Wednesday, 24 November 2010


So I've been at Carsington a bit more often than normal, more Date With Nature days mainly. We're currently trying to make sure everyone has the opportunity to sign up to our Letter to the Future campaign, and let the politicians who can do so much to provide a healthy environment for future generations know just how much we all care about this stuff. If you haven't done it yet, follow this link which tells you all about it.

As ever the reservoir remains a brilliant place to be doing this work with some cracking sunsets lately and smattering of tasty birds. I regret I missed the recent Black Redstart (some small consolation that I saw the one last November) , but the Great Northern Diver is settling in now and easy to find most days.
Another juvenile bird so bang goes any theory that we get the same birds returning each year, this isn't site fidelity, Carsington is just a natural magnet for any GNDs that end up this far inland. It'll be a sad winter when we don't have one.

And because these divers are such fantastic birds, check out these Youtube videos....

Voices: Common Loon
Loon joins scuba divers

...Common Loon being the given North American name for the same species.

Then there are the surprises that happily occur while on site. Closing things up at the end of another DWN event I had a Barn Owl sail by the Wildlife Centre. In other areas of the reservoir you can expect them, especially the areas with unimproved grassland the STW rangers look after so well, so it was more than pleasant to see it comfortable enough to quarter the busier parts of the water's edge.
If it weren't for the volunteering I'd never be up and out there so regularly and I'd miss so many of these things. The rewards they are manifold.

Monday, 1 November 2010

A little catch-up

Been a good long time since I've updated here, that's life for you I suppose. Here's a brief summary of my birding exploits since February...

Slimbridge in the early days of March, just a majestic place.
Large numbers of Whoopers and Bewicks were still around and perfect in the sunset during the last afternoon feeding session. Green-winged Teal, the close American relative our native duck, was the only lifer on the trip, but you go for the spectacle and sausages in the cafe. A chap at the table next to us asked for an ID and for a relative novice gave a spot description of a Shelduck, and he was thrilled by what he'd seen, they are stunners after all. Don't think I've ever seen a non-birdwatcher converted so completely so quickly. Well done Slimbridge.

Meanwhile at home in the garden the Dunnocks were upto something...

Delicate subject, I'll let Wikipedia explain it:
This species makes up for its drab appearance with its breeding behaviour. Females are often polyandrous, breeding with two males at once, and thus giving rise to sperm competition. Males compete for mating access to the female, but DNA fingerprinting has shown that chicks within broods often have different fathers, depending on their success at monopolising access to the fertile female. Males try to ensure their paternity during courtship by pecking at the cloaca of the female to stimulate her to eject the sperm of other males with whom the female has recently mated.

Those were birds in my garden, here's one that might have come from Australia...

One of the birding events of the year came in May with this Oriental Pratincole at, let me get this right I always mixed it up with Freiston Shore, the RSPB reserve at Frampton Marsh in Lincolnshire. This was a bird that ticked every box, outrageous/unimaginable vagrancy, movie-star looks and enigmatic behaviour. It swooped by the hide hawking for insects much like a Swallow and each time to fresh "wows" from any observer newly arrived. Of course a lifer, and other nice birds included Temminck Stint and Curlew Sandpipers. One of those regional twitches where you see familiar faces, so altogether a very nice day indeed. The RSPB have done wonderful things at Frampton, wasn't many years ago we visited on spec and found pretty featureless bleak marshland with nothing like the variety of life present there now. Well done RSPB!

Happily a more local twitch, with a less criminal CO2 output, came with a Great Reed Warbler at Straw's Bridge Nature Reserve near Ilkeston. A local lady heard it singing and recognised it as something very different from what she usually finds and alerted a birdwatcher she knew. Well done her!
Bit of a brute as warblers go. Good populations are just across the Channel and it seems like we really ought to see more of these overshooting their migration. Currently they remain a exciting vagrant and potential breeder/coloniser should all the right things happen some day. This one stayed for about two months in a patch of reed bed you could almost stretch your arms around.
(Here's a video of it singing.)

June, and our first trip the Farne Islands...
Arctic Tern on the girlfriend's head. Nuff said. For more on the Farnes check out the blog kept by the National Trust wardens.

An uneventful summer later and my bird of the year at Carsington Water.My ultimate bogey bird bagged and on the local patch too - I thought it'd be many a fruitless hour spend on the east coast before I saw one of these. It's a Wryneck of course, almost more reptile than bird. Found by one the top chaps from Carsington Bird Club at the reservoir just off the dam wall (which has always been a bit of a migrant magnet). With patience and several rain showers later the bird hopped out from the bushes and within two yards of those of us who stuck around the afternoon.
Very rare bird for Derbyshire which makes it more than doubly amazing that another (or the same one) turned up not far away in a housing estate in Heanor. Couldn't get there for that one but by all accounts the residents enjoyed the bird as much any ornithologists as it skipped out of the way of buses and perched on window sills. Some of the local kids on their way school must have seen a truly stunning stop of nature. What a bird!

