Weather provided a rare sight

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The recent spell of very sharp frost and cold conditions has been very hard on the small birds. As is usual when the weather conditions are adverse, many more birds come to rely on food provided by humans in their gardens, and I had a first in my garden last week.

I was working in my studio and every so often glancing out of the window at the area where I hang all of my feeders (just in case I missed something!) when I saw the edge of a small bird poking out from behind a wire feeder full of suet pellets. I did not immediately recognize it so knew that it was something a bit unusual.

Frustratingly, for the next few minutes that I concentrated on it, my curiosity aroused and my work forgotten. it remained stubbornly on the other side of the feeder.

However, it soon flew off and landed on the thick base of the honeysuckle plant that grows over one of the arches near to the feeders.

I now had a good view and could immediately identify it. This was where I expected to see this little bird, as it was a treecreeper.

I continued to observe it, as it wound its way in small, shuffling, jerky movements up the thick twisted stems of the honeysuckle until it reached the thinner tangled crown, whereupon it flew off to the wood and to the base of one of the Scots pines where it then started its jerky climb upwards again.

The treecreeper are often described as mouse-like, but tit is a very attractive, delicate, bird with a brown and cream speckled and striped back, a thick white stripe above its eye, a white underside that is almost mother of pearl when the light catches it, thin legs and toes with long curved claws and a sickle shaped very fine beak, like a curved upholstery needle.

I have never seen a treecreeper on a feeder before. Annoyingly, I had not been able to make out if it was actually feeding on the suet or not as it had been hidden out of view on the other side.

I wondered if anyone else had had them on feeders as I had never heard of this before, so I went on line and asked the question.

Apparently this behavior has been seen on a couple of occasions and there was even a bit of video of one.

Comments seemed to suggest that they were not happy in the company of other birds around the feeders and resorted to their typical tree trunk behavior when other birds appeared.

This is what happened to my treecreeper as it had flown off when a tree sparrow had landed on the suet feeder. As I have said many times before, you never stop seeing new things when you are wildlife watching.

Other visitors to the garden have been larger numbers of siskins than normal and an unexpected, large flock of starlings that ate just about everything in sight before flying up to the top of the chestnut tree to perch and whistle and sing contentedly.

I rarely get starlings and when I do it is normally just a couple. As soon as they had flown off, I went out and replenished the feeders and they were soon alive with birds again, but no starlings this time.

For the first time too, I had two long tailed tits at the feeders.

I have felt hard done by as all around us, neighbours and others in the village have had these almost unreal looking pink white and black birds, but they have never before ventured into my garden, despite me trying to tempt them.

I only saw then one day and that was five days ago - I do hope that they will come back.

Last of my irregular visitors was a small group of five bullfinches, two males and three females, picking through the honeysuckle.

They looked like they were straight off a Christmas card with their rosy chests set beautifully against the frosty branches.

The fields around us used support a fairly reasonable number of common partridges. That is such an inaccurate and unfairly dowdy name for them.

They have a lovely mix of colours and patterns; their cheeks and throats are ginger with their necks a lovely soft dove grey, each individual feather drawn over with finely scribbled lines, and the rest of their plumage is an intricate mix of russets, greys and white.

This cryptic patterning can make them very difficult to spot is they are crouched down in rough grass or stubble. This is the reason that I jumped with a start when a small covey of them exploded from a few feet in front of me while I was crossing a field.

I was delighted, despite the fright, to see them back after not having come across any in the immediate surroundings of my home in the last year.

I watched, smiling as they came down to land on stiff, curved wings, before once more merging and vanishing into their background.

French partridges may be much more showy and glamourous with their more obvious and striking colours and patterns and their pink waxy beaks and eye surrounds, but the commons have my vote for their subtlety.

I am hoping to manage some lovely walks over the festive period - a great antidote to the overindulgent eating and television watching.

I will also be giving the birds some extra treats, putting out any fruitcake, biscuit or pastry scraps for them. Why not give someone you know a feeder for Christmas.

ou will not only be giving them a New Year full of entertainment, but will be helping the little birds (and maybe an odd mouse or squirrel too) through the harshest months.

For everyone who has read my diary over the last year, or written, called or emailed me with stories and comments, I would like to take this opportunity to wish you a happy Christmas and a peaceful, fun-filled 2013, bursting with wildlife encounters.

That is what I would wish for myself too.

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