 7 greenfinches, the most I have seen at one time in my garden, the greenfinches spent much of their time bobbing up and down on the branches of the buddleia bush".

Ela, Callanish
Saturday 25th October, 2008

Any birds in a gale?

"The only Greylags I can see (about 6) have moved away from Sandy's prime seeded grazing (where there are usually about 20) to the rough wet and wet stuff that has the shelter of rushes. "

"I love John's pictures of the young sparrows. I was watching "my" sparrows taking advantage of solar heating this morning before the horrid weather came back. I have black plastic around the base of my trees and this collects pools of water in a nice sheltered spot. There were half a dozen of sparrows very enthusiastically bathing. I checked the water temperature later, it was surprisingly warm. They were wise to get an early bath before the icy weather returned!"
Friday 24th October, 2008

On a hot summer days some land birds may take five baths a day, but even in midwinter they still may bathe several times a week.
Frank sent in a photograph of House Sparrows bathing.

The Starlings often nest colonially in the walls that remain of blackhouses and old stone byres. One ruin with 5+ nests in it each having two broods of 5-7 chicks, thats 50+ offspring in a single year...hang onto your ruins!!!

The number of Starling territories in Britain has declined drastically by over 50% since the early 1990's hence the bird being on the RED LIST although it is still one of the most common garden birds.

Hebrides bird sightings -  House Sparrows Hebrides bird sightings -  House Sparrows

"How about these little darlings - Nest box in our garden at Sheshader"
John H

On the subject of House Sparrows nesting I asked Frank Stark when he reckoned they started eyeing up potential nest sites.

" I suspect the bonded pairs decide on the actual nesting site closer to the time of breeding, However,House Sparrows roost in some nest boxes all year round . By doing this they become aware of potential nest sites, so take advantage of this by erecting nest boxes now." Frank

Thursday 23rd October, 2008

Hebrides bird sightings -  House Sparrows

"Saw birds feeding on Pampas Grass plants in Carloway one afternoon. I think there were three plants and each one was covered in House Sparrows, stems bowed down by their weight! Perhaps 40 - 50 birds altogether - the chaff was flying that day!"

"Funny how garden books used to tell us to clear up the organic debris in the garden which would harbour bugs and they now say leave it for the wildlife...
The recent gales blew over my sweetpeas, what was once a 6ft wall of flowers is now a tumbled mass of stems. I have beeen thinking of tidying it away to the compost heap but a couple of days ago saw my sparrow tribe nestled in it sheltering from the wind. Life does not get much more picturesque than a tribe fluffed up sparrows cosied in amongst sweet pea flowers. Inoticed one of them eating something green so got the binos out and it was eating one of the sweet pea leaves.I had thought that they just ate seed (and insects in spring) so I some reading and found that they also eat flowers mostly yellow ones like crocuses and primroses and they will hunt butterflies."

22nd October, 2008

"Hi I got some tiny bare-rooted alder trees from the Stornoway castle grounds tree nursery (only about £1 each) 6 years ago. Planted them out on my sea-facing croft in a slightly sheltered flush, the hole filled with water as I dug so I was not expecting them to do much at all. Last winter the alders were taller than me and I saw siskins and redpoll feeding on their cones :) ".

Monday 19th October, 2008

Goldfinches are also said to be very partial to Alder cones

"Feeding the birds?? Scared off a grey heron that was stalking my Koi on friday!"
Bill M

Monday 19th October, 2008

Koi are hardy Japanese fish. The oldest Koi on record recently died aged 207 years.
There are Grey Herons in Japan. Herons return to the same spot to fish and can take several fish in a day.

Hi, On the subject of gardening for birds. Just to suggest try not to be too prissy about tidying garden borders, lots of plants are seeding and providing food and shelter for a while yet, and if there is a bit of organic matter on the surface you will see the blackbirds come later and chuck it about looking for the bugs that lie beneath. Stops ground freezing so they can get at bugs even in very cold weather.A bit of winter foliage (even dead stuff) also protects the first signs of the new growth from frosts. Bare soil loses nutrients too.

