Thursday, 31 January 2008

Collard Dove disaster

It's a bit blustery today. Forecast of course, but a bit of a shock to those of us living in the south. We thought Spring was on it's way !! Sadly though this morning when having breakfast, I noticed the Collard Dove wasn't on the nest. Quick investigation revealed the nest empty and an egg on the ground next to the pond. Was it the wind? A Cat?

Ahh well, maybe they'll try again, after all it is still only January !!

Yesterday Rob gave me a spare copy of the latest Avon Bird Report (2006) which I read last night (reminding me I've not entered in BTO counts from weekend). No new species were added to the County list, but some interesting facts have come to light;

  • Tree Sparrow - only 4 seen as fly overs, and now presumed a non-breeder in the county
  • Cuckoo - rapid decline in numbers from c.100 in 1996 to 8 in 2006
  • From prey remains, the Peregrines in Bath are taking a fair number of woodcock, more than recorded in the field, as a percentage
  • Dunlin numbers are increasing in the Bristol Channel - 1400 in Nov 06 - partly (from my knowledge) due to clean up of the sea, and the ending of mechanical beach cleaning.
  • Raven - rapid increase from 1's and 2's up to 2001, rising to 42 in 2006 (see below)

Given that Tree Sparrows and Corvids are species I'm particularly interested in, mixed feelings today.

Tuesday, 29 January 2008

Lone Wildlife Watching

Old ex railway carrages at Whitton were wonderful for swallows nests in my childhood, 30 odd years later still standing...just.
At lunch we were discussing possible ideas for NHU inserts to the ONE Show. And in the middle of this a topic came up, which has been flexing my braincells for a while: Namely, watching wildlife on one's own. I've never worried about wandering hill and dale on my own.

As a child, I used to leave the house before breakfast and return when it was dark. During the week, wandering the fields at the back of our house in West Boldon, sometimes collecting eggs on the way - tut tut. Or at weekends down on the Coquet watching the huge trout which was always there under Lady's Bridge, trudging over the Simonsides looking for Ring Ousels (yes even then I looked for them), looking at Swallow nests in the old railway huts at Whitton, or best of all going to the Thrum and watching the Dippers while carving my name in the rocks. Actually it was while down there I met a old man, who lived on the Cragside Estate at Pethfoot Lodge well before it became part of the National Trust. No idea who he was, but he fed birds from his hands, and I used to watch him in awe, as they pecked away. I never had the nerve to do it myself. A splendid introduction to wildlife, and what a childhood.

So it came as a surprise to me many years ago when people used to say to me when leading walks or surveys, this is lovely, I always feel worried about wandering in the countryside on my own, it's so nice to go with someone who knows where to go. Lately, a few women have said the same to me when we've chatted at Sand Bay. It's a sad state of affairs when people, not just women feel worried about going out on their own to watch wildlife. Absolutely nothing wrong of group activity, but I just feel so priveledged to have had the opportunity to be wild and free, at a time when no one worried where I was from dawn to dusk.

Monday, 28 January 2008

Halrequin Ladybird

Three seperate postings today to cover the weekend and today, as today's is a serious one.

This morning a colleage of mine found an odd ladybird in the office and gave it to me to look at. Immediately I though it was a Harlequin Ladybird, and indeed after doing some detective work, it was. Other colleages apparently saw some on Friday here in the NHU.

Having arrived in Britain in 2004, this species is making rapid movement west and north. This is the first one I've ever seen and is not good news for the native Ladybird, as this species is a potential threat to the native 46 species of Coccinellidae.

Harmonia axynidis spectabilis - if you see one please report it to harlequin-survey.com (sorry the photo is poor, my digital camer isn't great at macro)

Collard Dove on the nest

Didn't want to get too close and disturb them, but nesting in January?

This morning sat for the obligatory hour while munching toast watching the birds in the garden for the RSPB Garden Birdwatch. 10 Species recorded, but as the garden here is only 25x25 feet, not bad. Usual Herberts, on show, nice Wren though sat on my frog statue. However I was sat sitting, looking out of the conservatory, when one of the resident Collard Doves landed on the bird table carrying a sizeable twig. It made me sit up. Nest building already? Those of you up north will be non-believers.

