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")

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

A Birdwatch to Remember

Big day at Carsington this weekend. It began with a report of a Black Redstart (video above), by the end of it Great Northern Diver (mostly summer plumage), female Scaup and Common Scoter, and a Ring-billed Gull made for the best visit I can remember for a long time. First and last birds there lifers too (#222 & #223), and interesting birds. The RB Gull is a Carsi regular, turning up in the roost early each November staying for a few weeks and then it's off again. Must have its reasons I suppose. Bet it spends the summer somewhere like Scotland, can't really see a trans-Atlantic migration from its normal range being made every year.
The Black Redstart was a second site record, the previous one a spring bird from as far back as 1996. Charming birds, a sort of smoky delicacy in the feathers, they've a definite touch of class about them. Ours spent a lot of time on the sailing club building, picking off flies warming themselves up on the sunny side of the roof.

To add to the impressive cast earlier in the week we had a Garganey of debatable age and even gender during the RSPB's A Date With Nature event. That's how it can be when you have eclipse males around, this ostensibly female-looking just too warm coloured to be a female. Might still be on the water now.
The water is really really low on the reservoir meaning the acreage of exposed mud is enormous, good for the wintering Teal and surely alluring for any vagrant waders. Eyes peeled. The Garganey enjoys the mud too, but really ought to be in Africa already.
Yellow-legged Gull, Ravens, Buzzards, Peregrines, Goldeneye, tonnes of Tufties, Wigeon, Pochard and Coot, Snipe and other regulars make it fairly easy to notch maybe 60 species in a day visit at the moment.

Also had good numbers of Pink-footed Geese overflying the few days. Nice to be under their direct flight path between their first port of call in Lancashire and their real destination in Norfolk.

Another video of the Black Redstart, it just misses a whopping big fly there...

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

As October Flies By

Bad bird-blogger, I haven't updated for over a month. To keep it brief mid-October we had our first big trip to Spurn. Not a classic day despite a favourable easterly from the sea, a netted Radde's Warbler released as the Anchor pub car park made for a very cheap life tick (not sure it really counts for that matter), and I chalked of another long-term bogey with a Jack Snipe skulking around the pond at Canal Scrape or whatever it's called. Bar-tailed Godwit, loads of winter Thrushes, a Merlin and smattering other nice birds made it all enjoyable enough. Only bummer was another from the nets - a Red-flanked Bluetail - missed the release for that one and then the bird refused to pop out of the bush it dived into. Invairably whichever side we chose to look from the bugger would briefly show from the other. Grah!
For a first experience of Spurn in autumn it was all right, and we'll return next year. The spectacle of dozens of birders and the near-miss car accidents when a report of a mega goes out is something altogether different to local patching.

More recently we dipped on a Cetti's Warbler at Potteric Carr (might it winter there?). We picked a day when it chose to keep schtum, the regulars told me the bird has days like that and then others when puts on a real performance. Ah well, loads of Cetti's around the region at the moment, we'll pick one up sooner or later. Superb views of Bittern (video above) made up for any disappointment and I'll agree that Potteric Carr is quickly becoming the best place in the region, some dare even say the country, to see the species. One bird resident, with five expected as winter takes hold.
Slightly annoyed by some photographers camped in the hide near the Field Centre, the one with the feeders right infront. Giggling and saying 'poor thing' each time you scare off a GS Woodpecker with an assault of loud photo shutters, and would you believe a flashgun, isn't really on. Hardly what they call fieldcraft is it?
Otherwise hugely impressed by the new hides, lots and lots of new hides, overlooking the lagoons where all the Golden Plover hang out. It was always a big nature reserve and now you can access the whole thing, brilliant.

Finally, had a day RSPBing at Carsington yesterday. More schoolkids, more exclamations of 'wicked' after first views of Lapwings through a telescope. Bird of the day was a rusty Garganey that looks more like a juv male than a female. Frustrating to lose the bird when a low-flying Spitfire put up probably every bird on the reservior. Later it was refound at the other end of the water, with a Great Northern Diver, yes - they're back, or at least one so far. Now if we're really talking about the best place in the country to see a particularly scarce bird, Carsi genuinely rates for its GNDs.
The Carsington Kingfishers continue to put on good shows...

Last word, Lesser Redpoll in the garden, thats species #41 since January.

Monday, 28 September 2009

Carsington Kingfishers!

Did Carsington last week, first event I've done for months, so long ago they've even changed the name of it - A Date With Nature - sounds like a date worth keeping. Fairly quiet there, the best bird news is the Kingfisher is becoming quite tame and posing very neatly in front of the hides and Wildlife Centre. If it sticks around better photographs should follow, I was busy going wow with the visitors on the day when the birds was super close.
Wigeon numbers building, Tufted Ducks and Coots arriving all the time and will soon become so many I think it's a spectacle Carsington is too rarely credited with. A Yellow-legged Gull sat on a tern raft almost literally all day. There was half hour during which it wasn't there. Remember reading somewhere the large gulls spend an average of only 26 minutes feeding each day, so I suppose plus some flight time that approximately correlates.

