Unintended consequences, good intentions, and dead greenfinches (Warning – Dead Bird Photos)

I have used this blog as a sort of journal of various observations on bird feeding.  Unfortunately, and humblingly, I have realised that my bird feeding activity has in fact been doing the precise opposite of what I hoped. Killing, not preserving life.

I was familiar with Trichomonas infections– an condition which especially effects greenfinches – and had washed and even replaced my feeders fairly regularly, I had thought  (but far from regularly enough)

A few weeks ago I saw some definite cat / hawk kills in the garden with evident wounds.   There were also a couple of less evidently predator related deaths. Foolishly I put these down to cat activity also, based on dim memories of cats killing birds but not eating them. I also wondered if there was some dehydration going on given recent hot weather and redoubled putting out water.

I had noticed also that sometimes the greenfinches seemed to have a few seeds in their beak at the same time, a little like what can be seen in the above. In retrospect, this should have tipped me off the something was wrong.

Finally yesterday, having found two dead greenfinches – one of which was entirely unmarked, the other of which had some plumage damage. I realised what was up. The advice from Birdwatch Ireland and the RSPB is to remove feeders and bowls and wait at least two weeks to put out food again (with cleaned feeders). The BTO advice is as follows:

Rotate positions of feeders in the garden to prevent the build up of contamination in any one area of ground below the feeders. Empty and air dry any bird baths on a daily basis. You may wish to consider stopping feeding if you have an outbreak of the disease at your feeding station, in an attempt to force the birds to feed elsewhere at a lower density (although in reality they may end up visiting another feeding station and possibly one where no hygiene measures are in place.

It is humbling and sobering to realise that an activity that you thought was helpful and in some way kind, and also had put some thought into in terms of what kind of feed to put out etc (and it wasn’t that I didn’t know about Trichomonas infections and try to take some steps to prevent them), can end up doing the opposite of what is intended.

I am not sure if this bird is the same as the one photographed above, but I fear it is.  Apart from other lessons, in future I will think more carefully and analytically about dead birds in my garden… and clean/replace feeders much more systematically.

Bird Feeding Notes, mid April

A month on from the imaginatively titled “Bird feeding in Mid March” here are some random thoughts and observations on bird feeding in Mid April.

The mix of birds is roughly the same, with a predominance of finches. Many are notably less afraid of myself or my family, particularly juveniles. I worry that they may be getting too trusting of humanity. However, they flit nattily away when someone gets even semi-close.

It has been a time of change. Firstly, I no longer can get the King brand bird feed I favoured. So a range of others have been tried. Tesco’s own brand bird feed is not all that popular, and their sunflower hearts even less so. Sunflower seeds, however, are wildly popular. Peckish bird food’s brands have been tried to some success. Secondly, the bird feeding pole which helped to keep the food off the ground and the birds safe from their cat enemy, finally has given up the ghost during a children’s party. Perhaps it is time to buy or even make a “proper” bird table.


“sound as a way of sense-making”

Sound Artist Lawrence English on the Power of Radical Listening

From Observer.com

Interview here


How did you become interested in working with sound as a creative medium?

When I was a kid, I’d go bird watching with my dad at this waterfront area of Brisbane that’s now populated with condos. My dad would take us there and we’d look for Reed Warblers on binoculars, which is cruel for children because they can’t control their own eyes, let alone a second set of eyes that’s meant to help them see deeper.

I was constantly looking for this bird, and after several months of not seeing it, my dad told me to put the binoculars down, to close my eyes and listen. He said, “Now that you know where the bird is, put the binoculars back to your eyes and look where you sense the sound is.” I did that and I was able to see the bird straightaway. That was the first time I understood the role of sound as a way of sense-making, as a way of being into the world.


Later in the interview:

You intentionally collaborated more on Cruel Optimism. What can connection, real physical connection, do for us in these times? Are you hopeful that we can discern how to move beyond the issues that ensnare us in 2017?

I’m incredibly optimistic about the future. But, in saying that, I’m the past. My children are the future and their children are the future. My place is to support them and to love them and to encourage in them a way of being in the world that is reflective of the things we’re talking about. This is one of the most critical things I feel that I can do with whatever time remains for me.

There’s this great quote from Neil Postman, who was a wonderful academic who lived in New York. He wrote a book called The Disappearance of Childhood, and at the beginning he basically said, “Children are the living messages that we send to a time that we will never see.” That’s a profound way to think about the idea of time and our time on the planet.