Anyway watched this and in it popped into the conifer hedge. And lo and behold, another was in the hedge doing the nest building. For 15 minutes I was engrossed with the antics of this pair, managed a couple of photos from inside the conservatory so as not to spook them. Great I'm going to have Collard Dove squabs soon. It's interesting to ponder on the fact that if I'd had these nesting in the garden 50 years ago, I'd have had 2 million twitchers descend to view them. Just shows how species can advance their range if the environment is right.

After this had a walk along Sand Bay, highlight of which was singing Skylark.

In the afternoon, did a 6 mile bike ride around the lanes (thought I'd add this sartorial photo to the blog ident above). It's good birding around here but one needs to travel as no open water, so a bike is perfect. I'm also on the look out for Tree sparrows, as although scarce in Somerset, if they're here, this is as good a place as any with all the supplementary feeding. The area is predominantly dairy farms, with old hedgerows, large trees, overgrown field corners and remnant orchards. Great for farmland species, including Spotted Flycatcher in the summer. Today's highlights were a grey squirrel (unusual around here), Song Thrush, Jay, Grey Wagtail, 50+ Fieldfare, plus usual Rook, Carrion Crow, and Gt Tit, Blue Tit, plus 7 moorhen on the Blagdon. Which is also where I spied 27 Collard Doves on one phone wire. It was just a great day to be out. Oh and the Lesser Celendine's are in flower in the garden.

Finally, had a check on the Collard Doves in the evening, and one is still there. Surely they haven't laid already? They were only building the nest this morning. I'll keep you posted

Tumbling Raven

Freshly spring cleaned badger set - yes that is sand, after all we're near the beach

The weather was perfect on Saturday, had a good old 3 hour walk around Sand Bay and then Sand Point. Tide was up at 10.30 am, so completed usual stationary watch for an hour. Wader numbers were slightly down on recent visits but still 300+ Dunlin, 150+ shelduck, 60+ Curlew, 10-12 Grey Plover, associated gulls, mainly BHG, but also 2 Lesser Black Back and 7 Common. Single Redshank and Snipe.

After this had a walk along the lane, up to the point and to the end. By the time I'd walked to the tip of the point, the tide was way out and past here. From up high on the point a great view can be had of the mud creeks. Doing a scan of the mud gave me a handful of Redshank and Oystercatcher (that's where they were). Also an unidentified wader swimming in the creek, which had the "jizz" of a phalarope, but too far away and too brief a view to make any positive ID. Spring though was definitely in the air, with not one but 2 singing Song Thrush, one by the farm the other by the NT Carpark. One of the badger sets being given a very creditable spring clean, so much so the sand was half way across the road.

Sand Bay with Weston mid distance and Quantocks in the far distance

Patterns in the mud, and Sand Point looking back up the Bristol Channel to Clevedon

Highlight though had to be, just as I turned to walk back, heard "Cronk". Looked up and two Ravens were in the sky above, tumbling. Sand Point has a resident pair, which I've watched all winter, but to see them tumbling in the air made for a fabulous end to the day. Tremendous stuff.

Friday, 25 January 2008

Postscript to this mornings blog

After a morning staring at the screen, needed some quiet time away from a computer, so for the first time in ages went and sat in the garden on site. It's bijoux but while there, Blackbird, Woodpigeon, Blue and Great Tit and Robin, skulking about the trees, and overhead, couple Herring gulls, Magpie and Carrion crow. Not bad for 15 minutes quiet time in the centre of Bristol.

I may put a feeder up in the tree, see what happens

Birding on the move - Burns Night (Day)

At last, the rain has stopped, there's a stiff breeze and the countryside is beginning to dry out. The wind has brought Fieldfares back onto the fields around Wick St Lawrence, which is nice given that although still plentiful, winter thrushes have been down in my part of the world, especially Redwing, compared to the last few years.

Nothing much else to report over the last few days except noted a Black Headed Gull in breeding plumage at Backwell LNR (and yes I double checked it was a BHG) and reports of Great White Egret seen from the M5 a week or so back in my area have proved impossible to verify - unfortunately for me work has prevented much birding this week, we're too busy making people redundant at the Beeb.

So a weekend at Wick St Lawrence home is planned, partly need to have a rest from driving, and also to do the RSPB Garden Birdwatch. I haven't been able to search the lanes and footpaths yet this year, or go to Puxton Church, which is managed now for wildlife, so I'll see what's about. For somewhere close to Weston it's suprisingly rural.

