Friday, 29 February 2008

Sandpipers - the 29th

I didn't think I'd have time to write anything for a week, but this morning after a tip off about a good number of Water Pipit's at Chew Valley Lake, which I failed to find, yet another (same?) Green Sandpiper, plus 2 very obliging Common Sandpipers, (103) my first spring migrants. Chew has also had a few Sand Martins reported already. And of course as this posting is on the 29th February, it'll be 4 years before I do it again.

Until March then, I'll leave you with a Barn Owl, which we used to demonstrate filming techniques to the public at the Bristol Festival of Nature last year...............

Thursday, 28 February 2008

Following on from yesterdays posting

....and in the absence of any new wildlife news, further rummaging through my old photos from childhood, I came across a pile of Polaroid images, my first attempts at Wildlife photography. I think it was about 1976 I was given a Polaroid camera for Christmas. Our back garden was large but being a Victorian Terrace, rather long, nearly 200 feet. I built a hide near the feeders and with my Polaroid, took pictures of birds on the peanuts. I was proud of this at the time, but what a giggle, it's a little difficult to tell exactly what it is... sadly I can actually remember taking this photo.. it's a Blue Tit. 3 years later I had an SLR and a telephoto lens, real luxury !!!!!

I've also been reading my much loved "Observer Book of Birds Eggs". I know, I know, it's very much frowned upon, and against the law these days, but lads collected eggs back then. But the OBoBE was given pencil marks when one was added. My other constant companion was "Fritters" Collins guide to Nests and Eggs. Very happy days, and as an only child, never lonely when out wandering the fields before school. I'll possibly not be posting for a week, as next week we'll be having 5 days up north with my parents, who are not known for their internet connectivity !!

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Earth Shattering Wednesday

I was awake most of last night, which had absolutely nothing to do with the earthquake which hit the Midlands at 1am. No I woke at 2.30 and my mind was racing with ideas. This time next week I will be beginning my 4 days working pattern, having Wednesdays off. I'm very grateful and fortunate to be in a position not to have to work full time, although at the moment this is just a trial period. It will be nice to do more work in the field, rather than in management - and according to new research 44 is the trough year (with 20's and 70's the peak)... guess who's 44 in 6 weeks time!!

Apart from more time for art, gardening and conservation, one of the things I wish to do is begin writing the book which has been filling my thoughts for years. Can't give too much away obviously, but in my mind it's there, and hopefully will be an amusing account of my experiences with wildlife and conservation. Will anyone read it, will I actually finish it, who knows but as they say, everyone has a book inside them, which finally explains why I'm overweight....!! But one of the things I've been doing is searching through old photos, and came across this, my very first encounter with Wildlife at Flamingo World in North Yorkshire. Not sure when this was but think around 1970..... and I was terrified!!!!

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

Just because it's a wonderful day

I wasn't going to write anything today, but as it's such a wonderful day, I'm in the mood for a note before going to the BBC Canteen for some gruel.

This morning went for a walk more than a birdwatch down at the coast. Last night we had a gale blow up the Bristol Channel and driving rain, so everything feels fresh and clean, the sky is azure blue, and real warmth in the sun. Not much to report birdwise, except a huge flock of gulls in and over the fields behind the beach. You could see they were enjoying the wind, flying just for fun it seemed. I didn't count anything but at last 100+ of both Lesser Black Backed and Common, plus a fair few Herring Gull.

Reports too of 2 Sand Martin locally in the last 2 days, early migrants are here. Sadly though the daffodils you see above, were flattened overnight in the wind. Oh well that's Life !!

Monday, 25 February 2008

Green Sandpiper gets the Century

A very interesting weekend indeed. Up with the larks to have my car re-tyred only to find the garage didn't have enough of them in (my fault), so as it was 8am, filled in the time at Sand Bay as high tide was 9.30 am. My usual stationary watch produced no new species of note. But I did spend a lot of time watching the Shelduck.

I'm getting very fond of these chaps, having spent all winter watching them. A flash of colour in estuary. Bridgwater Bay just south of here is a major moulting ground for these so stragglers also winter here, in low hundreds. For the first time I'd noticed they are enjoying the spring and starting to pair up. Usually silent, what a load of squabbling and neck stretching seemed to going on. The attached photo is rubbish but thought I'd post it to shows the difference in size between the males and females. Shelducks also have a very odd collective noun, Dopping.

