Friday, 25 April 2008

Brief Round-up

Thought I'd give a little rundown of my recent local birding activities...

Pleasley Colliery is doing a fine craft in attracting small numbers of good county species, twos of Yellow Wagtail and Wheatear, the odd Dunlin and Oystercatcher, suitably supported by the cast Lapwings, Redshank, Skylarks and Green Woodpeckers. It's a little gem across them, far more to the old pit workings than meets the eye.

Meanwhile King's Mill had three of its own Yellow Wags, and the Barn Owls maintain their immaculate presence.

At work (Hardwick Hall), I'm seeing Buzzards on and off, and I was thrilled yesterday watching a pair of male Kestrels in aerial combat. With Nuthatches, Chiffchaffs, Willow Warblers, there's a decent crew in the grounds of the hall, and they make for a lovely lunch break.

Monday, 21 April 2008

Be a fundraiser with Everyclick

I'll quote this directly from the letters page of the new RSPB magazine...

If just 10% of the RSPB membership used Everyclick as its internet search engine, the RSPB could earn £288,000 each year. Everyclick gives half its revenues to charity: you can specify which one. Please change your search engine to Everyclick and register the RSPB as the charity of your choice by going to

Alternatively, if you don't want to register you can just use/bookmark the search page I've created there which is already set-up to benefit the RSPB.

Truth be told, after using it for about a week Everyclick is pretty poor compared to the big famous leaders in the field. My opinion is that it will probably be useful for general searches, but for any detailed bit of info you'd do better to try Google (unless of course you're in China).

Friday, 18 April 2008

Conversations overheard in car parks

"The RSPB are in the bird observation hide, it's fantastic!", said the well impressed member of the public to her friend as I passed on my way to the loo.

She was talking about this week's mid-week ABB event, and what more is there for me to say about it? Well, being the school holidays in some counties we had plenty of families through the centre, with plenty of very cool kids and their wonderful descriptions of the birds they saw through our scopes. For one girl Chaffinches were a particular favourite, and she may be onto something - with the splash of colour on the male bird, perhaps we undervalue them.

The bird life was varied enough to supply plenty of interest. Willow Warblers and their descending songs are the latest arrivals to promise that warmer weather can't be far away now, and Blackcaps twittered in similar hope of milder skies.
The glamourous Great Northern Diver showed well during the event, as did our Little Owl, and elsewhere around the water a lingering, lonely, lost Pink-footed Goose associated itself with a small gathering of Canadas (it's a long way to its Greenland summering grounds for that bird). On the migrant hot-spot of Stones Island 3 Yellow Wagtails were a colourful addition to the black, grey and white of the Pieds, so intense is that yellow hue the birds might have been crafted our of mounds of lemon rind.

And then there is one more character to make note of, a Weasel, and a particularly fearless one that I discovered sunbathing in the leaf litter beside a path. I approach slowly, with high caution, but really I needn't have because it soon became apparent this small mustelid was as interesting in me as I was in it, as the creature repeatedly popped its head out from the undergrowth to watch me watching it. By the end of the interaction the weasel was within arm's reach and I was rustling, dare I say playing with, the leaves in front of me in game with this curious animal that I didn't quite understand the rules to. After 15 minutes I had to break away as I was already late for the ABB event, leaving the little dude behind.
No regrets though, it was a truly memorable encounter for me, and I think if there is a moral to this story of countryside and wildlife it is this, get out there because you can get so so lucky!

The pictures from the day...

The Pink-foot.

Swallows around Stones Island.

Happy birdwatching everybody!

Friday, 11 April 2008

In the news...

There's no bad time for good news, and here's some of the best...

The miracle in Madagascar – a blueprint for saving species By Steve Connor, Science Editor

Friday, 11 April 2008

The Independent

A study aimed at preventing the continued destruction of wildlife in Madagascar is being heralded as a scientific triumph that could act as a blueprint to save many other species from mass extinction.


The gist of it is that protecting the world's great biodiversity hot spots may now include comprehensive techniques which include action plans for the ecosystem rather than a handful of popular species (as has been the modus operandi in many situations). More than 2,000 different species were surveyed for the project and all that information fed into a computer model which alerted the conservationists to where their resources would have the greatest consequence. And it worked!

How cool is that?

Thursday, 10 April 2008

Great Greenshanks Batman!

Well folks, I think we can call this spring and the bird life confirms it. Chiffchaffs are everywhere, and those zipping flocks of hirundines can't be argued against. Birds do it once again, this time enriching us with the hope that very soon it'll be so much warmer outside.

I had another fabulous ABB day this week, in mostly fabulous weather, and I'll use that word again, we had some fabulous birds coming in, almost a wader bonanza in Carsington terms. Bird of the day was an unbeatable Greenshank, the site's first for a good long while. Their traditional migration route toward their breeding grounds on the moors and peatland of NW Scotland is coastal, hence the rarity in Derbyshire. Most will winter in Africa, though many also spend the cold months around the SW coast of the UK.
If one thing strikes me when I sight a Greenshank it is their beautiful daintiness, how the bird is almost too delicate. Nearest species we have to stilts, at present.

Other birds for the day included Common Sandpiper, Common Scoter (marine ducks that migrate overland between the Irish Sea and Scandinavian breeding areas at this time of year), Little Ringed Plover, the regulation pair of Little Owl, Wheatear (on the dam - real hot-spot for migrant passerines), and White Wagtail (the continental race of Pied Wagtail - look for birds with pale grey backs and very clean white flanks below the line of the wing). Almost goes without saying the Great Northern Diver remains, and now shows a hint of summer plumage on the back. Hopes are high it will turn fully before it departs - into something like this - handsome or what?