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

NHU Bird Cup 2007 Results and Sand Bay

I mentioned this back in December, now the results are out, thought I'd add a very short summary of the results as sent out by Stephen. 16 entries in all, with no-one quite managing to break the 100 barrier set in recent years.

The Brett Westwood Cup for Supreme Champion
ROB COLLIS – 98 species. Honourable mention goes to Andrew Dawes with a commendable 90, Andrew’s friend Jack Wylson (honorary entrant) also managed 72 species back home in Kent and Sussex.

I suppose I had better mention Supreme Champion of the past two years, Brett Westwood, who while ‘not really trying’ around his Midlands home, totted up a very creditable 90 species, including Firecrest.

And your competition organiser Stephen Moss managed a respectable 81 species – all in Somerset – And rival Mike Dilger managed just 80 – mind you, he was in Ireland where there are no birds…

The Andrew Dawes Vase for the best Intermediate birder
L MEADOWS – 82, R Gloyns - 72, H Spearing, 71, C Jackson 41

The Chris Cole Trophy for the best Beginner
L COOK – 45, S Comerford - 18

The Adam White Plate for the most species seen with kids in tow…
F BEELEY – 56 species
while racking up no fewer than 11 mammal species – in the unofficial Beeley Cup! These were… "Fallow deer, muntjac, roe deer, stoat, water vole (note: feeding off willow bark), ST field vole, Brown rat (under bird feeders at Longford lakes), grey squirrel, fox, badger, and smelt a polecat in haystack where known polecat lives, but didn't see or hear! – smell counts for BEELEY CUP!"
N Pope - 46, A Griffiths - 33, J Bristow - 28.

The Nigel Bean medal for the highest garden list
S MOSS – 34 species, Apart from L Meadows with 27 species, no-one else bothered to enter this category – not even Nigel!

So that's that for another year, though we are thinking of having a May birdwatch, set up the scopes and help those who are new to birding to id species.

Today, also had another stationary watch at Sand Bay, just half an hour this time before work. Weather was dull again, so using the scope was tough, tide was just on the turn at 8.30.

Sat image, I stand on the beach side of the caravan park on the right. Tide will advance to the light green shadow on the marsh, and then receed again 200m. Top of picture is Sand Point.

100+ Black Headed Gull, 1 Lsr Black Back Gull, 50-70 Shelduck (bobbling on the sea), 6 Linnet, 40+ Curlew, 2 Carrion Crow, 4 Mallard, flock of 7 Common Gull overhead, 4 Greenshank and singles of Wren, House Sparrow, Robin, Skylark, Chaffinch and Dunnock.

Driving in noticed the primroses are at last coming into flower, and a huge gull flock of several hundreds alongside the M5 - rich pickings in that field then

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

Acrobatic Moorhen

Very odd today. While waiting at traffic lights, in a rhyne to my left I spotted a moorhen. Nothing unusual in that except this one was on top of a few reed stems, about 3-4 feet up and whilst struggling to keep its balance, seemed to be pulling the seedheads off the stems. I've never seen this from a moorhen before, and not entirely sure what it was doing, or why. Unfortunately couldn't spare time to investigate more, but an interesting diversion from the car infront of me.

Sunday, 20 January 2008

RSPB Lodmoor Cetti's - and a Northern Coot

On the way back from Wincanton yesterday I did a short trawl of the flooded swamps, formerly fields in the Blackmore Vale. I have to say it was dire. Of note, a Buzzard and a Robin. 10 miles north of the Vale after all this rain, the The Somerset Levels are now living up to their Isle of Avalon fame.

So this morning, determined to get out, we went to RSPB Lodmoor in Weymouth. Her indoors thinks this birding lark is fairly odd. Don't get me wrong, she likes watching the sparrows on the feeders as much as any woman, but tramping around wet fields to have fun, doesn't really work for her. So I cunningly plan a visit where she can go for a nice walk leaving me in peace for an hour. Just took the bins, as the comment when getting the scope out of the car was "oh God, you're not taking that are you?"... tail between my legs, it returned to the car, unloved and unused...... but I did get my year total up to 82.

RSPB Lodmoor, somewhere out there are Cetti's in the gloom.

