Tag Archives: Wren

Summer begins

June 5th

The weather for the first days of this month has been rather unsettled; most mornings, although warm, have been overcast with levanter cloud and sudden strong breezes have sprung up from nowhere. But bursts of very hot sunshine and warm evenings that stay light until about 10pm, all confirm that summer has begun. The ambience of the garden and surroundings has changed noticeably now that many parent birds have fledged young to keep track of and feed. For a few days following seeing the young Nightingale I heard it frequently and loudly summoning its parents with a loud, insistent piping call. One morning I heard it piping frantically and went out to look just as a Kestrel swooped low through the garden, probably looking for the source of the calling. I’ve had a few glimpses of adult birds dashing across the garden, but haven’t  seen the young one at all.

Wren family 

On Friday morning I heard baby bird calls very close by and discovered the source to be a tiny fluffy fledgling Wren that was perched on one of the dracaena plants on the covered terrace. It was incredibly cute, with its yellow gape and wispy downy tufts of feather still attached to its head. It was not alone either, there were two more tiny siblings close by, all ‘tsup,tsup, tsupping‘ animatedly and I could hear a parent urgently trying to muster them and persuade them to join them over the wall in the cover of the cork oaks.  Finally  they all took off at once, buzzing the short way across the lawn and up and over the way, tiny wings whirring, hardly bigger than large butterflies.

3/6/11-Fledgling Wren, downy 'ear' tufts still visible on its head

That wasn’t the last I saw of the little family; later in the evening I heard them just across the garden wall, in the same place they had headed to in the morning. One popped onto the top of the wall and sat enjoying the late evening sunshine.

3/6/11-8.00pm - A Wren fledgling enjoying the late evening sunshine

A little later again, while watching TV, through the window I caught sight of a bird fluttering around the light fitting on the terrace. Intrigued, I watched it pop in and out a few times. It was a Wren that then flew to the end of the terrace, began calling then flying back and forth and in and out of the light fitting. (Wrens have nested in that fitting twice in recent years and as I believe it may still be used as a roost by its maker, I have not cleared out the old nesting material). In response to the adult’s calling the babies came and with much fluttering and popping in and out, finally all seemed to settle in there. What a touching little scene that was and a wonderful display of bird parenting; I’m not sure if they were joined in there by an adult, but I’m sure they would have stayed close by. Much to my surprise and delight the family returned to roost on Saturday night too, again there was much fluttering around and popping in and out before they settled, but by 10pm they were tucked up safely for the night. Sunday brought a different scenario though. At least one Wren did arrive and popped in and out of the roost, but I don’t think any stayed in. Then from somewhere, a male House Sparrow appeared and although too big to get into the light fitting, he appeared to ‘guard’ it, blocking the entrance. He left after afew minutes, but by now it was almost dark. I didn’t see the Wrens come back, so either he had frightened them away or they were already inside and the House Sparrow had just been looking to see what was happening in there.

3/61/11-Ilex Hairsteak with large chunks of wings missing

I’m delighted that the pair of Spotted Flycatchers are in and around the garden frequently throughout the days, out hunting until it’s almost dark. (Their pairing was confirmed when I witnessed an attempted mating on a garden lounger!)  On several consecutive mornings I have watched them from the terrace as they hunt from perches low down on various plants and posts, and even garden furniture. A favourite place seems to be on the aeonium plant, which happens to be next to the patch of flowering thyme which the Ilex Hairstreak butterflies and various other insects visit for nectar. Not surprisingly there are a few butterflies struggling around with chunks of their wings missing.

3/6/11-Lang's Short-tailed Blue on marjoram

The privet flowers are all but over now, so the insects I had such wonderful views off recently will have had to seek pastures new. Fortunately the wildflowers at the front of the neighbouring cork oak plot, and those of the vacant plots opposite are all blooming profusely now. They won’t be there for much longer as the owner of the plots will be along anytime soon with his little tractor and cutting machine to mow them all down. I think he may have to do it as dried grass etc. could become a potential fire hazard in the summer. The thought of that spurred me to go and have a good look at what is growing there and see what other insects I might find too.

3/6/11-Wildflowers on the edge of the cork oak plot may look straggly, but there are a good variety of species there providing nectar for a range of insect species

The wildflowers growing at the front of the cork oak plot are a bit straggly as they are shaded by the trees for much of the day, but having a closer look I was surprised by the number of species I found there.

3/6/11-Rabbit's bread - Andryala integrifolia , with tiny hoverfly -Sphaerophoria scripta

3/6/11-Hoverfly-Syrphus ribesii

3/6/11-A pretty lemon-yellow flower of Tolpis -Tolpis barbata - a member of the daisy family

3/6/11-A mallow flower holding a tiny young Oak Bush Cricket

The wildflower species that appears to be one of those most important to an array of insect species, with plants in flower in various places from late spring through to September, is Scabious. It tends to be an untidy plant and the flowers are smallish but pretty, and everything from minute flower beetles, butterflies and hoverflies to the huge Mammoth Wasps and Violet Carpenter Bees seem to find it irresistible.

3/6/11-Scabious is very attractive to a wide variety of insect species

3/6/11-Sotogrande -Mammoth Wasp(m) - Scolia

3/6/11- A not-sure-what-this is, but it resembles the 'eristalsis' species

3/6/11-Banded Hoverfly-Volucella zonaria

I was sitting out on the terrace this afternoon and – aagh! – I saw a Geranium Bronze butterfly fluttering around my geranium plants, then land on a leaf. Oh dear, what to do? I hate to think about killing anything, but then I don’t want lacy-leaved, or no-leaved geraniums either.

