We live up a private and secluded drive, where disturbance is minimal and our neighbour who lives at the end of the drive has an apple tree in her garden, by the gate, which each autumn sheds its numerous fruit onto the grass below. Apart from a few that we take for cooking, the apples are left on the ground for the birds and despite the odd Blackbird picking at them are generally untouched by the birds unless or until the weather turns very cold.
Just such conditions arrived overnight on Thursday and the ground on Friday morning was frozen solid and white with a dusting of snow and ice. Looking out over our neighbour's garden from our upstairs window I could see that there was now much activity amongst the scattering of yellow and red apples below the tree, as Blackbirds, Fieldfares and Redwings hustled and bickered over what was probably the only available food supply left to them.
|Blackbirds, Fieldfares and Redwings on the fallen apples|
The majority were Blackbirds and I counted an exceptional twenty two, the majority being males, with presumably birds flying in from all over our end of the village to take advantage of the apples. I did find myself wondering if some of these were migrants or were they just local birds taking advantage of this food supply in hard times.
Also with them were a dozen or so definite migrants in the form of Fieldfares and Redwings. The Blackbirds were noticeably less wary than the two Scandinavian thrush species and would tuck into the apples relentlessly, rarely leaving the ground, even when my neighbour's cat wandered by but the Fieldfares and Redwings would sit in the apple tree until they felt totally secure and only then would descend to the ground to seek their share of the apples.
Fortunately there were so many apples and the birds were so hungry there was little cause or time for conflict and apart from the odd minor skirmish all was calm as each individual bird found an apple to itself.
I spoke to my neighbour who kindly allowed me to park my car at the front of her house, overlooking that part of the garden where the apples lay on the ground, and use it as a hide to take pictures of the Fieldfares and Redwings. It is rarely one gets such an opportunity to get close to these two beautiful thrush visitors from Scandinavia, Eastern Europe and Russia.
The Fieldfares are by far my favourites, big and brash, they have a rogueish air about them, true gypsies of the countryside and well able to stand their ground against any belligerent male Blackbird. They bounce around on the grass with their wings held loosely down by their sides before commandeering an apple to stab at and disintegrate. This most wary of birds utters a contralto chuckle when anxious, it comes when they are in the air or on the ground, gutteral, harsh and querulous, invariably giving me a thrill when I hear it. Their plumage at this time of year is a variety of subtle shades and muted colourings, the colours of autumn and arguably they are one of the most beautiful of all the thrushes with their liver purple upperparts, ash grey head and rump and black tail, whilst the white flanks are mottled with black chevrons and the yellowish buff throat and ochre breast are streaked with black. A pleasing amalgam of colours and patterns that combined with a bold and assertive character make for a very pleasing whole.
The Redwings are much more demure, superficially not unlike our Song Thrush in general appearance but with two prominent creamy white stripes on each side of their head and a slash of orange red at the top side of their heavily streaked flanks, they are much more colourful.
I sat in my car for an hour or so watching the comings and goings of this thrush congregation, the birds vigorously attacking the apples and swallowing prodigious quantities of the flesh although the sustenance they get from the apples must surely be minimal. Every so often the whole group would take alarm and flee up into the apple tree for no apparent reason. Always first back down were the Blackbirds, landing with a quiet chook and slowly raising their tail like a banner, followed a little later by the Fieldfares and then finally the Redwings would quietly descend.
All this virtually on my doorstep.