Plenty of action in the garden too, we've re-sited our nyger feeder and suddenly there are Goldfinch all over it, Coal Tits have also been drawn in. A Chiffchaff this morning makes #38 for our list since moving in last January.
Getting on for that time of the year when the Swallows and Martins disappear, still plenty around the hall, takes about a week to realise when I've seen my last one.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Still around

Busy times again at work, so less birding at the moment. Couldn't miss out on a juv Garganey at Kings Mill Reservoir, picture above. While at work I have been seeing more Buzzards around Hardwick and a couple of passes from Hobbies lured by the clouds of hirundines that hit us in late summer. Not a single Swallow nest was occupied anywhere around the hall this year, some were repaired but remained unused. Big shame that one. A family of Spotted Flycatchers turned up again in the Stableyard. Green Woodpeckers always a delight to see on my way through the estate.

For cuteness sake, here's a dopy Field Vole we found beside a path during a walk in Dovedale last months. The little fella scurried around my boots. Is it any wonder they are the number one prey item for dozens of predators?

Tuesday, 18 August 2009


Did a new part of the Peak District for us at the weekend, across most of Derbyshire, beyond Buxton and to the border with Cheshire, where it's bleak and the birds are few - but what birds they are!

After all the driving we eventually found a pull in around Danebower and a path down into the valley and the old quarry.
Best of the day was a late summer male Ring Ouzel quite close and quite apparently ticked off with us. This was a lifer so we were altogether happier about the encounter.

Other notables came when a Raven sailed by quite low and flushed up a couple of Red Grouse, the corvid even seemed to lunge for one of them. Better views of grouse came later but the girlfriend had used up her camera battery taking admittedly pleasant portraits of sheep.

Several Wheatears were a nice reminder of Scotland.

Earlier in the week we had a Tawny Owl when we went a short way to Norwood to find darker skies for viewing the Perseid meteor shower. Too cloudy to see many of them, the owl was a cracker though, drove right by it first but it was bold enough to let us reverse the car back to have a good look of it perched on a telegraph pole, headlights illuminating the whole bird. They look so big when you get that kind of view.

Willow Warbler in the garden today, our first since the spring.

Monday, 10 August 2009

Isle of Mull

(Otters, promise.)

So, Mull, huh? As good as they say? It sure is!

Expectations had already been boosted on the long journey up there when a lay-by along Loch Awe produced a family group of Ospreys, a couple of adults and two or three fledglings. The skies were bucketing it down (too heavy to get out of the car even) so no pictures , just fantastic memories for us.

Onward to Mull we had booked one of the wildlife safaris you simply must go on when you make it to the island. There are seven currently running and we chose the Wild About Mull tour because it could pick us up from our campsite right on the tip of the Ross peninsula. Bryan, our guide, did us well with an Otter early on, a WT-Eagle in a tree across Loch Scridain and then Golden Eagles sailing across the highest ridges on the island. That's the big three ticked. The Goldie was a lifer for me (#218). Seals, Red Deer, Raven, Golden Plovers, Stonechat soon followed, with Red-throated Diver and Red-breasted Merganser coming earlier in the day, and all in all it was £37-each well spent.
Like most visitors we did the tour at the beginning of the week so we'd have a handle on the place for the rest of our holiday.

We camped for the whole week at Fidden Farm just a mile or so south of the Fionnphort and the ferry for Iona. Like the wildlife tour, Iona really demands you devote a day to it, at least then you might stand a chance of actually spotting one of the many calling Corncrakes that excite, frustrate, but mostly excite, all around the enchanting isle (video). Not a bad island if you enjoy your history or you're in with Jesus either. We failed on seeing a CC, so to tick or not to tick? That is the question. A lot of people have been pondering that all over England during this good Quail summer, another noisy skulking bird. I'm still undecided.

