Sunday, 28 October 2007

Feed the Birds Day

The Jackdaw Roost?

Yesterday's events went well, Carsington again, this time Aren't Birds Brilliant x Feed the Birds Day, so all very busy and records broken for the number of names and addresses going into our visitor book. The girlfriend did a spot on job catching folks before they could leave the Wildlife Centre. She's the friendliest person in the world, you'd be a cold cold person to tell her you're not interested.

Bird-wise, highlight of the day had to be the Red-necked Grebe early on. It showed well for a while, even sailed close to a Dabchick for the ultimate comparsion and confirmation. Shame then that it was pushed away so early by a fisherman's boat, as it was never again seen for the rest of the day. Later I read a peeved comment in the log book of a hide further around the water noting how a number of fisherman had forced everything up the other end of the water. I'd feel uncomfortable about complaining though, the Severn Trent rangers do such a good job otherwise. It is the way of life that we should share reservoirs with other interests.

The other top notch bird was the Peregrine, with a spectacular display in front of the centre. First it sat sedately atop a distant electricity pylon, surveying the scene, and then action, the hunt. Off it took, all wildfowl scattered for dear life, and in came the Peregrine all muscle and streamlines, first stoop for a Lapwing - a miss, second for a Coot on the water - another miss, and back to the pylon. I kick myself now, but it was lunch break and I needed the loo. Of course, I come back later and learn it took a probable Teal right off the island in front. Damn!
Again, back to the pylon went the Peregrine to devour its catch, where we could show visitors the grizzly aftermath. The falcon is a steady show, at the moment you'll see one most days, and I'm glad because it's a good bird to talk to visitors about - fastest animal on earth and all that. One boy utterly agog at the 200mph stuff.

At the end of the day and in pouring rain, we drove to the Sheepwash car park to check up on a reported Black-necked Grebe, thinking how neat it is to say you saw 4 species of grebe in the day. To no avail (although I read one has been reported today) though, and instead we scored a Yellow-legged Gull, a 3rd-year bird - looks almost adult except it still has dirty pink legs and the black wing-tips are very large in flight - pictures below and very dark video here. Very languid it was too, lazy flight in amongst the busy flapping Black-headeds.

And the last to come in were at least 500 Jackdaw, perhaps many more, as big a flock as have ever seen, noisily commuting over Hall Wood.


...with cormorant.

Edited to add: Seems there has been some confusion with the grebe. To confirm on my part, I'm confident we had a Red-neck in the morning - the only question was over the fairly dark bill - which could suggest an autumn Slavonian, although bird club member with us confirmed Red-neck as suggested by the heavy bill and build of the grebe. Later in the day, we also had a visitor requesting ID help on a probable Black-necked Grebe he saw at the other end of the water, which he seemed certain had no reddish/warm at all, unlike the earlier bird. Then today, we have reports of a Slav Grebe!
So how many birds at we talking about here? 1, 2 or 3? Who knows? Seems unusual for all three to turn up like that. Two? Maybe. I may now get down to the ABB event on Tuesday, check for my own peace of mind the reported Slav, should it stay, isn't the bird we had on Saturday. Moulting autumn grebes, bigger headache than you'd think!

Wednesday, 24 October 2007


Stick with it, eventually they descend into the reeds.

Just a snippet of an entry, a video of the Starling roost at one of my local patches, Kings Mill Reservoir. Perhaps only 250 birds and yet still a display worth getting away from the TV to go watch. Amazing how they all coordinate to form such dynamic flocks. There's some insight from a study (here) in Rome that goes some way to explaining the phenomenon. Lots of techno-babble in there, but the gist seems to be that each individual bird orientates itself against only the handful of other birds around it. Multiply that by a thousand or a million and hey presto, one of the more remarkable behaviours to be found anywhere in the natural world.

Speaking of Starling roosts, I'm at Carsington at the weekend, not only will it be an Aren't Birds Brilliant event, we have Feed The Birds Day too(!). At the end of the day in the autumn/winter months there's a significant roost in a nearby village called Kirk Ireton, of upto 100,000 birds. No news on it yet this year, so perhaps I'll go have a look for myself.

Monday, 22 October 2007

Relishing Rutland

Golden Plover below Hambleton Hall

Yesterday the girlfriend went down south on business again, giving me chance to get dropped off at Rutland Water and picked up again at the end of the day. Always worth a visit, I didn't find any of the rarer grebes from last time, but I did bag a new lifer, a Goshawk (#203).

