SOME readers will have taken part in the recent Big Garden Bird-Watch, amid concerns of a marked decline in common birds.

We are fortunate to have an orchard adjoining our garden where windfall apples have this winter provided feeding for birds, notably members of the thrush family.

Blackbirds have dominated, along with fieldfares and redwings, mostly from Scandinavia and one or two song and mistle thrushes.

Peter, a local bird-ringing friend has visited twice and with strategically placed mist-nets caught and harmlessly ringed more than 60 birds – mostly blackbirds.

Some of these will have also come from Europe. In previous years two were caught with rings from Arnham and Heligoland.

Years of supervised training and experience to learn the delicate handling is required before being awarded a ringing permit. As well as securing a leg ring, plumage measurements and weight is recorded, clarifying the bird’s sex and whether an adult or bird of the year. This can sometimes be told from the colour inside their mouths.

Although modern optics and bird photography allow good views, a bird momentarily in hand gives an unparalleled frisson of contact, before being released to fly safely away.

Continental blackbirds, probably from Germany were larger with dark beaks and smart black legs polished like patent leather

Only the mistle thrush, which is bold both in speckled marking and manner, is larger than the fieldfare, which is usually wary of humans.

Fieldfares migrate over the North Sea, flying high mostly unseen at night. Hedgerow berries are favoured on their mid-autumn arrival, berries reminiscent of their native rowan.

When these are devoured, finding winter rations becomes a serious matter. Up to 100 fieldfares came to the orchard just after first light when it was frosty, fewer on milder days, distinctive chattering “chacking” calls often being heard before they were seen.

Peter was pleased to ring four as their direct upward flight makes them more elusive than other thrushes. Smaller redwings have been ringed in previous winters but several, which almost mockingly cleared holly-berries from a nearby tree in full view this year, proved even less amenable.

A fieldfare is a feather tapestry of blue-grey, varied brown, black and white, with a golden-edged speckled breast to brighten up a winter’s morning.

For your diary: March 22 at 7.30pm – 'Save Our Swifts' illustrated talk by Edward Jackson at Great Bentley village hall, organised by Tendring's Essex Wildlife Trust group.