But have to say not a bad moring, but dull, but NOT raining and lovely and mild. Didn't do any counts, just what I saw. Most notable was 4 different singing Cetti's Warblers. Also my first bumble bee of the year flew past. It must be spring. Oh and this fella.

I met this Coot making a break for the north and asking the directions to Northumberland particularly the Heritage Coast area.

So in rough order of seeing them. Lapwing, Wren, Coot (see above), Herring Gull, Canada Goose, Black Headed Gull, Shelduck, Mallard, Tufted Duck, Mute Swam, Shovler, Grey Heron, Teal, Blue Tit, Carrion Crow, "Rabbit", Moorhen, Starling, Blackbird, Pochard, Cetti's (1st one), weird possible Tufty x Pochard, Long Tail Tit, Goldfinch, Chaffinch, Woodpigeon, Greenfinch, Stock Dove, Little Grebe, House Sparrow, Scaup (think there was two, wish I'd had the scope),Robin, Buzzard, Lsr Black Back Gull, Common Gull, Magpie, Pied Wagtail.

After this had a quick dash over the Ferrybridge, near Portland, however there was some sort of windsurfing competition going on, so only noatbles were single Oystercatcher, 3 Little Egret, 6+ Redshank.

Took this on the way home, hasn't come out too well as the weather was turning dreek again but cheers the soul to see snowdrops and daffodils out in January.

Friday, 18 January 2008

That was a suprise

Having finished work, driven to Dorset, before bed thought I'll check my species list for 2008 with today's Sparrowhawk, and it's 78, as I'd forgotten to include some from last weekend. Weather looks better than expected down here for the weekend, so maybe go to RSPB Arne or Middlebere (somewhere I've not looked at before) on Sunday if I'm allowed and have a winter fix of Avocets.

When is it going to stop raining...

I try to get to Sand Bay before work at least once a week in the winter, but this week it's just rained and rained and rained. Not good for birding and I'm going stir crazy. Even if we had some wind with this rain it'd be exciting, but no, wet, dark, mild and not a breath of wind. Miserable.

On the bright side though, a female Sparrowhawk flew over the car on the way in to work, maintaining the wildlife on the move theme. Which I think gets me to about 72 species this year. However as the list is in Dorset, can't confirm this until tonight.

Finally, just because it's Friday and I should do some work, I thought you'd like this photo, of my father, taken about 3 years ago. We were having coffee in the garden and a racing pigeon landed on him. Stayed for half an hour, we fed and watered it and it left. Birding on the move?

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

Birding on the move

I was musing today whilst driving my 2o miles into work. It's amazing how many birds can be seen on the move. Today, in the lull between the rain the weather was mild, no wind and sunny, so wildlife made the most of the fine weather. I never lose the thrill of seeing birds after bad weather flying in flocks almost in joy at being dry at last, or busy preening and feeding again. And spring is definitely in the air, a lot of pairing going on.

My heart may still be in Northumberland, but I'm so pleased I live in Somerset/Dorset, as it is a wonderful place for wildlife. Somerset particularly has just about every type of habitat available in the UK, from Exmoor, to the Levels, mudflats and coastal estuaries, to the rich grasslands, to arable, and many woods and hidden valleys and combes. And then in Dorset, I have the proper coast, rather than the Bristol Channel, and huge arable fields on the Chalk Downs, and the huge Poole Harbour.

My usual 20 mile drive begins in single track lanes with high hedges through dairy farms, then a main road through more farmland and small villages, finally driving through ancient woods, then over the Bristol Gorge, and parking in Clifton, with its old gardens and large trees.

Today, without really making a special note I guess I saw 15 species, all the flooded fields were packed with Corvids and Gulls, Magpies especially were active. Collard Dove, Wood Pigeon were plentiful too. In Clifton, Great and Blue Tits singing everywhere, as well as Robin, Blackbird, Greenfinch, Starling and a Goldcrest too. A nice way to while away 30 minutes in the car

And finally, speaking about wildlife on the move, this Blue Jay was sent to me by my Cousin in Canada feeding at their "Winter Lodge" - a stunning bird, I'm jealous.

Monday, 14 January 2008

Raven in Bristol

This is what Birding is for me, the unexpected. Walking in this morning past the Catholic Cathedral, I heard "Cronk", looked up and at the highest part of the Cathedral, a Raven. Absolutely wonderful.