The raptor was distant enough to make a glimpse through binoculars suggest Buzzard on size alone, no doubting a Goshawk though when I located it on the scope. Certainly big, all pale below, long in the tail, with fairly broad-tipped wings of not the hugest span (ruling out Peregrine as a contender). Finally some strong slow wingbeats confirmed it was a bird of substance, not an unusually big looked Sparrowhawk - which are much more prone to a weak flapping action when they soar.
Alas, a quick glance around the hide showed only novice birders with no scopes, so I concentrated on confirming ID for myself rather than spreading the news and the Goshawk, always faraway, soon sailed off into the distance over the Hambleton peninsula. Ultimately the find was a bit like the difference between a Carrion Crow and Raven; for all the smaller crows or hawks you check, you just know almost instantly when you've finally found the bigger, more impressive bird.

Not so sure Goshawk are much of a fixture at Rutland, but the great mix of habitat shouldn't make it too surprising I would suppose, especially at this time of the year when some of the birds spread to more open country.
Anyway, I'm chuffed - an unforeseen lifer!

Elsewhere around the reserve it was very quiet for a Sunday and I had many hides all to myself. That way I could sit silently and patiently and got some terrific views of Kingfisher and Water Rail, and in one a Wren sat on the ledge next to me. One of those seldom occasions you find a tick inside the hide. It sure cursed at me too. I was alone but I still smiled, I still laughed to myself, that's what birds can do to you. They're all a gift, a pleasure so often coming with the unexpected and this feisty wee Wren being no different.

I haven't posted a day list for a long time so here's the score for yesterday:

1. Barn Owl (heard)
2. Blackbird
3. Black-headed Gull
4. Blue Tit
5. Bullfinch
6. Canada Goose
7. Carrion Crow
8. Chaffinch
9. Collared Dove
10. Common Gull
11. Coot
12. Cormorant
13. Dunnock
14. Egyptian Goose (2)
15. Fieldfare (c.50)
16. Gadwall
17. Goldcrest
18. Golden Plover
19. Goldeneye (c.20 my first of the season)
20. Goldfinch
21. Goshawk (briefly circled high over the peninsula)
22. Great Crested Grebe
23. Great Tit
24. Green Sandpiper (5+)
25. Green Woodpecker
26. Greenfinch
27. Grey Heron
28. Greylag Goose
29. Herring Gull
30. House Sparrow
31. Jackdaw
32. Jay
33. Kestrel
34. Kingfisher
35. Lapwing
36. Lesser Black-backed Gull
37. Linnet
38. Little Egret
39. Little Grebe
40. Little Stint (2)
41. Long-tailed Tit
42. Magpie
43. Mallard
44. Meadow Pipit
45. Mistle Thrush
46. Moorhen
47. Mute Swan
48. Pheasant
49. Pied Wagtail
50. Pintail
51. Pochard
52. Redshank
53. Redwing
54. Reed Bunting
55. Robin
56. Rook
57. Ruddy Duck
58. Ruff
59. Shoveler
60. Snipe
61. Sparrowhawk
62. Starling
63. Stock Dove
64. Stonechat (at least 6)
65. Tawny Owl (heard being mobbed by crows at 18:30)
66. Teal
67. Tree Sparrow
68. Treecreeper
69. Tufted Duck
70. Water Rail (good views of 3 from quiet hides nobody else stopped to look from)
71. Wigeon
72. Woodpigeon
73. Wren (one of which flew inside the Harrier Hide)

The sort of list that describes the broad variety of habitats they have at Rutland Water.

The girlfriend was late in picking me up, one whole hour late actually, so I was stranded in the dark for a while. No complaints from me as along the path I found a Tawny Owl getting grief from a pair of crows, and the tell tale shrieking of a Barn Owl.

Some pictures from the day:


Green Sandpiper





(All taken through my 8x42s.)

You know, you could do a lot worse than spend a whole day watching birds.

In other news, my mobile phone has given out on me after a noble effort lasting almost 10 years, and I just whacked in a new ink cartridge in my printer. Why do I mention this? The RSPB are still collecting both for recycling/fundraising - the weblink - be sure to keep it in mind.

Wednesday, 17 October 2007


Just booked a weekend away in Norfolk for mid-November, staying at a place right on the doorstep of the RSPB's reserve at Snettisham. The B&B was a bit steep, but you gotta do the wader roost sooner or later.

Quiet times otherwise, the ABB events are going nicely at Carsington. The Little Owls failed to show at the weekend, however a Kestrel blessed us with about two hours spent sat on the camera pole in front of the wildlife centre. That meant I could prattle on about how the Kestrel's ability to see ultraviolet light allows them to track the urine scented trails of the small rodents they prey on (more on that here), which seemed to particularly impress the visitors I spoke to.

Bird of the day, or birds shall we say, was the 150+ Pink-feet that flew over around one in the afternoon, heading SE. This is apparently a little late, as the bird club report for September explains, "southward records are usually 2hrs after first light, which is the flight time from the Lancashire feeding grounds of Marshside and Martin Mere. Their northward journey is usually at least 4hrs after first light Jan-Mar, reflecting the hundred miles from Norfolk".

