Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Spot the Christmas cliche

Had quite a bit on my plate of late so birding has taken rather back seat for the last few weeks. A spot of local patching today though, with an Egyptian Goose providing some interest at Sutton Lawn. GS Woodpecker, Goldfinch, L-T Tits, Sparrowhawk, etc, the usual suspects, but as yet no Brambling there this winter - usually the park is dependable for small numbers, but zip all as yet, not many Chaffinches either for that matter.
What else? Oh dear reader, if you haven't seen a Waxwing yet this winter then that makes at least two of us. Seems everybody else has been enjoying their current irruption, so don't stop looking now!

Merry Christmas bird fans.

Monday, 8 December 2008

"Some days you are the bird...

...other days you are the statue." ~ Ricky Gervais

Forgot to post this earlier, yes that's the Steppe Grey Shrike, yes on my head. That's not photo-shopped by the way, that version features Britney Spears.
Anyway, good news of a sort after analysis of those feathers discovered on site after the Shrike's disappearance found they did not belong to our bird. So the imagination is set free, you can decide for yourself what happened to certainly my Bird of the Year, and many other people's too I'm sure.

How delightful, a pair of Stock Dove outside my window, pecking around beneath the bird table.

Short of disaster we should be moving house soon, The new garden is full of trees; apple, pear, cherry, birch, plus various fruiting shrubs. Ought to be one way to avoid piling on the mileage to get our birdwatching done.

Friday, 28 November 2008

Gone, but never to be forgotten

Last video and final words on the Steppe Grey Shrike, as news came today of only feathers being found in the area the bird had been favouring. I saw a Merlin work the ditches myself while on site, Peregrine and Hen Harrier were around too, among commoner predators, so chances are it was snatched by a raptor. A sad demise for an amazing bird, but what a bird!

(By the way, that certainly wasn't me feeding the bird corned beef!)

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Shrike: A Pose

Steppy again, perched on my scope.

No report of the bird today, although midweek birders may have been thin on the ground with the rainy forecast. One theory for why the bird looks so untidy goes that its native habitat are the arid plains of areas like Kazahkstan, leaving this bird naturally unaccustomed to hunting for prey in wet grass. As good a theory as any I suppose, particularly as I read in the Lincolnshire Bird Club forum a list of discoveries found in one of the shrike's pellets:

Remains of at least 11 Pterostichus melanarius (Carabidae – ground beetle family)
Remains of at least 3 Pterostichus niger (Carabidae)
Remains of 1 Ocypus olens (Devil’s coach horse beetle – Staphylinidae/rove beetles)
One aedeagus (male sexual organ) of Catops tristis (Coleoptera – Leiodidae)
Remains of unidentified species of beetle elytra (wing cases)
Miscellaneous heads of non-Coleoptera invertebrates (possibly Diptera)
Heads of two different species of possible Lepidoptera

So beetles basically, which makes sense for a bird smaller than our voracious Great Greys.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Tail Spin

Shall be moving house fairly soon with my new home closely neighouring the nature reserve at Pleasley. The garden is full with established trees and potentially poses a squirrel problem for my bird feeders. Not a worry though, the solution is out there, and it's highly amusing...

...or perhaps not. Better advice may come from the RSPB - put chilli powder in your seed mix.

Speaking of mixes, a nice mix of birds during yesterday's Carsington ABB where we hit 40 different species from the Wildlife Centre for the first time for quite a while. A Kingfisher was the star for most visitors, plus the Great Northern Diver - these winters Carsington wouldn't be Carsington without one of those.

Monday, 24 November 2008

Steppe To It

Location, location, location.

Broke my 50-mile local twitch limit yesterday, but surely worth it for one of the rarest and showiest birds to hit Britain all year. Over the last few years I've had maybe half a dozen Great Grey Shrike sightings, almost always at a range of 100 yards or so, try to comprehend therefore how it felt to have a Steppe Grey Shrike land on my head - I'm still trying myself.
To briefly explain Steppe Grey Shrike is either a different species or different race (in taxonomy terms these birds are rather in the wild west*) to the very similar the Great Greys, just a touch paler in one of two places . We see perhaps 50-100 GGS during the winter in the UK, however the Steppes breed much further east than Greys - from N Iran across to Uzbekistan and should spend their winters in the tropics well east of us. Now human habitation is sparse in these areas so the Steppe Grey Shrike is a bird that should seldom come across mankind and therefore the birds seem to have developed no fear of us. Hence pictures of this one on people's scopes, cameras, cars, heads, etc.
It's only the second or third record of Steppe Grey Shrike in the last ten years, and a real treat still drawing in good crowds into its third week of residence in the Lincs flatlands south of Grimsby. Likelihood is this is probably the most photographed bird.... ever.

