Posted by: Ross Gardner | October 21, 2011

My siskins are back!

Siskin (Carduelis spinus). Copyright 2004 Ross Gardner

The siskins have returned, hopefully for the duration of another south Essex winter at Meadowfield.  The summer’s last summer migrants, the likes of the swallows and chiff chaff, are a month gone (although with the latter, the likelihood of winter birds in the south is these days a distinct possibility) and to welcome  an arrival after so many autumn departures is indeed a delight.  They are attracted in the most part to the alder that thrive in the damp ground around the pond.  The small, cone-like remnants of the female catkins are full of tiny seeds – a well-known lure for the siskin, as well as the closely related goldfinch and redpoll.

I disturbed a flock,  about a dozen, perhaps more, sending them twittering from a large oak close to one end of the pond, rising briefly into the air, before sweeping down into a stand of silver birch.  It is a sound almost with the warmth of the spring, yet for me it is signal – a most welcome one – of the drawing of autumn and the approach of winter.  Of anything that can dispel the drear of grey December day, the sight and sound of the siskin is one of my favourites.  They are actually resident to the UK.  About 370,000 breed here, but for us and a large chunk of the midlands and eastern England, they are winter visitors.  And little beauties they are too, with their vivid yellow wing-bars sharply contrasted with black, an effect enhanced with the male with his yellow breast and ‘cheeks’, and black crown and bib.  They are small, compact finches; clambering among the branches with a tit-like agility they are entertaining, eminently watchable birds.

They have returned with the red admirals still fluttering around the windfall fruit, supping on the over-ripe pears.  There is a sense of a changing of shifts, not to be lamented, but enjoyed.  Last year they stayed around until March.  I hope to be able to see the winter through with them again this year.

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