Back on Mull, we connected with the WT-Eagles again a couple of times, once back at a nest site we'd seen on the tour. The one chick apparently fledged the day before (grah!), but the good news is they tend to go straight down into the nearby woodland and stay there for several days so you still get to see the parents bringing in food.
Early mornings around Fidden did well for the holiday list, Dunlin, Ringed Plover, Snipe all in the brook beside the farm, and the buildings themselves housed a not unspectacular summer Starling roost with perhaps a 150 birds funneling during the evening. Wheatear everywhere, same with Oystercatcher, Redshank, Hooded Crow of course. Nice surprise one morning was a male Peregrine chasing away either another male or perhaps a youngster directly over head at about 40ft on my way to the camp toilets one morning. The screaming sure woke me up.
Nearby the farm a dead end track leads off past Fidden to the scatterings of other farms on the south-west tip of the Ross to where we had some of our best birding of the holiday. Within a minute of each other we had a WT-Eagle sail in quite low from the west, and then sitting on a rocky pinnacle a Golden Eagle, which then took off to glide along the rolling ridges in the distance. Impressive!
An impromptu visit to Tireragan nature reserve followed after we picked up a map leaflet from the farm at the end of the track. A warning to visitors, the paths may start easy, but they soon disappear into a dense jungle of bracken, so taking a compass and an OS map would probably be a good idea. Do go though, we had a family group of ring-tail Hen Harrier careering across the sky, looked like they were tossing each other around the sky actually. Close views of Ravens checking out us checking them out followed, and then the briefest view of an immaculate male Hen Harrier - which be honest are the ones we really want to see - frightening every Mippit and Stonechat in the area.
Elsewhere along the Ross we very briefly had a single Twite, with reported flocks of up to 50 birds eluding us somehow.

Must briefly mention Carsaig bay, a short visit there discovered Spotted Flycatchers, they're always a pleasure.

Finally, for the girlfriend's birthday I promised we'd go find our own Otters, and this we did. I don't want to say quite where - somewhere west of Glen More will do - we found a mother and cub hunting on a rising tide. I say hunting, it really looks like play. Picked up a Merlin cruising across the shoreline here too.
On the day we left for home, one more stop by the same area brought us a dog Otter and we had reasonable close views of him 'sprainting' a small rocky island in the loch. A charming, if poo-themed, way to end our holiday.

There's gotta be a next time when it comes to visiting the Isle of Mull.
White-tailed Eagle at something toward half a mile distance.

Given a special invite to the ladies loos in Bunessan to see these fledgling Swallows.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Still here

Apologies for the paucity of posts lately, not been out birding as often as I prefer. Still it's been nice to get up to the pit a few times in the week to check out the Little Owls ferrying prey to wherever their young are hiding out. Occasinally we have had the ridiculous situation of looking high and low for the birds only to look around and find one on the telegraph pole a few yards behind us. Gotta smile.
Also had a Barn Owl do a circuit of the place last week.

In the garden it's delight to be ticking off big sexy invertebrates species, blue damselflies, and ringlet and gatekeeper butterflies new in over the past couple of days. Seems to help that I've let the lawn grow into a meadow as all these creatures have taken to resting in the long grass. Read somewhere that you increase invertebrate life fifty-fold if you simply stop mowing, and I'm beginning to believe it.
The video there features another newcomer, bird species #37 for the garden, it's a juvenile Great Spotted Woodpecker - check out the red crest.

Off camping on the Isle of Mull next week, Eagles, Otters, etc, that should probably warrant a post or two here when I get back.

Recently added to my Youtube channel:
Pretty damn dark silhouette of a Little Owl
How to unwrap a slug Blackbird style
Wolf Spider with egg sacks
Redshank at Carsi

Tuesday, 9 June 2009


Check out the picture, if it looks like a glove with a tissue pegged to it you're only partially right. What you actually see is our successful Nightjar mimic.

It all began on Saturday night with the Nightjar Walk the delightful rangers at Sherwood Forest Country Park put on at the start of every June. This was our second time on that walk and wow, we had decent views of the Nightjar, Cuckoo, Woodcock and some Tawny fledglings dazzled by our torches at the end of the night. We also got some top tips for a return visit, on how to get our own close encounters with Nightjars (without attracting them with recordings which by the way is illegal). Hence the glove. As they patrol at dusk males see the white spot and in the gloom it looks to them like the markings on a potential rival, and in they come for a closer inspection.
Well, this we tried last night not long after sunset, this time just the girlfriend and me there, and WOW. With the glove sat on a fence post in came the male, we had it circling within 10 feet of us, 10 feet! Wafting by in that strange floating flight action, it seemed to be looking at us looking at it. Better yet when we began to leave in he sailed again and landed on a fencepost not very much further away and sat there chirring. By now it was getting late so we ultimately did head for home, but not without first pegging that tissue to the back of my hat, and wouldn't you know it, another male gave us a couple of passes back out in the middle of the common.

These are magical, half-mythical birds, near impossible to photograph or film during flight so encounters with them tend to be private and personal, related only through story. All of that only makes this odd frog-mouthed, insect voiced, bark feathered bird even more enigmatic.

Here's a video of the chirring from the walk, you'll also hear the ranger trying to attract one in and listen carefully for the hiccup of a roding Woodcock.

I've been birdwatching most of my life and I can't think of a more thrilling encounter than we had last night. I'm still buzzed.