In the end I spent 4 hours at Sand Bay, walking out to the point as the tide dropped, which paid off, no major finds but good numbers of the usual, and 4 nice close Rock Pipits, and 7 male Stonechat were a good watch. The day ended with not only the female Merlin, which I watched then lost, but then whilst trying to locate her, slap my thigh with a rubber chicken, a Male Merlin on a piece of driftwood. Cracking view of this as it hunted. Those Linnet and Skylark are taking a beating. But all the while, Skylarks kept on singing while I just sat quietly watching from the rocks what was going on, before that is the lure of 6 nations Rugby forced me home to a chilled cider.

Peace and quiet except for the birds at Low tide

We get monsters on the Somerset coast !!!

Sunday : Obviously drinking cider on Saturday caused me to be up at 5am Sunday, so after not being able to get back to sleep, set off at 7am to "do the Chew Valley". The route went something like this with the salient birds seen.

Puxton NR, a Grey Heron,
Sandford Sewerage Works, 2 Canada Geese;
Rickford weir, 2 Grey Wagtails,
Bladgon Lake, Scaup, Goosander, loads of smaller birds about especially Chaffinch.
At Chew Valley Lake (CVL), the largest freshwater lake in the south west, a Goldeneye on the lake (99) and then over to CVL Heron's Pool, which had been flooded but was very low, 13 Little Grebe coming into breeding plumage, 7 male Shovler with their women, and a very showy Water Rail, plus a fair number of Wigeon, Teal and Pied Wags.

Then CVL Herriots Pool, looking for a Pintail. Before I saw them, spotted wader at the edge, dark olive green back, eye ring, clean underbelly, hint of a bob, dark legs, dark bill, that rubber chicken moment hit me again, a Green Sandpiper - I was 99% sure, interesting how the rarities stick in the mind, but as I didn't have my guide book with me text'd Stephen Moss to confirm, (and it was and so became my 100th bird of the year, and second sighting ever). Followed this with 7 male Pintail (101) and a Ruddy Duck (102) and a calling Cetti's Warbler, already had this.

Finally popped over to Litton Reservoir, interesting as half is in Somerset, half on North East Somerset. Practically first bird was Chifchaff, then a Blackcap, Little Grebe making one heck of a din with their pair duet calls and 2 Kingfisher flight calling which is not something heard often, plus 2 Ravens flying over cronking nicely. All in all then a weekend when "love is in the air".

Rickford Weir - Grey Wagtail country

And finally, this last photo has nothing at all to do with the weekend but I took it last week when we had this fine frosty weather, and I quite like it. It's the Catholic Cathedral of Bristol, ultra modern design in the middle of Victorian Clifton. I've always liked this juxt d position in architecture of the old and the ultra modern.

Friday, 22 February 2008

Marsh Tit on the Move

I'm continually amazed how an unexpected find always delights me.

I fully appreciate why many birders chase the rarities across the world, but that has never appealed to me. As a result I'll never make a top birder. No one would believe me when I say I've not made an effort to view the Cattle Egrets in Somerset this winter. I've not been close to where they are, so unless I pass by, they'll remain un-viewed.

Years ago I knew a top birder who would charter helicopters when some poor unfortunate bird was wrecked in the Scilly Isles, hop over, see the bird for 5 minutes then come home. That's not birding for me and why I gave up on birdwatching in my teens to study Mustelids (especially Otters).

I could talk about Otters for ages. In the 1980's I'd spend weeks on Skye watching them, never ever lost the thrill of seeing an Otter come in off the sea, and walk up towards where I was hidden as a voyeur to it's daily business. I was once so engrossed on watching an Otter, I hadn't seen an Atlantic Seal haul up on the beach behind me. I was stuck then, as to move I'd have scared both. What better way to spend a summers day on Skye?

Back to the story. As it's half term, the roads are gloriously free of spotlessly clean 4x4's taking children to school in Bristol. My 20 mile drive to work up the M5 is a very pleasurable 25 minutes. This morning I seemed to be 15 minutes ahead of myself, so stopped at Leigh Woods, a National Trust property on the "old Somerset" side of the Avon Gorge, in the hope of a Coal Tit for this years list. A species which seems to be playing hide and seek with me this year. Before Christmas 2 were in the garden every day. Where are they? They're up to something.

Bristol is very lucky to have both Leigh Woods and Ashton Court on its doorstep, both large open areas which were protected by the Smyth Family from development, then bequeathed in lieu of death duties. The woods were alive with birdsong, but not a single Coal Tit !! However I had a fabulous view of a Marsh Tit, which is the first I've seen for nearly a year.