Lovely Saturday at Sand Bay

After Friday's deluge, intermixed with snow for 2 hours, then back to rain and awful flooding everywhere, I thought a trip to Sand Bay on Saturday morning for my first stationary watch of 2008 would be all that was possible before the next rain band arrived.

And it was a reet smashing hour at my usual spot. I began doing this in November, 1 hour max, same spot on the beach spotting anything which comes into view across the bay, on the mud, or in the shrubs behind. The only down side to this is I miss the fields behind with the scope, and the rocks at the Weston end of the Bay is just too far away. But it's interesting how doing this a picture of what is happening is beginning to develop, and each day is different.

Not least as I'm becoming a bit of a local oddity and people now come and chat to me as they walk past, which is nice, unless their dogs eat my trousers, long story. A pair of walkers mentioned a white Buzzard at St Thomas's Head on the point, which was apt, as on Friday, a report of an Osprey, was descounted as a white Buzzard. There's a few about down here.

Shelduck and Dunlin

So between 10.30 and 11.30, here we go : 500+Dunlin, 40ish Grey Plover with them (cracking views of the black armpits in the sunshine), 10 Woodpigeon, 150-200 Shelduck, 50+ Oystercatcher, 25 Curlew, 2 Great Black Backed Gull, 31 Redshank (I know I counted them twice - which is sad), 3 Carion Crow, 2 Skylark overhead, 1 Wren, 2-30 Linnet, Male Stonechat, single male House Sparrow, 3 Starling, 5-7 Long Tail Tit working the shrubs, which I've not seen at Sand Bay before, female Reed Bunting, 2 Pied Wagtail, single Chaffinch heard, single Blue Tit, 50-70 Black Headed Gull, and 2 Magpie.

On the way home at the flooded field I'm keeping an eye on, 1 male Stonechat, 43 Curlew, 10-15 Pied Wagtail, 1 Skylark, 50+ Redwing/Fieldfare, 2 Jackdaw, 1 female Kestrel, 1 Buzzard, 1 Great Black Backed Gull, 10 Starling and a mix of Black Head and Common gulls.

Final treat, weasle ran in front of me. Given all the ditches were flooded, it maybe should have been swimming.

Wednesday, 9 January 2008

At last no longer a Bogey bird for me

After 20 years of searching through, hearing and essentially missing out, today I finally had my tick for Bearded Tit. A male and female, on the path leading to North Hide at RSPB Radipole in Weymouth. Absolutely stunning views in near perfect weather. I was so excited I completely forgot to take any photo's, so here's one I got from the Dorset Bird Club copyright of Doug Knibbs taken a few days ago at Radipole. Talking to three birders 5 minutes later, 5 had been spotted a day ago near the visitor centre.

Should I really be this excited at the age of 43, too right I'm excited. It's odd, but a bird which has "always been here 5 minutes ago" becomes something of a special bird to see. I remember spending a whole week on the North Norfolk coast in 1991, trying to see a Bittern and the warden at Cley saying "it was here an hour ago", or "did you not hear it booming earlier?". I never did see it, and after all these years of failing to see one, I took my parents to Slimbridge on New Years Day 2007, and there it was out of the Zeiss hide, unexpected and absolutely thrilling. Seeing the Bearded Tit's today, makes me realise why wildlife is such an intergral part of my life and has been since a child.
Dark Bellied Brent Geese on the Fleet

It was so windy, this Little Egrets hairpiece was doing a Bobby Charlton.

Just a brilliant morning spent in a gale off the sea at the Fleet and at Weymouth which netted some nice birds; most notable were, 150+ Dark Bellied Brent Geese, plus a few Pale Bellies, 2 male, 3 female Red Brested Merganser, Turnstone, 2 Ring Plover, Common and Mediterranean Gull (I only saw one but yesterday there were 100), fair numbers of Herring and Black Headed Gulls, handful of Great Black Back Gull, Rock Pipit and Shag; Met a guy leading a walk for the East Devon Bird Club, they were in discussion over a potential Ring Bill Gull. Was it, well possibly I'll never know, as 10 scopes trained on a Common Gull with greener legs than normal, still couldn't decide.
Not a great view, but a pale belly is on the extreme right.
So that's a year count up t0 73, but it could be just one seeing that pair of Bearded Tit, I was so excited I could crush a grape.

