Thursday, 30 November 2006

A Lost Loon

A new tick for me, and probably a new one for lot of birders since by all accounts it's been a bumper month for Great Northern Diver across the country. This one, a first winter bird by the looks of it, was doing laps around the tower at Carsington Water. Even out of its pied adult summer plumage the diver is an immaculate creature, the delicately white-dotted back, the gleaming red-eye and large dagger bill, alas a rudimentary moment of digi-scoping sans-adapter just doesn't show it so well.

The GND has been there most of the week so word had gotten around and we happily guided four or five other birders to the rarity. You know you have a special bird when people don't even have to tell you what species they're looking for, a simple 'is it about?' is enough.

Good numbers of Wigeon around too.

Monday, 20 November 2006

"Walking in the cold driving wind is half the point of birding, don't you know?"

Marvellous clear skies yesterday for our trip to Rutland. Although no megas were around we did see what I tend to think of as glamour birds, those that are a little scarce and very handsome - Goosander, Goldeneye, Red Kite, even Pintail falls into that category for me. Four very decent lifers for my girlfriend in her first year of birding.
Other sightings included Dunlin, Curlew, Egyptian Goose, Little Egret and Goldcrest. As the evening began to draw in I found myself looking across to the southern arm of the Egleton reserve when hundreds of Golden Plover descended to their roost. I've rarely been there so late and definitely plan to leave late next time I go. Around that time countless groups of 20-50 Starling hurried in and into the distance one of those awing swirling humongous winter flocks gather and tossed and turned into the distance, how many individual birds by the end I really don't know, just think of a number and triple it.

We chose Rutland in hopes of seeing Bittern, since on the website one had been regularly reported at the site. No luck on the day, but I think we'll continue to keep an eye on that website, seems like the premier source for the latest sightings news and bird photographs. It will probably help us to decide which destinations to choose and when, even if that means paying a subscription when the free account deadline runs out.

Happy birding everyone.

Wednesday, 15 November 2006

Another Feed the Birds Day

Our Bullfinches still seem to spur a great deal of excitement among visitors, I suppose it's the close proximity you can get to them. Probably helps the birds watch us scattering seed.
Quiet day otherwise, although Redwing are still around. About a 150 flew in from open farmland to the north of the park late in the day.

Off to Freiston Shore RSPB on Monday. Being so landlocked here in Notts it'll be my first visit to the coast during winter. With any luck it'll be loud with Brent Geese and rolling with flocks of Knot. I can hardly wait.

Video - Brierley Forest Park Bullfinch

Saturday, 11 November 2006

To find a Little Owl

Out on feeding station duties around the local nature reserve yesterday. We'd long heard reports of Little Owls up around the farm buildings on the northern boundary, yet hadn't actually seen them for ourselves. Being a warm afternoon on an otherwise cool day, hopes were high of spotting one of the small characters warming in the low sun, and we weren't to be disappointed.

Now it's well known that Little Owls pick prominent perches, but this bird seemed to have made an extra effort to stick out. Look at the pale dot near the centre of the big dark barn toward the right of shot...

Okay, not a picture to grace the magazines, but enough to confirm ID, and how conspicuous the owl's notably bold behaviour can sometimes be.

They're sort of the emblem bird for the volunteer group at the reserve, and I couldn't think of a more suitable or perky choice.

Thursday, 9 November 2006

Not quite a tick

After reading in the bible of British birding, Birds Britannica (by Mark Cocker, Richard Mabey), that the stuffed remains of the nation's first ever Egyptian Nightjar were still on display in our local museum 120 years after it was shot, a short pilgrimage felt necessary.

Okay so it's no great feat in taxidermy, but there is an interesting story attached, here's an excerpt from the book;

A Nottinghamshire gamekeeper, Albert Spinks, flushed a bird from its resting spot while he was shooting rabbits and, thinking it looked unusual, brought it down with his second barrel. A day later when it started to smell he threw it on to the ashpit near his cottage, only for his ornithologist employer, J. Whitaker, to notice and retrieve the skin. Whitaker sent it to his taxidermist and subsequently had its identity confirmed as an Egyptian Nightjar, then he honoured 'his' find by erecting a monument at the site of discovery (Thieves Wood, near Mansfield). The inscription, in which the largest letters spell his own name, was intended to read: 'This stone was placed here by J. Whitaker, of Rainworth Lodge, to mark the spot where the first British specimen of the Egyptian Nightjar was shot by A. Spinks, on June 23rd, 1883, this is only the second occurrence of this bird in Europe'. In fact 'occurrence' was misspelt and the date appears to have been wrongly given as 1882.

Apparently this was almost unique for being memorial for an individual wild bird in Britain, and probably the only one since the last British breeding pairs of Great Auk were killed in the Orkneys during the early 19thC. Alas it has since been removed from the site, replaced by a simple post etched with the momentus date and a figure of the bird.

So far there has only been one other record of the Egyptian Nightjar in Britain so it seems very likely this will be the closest of come to ticking off the species, short of a trip to Africa.

Reading back through the history of the way our ancestors interacted with the wild bird populations they found can often be deeply saddening exercise, where you'll learn about centuries of exploitation, superstition and casual disregard, so it's truly heartening to think we live in more enlightened times, with a renowned organisation like the RSPB, with its million strong membership passionate about conserving and enjoying our natural avian heritage.

Monday, 6 November 2006

November at Carsington

It's still quite warm but the winter arrivals are winging their way into the south Derbyshire reservoir at Carsington. Wigeon number in the hundreds, Tufted Duck similarly, and among them the odd glamour bird, yesterday it was stunning male Goldeneye.

Little Owl were once again a tick for the day, and it seems they hang around a couple of large trees beside an electricity pylon, viewed from the left of the wildlife centre should you ever visit. Looks likely that a family group have made a home there.

Flocks of a hundred or so Redwing periodically scooted overhead, so far it seems like a good year for them.

In all we scored 43 species for the day, not bad for a site shared with human sporting interests. Every visit it impresses more and more, you could pick worse destinations for a birding trip.

Friday, 3 November 2006


...or Whopper Swans as The Sun called them when describing the BBC's Autumnwatch programmes. These were on my local patch today, a reservoir in the midst of the sprawling conurbation surrounding Mansfield.

They probably won't stay the night so we rushed down to see them when we heard they were around. It's a new tick on our local list, a lifer for my girlfriend, and a very elegant one too.
Seems the haywire season we're experiencing means practically any species can turn up wherever you are.

We saw Kingfisher too, which have spread from their breeding waters as wintering individuals. They certainly add glamour.

Cormorants are another species to arrive during the cold months, probably regional migrants from the reservoirs up in the Peak District. Welcome ones in mind, despite what the fisherman say.

Happy birding everybody.