A Special Winter Visitor

Despite a fresh layer overnight, the snow of Saturday morning was soft and slushy. Great slabs of it slid off the greenhouses and polytunnels of the farm. The steady drip of snow melt came from roofs, leaves and branches, beneath which the snow was pockmarked with tiny holes where drops of water had fallen Golden light from the morning sun filtered through the surrounding trees, catching the droplets and sending millions of miniature rainbows dancing over the remaining snow cover. Still the snow continued to crunch underfoot, still the poles froze your fingers and still the ice still clung to the edges of the pond.

The woodland surrounding the farm glittering in the snow and morning sun

Birds still flocked to the farm’s garden, twittering from the tops of the trees before dropping down, not so much to the small gap of free flowing water in the pond but to the feeders full of sunflower and Niger seed. The thaw was unlocking water in the wider countryside but food remained hidden, and so the birds came. Flocks of brambling gathered to feed on the seed scattered below the feeders, a charm of goldfinch flew in to nibble at the Niger seed dangling above. The usual accompaniment of great, blue and coal tits grappled with sunflower seeds or pecked at peanuts, often hanging upside down from the feeders. The odd lesser redpoll and siskin joined in the foray, while a group of long-tailed tits buzzed from bush to tree to feeder, their excited trilling calls giving their location away.

Blue tit feeding on peanuts

Briefly intercepting the bird’s busy comings and goings was the gardens usual compliment of mist nets and traps. For the ringers the morning was equally as busy, and one species in particular stole this snowy morning’s show – the brambling.

Each winter we ring a fair number of these stunning finches, before they head back north to breed in Scandinavia. We’ve even had a recovery of a bird ringed at the farm and then caught again in Norway. But as yet the bramblings we have recaptured at the farm have been ringed in the local Thetford area. That is until today when a brambling turned up in the walk in trap with a ring on that looked a little different. It looked different because it was a Norwegian ring!

The Norwegian ringed brambling. Photo: Claire Thacker 

This young male, hatched last year, had left the icy grip of the Norwegian winter and made it across the North Sea to the UK. Here bramblings make the most of our milder winters, feeding in particular on beech mast. When freezing conditions like those in the last couple of weeks grip the UK many head into gardens in search of water and food. In a couple of months this and most of other thousands of brambling wintering in the UK will return to Scandinavia to breed. Exactly where this bird will head to for its first breeding attempt is unknown, most brambling lack any strong fidelity to particular sites moving between breeding locations…so far as we know. With a ring on we have a better chance of building up an accurate picture of this brambling’s habitat and nesting choices and its movements; we just have to hope it gets caught again…


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