Tuesday, 8 January 2008

Blustery Day at Lydlinch Common

What a dreadful day, squally showers, strong gusts of wind, but at least it's milder than of late. So I thought I'll have an hour wandering around Lydlinch Common, a remnant of Dorset common surrounded by the Stock Gaylard estate near Sturminster Newton. To the south is mixed ancient woodland which unfortunately isn't open access like the Common as it is managed for pheasant rearing.

Talk about wet underfoot, considering this is a SSSI and LNR, it could do with some drainage, ha ha. Good place for butterflies in the summer though. Most noticable were the singing Great Tits, counted 6 maybe 7, and at one point a Gt Tit picking moss off a tree, surely they're not nest building already? Other birds of the walk were, 10+ Blackbirds, 5+ Blue Tit, single Coal Tit, 3 Jay, 2 Magpie, 2 Wren, 2 Robin, male Chaffinch, Buzzard, Kestrel, couple of Carion Crow overhead, but considering the weather, and that a very low flying Hercules transport plane flew over too (this is a Low Flying zone), this wasn't bad.

At the edge of the Common, quite a few Fallow Deer marks in the soft mud, which I saw all too briefly as they scampered into the woods. Photo (left) of hoof print in route used by Fallow Deer into and out of the Common.
Finally, in the afternoon, on our way to see the Golden Compass, there are now 4 Little Egret in the Venn fields at Milborne Port. At this rate there'll be Cattle Egrets next!!

Monday, 7 January 2008

Not much today

Thelma had a doctors appointment today so I was under strict orders not to go birdwatching. No one said the garden was off limits though. Therefore as I sucked on a slice of breakfast toast, a bit of messing about in the garden with a Heath-Robinson digiscope... it's amazing what one can do with a piece of plastic pipe and gaffer tape.... okay I agree, it's NOT amazing !!

Not everyone's favourites, but having Rooks (and Jackdaws) at the birdtable makes my day, I love them and could watch them for hours. Betty next door isn't convinced as she's scared of big birds, so when a dozen perch on the fence after feed, I'm not popular!

The other interesting thing was a Woodpigeon and Jackdaw on the bird table. The pigeon was refusing to give up food and very aggressive towards the Jackdaw, lunging at it constantly, while the Jackdaw clung to the edge. In the end both got fed up and left.

Year total so far is 56....need to get to water, get this up before I go back to work on Thursday, wonder if I can slip down to Portland before Thelma gets up tomorrow....

Sunday, 6 January 2008

Dorset Bramblings

As the weather had turned fair, this morning was an hour or so birding in North Dorset. Recent reports of a fair sized Brambling flock (up to 100) sent me first to Bradbury Rings, between Wimborne and Blandford Forum. And yes I can confirm they're there, the flock flew over my head, then as I followed them, flew back in the opposite direction, repeating this process for half an hour. In the end I just stood there and watched them fly back and forth. And indeed a mixed Brambling and Chaffinch flock. Got some good views with the scope, but as I still haven't managed to set myself up for Digi-scoping, just pretend you can see them here.

Arty shot of Bradbury Rings

The fields around Bradbury rings were full of Fieldfare, mixed Corvids and a handfull of Black Headed Gulls, presumably the rain overnight had pushed worms and so on up to the surface. Also met a birder who said a Hooded Merganser (presumably an escapee) was on the River Stour. So popped along to see if that was there.... it wasn't.

But a very nice place to spend a few moments watching a river, 1 Little Egret, 2 Dabchick, Moorhen, Blackbirds, fair few Mallard/Hybrids and that was about it. So final birdwatch was at Bullbarrow Hill, which threw up a Nuthatch and between 15 and 20 Great Tit feeding on the beech mast, don't think I've ever seen that many before in one place.

A sign of the times :-)

Other hightlights of the morning, Songthrush on wall at Shillingstone, Redwings at Sturminster Newton, oh and yes in the garden, male Blackcap (so that's possibly a pair here) and the Collard Doves are at it...

Saturday, 5 January 2008

Overhead Snipe

A wader paradise.... scene of Snipe flypast, too fast for me to photograph

Forecast today was dry turning wet, so just time for a brief look at Greylake RSPB reserve on the way down to Dorset. Very quiet, but 2, then 8 then 3 high flying Snipe were entertaining, a lone Songthrush but apart from that nothing much else about. On the Huntspill river 3 male and 2 female Goosander and a lone Great Crested Grebe. Quite a few Little Egrets about at the moment, including one in a field at the Venn, Milborne Port. Better day forecast for tomorrow, so may head over and see one of the Cattle Egrets.