Bird feeding in Mid March – Greenfinches

Continuing my occasional bird feeding notes – but this time with original pictures!

The wonderfully-shot Wild Ireland documentary inspired me to reconsider my childhood dream job – wildlife photographer/cameraman. Why did this ever fall off my radar? Partly the common adolescent/late teenage/early adulthood loss of interest in wildlife, partly a certain lack of confidence in my artistic ability in general.

Recently, of course, most of us carry a digital camera every where we go via our smartphones. I have tried taking photos of animals, but what in real life is a magnificent, clearly visible creature is a small dot in most photos I have taken.

This has changed somewhat with the advent of a bird feeder that sticks to the window. After some time birds seem fairly OK with feeding while I am there. One rather well-fed looking greenfinch in particular seems to be quite happy with my (relative) proximity:

Life in a Drop of Water: an interview with underwater photographer Liam Marsh

One of the blogs I follow is the Freshwater Blog, which is a wonderful resource. I have reblogged below an interview with underwater photographer Liam Marsh.The images that accompany the blog post are extraordinary. I particularly loved Liam’s line: “I’m fascinated by the idea of this entire world that goes on almost without our knowledge, just below the water’s surface” which captures the the fascination of freshwater – and I was glad to note he shares my love of dippers….on which topic it is well worth watching Liam’s short film Spring on the River:

The Freshwater Blog

fresh_water_shrimp Freshwater shrimp in a drop of water. Image: Liam Marsh

Liam Marsh is an award-winning natural history and wildlife photographer based in the Blackdown hills of south Somerset in England. His photographs of aquatic life – both above and below the waterline – are creative, unusual, and often beautiful. We spoke to Liam to find out about his approaches to revealing freshwater worlds through photography.


Tell us about your work as a wildlife photographer: how did you get started, and what are you working on at the moment?

I have always loved photography, and as a process it encourages you spend more time examining the world around you. I’ve always found wildlife to be the perfect match for that approach. Photography has given met a set of tools with which to examine the many wonderful creatures that live around us. All of my images are a result of countless…

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Bird feeding mid February

My last “Bird feeding notes”, was from mid November. One of the nice things about bird feeding is the heightened awareness of the passage of the seasons, and how even in the depths of winter new life is awaiting. Based purely on subjective perception of temperature and the how-hard-it-is-to-drag-oneself-out-of-bed factor, I find the “traditional” beginning of Spring on St Brigid’s Day a little implausible, but from the point of view of the natural world it is perfectly right – indeed, possibly a little late.

I have noted before that there are far more collared doves around this winter/spring, although I have noticed slightly fewer of late. There is an abundance of greenfinches, somewhat more than chaffinches with is a reversal of the usual pattern. A pied wagtail which normally was more evident at the front of the house now seems to be a regular at the back (or is this the same wagtail at all?) and a sprinkling of rooks and jackdaws – though, again, slightly fewer it seems.

And still no magpies (thought I will probably see a flock in a few minutes having written this)


Ceramics from Joe & Anne Kane, The Studio, Moyra Rectory, Falcarragh, Donegal

Nearly a decade ago I first visited The Studio, a gallery and ceramics workshop run by Joe & Anne Kane, featuring amongst other things Joe’s beguiling ceramics work. Finding little about the Kanes work online I have decided to post some photos (amateurishly taken with a phone) of the pieces I own. I find a beautiful clarity and sense of timelessness about these pieces. If you are in North West Donegal, The Studio is highly recommended.

The first is a tile featuring an image of what I initially thought was a boat, but is a depiction of the Holy Trinity. I recall how the afternoon sunlight shone off this piece in The Studio. I find this a magical piece which a photo cannot do much justice to:

I have visited Moyra Rectory more recently. Sadly, as Anne explained to me, Joe died in 2012. His moulds remained and allowed some pieces to continue to be made. I bought this beautiful cross, whose clear simplicity has a real air of the monastic era about it:

More whimsically (and least successfully photographed by myself) is a piece with a real Donegal flavour – a sheep and a green bird (a greenfinch? a siskin?)

Detail of sheep:

Detail of bird:

Finally, at some point in between buying the two pieces above I bought this small pedestal (not sure if that is the right word) which I have used to display various fossils (some of which are in the left of this photo) The photo does capture the rough texture of this piece, and the subtle spiral, which makes it feel very much like a sort of found artifact from the natural world. Of course it isn’t, but testament to the Kanes’ artistic vision.