Later still, on the way home the girlfriend and I stopped off for a quick scan of Ogston Reservoir. It was there at 17:35 came a lone grey/brown goose, not a Greylag, another Pinky! Must have been a straggler. Isolated and nervous, it made several low passes over the water though never with the confidence to land, and bizarrely made three attempts to merge with 200 airborne Lapwing, presumably such was the bird's instinct to flock.
Eventually, I lost sight of it as the gloom of the autumn evening set in.

Can hardly wait now for Norfolk, it'll be the same geese, but by the tens of thousands.

ETA: Incidentally, the Gannet mentioned in my last post, the one I missed by half an hour or so at Carsington. I read that on Monday this week a juvenile Gannet (surely the same bird this far inland), was discovered and taken into care in Mansfield, less than a couple of miles from my home. What a tease that bird has been for me!
Good to know it'll be looked after now.

Saturday, 13 October 2007

Carsington by Bike

Another free Friday, and more laps around Carsington. Dropped off by the girlfriend I arrived early and promptly spent a couple of hours at the wrong end of the water. Only later when cycling the other side did I learn from the head ranger (evidently doing a TV interview I fear I may bungled into, whoops, sorry and take 2!) about the Gannet that was seen off the fisheries office in the morning. Presumably the same juvenile seen much of the week up on Howden Reservoir in the north Peak District, and that turned up today at Carr Vale NR on the Derbys/Notts border. If we're talking about the same Gannet you must wonder how much longer it can keep wandering like this so far inland. I do hope somebody finds the bird should it exhaust itself. That happened locally with an adult bird a few years ago that ended up crash-landing in some lucky punter's back garden. Just try to imagine...

For the rest of the day I picked up the regulars, a male Red-crested Pochard approaching prime plumage after his moult napped in front of the wildlife centre, Buzzards were all over the place, the Little Owl kept to their routine - showing well around the fence posts until disappearing around two in the afternoon, and I did briefly glimpse my first Green Woodpecker at the site.
And the Cackling Goose is back along with a maximum 42 feral Barnacles.

To explain, Cackling Goose is now used at the catch-all term for the species and subspecies of 'Lesser' Canada Geese. So the larger form we're all familiar with are signified as 'Canada Geese' and they originate from within the continental US and Canada, whilst the smaller which in the wild breed on the arctic tundra of the far north of Canada and Alaska are 'Cackling Geese'. For both large and small forms there are several different races, each with their own name, but all ultimately falling under either one or the other of the previous two categories. Got it?
As if to slightly confuse matters more, the goose at Carsington is of the 'minima' race, the smallest variant, which was called Cackling Goose all along anyway.

At the end of the day I rode to and fro along the dam wall to see what would turn up. A good number of Pied Wagtails for the most part, perhaps 50, about half that number of Meadow Pipits, a few Goldfinch and one Wheatear.
Finally, I've figured out how to get the best out of my digi-cam binocular combo, I suppose digi-binning, for want of a better term, hence the shot at the top there.

A tame Lapwing around the fisheries office.

Red-crested Pochard.

Cackling Goose, note the size and brown belly.

Evening time.

Monday, 8 October 2007

Try the Quiet Road

Goldfinch at Rutland Water

Business took the girlfriend south this weekend, so I tagged along to scour bird site down there I've seldom visited.

She dropped me off at Little Paxton mid-morning, giving me just enough time to get around the northern half of the reserve there. The site is made up of a network of older flooded pits and the current sand and gravel workings. Unlike many destinations Autumn isn't really the time to go; in Spring/Summer Little Paxton is famed for its Nightingales (28 singing males in 2006) and in Winter its a good site for m
igrant ducks like Smew and Goldeneye. So on my visit it was 'quiet', precisely the word used by the chaps doing the WeBS count that morning. I could have saved them their time, Wigeon, Wigeon and more Wigeon, write that down!

I did pick up a few Redwing, Meadow Pipits, Pintail and a Herring Gull, for a list that hardly broke 30 species. There were better birds around, a Little Stint elsewhere on the southern side of the reserve, a place I'll know to look in future.

Time came to head back northward and we detoured to Rutland Water, keen chiefly to find better views of the juvie Red-necked Grebe from last weekend. True enough it was fishing along the same shore, almost doing circles around a paddling fisherman, still far off but in better light. It looked a touch smaller than I imagine, quite significant compared to the GCGs. Also out there was a pair of winter plumage Black-necked Grebe conducting what looked like partial courtship display - head-flicking and synchronised diving.
The sandpipers of last weekend were all gone, indicating what a small window o
f opportunity migration is for picking up species like Curlew Sandpiper, and otherwise the most notable presence were the 8 Little Egret gathered on an island in front of the Egleton visitor centre. Will they stay for the winter?