Icing on the cake, and the whole point we do the events at Carsington, was a bumper crop of membership sign-ups for the RSPB. That's win-win for everybody, for birds, for people, forever.

I have news to report that isn't so sportive. My previous entry reported on the return of the King's Mill Barn Owls, which is great, but alas I learn today their territory is imperilled. Already an area of superb hunting habitat south of their nest site has been ploughed up for commerical development, which will doubtless include the construction of a new road. The local RSPB group therefore views the long-term future for Barn Owls at the reservoir in very pessimistic terms.
My hopes rest on remembering how they surprised us by turning up, surprised is in their bizarre choice of nest site, surprised us with their breeding success, and I look forward to them surprising us again. I watched one of the birds sat on a post a yard or two from the railway tracks the other night, and for a heart-stopping moment it scarcely flinched as two trains thundered by it. Again, after all the noise had died down it was a surprise to see it calmly perched with the same simple ease it had been before the trains passed. Blaze is the word that springs to mind.

Got five mintes, why not look at the RSPB's campaigns website?

Monday, 7 April 2008

Early April Update

Thought I'd do a round-up on my recent birding activities...

The girlfriend is besotted with the Derbyshire Dales so we headed westward again and made this time for Monsal Dale. It's April, thus we had four seasons in the day, and good smattering of birds even if we found nothing stellar - Buzzards soared over the valley, while in the wooded glades Great Spotted Woodpeckers were ever so noisy (their calls sound to my ear like miniature crow vocalisations), Treecreepers crept up trees, and Goldcrests rushed through their tiny whistling song.

We walked the Monsal and Brushfield circuit - route here - an easy 10km up and down dale. Brushfield Farm was particularly noticeable for its birdlife, with many dozens of tits and finches attracted to the feeders around the farmyard. This makes up for the quieter stretches and rewards the walk.
In in the next couple of months Redstart should be arriving up there soon, and I could scarcely imagine a more dramatic setting to find them in.

Elsewhere, around the Hardwick and Teversal area large-ish flocks of Fieldfare remain with around 200 going over at a time, with smaller flocks of up to 50 Redwing also scattered around. I kick myself that I missed an Osprey at Pleasley by 30 minutes, but feel vindicated for walking so late in the evening at King's Mill Reservoir for we rediscovered the Barn Owls, a pair back at last year's nest site.
They will never lose their glamour with me, and I feel so lucky to have them 10 minutes walk from the house.

In other news, the RSPB will soon launch its new Birds of Prey campaign. Please take time to read about it (here) and sign the pledge of support to protect these fantastic birds from the illegal persecution that still exists in the countryside today.

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

Bird News

From the Guardian...

Also today, BBC Radio 4's Today programme featured - at 7.46am if you want to listen again online - a piece about the RSPB worrying that migrant birds are outstaying their welcome and threatening native species such as the sparrow [by competing with them for feed].

The report explains that the RSPB will now send out traps to everybody who took part in the Big Garden Birdwatch (all 400,000 of you, well done!) to catch the foreign finches and return them to their native country - Denmark. One of these traps is named the 'Moggy' and is apparently very effective at taking wild birds.
(Another link the story can be found - here.)

Other bird news today includes dazzling footage from a new BBC series about evolution, which shows footage of a recent discovered colony of flying Penguins. Stunning stuff.

Okay, fair cop, let's check today's date. How fascinating it is though that birds should feature in two big April Fool's jokes this year. I think we expect to be amazed by them, and as fanciful as they are, there's the truth in these stories. It's birds being brilliant again folks!

Chee Dale

Another weekend and another Derbyshire Dale. The girlfriend and I don't have so many more to go now. This time it was destination Chee Dale, weather fine and sunny, and me sort of ill*.

Truth be told, if you were to draw comparisons with more the renown dales like the Dove, Lathkill, Chee Dale struggles to compete for scenery and drama. The most exciting stretch is where the limestone gorge pushes walkers into the river (there are stepping stones, in case you're wondering). Still, it is of course pleasant and, psst, a little private, much quieter indeed than the aforementioned dales, being there is like being under a massive living green duvet. You may even have the dale to yourself during the week.

My bird list for the walk wasn't huge, it was however promising. This is a real Derbyshire Dale so yes, there is a resident pair of Dipper, but also Green Woodpecker, Chiffchaff, Buzzard and Grey Wagtail, show what promise lies within, and the day following a Barn Owl was reported in the area. You go there, you see something!

Speaking of something, here's a very unexpected something from our day at Chee Dale...

...there were bats!
(If you have any idea how difficult they are to photograph, you'll understand my glee in having anything to show you!)

Small size, rich brown fur, black face and ears, I'm saying they are Britain's most common species, Pipistrelle. Now I'm no expert but this isn't the first time I have seen bats out in daylight during the first half of spring. My own hypothesis is that they are coming out of hibernation near to starvation and desperate to feed. This early in the year it is still very cold at night with few flying insects yet emerged, so it makes sense for these bats to hunt during the day.
Equally, they might merely have been disturbed from their roost, though for me everything about their whirring behaviour suggested classic feeding technique around the woodland clearings. We saw just two individuals, one showing well enough we could follow its course right into the rockface, the minutest fissure, which rather makes sense as the cave systems around Derbyshire are particularly notable for their populations of hibernating bats.

At the head of Chee Dale is a Derbyshire Wildlife Trust reserve, 'internationally important' as the volunteer team working there told us. They also advised a return visit in late May when the wildflowers are apparently magnificent. I think we'll do just that!

* Preyed upon during the week by the norovirus/winter stomach bug, I was so happy to have the birdsong outside my bedroom window as I tossed and turned myself into a half comfortable knot. Even the Dunnock's slightly flat twittering was sweet enough to ease my suffering. So hail to the birds, they rock again!