These are though birds to ID, having only been separated as a separate species from Willow Tits in the 1890's. Guide books blithely quote sooty (Willow) or shiny (Marsh) head, or icing on wing bars (Willow) but in the field when they're flitting about, that's not easy. Luckily though this one handily called it's classic Pit-Chew call, so there you go, Marsh Tit in a tree, species 98.

2 species to go to 100, so may cheat and go to Slimbridge over the weekend and get some winter wildfowl before they depart.

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Merlin the Magician

It's been 10 days since my last stationary watch at Sand Bay, and to be honest I wasn't going to go as there was a goodly thick fog up the Bristol Channel and high tide had been 2 hours earlier. Anyway, feint heart and all that saw me at my regular spot, tripod up, scope uncovered at 8am. A bit raw, but at least there wasn't a wind off the sea.

A scan along the edge of the marsh revealed 73 Redshank (sadly I did count them all). 60+ Shelduck, 20+ Curlew, an impressive count of 7-800 Dunlin, 2 Lesser Black Backed, 2 Herring, 40+ Black Headed, plus a smattering of the usual passerines. Nothing unusual, but good numbers.

On a secondary scope scan, lo and behold a female Merlin on some driftwood. Smattering of Merlin reports here recently but not seen it myself. Watched for about 5 minutes, cracking views in the scope (and no camera!!!!!), then she turned her head to take off. Using the bins, followed her flying low in a circle and then amazingly come back towards me. Absolutely stunning views, as I followed her and she got closer and closer. Then all of a sudden, up she flew and I almost missed with the bins as she struck out at a Linnet, which failed to be caught. She returned to the perch and did another chase and grab (again failed) about 2 minutes later. After this failed chase, she flew off over the scrub towards the car park and I never saw her again. But that's enough for me, I drove to work a happy man.

Just before driving off a brief walk along the scrub line picked out a male and female Stonechat 20 feet away tail flicking each other from adjacent branches in the same bush. Lovely. Now why can't all birds be as obliging as a Merlin and Stonechat…. Sit on a nice perch, good views for the observer and good behaviour. None of this messing about in undergrowth.

Sunday, 17 February 2008

Up with the larks

Planned to go birding today with three other birders I've known for a while who are a lot more experienced than I am. I tagged along very much as the pupil. 8.15 am rendesvous on the Somerset Levels for a fry up before the off. Which meant a 7am depart from here. Boy was it cold setting off, I'm only glad my car has a self defrosting windscreen. Glorious sunrise over Bruton on the drive up.

The Levels were gloriously frosted, but we headed to the Mendips for a Grey Shrike (not found) but a nice Roe deer, complete with antlers in velvet, 2 Mistle Thrush were the highlights. Then down to Cheddar Resevoir, where almost immediately across the other side of the water, a "small grebe" was spotted, which after a quick dash over there was confirmed as a Red Necked Grebe. How on earth that was spotted half a km away through a scope is a mystery to me but proves we all lean something from others. Great Crested Grebes are also well into courtship display. Left Cheddar after clocking a male Siskin and Blackcap, and headed to Shapwick NNR for the Firecrest. Firecrest not found by bird song specialist, but fair numbers of passerines.

Left : Looking for the firecrest at Shapwick !

Sadly I had to depart then, while they headed off to Minehead and Hinckly for Iceland Gull (Text confirmed they'd bagged that one in a carpark) and high tide. The drive home saw me stop at a field near Yeovil, containing 9 Buzzard, 200+ Lapring, while over the lane 50+ Fieldfare.

In Afternoon had a quick look down at the river here, 2 Roe deer in the thicket, and a chiffchaff singing.

Later at about 10.30pm as we drove back from Yeovil having seen the Ukelele Orchestra of Britain (I'd recommend these) Barn Owl across the road at Stalbridge Park brings year total to 96. 4 more to top the 100 species by end Feb.

Saturday, 16 February 2008

Postscript - Shield Bug

This afternoon, while digging over the veg patch came across this Shield Bug. I'm pretty ropey with some insects, but sure this is a Green Shieldbug Palomena prasina. (if it's not I'd welcome a positive ID) It's not green I hear you say, but in the autumn, these bugs change colour to blend in with the brown colours of autumn and winter vegetation, turning green again in the spring.

Badgers on the line

Opened the bedroom window this morning and lay back and listened to the "Dawn Chorus" while drinking a cup of tea, can there be a better way to wake up? Don't think it was appreciated by the other half, bit cold apparently, shut that window.