In some birding circles concerns raised have been raised over birders and photographers chasing this bird which too high a vigour, but truly it is more a case of the bird following us - maybe it believes we'll stir up worms or beetles. The temptation therefore is to feed it, not something I'd personally want to do - I reason it's been there 3 weeks now and been seen to find its own food which is probably healthier all round than anything people could give it.

Hogging the eyepiece

Also picked up a Grey Pharalope at Covenham Reservoir on that long drive home, another highly confiding thoughie.

Rates as the best birding day the girlfriend and I have ever had. Peregrine, Merlin, tonnes of winter thrushes and Curlews, Brent Geese all fly-overs while we tried not to step on the Steppe, plus a Barn Owl near miss (phew!) on the way back. Videos to post soon.

*technically, the species we're dealing with here appears to be a Southern Grey Shrike

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Padley Gorge

Padley Gorge has been on the list of long forgotten birdwatching destinations I never quite seem to make it to, like other birding sites of local reknown well within easy reach, Lound, Holme Pierrepont and Willington Gravel Pits, to name just three, much heard of but never given time to. So it makes me rather happy to type up a post about my visit to Padley Gorge.
In the far east of the Peak District this is more walking than birdwatching country, and few walks could offer more splendour for less strain than the one we chose from Grindleford. Less than four miles, it packs in oak woodland, the drama of the gorge and some fringes of moorland.

Now autumn really isn't the time to go birdwatching here, aim for the spring and dapper characters like Pied Flycatchers and Redstart are on the menu. Still, for now there are the warm colours and crisp aromas of the fall season to enliven the senses.
Stonechat up on the open stretch of the walk was about as exciting as the birdlife got, stout birds though, let's not devalue them please!

Late in the day, the drive home neatly led us via Leash Fen, an area of wet moorland interspersed with scatterings of birch hitherto unknown to many a Derbyshire birdwatcher until the delightful news of the convergence of up to 8 Short-eared Owls, attracted by an explosion in the vole population this year, or 'mole' population as another source might have it. I'm sure it's voles though. 4 birds are still there, regular as clockwork they quarter the area, just after four 0'clock when the weather suits. Nice birds, the peeved expression, generated by the patterns on their facial disk, gives them a real air of attitude, there is almost something of the Demon Headmaster in them when they look directly at you.

Who you looking at?

Thursday, 2 October 2008

Notts birds in the news (and Senegal)

Two small birds thought to have drowned at a Nottinghamshire nature reserve last summer have been found nearly 3,000 miles (4828 km) away - in Africa.

The pair of Common Terns - which were too young to fly - were among chicks living on a specially-built platform at Attenborough Nature Centre.

When rising flood water covered the area last year it was thought all the chicks, which were ringed, had died.

But records from March show two survived and migrated to Senegal.

(BBC NEWS link)

Saturday, 27 September 2008

Carsington Wins Energy?

The big news at Carsington, bigger than shags, peregrines or any bird for that matter, and in some ways quite literally big, is that Carsington Wind Energy has won its appeal against Derbyshire Dales District Council's decision not to allow the wind farm to be built.

Now the project seems destined to go ahead it is perhaps times for those of us associated with the site to welcome the new development. Carsington is so brilliant because it provides such a wealth of biodiversity for Derbyshire (plus a wide range of recreational pursuits for Joe Public), and now the opportunity arises to contribute toward a sustainable future for the region. Perhaps that is the view chosen by the RSPB, the organisation has dropped its objection to the plans.

The impact of wildlife and rights of way are still concerning, and even the most loyal windfarm advocate would have to confess they are something of a blot on the landscape - turbines higher than Big Ben is the oft quoted comparison at Carsington. So are they desirable? No, no at all. Will planting them in Carsington Pastures mean we're taking one for the team in the name of sustainable development and action against climate change? Yes, and what a tremendous thing to do.
Let's face it, better us having the wind farm than Lewis.

A high worldwide demand for wind turbines may delay the development until 2010. Try to stave off the pessimism during the wait, all right folks?

Friday, 26 September 2008

More Old Moor

Took the family to Old Moor, in good time to enjoy part of the weeklong stay a fabulous Osprey. Kingfisher and Little Egret from the same hide thrilled family to satisfaction, and later in the day picking out Greenshank, Curlew Sandpiper and Spotted Redshank (all top inland records) from the Lapwings, Dunlin and Golden Plover did it for me.