5/6/11-Geranium Bronze butterfly, probably laying eggs on my geranium leaves

Balmy weather and bounty for birds

What a difference a week makes; following two weeks of rainy days and general wintry weather, this first week of February has been sunny and warm, with temperatures of 16ºC or more in sheltered spots, and there is a general sense that spring is on the way. The nights are still chilly, but the drier warmer mornings have coaxed the birds from their recent hiding places and they have been much more active and visible. Some have begun to sing regularly, in particular Wrens, Blue Tits and Serins. Thursday morning was quite magical, the first birds I heard were Jays squawking as they made their way through the cork oaks, and my first sighting was of 3 lovely Goldfinches feeding  on weed seeds and Blue Tits, one exploring the nooks, crannies and plants on the terrace, all the while keeping up contact with another nearby. The regular Blackbirds were about on the grass and a Short-toed Treecreeper arrived to scrutinize the trunks of some of the palm trees.

Goldfinch feeding on the seeds of groundsel

A Blue Tit in a sunny spot in a Cork Oak tree

A Short-toed Treecreeper exploring a palm tree trunk

I could hear Spotless Starlings whistling and calling tunefully from high up in the palm trees at the back of the house and watched a Wren, first singing from various spots along the top of the garden wall, then poking about in the foliage growing against it. A very colourful Greenfinch appeared briefly on the fig tree; I haven’t seen one for ages.

Spotless Starling - (this is a young one)

A Wren singing from a shrub growing against the garden wall

Short-toed Treecreeper taking a drink or perhaps looking for insects

From the kitchen window I saw a pair of Blackcaps after the berries on the dama de noche shrub, two Chiffchaffs flitting about, and two female Chaffinches and half a dozen Housesparrows all pecking around on the ground. The Robin was out and about too, again I hadn’t seen one for a while another Treecreeper came in, landed on a yucca tree trunk, then flew across to the birdbath, something I’d not seen one do before. I think it was drinking, but it may have been looking for insects. (My picture was a bit rushed, but the bird was only there for a few seconds and it took me by surprise).

Cultivated garden plant: Night-scented Jessamine– Cestrum nocturnum Spanish: Dama de Noche (Lady of the night)

Berries of Dama de noche

A tropical and semi-tropical member of the Cestrum family, this Mediterranean classic is grown for the amazing night-time perfume that on a hot August night permeates the air (and our house) with its almost-overpowering scent. This is why it is grown, certainly not for its beauty; it is generally a leggy, untidy shrub and the flowers are small, lime green and held in clusters that during the day have no perfume. The small white berries appear in the late-autumn winter, which is why I don’t cut my plant back sooner – I wait until the Blackcaps have enjoyed them.

Blackcap enjoying the berry bounty of the 'dama de noche' shrub

Watching beautiful birds the easy way

I love to get out and see and photograph wildlife in a wild habitat, but I am so fortunate with the visitors I get to my own garden that I often get better views and insights into behaviour within the confines of my own garden walls. Last February I had some exceptional views of a variety of birds,  without even having to venture out of the house.

Firstly, at the beginning of February, there was the very handsome male Black Redstart. I happened to catch sight of him as I walked past a downstairs window where he was literally a metre or so away, using the leg of an upturned patio table as a perch from which to spy insects that were around on the grass below him. He must have been finding some as he was there for quite some time, making frequent drops to the floor and flying up again.

4/2/10-Black Redstart in the garden

Black Redstarts are resident all over this area throughout the winter months, arriving from their breeding areas in the mountains and more northerly parts around the middle to the end of October and staying until about the third week of March. Every year we have lived here we have enjoyed the company of a female of the species, who until the territory was claimed by a Robin a couple of years ago, would be seen on various perches in the garden close to the house. Now though, as soon as she appears the ever-vigilant Robin chases her away and she is restricted to sneak visits while he attends to business elsewhere. I love to see the Robin of course, but I miss seeing the little Black Redstart perched on the garden furniture, bobbing and quivering her rusty-red tail.

Female Black Redstarts are not as striking as the males, but have a bright and alert presence

When we moved to Spain from South Wales 81/2 years ago,  I brought with me a smallish aloe cactus in a plant pot. The plant has thrived here outside in the garden and is now quite large, producing its first flower spike in February of last year. It soon attracted the attentions of a female Blackcap who began to visit the flower every day and as the plant is not far from my kitchen window, I had some lovely close views through the window without disturbing her in the least.

20/2/10-Blackcap female probing an aloe flower

Blackcap – Sylvia atricapella SPANISH – Curruca capirotada

Blackcap pairs are often closely bonded and frequently seen together as they forage for food, but this time it took a few days for the male to follow suit and even then he was much more wary and stayed for shorter lengths of time.


28/2/10- The male Blackcap followed a week or so later

Some birds seem to be  strongly attracted to yellow/orange coloured flowers, but I’ve never been sure what they are actually eating; I assume it’s a part of the flower itself, unless they harbour tiny insects. In Wales, every spring House Sparrows always tore my yellow crocuses and berberis flowers to shreds and then returned for the re-hot poker flowers later in the year.

A pair of Sardinian Warblers are also regular visitors to the garden, but usually stay well concealed within the hedges and shrubs. I had some lovely views of the male as he visited the ‘Dama de Noche’ shrub that I can see from the kitchen window. Although his mate was never far away, she preferred to stay out of open view, although she did join him for a bath one morning.

26JAN-Sardinian Warbler (M)

Sardinian Warbler – Sylvia melanocephala  SPANISH -Curruca cabacinegra

My ‘bird bath’ is rather makeshift, being nothing more than an upturned flower pot with its saucer balanced on top, but it serves the required purpose and is very well used. I’ve noticed that small birds often bathe together and prefer quite shallow water.