So even though it was only 7am and frosty, we decided to pop over to Sturminster Newton to walk the newly opened Trailway to Fiddleford Bridge. This is being opened section by section by Dorset Council, and follows the old Somerset and Dorset railway line, closed in 1967. We've been meaning to do this for ages and wish I'd done this before, as the birdlife was amazing, nothing rare, just an awful lot of, Wren, Dunnock, Gt and Blue Tit, Robin, Blackbird, Fieldfare, Redwing, Carrion Crow, Jackdaw, 3 Buzzards, 2 Treecreepers and a Gt Spotted Woodpecker drumming in the woods on the hill. At the sewerage works good numbers of Pied and a couple of Grey Wagtails, and walking back 2 Skylarks singing.

But this weekend is fast becoming Badger weekend. Last night driving down, I had a fabulous view of one as it scuttled ahead of me in a very narrow lane near Wincanton. I slowed to a crawl, but as it had no where to go, the headlights gave me a perfect ring-side-rear-view of a speeding badger for about a minute before it headed under a gate. Later in the evening Andrew Cooper's Natural World programme was on Badgers. Over the last 6 month or so I've been hearing from Andrew of the exploits of these Badgers so seeing the finished article was eagerly anticipated, and well worth the wait. The interior sett shots were stunning and revealed behaviour never seen before in a sett.

But today, we do things differently in Dorset. As the badgers dig, we put up roadblocks apparently?!?! At the far end of the Trailway was a sign stating "be careful active Badger Sett". The badgers are digging up the compacted hardcore and causing much damage to the surface so they're now "protected". Or are we the one's being protected?

Thursday, 14 February 2008

Sandy the Tawny Owl

As a postscript to my blog on Monday, re the Tawny Owl Rescue at Sand Bay, well blow me down with a copy of the Northumberland Gazette, the story has only gone National!!

It was featured on last night's ITV News at Ten, as Trevor McDonald's "and finally" item. Good news the Owl has made a full recovery and was released back into the area, complete with film crew. I'll not comment on the fact I rang the story into colleages at the BBC Bristol newsroom on Saturday and it never made the screens.

And Finally :-) if any of you are going to Alnwick Playhouse this Saturday to watch the Swing Factor Final being held there, please vote for my friend Sarah.....

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Glorious Dorset

I feel guilty saying this as a northerner, but Dorset on a warm spring day is absolutely stunning (is this why I had holiday here once I was old enough to be let out on my own?) The drive over the Chalk escarpment from Sturminster Newton to Dorchester gives just stunning views across miles and miles of rolling hills. Not dramatic like Scotland or the Dolomites, just breathtaking in its tamed beauty, as with exploration every valley has a picture perfect thatched cottage village of England. And so nice to have a day not wearing a coat. I tried to take a photo, but it just doesn't do it justice.

Nothing too much to report, except a Sparrowhawk near Cerne Abbas, and a Little Egret at Piddlehinton, The snowdrops are however staggering, every roadside is in flower, and with the daffodils, celendines and speedwells, a real feel of bright and new colour in the countryside at last. And speaking of colour, aren't pheasant's fabulous? Stupid but that glorious the sheen in sunlight is just amazing, every colour of the rainbow.... I nearly ran this one over !!

And to cap it all, first cut of the lawn this afternoon, 2 weeks earlier than 2007. I promise too that I'll revert fully to wildlife on this blog from now. Save to say I've revamped my links and have added a seperate link to my art blog above my picture, should anyone be interested in seeing my paintings.

Watercolour and Pencil/Charcoal

Following on from my previous post this week (See below post), I thought I'd add a few more paintings, for viewing. The following are a selection of watercolours, pencil and charcoal I've completed over the last 2 years. Interested in any of these, any comments, or anything really, I'd be pleased to know. Brief details of each painting underneath image.

Sunlight, watercolour on paper 2007

Moon Hare, Charcoal 2006 Sold

Orange Hue, Watercolour 2006

Moth # 2 to replace the one I sold in 2006. Charcoal 2007

Struggled with this one, commission for a Christmas present 2006. Never met the dog (in France) so pencil drawing based on 2 photos. Just about got there.

Purple Mist, watercolour 2007: Sold

Lane, Watercolour, 2007

Sepia Mist, Watercolour, 2007

Henge, Pencil, 2007

Eggardon Hill, Charcoal, 2005

Tuesday, 12 February 2008


After a couple of nice comments about my paintings, I thought as I've no new news on the wildlife front I'd post a couple more. I don't usually paint wildlife, my painting is more of a chaotic creation; which is where the name of my Art website quicksilverwhistle came from (ergo, my wildlife blog's odd name). I tend to paint fast, furious, from memory and without any planning, and never draw anything. Therefore often whistle at the end result, which I have to admit can be different to my original thought (such as this Pheasant which started out life as a seascape - don't ask).