The great facilities at Old Moor impressed too, including a full array RSPB optics in the shop. In the market for a new scope my dad tried and buyed the Viking AV80, plus a zoom eyepiece. The image through it is as clear as a bell, although for me the twist-cups of eyepiece seem quite bulky. That's about my only criticism though.
For the price it offers great value, and who better to be giving money to than the RSPB?

Mum raided the shop for gifts, picked out Pochard and Shelduck from the fluffy bird toys. Good choices, top ducks.
Proof the RSPB as something for everybody? Well, enough for my family anyway.

Treecreeper at the feeding station

Migrant Hawkers, getting it on

Friday, 12 September 2008

Paper bag

One of the two Shags are Carsington this week, popular birds for a county as landlocked as Derbyshire. A nice showy pair with a rich warmth to the brown hue of their juvenile plumage that's a bit lost on this digiscope effort.
Perhaps shows the Pythonesque nature of birding, to Joe Public they look indistinguishable from the Cormorants of which we have plenty, to birdwatchers they're a reason to get excited.
Hobby through on the day too, a couple of hours after Tuesday's ABB, and a rise in duck numbers whispering about the change of seasons.

Been treated at work lately with a family of Treecreepers taking to the big Cedar of Lebanon next to the gatehouse at Hardwick. Rare? No. Spectacular? No. Lovely? Oh yes.

...and substituting for a rocky coastal island, the draw off tower, current home to Carsington's two Shags.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Bird Storking

A while since my last post and I wonder where to begin this update. No doubt about it, the honour really does belong to the immature Black Stork [lifer #212], literally a big lifer, had in North Yorkshire over the weekend. The location was Cawood, a small town along the Ouse with fields sparse and wide enough to satisfy this most wary of birds. The wait to see it pop up out a ditch was around 2 hours and well worth it, although enormous thanks go to the birder who yelled us back. The girlfriend and I had just quit for the day, accepting the dip, and had walked no further than 30 yards when the shout came, "HEY, IT's THERE!". Never give up hope folks. Anyway a bird like that though shy gets noticed wherever it wanders, the individual possibly first picked up in Ireland, and now has made its way to Spurn. That's a long long way from Hungary - the region the Black Stork really ought to be in. The girlfriend, upon seeing the bird, she simply exclaimed, 'WOW!'.
Peregrine through too on the day also.

In other news, I have lots of shiny new bird kit. We'd actually headed up to N Yorks to check out some RSPB optics at Fairburn Ings, and only made it for the Stork when I realised it was just another 10 miles motoring on the day. I was after new binoculars on my RSPB volunteer/discount card, and settled for a pair of RSPB BGs. £60 more and I could have had the HGs, but I preferred the cheaper model. They feel a touch lighter and seem just as bright to my eyes. Tried the Viking range too, but for the same price they were dimmer and had a definite blue hue. Weird really, Viking manufacture both its own and the RSPB range, so why the difference?

So bins sorted, it was a scope next. The venerable old Kowa has served us well for 10 years, but using the Swarovskis at ABB events has spoilt me, they are simply too good to go without. Fortunately those of us not rolling money the London Camera Exchange have a wide range of fully serviced secondhand optics, and we found an AT-80 plus 20-60 zoom (and a spare 32x eyepiece). Sure it's a ten year old model but still light years ahead of mid-range scopes from Viking, Kowa, Opticron, etc at the same price. Also, forked out a Viking S1 tripod which is a sturdy animal and very easy to use.
Tried out the new set-up on my well neglected local patch today, King's Mill Reservoir, and straight scored a distant Dunlin (we get maybe three through in a year). I'm sure I would have overlooked the wee wader with the old Kowa, so am I happy with the Swarovski? YES, YES and YES again!

Round-up of for the supporting cast in August goes... family group of Spotted Flycatcher at Carburton/Wellbeck watchpoint and hundreds of hirundine gathering nearby, Yellow Wagtail at Hardwick village in Clumber Park, Red-crested Pochard at Carsington. Nice enough to keep my going in a month I've been at work almost non-stop. Glad it wasn't sunny, that would have been awful!

Common Sandpiper (Carsington)

p.s. Stressed? Tried Birdsong radio here or here.

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Sensational Sandpipers!

So many birds, so little time to post anything about them.

A very quick round-up of a successful trip to North Norfolk should really include the Sandpipers at Cley - White-rumped and Pectoral (presumably brought across from North America by the weather system that made for such a warm and windy week at the campsite) , plus a rusty coloured summer Curlew Sandpiper. The girlfriend spoke, in a hide packed full of genuine birders, of how all the small waders looked a like. "A variation of a theme", one chap replied. She was a little more impressed when I suggested at least one of those tiny birds hatched not long ago in the Arctic barrens of Northern Canada.

have been a regular feature at Cley and five were present for our visit, at least one of them a definite juvenile. Well done to any birdwatchers who saw those birds doing anything other than sleep!