October and it had to be Spurn. Winds weren't at their most favourable, you can't keep a good place down though.

We've had better days there, Waxwing, Snow Buntings, Mealy Redpoll, Merlin, Jack Snipe were the best of it. The girlfriend's favourite was this Goldcrest we found behind the dunes. Completely fearless and perhaps exhausted after a hop across the North Sea (for a bird that would sit comfortable in a teacup a pretty damn amazing achievement), a bit of a treat to see so much detail on such a miniscule bird.

And that's really the chunk of things. Oh there were other days, other birds, Turtle Doves and Cetti's Warbler at Wicken Fen were memorable, and our Little Owls up at the pit did very well this year. Birds for another update, another time. I promise to do my best and keep this blog going, dib dib dib.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Old Moor, Budby, Birds

Paid a visit to Old Moor at the weekend, good birds, good shop, good times. No stellar species around, Ringed Plover was about the best of it, lots of courting Goosanders, bountiful Lapwing flocks, and an entertaining female Kestrel (pictured) in the car park that dropped down after prey right beside our car. The Yellowhammer comes from the Tree Sparrow Farm area of the reserve where long-staying Brambling weren't playing ball.
Wath Ings hide had a Common Snipe several birdwatchers were convincing themselves was the Jack report a day before, it's one of the pitfalls of reading the sightings news that I'm pretty sure was susceptible to once upon a time.

Also been Budby way, as always nice views of several Green Woodpecker, a handful of Crossbills went over, otherwise hardly a dicky around. Better was Carburton were ploughed fields have proved magnetic for numbers of Greylags I've just never seen there before, and among them there be scarcer geese. Four Pinkies, and I found a surprise lifer in a White-front (#229), it looked dark to me but other guys with more experience we're happy it was a Russian race bird. We simply don't get many of either in the East Midlands, although a few birds were seen in North Notts not long after mine.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

A Garden Bonanza

Mostly a garden update this one. All this snow and slipping down in the street has seemed worth it with the feathered visitors we've been getting. The Fieldfare has taken up residency for now, and the very wee cotoneaster and pyracantha we planted in the front garden last year have scored us a Redwing or two. The growing Reed Bunting attendance has peaked with around 15 birds at a time, and I pause to type here because a Mistle Thrush just landed on the lawn, it's squabbling with the Blackbirds over an apple core.
Extra bit of excitement came last night when closing the curtains in our spare room I noticed a shape in our heavily prune cherry tree. Twas a Tawny Owl, probably looking for the mice and voles that hoover up the seed spill from the day's action on our front garden feeders. The bird stayed a minute or two, even looked through the window at me. In the end it swooped into the gloom of our back garden, just magical. Makes species #45 on the garden list since moving in almost a year ago.

Final mention goes to the Weasel I saw darting around our patio the other day - another new record for our garden.

Looks like the thaw will set in for a couple of days now, expect we'll be back to normal by the time of the RSPB's Big Garden Birdwatch.

As the water is still frozen there's not been much up at the pit lately. The best I can report is a Great Black-backed Gull as an overfly down in the village the other day.

In other news, recent findings suggest that Grey Squirrel impacts on woodland bird populations far less than previously feared, although locally they could be bad news for scarcer species like Hawfinch, so we can almost like them again.
The perfect excuse to add a few squirrel pictures to the thumbnails of my recent photographs below...

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

The Bleak Midwinter

Haven't posted for a while so I'll quickly round up the last month. Bagged two lifers in that time, the first came with the dozens of Common Crossbill at Broomhead Reservoir near Sheffield. Just wasn't getting any luck with well known local sites like Sherwood Pines or Matlock Forest, and learnt about Broomhead on Birdforum. Brilliant places, loads of Crossbills - saw a dozen or so and heard more - mixed in with Goldfinch, Siskin and some entertaining tit flocks. Seemed to disturb a Tawny Owl that flew through the wood around midday. Hand-fed a desperate Robin in the layby where we parked the car.
Peaceful place.

A corking Firecrest (#228) accounts for the other lifer, a now well watched bird at Moorgreen Reservoir. Apparently they are present most winters, the word just hadn't gotten out before. Locals speak of Lesser Woodpecker and some other interesting birds in there too. Looks worthy of more attention.