Sad therefore that the Nightjar is declining in number, particularly in the Sherwood Forest/Budby Common area, now they have only two chirring males left these days. Why? Well there is an apparent conflict between local expertise on how the National Nature Reserve should be managed and what the rangers are dictated to do by Natural England's bureaucracy. I don't know the whole story but I hope they sort it all out because these birds are clearly suffering.


Recently holidayed up around Flamborough/Bridlington, so as a birdwatchers we were attracted as if magnetised to the RSPB reserve at Bempton Cliffs. Late May/Early June practically every Guillemot, Razorbill, Gannet and Fulmar was still on eggs. Still the bird metropolis is an exciting, elevating place to visit. The comings and goings of 200,000+ seabirds, well, you try going there and not feeling philosophical.

Picked out a nice campsite while there called Wold Farm, apparently it's under a stewardship scheme and it shows. Skylarks waking you up at 4am can only be the good way to rise at that time of the morning. Loads of them around, the odd Grey Partridge and Yellow Wagtail too, and we had a Little Egret go over one evening which has to be good record for the Flamborough area.
Really must go there in the early Spring or Autumn when it's a migrant bonanza on that headland.

For all the seabirds, my favourite at Bempton is the Corn Bunting, just don't hear that jangling key song often enough.
Also, the bridled Guillemot (same species, different race as the Common) was a nice one, an attractive auk made even more attractive, and not many of them around this south of their range. Check out the video...

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

First Lady

Did Budby Common at the weekend, had promised the girlfriend a Cuckoo. Plenty heard of them and one of the two calling males gave a couple of fleeting views. We've done better there before, but these are always skittish birds. The usual suspects were also around, loads of Tree Pipit, although surprisingly saw only one Woodlark.
Had our first Painted Lady of the year, a real faint one. Ours was ahead of a big influx that has hit the UK over the past couple of days.

Elsewhere Barn Owls are back for another season of train dodging on one of my local patches, and I'm seeing more Red-legged Partridge on my way to work (which may be bad news for any local Grey Partridge left around here).

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Reterns and what's that Stint?

Nice day ABBing at Carsington yesterday, nice to see visitors excited by the antics of the Common Terns. Whether they manage to remove the Black-headed Gulls from the newly deployed raft and get a chance to nest looks like big story for the next few weeks. Just not sure they're quite feisty enough to do it. I think the word soap opera writers use for the interest inspired by this sort of thing is jeopardy.
3 Common Sandpipers were a charming addition too. The Garden Warbler video comes from the Sheepwash end of the water.

Can beat that all though, this afternoon I checked Birdguides and there it was a report of Little Stint up at the pit. Good birds, but I've seen them before, even in Derbyshire, better stay in and get some work done in the house. A couple of hours later I check again and jeepers, there's been an upgrade, they're Temminck's Stint! - a lifer for me and probably the first in Derbyshire for many a year. Admittedly the difference is slight between the two species (and the mistake easy to make), basically Temminck's have pale legs, but they are a good deal rarer than Little Stint, both birds notable for being so flaming tiny, like unbelievably small for waders.
So Pleasley scores again, I really do like having the pit just a short walk away.

Here are a couple of strictly dodgy digiscope efforts, taken from a windswept video too shaky to dare post, glad they were still there...

Monday, 11 May 2009

Wow, Rutland Water

The plan was to scooch down to Rutland to finally bag one of the many Cattle Egrets in the country these days, by the end of a very long day we'd scored a list of 81 species and some memorable views - this despite missing out several hides and the Manton Bay area.

Big surprise was the new lagoon on the north side of Egleton Reserve, even googling after the visit I find very little online to cover quite what an interesting development it is. Being Rutland it's another big area of water with islands and scrapes that are an obvious magnet for all kinds of waders, and crowning glory of this achievement is an Osprey platform with attending bird. To give an idea of what it's already getting we saw Sanderling, Sandwich Tern and Avocet on or around that lagoon (gales over the last few days certainly helped with that). At one point the two Avocets mobbed the Osprey, which really underlines two of the big successes in British bird conservation over the last couple of decades. Who'd have imagined that even 15 years ago?

On other lagoons, three Black Terns, a pair of summer plumage Black-necked Grebes, and dozens of Hobbies hawking high and low, are all birds to make any day. Early evening a Cuckoo finally showed itself after teasing with distant calls all day long.

Shouldn't forget the reason we travelled in the first place, the Cattle Egret. Always kind of distant, invariably gorgeous, and yes it was among the cows (substituting for the elephants and rhinos of Africa).

An apparently plastic* Ruddy Shelduck hybrid raised and disappointed hopes, and yet what a richly coloured bird nonetheless.

Get thee to Rutland!Osprey nidifying...
...Hobby... flying.

Ruddy/Cape/Egyptian Goose/Shelduck thing

Cattle Egret

Plus, a bonus video, shot from a good distance...

*plastic - noun, slang: A wild bird of dubious origin, usually an escapee from an ornamental wildfowl collection.