, Spotted Redshank, Green Sandpiper, Little Gull, Knot and a single Brent Goose were the best of the rest at Cley.

Over at Titchwell later in the week Bearded Tits were the clear winner. Superb views of a family group and then a lone male, just a little patience along the path and they popped up hardly five metres away. Don't be too quick to get to the hides, is my advice there.
As per usual it was a great site for close views of Avocet and Marsh Harrier, and unexpectedly out on the beach a raft of eclipse Eiders drifted just offshore.

Elsewhere, family groups of Little Terns fishing in the channels around Wells harbour will remain memorable, a Hobby at Dersingham Bog, Med Gulls made a visit to Snettisham worthwhile even if the tide was well out, and the girlfriend enjoy stalking the Oystercatchers in the PYO strawberry fields.

Invertebrate life was pretty tops too, but I'll post about that another time. For now, what are you waiting for? Pack up, get Norfolk bound, it's brilliant!

Little Gull @ Titchwell

The Eider

The Spoonbills, surprisingly active!

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Holiday Birding

Super busy at the moment so this post must fly by almost as quickly as my holidays, both the family shindig up in Bridlington and the week's camping in North Norfolk.

Birdwatcher or not, a holiday to the East Yorkshire coast really does demand you devote one day to the RSPB reserve at Bempton Cliffs. Over 200,000 birds nest on cliffs over 100m high, and the whole cacophany that erupts from that sheer mass of life makes it an inspirational place, inviting philosophy and peace of mind.
Bloody good birds around too. Gannets, Guillemots, Kittiwakes, Puffins and Razorbills make up the major numbers, with scatterings of the other commoner gulls. In the meadows behind the cliffs notables during our visit in mid-July included a juvenile Wheatear and singing Corn Bunting - that unmistakable jangling keys call.

Back in Bridlington, more Kittiwakes nesting in the streets and more than 60 Turnstones in the harbour added interest to late evening strolls. Here's hoping they will adjust to the construction of the new multi-million pound harbour/marina recently announced by the council. Fingers crossed it doesn't change the character of the town too much either.

Scenes of the day...

The Wheatear (named for its pale rump visible in flight - wheatear is apparently an old country corruption of 'white-arse')

Finally, a video of a show-off Gannet.

My Norfolk post next time folks.

Saturday, 5 July 2008

Pinks and Buffs

Just a video of the Bullfinches and Tree Sparrows at a feeding station at Carsington. Sometimes I forget that some parts of the country just never see them in the numbers we have up there.

In other news, I have to mentioned Barn Owls. First bird of impeccable timing that wafted by while a ranger was telling us volunteers how they maintain the hay meadows at Carsington. Take from me, heck take it from the owl, Severn Trent Water do a great job up there. Looks like the owls are breeding in the vicinity.
As are my local pair at King's Mill, still dependably dodging the trains and returning with prey. Would it be too much to lodge an order of hree more fledglings from them?

Keep on the sunny side folks.

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Daddy Long-legs

A quick post to wrap up the Wales trip. On the way across we bisected Cheshire, very close to a nature reserve were Black-winged Stilts were still nesting. Didn't expect us to pass that by without taking a look, did you?
This was only the 7th known occurrence of nesting in Britain for this species (found more usually around the Mediterranean coasts), unusually two or possibly three pairs breed in Nottinghamshire in 1945, with a handful of other records since then. Cue the RSPB and their Aren't Birds Brilliant team to watch over the birds and show them to the public. You couldn't miss them...

Ridiculous and beautiful looking birds really, my girlfriend labelled the male bird 'daddy long-legs' and you can easily see why - indeed proportional to body size they have the longest legs of any bird in the world. Not only strange by appearance, the parent bird had the habit of carrying the chick around under its wing, so you'd see the adult stood with two legs poking from its armpit and know where the chick was.
Sadly it was only one chick. The clutch hatched during a stormy night which the rest of the brood failed to survive, and now regrettably I have read that the one chick has been taken by a predator since our visit to the site. Just 1 week away from fully fledgling too.

So for this year, that particular spectacle is over. Let's see if the Stilts pop up anywhere next Spring. Keep an eye out for ridiculous birds, all right?