Finally on the drive home we meandered through minor farm roads back to the A1, hoping to spot something from the car on the way, and we did. In a freshly ploughed field just sou
th of the RAF base at Cottesmore a flock of 20+ Red-legged Partridge came into view.

Spot the Red-leg.

Video 1 - Run Partridge Run!
Video 2- Very distant fuzzy Black-necked Grebe

As for tomorrow, I'm at Carsington for another ABB! event and, lord, does the weather look awful. The weatherman, he talks about inches of rain.

The Carsington Circuit

A warm autumnal Friday, lots of free time, I finally took the chance to push out a few laps of Carsington Water on my bike. The ride is lovely, if difficult in places, especially around the Hall Wood area where I just struggled over the hills on the bottom chain all the way. Buzzards and Ravens nested on that hillside and are still knocking around, probably most easily found viewing from the bird hide across the other side of the water.

The Little Owls showed in the morning, I caught 5 Buzzards over the wood, and discovered a second Stonechat on the dam wall, this time a male who'd do well to find the female showing well at the other end of the reservoir. Waders were thin on the ground, only 1 Dunlin right at the end of the day to go along with the always comforting numbers of Lapwing.

My one grumble is that I can't fit my scope on the bike. With only my binoculars I felt ornithologically denuded, and had to request another birder (with scope) to check that gull on the spit - Herring it turned out, not Yellow-legged.
It was a reminder just what an enormous difference a scope can make for your birding experience. Haven't got one? Save and up buy!

The pictures;Rabbits in front of the Wildlife Centre.

They do thrill the visitors.

A sign of success?

The control tower. About 90m tall and accessed only by tunnels. All the water entering and exiting Carsington goes through it. When really fired up, the extraction rate is powerful enough to create a current in this very large reservoir.

The long in the day Stonechat.


Wednesday, 3 October 2007

Lend your name

No pictures or stories, instead a couple of petitions for you good people who've found my bird blog today.

First, the RSPB's Safeguard our sea life campaign;

"The seas around the UK's coasts are increasingly overfished, over-trafficked and over-developed, but crucially under-protected. Our precious seas are dying from neglect. Your support today will help safeguard our sea life."

Follow this link to find out how to sign the pledge to Gordon Brown.

And a Spanish based campaign affliated with Birdlife International against plans by the Catalan government to legalise hunting birds with glue;

"This cruel method is specifically banned by the European laws because is also massive, non-selective and impossible to control properly.

In the name of "tradition" the hunters use electronic appeals and hundreds of thousands of thrush migrating from northern Europe, and about 30% of protected birds, are attracted to glued trees, in closed “barracas”, and killed in the Ebro area between October and November.

In the same law-project the Catalan government is also trying to legalize a kind of net-trap hunting called "filat", which consist in trapping the thirsty birds attracted by small water pools, also forbidden in Spain, non-selective and impossible to control.

The protection of the nature performs all over new attitudes, but our government “of progress and ecologist” is of looking to a past of survival hunting that destroys protected species.

Please sign up in the campaign against this legalization and send this mail to interested people.

Our birds are your birds."

For that one, follow this link.

Monday, 1 October 2007

Another ABB Day

Female Stonechat digi-video-scoped by the girlfriend.
Another briefer video.

Another fine day at Carsington, really fine actually. Is it my imagination or does weather that good normally lead to a scarcity of top birds?
The Little Owls showed for much of the ABB event, a Red-crested Pochard knocked around, beyond that Snipe were the best of it. Fortunately the bird club recently did a count and I could prattle on about the big birdtastic number of Coots (1500+ is always going to be impressive) and where they came from .

Earlier in the morning the cooler-than-cool Severn Trent rangers gave us volunteers a boat ride around the reservoir. You get a different impression of the place from the water and it was interesting to learn new things. For example, I hadn't really considered the role big reservoirs can play in flood defence, and thanks to the extensive weed and invasive non-native (but otherwise benign) mussels, the water is crystal clear!
From the boat we picked up juvenile Water Rail at the Northern tip of the reservoir, the bird bathing in shallows nearby the nascent reedbed. Now there's a big thumbs up from the avifauna for the site management if ever there was one. Also a Peregrine powered low over the water from the islands in the front of the Wildlife Centre and they are always ALWAYS enigmatic birds.

Finally, at the end of the day a quick half hour to ourselves found a Stonechat in front of the Paul Stanley Hide. It had been mis-identified as a Spotted Flycatcher by the folks already there, which I can understand as I watched it chasing flying insects from a perch atop a bush. Happily I could tell them that if anything, Stonechat are a rarer sight at Carsington as they don't breed here.

All in all, a good weekend had.