Under cover of the drizzle that enveloped the East Coast at the end of last week, one of the highlights of this Spring unfolded as the arrival of one of our brightest and most colourful migrants from the other side of the North Sea made landfall.
The Bluethroat is an annual Spring visitor to British shores with two different races arriving in small numbers if the right weather conditions occur at the right time (an easterly wind and a little drizzle or mist). ‘White-spotted’ Bluethroats have a white spot at the centre of the vivid blue throat and ‘Red-spotted’ as the name suggests have a red spot. The latter race tend to occur later in the Spring in May and all the birds arriving at the end of last week were of the ‘Red-spotted’ race.
Male Bluethroats have a spectacular blue throat surrounded by bands of black and red and a prominent cream supercilium above the eye. Slightly larger than a Robin but smaller than a Song Thrush they can be quite secretive. Keeping up that tradition, last week brought a small arrival of perhaps 40-50 individuals spread along the British East Coast from Kent to Shetland. As they Breed in Northern Europe in birch and damp woodlands, the numbers of migrants arriving in Britain on passage have declined in the last 20-30 years. Males are without question a riot of colour and a favourite with birdwatchers as a result.
As a member of the ‘Thrush and Chat’ family of birds, Bluethroats are generally insectivorous, meaning they favour feeding on insects and invertebrates. They are also extremely photogenic so photographers are often quick to throw out a few Mealworms in order to tease them out of hiding and into the open in order to get clearer or closer images. Generally a small amount over a day or two is unlikely to cause much harm and might provide some easy take-on fuel for a bird yet to complete its migration. However as is the case for any bird attracted to supplementary food out in the open prolonged feeding increases the risk of predation.
Mealworms are a good food to use in garden bird-feeding, they are 100% natural and contain vitamins, proteins and edible oils. Garden species such as Robins, Blackbirds and Starlings will readily take Mealworms. They can be bought dried and rehydrated by soaking in a little hot or boiling water for a short period though this isn’t strictly necessary. Some observers feel that the softer texture achieved by pre-soaking makes the Mealworms more appealing to our garden birds and more like the worms they are used to feeding on here in Britain. If you’ve tried soaking mealworms, let us know your thoughts and experiences on this in the comments below. Or if you haven’t, you could pick up dried mealworms or a pre-filled Mealworm feeder is available for as little as £3.49.
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Our Garden Birder’s Diary is written by Northumberland-based birder Alan Tilmouth who has been birdwatching for over 30 years and writing about birds in various guises for the last decade. A keen garden birdwatcher, he also manages to unearth the odd rare bird on his travels. You can find Alan on Twitter and his Facebook blog.