Friday, 4 January 2008

Weird weather.... feels like spring

Nothing much to report today other than the great snowstorm never reached the South West, though Northumberland was hit badly, now why am I not there. So today has dawned mild and no wind as such, it feels like spring, and as I walked in Great Tits calling everywhere, plus nice Long Tail Tit flock flitting through large gardens of Clifton. So with a Goldcrest, my species list for the year hits 50.

Finally shots of the daffs taken this morning.

Thursday, 3 January 2008

Species so far in 2008....48

Everyone seems to be doing it (a record of 103 in a day on the Somerset Ornithological Site), so I have been sorting out the species I've seen this year so far, 48. Also, which was a nice suprise this morning walking into work the daffodils are out at Bristol Cathedral, later than last year. No snow though, so a frosty picture of Herons Green Pool, Chew Valley just before Christmas.

Great Crested Grebe, Chew Lake
Goosander, Chew Lake
Pied Wagtail, Chew Lake
Coot, Chew Lake
Rock Pipit, Cobb Lyme Regis
Grey Wagtail, Compton Martin pond
Mallard, Dyke at Sand Bay
Little Egret, Dyke by Sand Bay
Kingfisher, Ebdon river
Moorhen, Ebdon river
Blackbird, Garden Dorset
Song Thrush, Garden Dorset
Little Grebe, Herons Pool, Chew
Snipe, Herons Pool, Chew
Tufted Duck, Herons Pool, Chew
Black Headed Gull, Herons Pool, Chew
Teal, Herons Pool, Chew
Pochard, Herons Pool, Chew
Lapwing, Herons Pool, Chew
Pheasant, Langford, N Somerset
Herring Gull, Lyme Regis
Robin, Lyme Regis
Mistle Thrush, Orchard, near Congresbury
Stonechat, Sand Bay
Shelduck, Sand Bay
Curlew, Sand Bay
Starling, Sand Bay
Magpie, Sand Bay
Carion Crow, Sand Bay
Kestrel, Sand Bay
Mute Swan, Sand Bay
Dunlin, Sand Bay
Oystercatcher, Sand Bay
Goldcrest, Garden Dorset
Rook, Garden Dorset
Jackdaw, Garden Dorset
House Sparrow, Garden Dorset
Chaffinch, Garden Dorset
Wren, Garden Dorset
Dunnock, Garden Dorset
Collard Dove, Garden Dorset
Wood Pigeon, Garden Dorset
Blue Tit, Garden Dorset
Great Tit, Garden Dorset
Greenfinch, Garden Dorset
Fieldfare, Sturminster Newton
Grey Heron, Sturminster Newton Mill
Carrion Crow, Garden North Somerset

Wednesday, 2 January 2008

91 species and snowdrop anyone?

Lyme Regis on New Years Day, the sun was setting and as we walked back, a snowdrop in a garden, spring is here.

Well I have to say, this week of bird watching in an attempt to raise the champagne fuelled foaming NHU bird cup to my lips, has been really tough. I’m either getting old, or getting infirm, or getting soft. My guess though is all four. Did someone mention Alzheimer’s too?

What on earth possessed me to try and do this in Northumbria? Okay it’s my old stamping ground, but that was 15 years ago, birds have come and gone, and my knowledge of what is out there is now decrepit, so much like the author. I’d also forgotten a golden rule related to any wildlife watching north of the River Tyne in mid December; it only is light enough to see anything at 9am and dark again at 3pm. In-between this 6 hour period of unbridled excitement there’s a dull overcast feel to the skies which enters the mind and plays hallucinogenic tricks on bird ID. And there's always a gale.

Still I persevered, wandering lonely as a cloud, across sodden open countryside, wild and windblown coast, local nature reserves which seemed to be just weedy fields with a damp patch, frequented by dog walkers; and a very pleasurable (I use the term advisedly) 2 hours squelching the riparian habitat of my home river, the Coquet, as rain trickled down my neck. The Dipper I was looking for sensibly, stayed indoors with its feet up, but I did get stunning views of 3 separate Nuthatch and 7 Goosander.