Maybe you'll find a long-stayer worthy of naming, like Sammy, a remarkable bird that took residence at the RSPB's Titchwell Reserve for 12 years from the mid-90's. Thought at the time to be the most photographed bird in the UK, beat that Kate Moss!

Friday, 20 June 2008


Wales again, another ABB, the Glaslyn Osprey Project in Snowdonia. If you're in the region it's the perfect diversion, and though the nest is over a mile away from the viewing area the RSPB's scopes give great sights of these majestic birds that can't fail to thrill. The project has its own blog, check it out here.
Yes, that is Snowdon in the background there, the pointy peak centre left.

More intimate views available at the ABB site through the CCTV set up above the nest.

Top stuff.

Thursday, 19 June 2008

Aren't Kites Brilliant!

Continuing the birding story of my holiday in Wales, the next feathery target were the Red Kites at the Forestry Commission's feeding station at Nant-yr-Arian, in central Wales about 9 miles east of Aberystwyth, where an ABB project runs most days through the year. Around 100 birds arrive everyday at three in the afternoon to snatch a quick easy meal, swooping down with great dramatic poise to pick up their prize, usually chicken we're told, tossed to them by the rangers. This apparently helps improve breeding success, especially during dry spells when parent birds find difficulty in digging up their main prey item - worms.

Here's the video...

(another video here)

The hide is 20 yards from the feeding area, so you can view the Kites at very close quarters indeed.

Now truth be told, the profusion of Red Kites there lasts most of the afternoon, you really can't miss them in your anywhere around the site, and after an hour or two you begin to take them for granted. This has to be a marvellous thing, to be tired of Red Kites! After the entire Welsh (and therefore British population) at one point came down to just a handful of pairs, indeed research into their genetics tells that all Welsh kites are descended from just one female, these numbers indicate the most amazing recovery for the species.
There are up to 400 pairs now in Wales, and without hyperbole their survival has to be one of the great stories in nature conservation anywhere in the world. What a remarkable achievement! So even if the feeding stations feel a little like Red Kite theme parks, all is forgiven.

Of course you don't have to go to Wales for Red Kites anymore, there are birds from reintroduction schemes around much of England now, and some fairing a little less well in Scotland. The Welsh will tell you these are 'non-native' Red Kites since they came from European populations and perhaps they have a point. Truth be told, there is an argument that the RSPB jumped to quickly to reintroduce Red Kites to the UK from other countries. It's a cautionary tale.

Other birds around the site included Buzzards, Ravens, Siskin, and practically in the car park you have Tree Pipit.

Back to the Kites, and more pictures...

The valley to the west.

Monday, 16 June 2008


Another swift post to sum up the best of the birding enjoyed on my camping holiday to NW Wales.

Top spot had to be the RSPB reserve at Ynys-hir, never heard of it? Me either before I went, but I am quite comfortably confident it's the finest RSPB site I've ever been to. Where to begin describing the plethora of habitats? The oak woodlands? The mudflat estuary? The fresh water pools? Or how about the reed beds and open pasture? I could go on.
As you may imagine, this extraordinarily rich variety offers a true wish-list of summer birds in early June... maybe 10 pairs of Pied Flycatcher by our straw count, almost as many Redstart, and best of all a single Wood Warbler - a lifer for the girlfriend and I. May have been too late in the day for the bird's amazing stuttering trill song (listen here), however a plaintive 'tuh' contact call quite unlike anything I've heard from a Willow Warbler of Chiffchaff helped to confirm with our ears what we seeing with our eyes through the thick green foliage.

In at least three of the hides we found nesting pairs of Swallow, probably my girlfriend's favourite part of the whole holiday came in watching them toing and froing, watch out for the video at the bottom of this post.

Other top sights for the two days spent there (we simply had to go back after the first one!) were family groups of Raven and Stonechat, a single Whinchat, display flights from Common Sandpiper, overflights from Little Egret, Sedge/Reed/Grasshopper Warbler among the reeds, Oystercatchers and Lapwings, hovering Common Buzzards, Siskin and Great Spotted Woodpecker visiting the feeders by the visitor centre/shop, and a sunbathing Treecreeper - stubby wings outstretch against tree trunk, to name the highlights.
For me most memorable of all was a Goldfinch nest riding the strong winds in the outermost branches of an oak tree at eye level from one of the hides - rising and falling five to six feet after every gust. We couldn't have planned to see a Goldfinch feeding its day old chicks, which trust me is an extraordinarily privileged view into the precarious early days of those birds.

Some pictures to illustrate all this beauty...

(Goldfinch nest just to right of picture.)

Perky Pied Flycatcher.

Those Swallows.

More Welsh birding to come.