Ouzels in the Garden!!
I've been lucky enough for the last couple of years to add an unusual 'tick' to my garden list, the brilliantly named Ring Ouzel, sometimes known as the mountain Blackbird; a more apt (if less entertaining) name, as indeed it does take over from it's relative in upland areas of Britain. The name Ouzel comes from a corruption of the old Germanic name for the Blackbird, and indeed we had three Ouzels in the UK 'back in the day' the Blackbird being the Ouzel, the Dipper was known as the Water Ouzel and of course the Ring Ouzel, the only one to keep the Ouzel tag.
It's our only summer visiting member of the Thrush family, with British Ouzels wintering in southern Europe and north Africa and generally arriving back on their breeding grounds around the end of March into early April. Ring Ouzels usually raise two broods of three to four young, then head south by late August to early September.
They're not a common bird, with around 4,500-5,500 pairs nesting in Scotland (about 73% of the British population) the rest are spread through northern England, Wales and other upland areas of the UK. I was a bit surprised by 'my' Ouzel, he came and sang from the top of a Spruce tree in the garden for about 3 weeks. Now I live in the bottom of a glen and Ring Ouzels preferred habitat is heather moorland and mountainsides with areas of short-cropped grass at a height of 250-1,200 meters, nesting under rocky ledges, gullies and scree slopes. Now all this habitat isn't far away (as the ouzel flies) except the short-cropped grass, and indeed my ouzel was flying down from the nearby mountainside to take advantage of my lawn and the surrounding fields kept short by cattle and sheep, providing plenty of good foraging for worms and other invertebrates.
Ring Ouzels look and behave just like Blackbirds, the only difference being the 'ring' a bright white gorget or bib on the front of the birds chest and a less bright yellow bill. The male ouzel can't really compete in the singing stakes either, it's simple 3 note call a far cry from the lovely liquid warbling of the resident Blackbird.
Sadly a familiar story of decline is effecting the ring Ouzel population and studies are on-going, but changes in grazing intensity, afforestation, habitat destruction in their wintering grounds and climate change are all probably playing a part.
Luckily the Cairngorms are still a high density area and is one of the best spots in the country to see this summer visiting thrush of the mountains.
Now I was going to end by saying I hope I get them again this year, but as I was writing this (yesterday) I went to the kitchen to get a drink and what was the other side of the window on the grass, not one, but a pair of Ring Ouzels! which I managed to get some bad pictures of.