The Coquet at Pauperhaugh in full flow..as I ate my sandwich a Goosander swam into view.

Maybe I could have saved myself a length of hardship, and just gone to Slimbridge as I drove home on New Years Eve; 50 species without even trying? But then a 2 hour stop near Leeds to see a mate, was a much better use of time. Doing it the hard way, however chaotic, brought the unexpected highlights, which were fabulous and worth every penny.

Eider now patrol the coast between the rivers Tyne and Wear, along with huge flocks of Dunlin, Oystercatcher, Redshank, Sanderling, Ring and Golden Plover are testament to decades of cleaning up the environment. 20 years ago, I remember being phoned up when a Redshank arrived and going specially to see it. A pintail, 5 yellowhammers and 100+ Greylag on Boldon Flats, scene of my very earliest birding memories and where as a child it was only ever just, spuggies, burnt out cars and fights with the local Council Estate boys. Now South Tyneside Council have turned it into a valuable flooded meadow in the middle of the Tyneside conurbation.
Greylags at Boldon Flats in South Tyneside, Christmas Day

Rock Doves which miraculously still cling onto a rock stack at Souter Point off the coast at South Shields. I watched those birds 20 years ago when working as a volunteer NT warden there. At that time estimates were that they would finally hybridise with feral pigeons on the mainland cliffs in 10 years. Both are there but maintain separate lives still, and I counted 40+ on that stack.

The 7 Tree Sparrows busy feeding, in a friend’s garden just outside Hartlepool, close enough to enjoy while indoors with a whisky chaser. “Oh I regularly get 10 on there” he said unconcerned in the fact that if one is found in Somerset, hoards of bobble hat twitchers descend to terrify the poor thing, possibly back to Hartlepool.

At the end of a depressing, fruitless and miserable hour gaining no new species in the hill region of Northumberland I decided to go home. As I drove off the hill I spotted a huge flock of birds rising from a farm silage clamp. Although rain was driving off the hills and nearly dark even though only 11 am, something told me to investigate. Turning the car around, I realised I was in a holy grail of habitats, a ramshacked farm in shooting country, tall hedges and muddy lanes. I stood there, and in front of me, 2 Red Leg Partridge under a trailer, a covey of Grey partridge in the field, 2 Yellowhammer, in grass not 20 feet away. A huge 200+ finch flock on spilt grain in the track yielded a bakers dozen or so of Brambling. The massive flock was 500+ Corvids and 200+ feral pigeons.
A wonderful lane, wet, muddy and teaming with finches at 11am

But above all it was the thrill of the chase and being back where my heart is. Even though the name I carved into the Thrum as a child was covered in floodwater, and the dipper wasn't to be seen, a day on the Coquet in whatever weather, takes me back to working at Cragside and surveying Otters in the 1980's, grand days, grand days indeed. But what have they done to Rothbury??

I like to find things on my own, it's good to have knowledge (like the kind couple at Chew on New Years Day who let me view a snipe in their scope for another tick) but there's nothing worse for me than arriving somewhere and someone points out all the species present in 30 seconds. Takes away the fun.

Oh well I've verified my species and it's 91, not good, but not bad. Stephen Moss, top birder and all round good bloke, had 81, and mate Rob 98. We'll see what else comes in over the week and who the eventual winner is. But until then...I'll leave you with bullfinches at Washington WWT

Tuesday, 1 January 2008

New Years Day - end of the NHU Bird Cup

Well as New Years Day ended, I found myself in Lyme Regis in Dorset. Since posting the blog on the 21st December, I've driven 1200 miles (I know not very environmentally friendly), but that did include a week at my parents, vising friends, plus birding. I'm still verifying my final score but I think it's 93 species. Less than I'd hoped for but I had forgotten how tough it is birding up't north.

Down in Somerset/Dorset, we have large National Nature Reserves and they're chock full of goodies. Up in Northumberland and Durham, there is teaming bird life, but it takes a bit of finding. Most of my time was spent in open countryside, wild and unspoilt coastal areas or Local Nature Reserves managed by councils with little information to work from. One day I did go to Washington WWT and had a fabulous view of 20-30 bullfinches their feeding station. Something I'll not forget. I've attached a video of this. Not the best quality, but a reminder of an unexpected pleasure.

I'll post a resume of the highlights and species seen, when and where in my next blog. Before then, happy birding in 2008.