Both species bogey passerines I'm very happy to have finally cracked.
Dipped however on a Siberian Stonechat at Bevercotes Pit Wood near Ollerton in Notts. Several European Stonechats around, none quite so dandy as the Sib. Went a day late for that one.

A lot of action in the garden at the moment. About eight inches of snow will do that around here. Numbers of Reed Bunting have hit at least 11, lots of the common finches, Redwing and Fieldfare have been through, Great Spotted Woodpecker too, and next door's apple trees are being vigourously defended by a Mistle Thrush. Late one day a Yellowhammer came and went very briefly - noticed it among a very busy flocked mostly by the very horizontal perching shape. This morning 150+ geese were heading north-west while I had my breakfast, no chance of a defo ID but really they had to be Pink-feet.

Nothing up at Pleasley Pit at the moment, at least nothing on the water, it's been frozen for a fortnight, the last birds I saw were Snipe evacuating elsewhere just before Christmas. The winter thrushes remain, as do a single female Stonechat and lots of Yellowhammers.

Very quick visit to Rufford with family earlier this week where I managed a few photographs. Wild birds are so tame there it's difficult to go away without a decent image or three.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Donna Nooked

Cute, huh?
Donna Nook of course, we had a trip out there with our fellow RSPB crew at Carsington. Amazing place, the numbers say it all; 842 seal pups, 955 cows and 344 bulls. All sorts of stories going on with them, to left and right there were new borns, suckling mums, mums ready to give birth, beachmaster brutes fighting for mating patches, and abandoned pups not yet driven to the sea by their hunger. Real wildlife spectacle this one. Zillions of people around too, which makes sense because these few weekends are the best for visiting the colony and it really has to be the weekend because access to the beach is closed for the RAF flyboys to do their bombing practice across the mudflats. These mega visitor numbers make for an odd carnival feel to the whole thing, burger vans and portaloos aren't found at many nature spectacles, so all it's a world of difference from the cold solitudinous suffering that makes for most birding trips at this time of year. Shan't complain about that. The long walk from the dunes to the shore with the low tide does ask a little bit of work from you, which is an effort altogether worth making because there's action far out there, lots of fighting and mating in shallows you miss if you're afraid to get your boots a bit muddy (well... a lot muddy!).

Bird-wise there was always a distant passage of waders, dozens of Curlew, Redshank, Knot, and Brent Geese are always good to see, Great Black-backed Gulls presumably patrolling for afterbirth were nice too. Singles of Turnstone and Sanderling fought the winds down on the shoreline. Bird of the day was a single male Snow Bunting (#226) that overflew during the long trudge across the mudflats. The highly distinct black and white of the wings making for a very welcome, very easy to ID passerine fly over, and for me, a lifer!

After the many dramas of the Grey S
eals we took to Rimac for a brief afternoon visit. The potential for Hen Harrier, Short-eared Owls and other top class birds is clear, the best we could muster was a noisy cloud of Twite, a faraway Little Egret, a Sparrowhawk, and Stonechat. A quiet visit then but the saltmarsh not without scenic beauty, well in the right light anyway.

Lots of pictures taken by girlfriend and me, and I've struggled to edit them down to just a few, so here's lots of thumbnails (click to enlarge):


Plus bonus videos taken by the girlfriend:
The Seal Scene
Fresh Born Pup

Tuesday, 17 November 2009


Had a trip down to London at the weekend as the girlfriend needed to visit the Chinese embassy (would you believe the big screen above the desk in the consulate showed pictures of a military parade - missiles, jet fighters, millions of soldiers - I'm not kidding). With the price of train tickets we drove half the way, stopping off at Rutland to break the journey up. Glad we did too, gathered two life birds I was hardly expecting. First was a snoozing Long-eared Owl (#224) by the path to one of the hides. Heard them plenty in Sherwood Forest, the squeaky gate call of the chicks around dusk, first time seeing one though.
The other lifer was a Slavonian Grebe (#225), a full winter plumage bird easy to ID, and actually a nice comparison with a few Black-necked Grebes around. Winter ducks aplenty, some nice Golden Plover in the afternoon sun. Didn't have time to check out the assortment of divers off the dam wall. The Little Egret video comes from Rutland, watch out for a Hitchcokian cameo from a Shoveler near the end.

There was time in the day to take in the London parks when down there. The Grey Herons in Regent's Park always a treat, especially if you have a camera.

Also took in maiden ride on my new bicycle today. Went under a mass of Fieldfare, they sounded like a giant bag of marbles being shaken up.
(Regent's Park)

(Park "plastic")