Saturday 18th October, 2008

Goldfinches come to thistles,i f you cannot bring yourself to let weeds grow in your garden, you could try teasels instead. Each plant has 4 or 5 seedheads. They grow well but take a year and a half, maybe 2 years to produce seed. When the birds have cleaned out all the seeds you can rub hard fat over the seedhead and push in sunflower seeds. I once grew teasels right by the sea, but only got goldfinches when I grew them further inland.

Saturday 18th October, 2008

If you have one of those island prairie lawn gardens to start with that has nothing taller than a couple of inches in it and you want to make it more enticing to the birds look out for a big branch (or two), there are usually someone's garden trimmings to be found somewhere, attach it to a fence post hang your bir feeders off it and a couple of fat balls and the birds will probably start coming the next day! Works really well if you have a high population of cats in the area too. I had about 30 starlings on my branch the other day. Sparrows there daily. greenfinches and chaffinches use it too. Raven came and was enormous by comparison when it spread wings to takeoff. If you have a bird table and put it nearby the birds can perch and suss if it's safe before coming down to feed. Other upright things like garden cane tripods also really popular. There you go instant wildlife friendly garden!. (My branch is about 10ft tall and just nailed to a fence post).

Saturday 18th October, 2008

Wee birds grew their own rowan tree in my garden and blackcuurant bushes and brambles... If brambles not in the way i reckon whynot leave them be?. Hi-drama as i watched a spuggie dive into the brambles to evade a sparrowhawk this year .hawk stalked bush but gave up. Later lots of berries for breakfast and then the starlingshad the rest.

Saturday 18th October, 2008

Here's one for your list. The rowan tree Sorbus Aucuparia. Aucuparia is to catch birds, they cannot resist rowan berries. I grew a rowan tree from seed 4 years ago and now it is 4ft tall and has already had berries. I saw a song thrush eating them, right out in the open that thrush was but it could not resist the fruit. Apparently waxwings really like rowan berries too so here's hoping!

Friday 17th October, 2008

Rowan berries used to be made into a paste called birdlime and used as bait to trap songbirds for food. The Rowan tree is very hardly.

"Encouraging wildlife doesnt get much easier than growing blackcurrant bushes, I just stuck some pencil size cuttings in 3 years ago, this year they were dripping with currants, was going to make jam then one day heard an almighty row outside a huge flock of starlings stripped the bushes in just a few minutes. I have decided to put in more bushes so that I can get jam if I am quick enough and leave the rest for the starlings."

Friday 17th October, 2008

"Weigela is a shrub that grows well here in a moist spot.(but not semi-submerged!) Related to Honeysuckle relative so tht's probably why it grows so well. Mine is about 6 years old and 8ft across. Very dense, have seen starlings, wren, dunnock, spugs, goldcrest, greenfinches, chaffinches, willow & yellow browed warblers, lesser whitethroat, robin, blackbird & thrushes on it but not all at once! not sure if any eat the berries. I got a youngdog which tried to flush every bird in the garden - sure the birds stayed because they could hide in bush ,too dense for thedog to get in. Bush haspretty red flowers that the butterfies like, lovely foliage &gives a nice bit of height too. ..

Saw a Goldcrest yesterday in ny garden in Tarbert, Harris"

Friday 17th October, 2008

"Hi Just read your article about the plants and wanted to let you that i had a flock of Waxwings in my tall rugosa bushes a couple of years back - 4 greenfinches were eating the rose-hips just today. I thought that blackbirds and thrushes would like it but I haven't seen them eating the hips. I had a wee firecrest in there after the bugs a few years ago.. i always like watching the twites eating the sorrel, they pull it down and it falls over but they don't care they just keep on eating -not so keen when the starlings eat the new carrot tops and pick the flowers of my polyanthus..."

Thursday 16th October, 2008

Top on my list goes the dandelion - I have seen Twites, Siskins, Redpolls, House Sparrows and Goldfinches feeding on it's seeds, and being one of the first plants to flower it provides seed when there are few others





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