The painting at the bottom of these three was completed using a 2 inch rubber roller, paint on, slosh it about and for me (not everyone) I can see an abstract Cockrell head and eye. The colours aren't as sharp here as in the originals I'm afraid.


What tends to happen is I watch wildlife from Autumn to Spring then in the summer "do shows". So a couple of photos too, which may give the reader something to smile about (is that really all of me in that shirt????) - this was at Yetminster last July.

The hub of activity - my artiste studio (okay I know it's a shed)
Day off tomorrow, as taking her who must be obeyed to Dorchester Oncology Centre for her 3 monthly checkup, a good excuse to pop to the Dorset coast afterwards, under the pretext of a spot of luncheon near the sea, but just may have my scope in the car !!

Monday, 11 February 2008

Owl Rescue, Foggy Swans and fabulous sunset

What a strange weekend, Owl Rescue, Foggy Swans, a new wildlife pond and fabulous sunset….read on as a fair few photo's this posting.

Saturday Morning : I was doing by usual stationary birdwatch at Sand Bay when a dog walker said to me there was an Owl trapped in the National Trust Carpark. It took about 15 minutes to walk there and a small crowd had gathered, including, a fire engine and volunteers from Secret World, Wildlife Rescue Centre. I therefore became a bystander, but did meet for the first time another birder there who also watches over Sand Bay. The following photos give a flavour of what happened.

The owl had become trapped in a kite string, and hanging precariously by it's primaries. Luckily it could cling to a branch so wasn't completely suspended in mid air. The upshot was a turntable ladder was requested from Bristol, which arrived just after the RSPCA. The following photos show what happened next as Graham a volunteer from Secret World, rescued it and as far as I'm aware apart from shock survived (the Owl I mean not Graham).

Sunday Morning : Buoyed with an aborted birdwatch in glorious weather on Saturday, and failure to get to the Exe I drove first thing to the Huntspill NNR in Somerset, to hopefully get an Avocet on the Parrett Estuary. Left home in sunshine and blue skies and arrived at the Huntspill 8.30am in dense freezing fog. It'll lift I thought so walking with my kit for a mile to the sea, I was still surprised to see no signs of any blue sky. As a dog walker said, you are a bit optimistic.

Stood for about half an hour frozen to the spot, the tide began to recede, and gave up. However all was not lost as a magical moment happened. I heard 2 Mute Swans flying, couldn't see a thing in the fog but then over my head they flew, just visible for 5 seconds maybe, about 20 feet away, then they were gone. It was eerie being on the estuary in such thick fog, just the sounds of Curlew at some distance, but that flypast made it all worth while. Walking back, saw 5 or six singing skylark, this weekend has brought them out in force.

In the evening after the dismal England game of rugby, popped down to Sand Bay and took some sunsets, so though I'd post a sunrise and a sunset from yesterday to show how different a day can be in Somerset.

So that was the highlight of the weekend. Also managed to add a small wildlife pond (below) to the existing one, as there are frogs around and I've been meaning to do it for ages. Let's see if anything happens. Main birds seen were 40+ Grey Plover, plenty of Skylarks singing, 100+ Curlew, a gloriously lit up male Bullfinch at Puxton Church, Grey Wagtail at Banwell River, Long Tailed Tit's in my garden (a 1st) and a strange Leucistic headed Cormorant (below Left) on the Levels and 3 Roe Deer (Below Right).

Friday, 8 February 2008

Springing into Action

Well, after a winter of wildlife watching on my other blog, and a favourable comment, I thought I'd write a new piece for this blog, after 2 months of nothing. So Just to kick it off, I'm posting a few paintings I have competed in the last few years. All of these have been sold, or were commissions/gifted. But comments are welcome.

2008 paintings to follow - once I've done them !!

Bamburgh from Ross Sands (2005 Acrylic)

Barn Owl (2006 Acrylic)

Durdle Door (2007 Acrylic)

The Sage (2005 Acrylic Gifted)

Simonsides (2006 Acrylic)
Yellow Hue (2007 Watercolour)
Sailing into Lyme Bay (2005 Acrylic)
Detail from "Moth" First painting I ever sold in 2006 (Charcoal)