Thursday, 29 January 2009

Urban Foxes

Sorry for the lack of updates recently, bit pushed at work and a little localised problem which needed tackling has taken over most of my time recently. All sorted now. But I've still been out and about.

On Saturday on a walk up Duncliffe Wood in Dorset, a Great Spotted Woodpecker was the highlight of a huge number of passerines in the wood. It could almost have been spring there were so many Great and Blue tits calling. Many many Buzzards floating about down here at the moment, and last weekend without having time to do this properly and submit to the RSPB Garden Watch, in the garden I was staying at about a dozen Rooks, half dozen Jackdaws and single Carrion Crow came to food scraps.

But the best piece of wildlife watching has been walking into work. Twice now I've startled an urban Fox, one of which was very tame and just stood looking at me before walking off. It's good to see them again, as although Bristol had a good urban Fox population they contracted mange a few years back which almost wiped out the population. I've got my camera with me now, so if I see them again, a piccy for the Blog.

More on Bristol Foxes can be found here - Mammal Research Unit

More from me at the weekend, but for now I'm in preparation mode for my first ever attendance at the Avon Wildlife Trust Board Meeting tonight... I'm agenda item 6a Welcome to Andrew, newly elected Trustee etc etc.. I hope they're ready for me (especially as I've now shaved my beard off) !!

Monday, 19 January 2009

Spring Comes Flooding in

Thought I'd do a bit of a photo-Blog for a change. This weekend began well, fell apart with a spectacular bang on Saturday evening and then picked itself up nicely yesterday.

After the storms had crossed over on Saturday evening, it looked wonderfully spring like out there. How wrong could I have been. Popping down to the Somerset Levels to do a spot of wildlife watching, it became evident that everywhere was flooded, many roads too. So I rang a friend and we met up for a walk along the North Dorset Trailway. Until recently I spent every weekend in North Dorset so this used to be a regular walk for me. But since August and splitting up with Thelma, I'd not been back. So very nice to revisit of an old stomping ground.
But as you can see from the following photos, and video, it was a bit wet !!
On the drive to the Trailway the River Stour had burst it's banks at King's Mill
Ahhahh it's good to be back in Dorset.... even if my sartorial elegance isn't obvious. This is a repeat of a photo last June in warmer weather - see here.
Just because it was an arty shot.
In drier times, one can walk to this style and along the riverbank, a haven for Otter, Kingfisher and Banded Damoiselle
Where this tree is, is the bank. In the summer the river is usually 10 feet below here
We took a detour off the Trailway and walked to Fiddleford Mill. I'm so glad we did, otherwise we'd not have spied these snowdrops, They were a bit battered after the flood, but a welcome sign of the coming spring
Water pounding through the mill race
Another arty shot, an old door. Taken because of the colours
I was surprised there were so few birds about taking advantage of the flooding. Carrion Crow, Woodpigeon and Buzzard were common, as were Fieldfare and Redwing. smattering of Great, blue and Long-Tailed Tit, and a couple of lovely male Bullfinches at Fiddleford. Dunnock, Robin and Blackbird but no waders, and apart from this Kestrel on a post in the floodwater, nothing else of note.
But the sun began to set and time to go home. The fence is where the riverbank normally is, and where the Kestrel was, on the bend.
Finally a video taken from the sluice gates at Fiddleford Mill on my camera of the flooding. Where these people are walking is the higher river bank. about a 20 foot drop to the river below. hopefully they knew what they were doing.
Finally on the way home, just to revisit old haunts, we popped up to Bulbarrow Hill. It was good to be back there, made all the more so by the 4 Ravens seen tumbling and playing the wind. I'm going to have to move down there, much too good a place to avoid. No wonder Thomas Hardy wrote such descriptive novels.... now then Tess, is that job still going as Mayor of Casterbridge?

Saturday, 17 January 2009

A skylark sang as the credit crunch came

Saturday morning saw me at Sand Bay. Those of you with long memories will remember that over the winter of 2007/08 I had a bit of mad project to regularly stand for an hour on a windswept beach and record the birds seen over that hour. It was a good thing to do, as Sand Bay is one of those places whereby a walk produces a couple of birds, but a prolonged stand brings it's rewards, especially at High Tide. But before that....

I was partaking of the breakfast trough this morning when from the conservatory a Grey Heron was about its business on a neighbours roof. Anyone got fish near me? Maybe not for much longer !! It was there for a good 5 minutes before heading off over the farmland.

So with high tide at about 10.30am, and a cancelled bit of fencing for a neighbour, I hot footed it down to Sand Bay.

That's my shadow in case you're wondering who that slim Jim is. This is looking towards Sand Point and I took the photo really as a record and to show the readers of this blog where I stand and stare. Where the marsh ends and the sea begins is a haven for waders. Difficult to photo at that distance but the photo below is a x24 image of the same view at the same time, where through the scope I could spy Curlew and Shelduck.

During the hour, a flock of 20 Linnet, a Rock Pipit, a couple of Stonechats, couple of Grey Plover, Knot, about 500 Dunlin in split flocks (below), 20 to 30 Shelduck and Curlew, a flying quartet of Redshank, a couple of calling Oystercatcher and a smattering of mixed gulls. Sadly no Merlin, not seen this year at all.

Apart from the wading birds this area regularly has Carrion Crow, Jackdaw, Great and Blue Tit on the shrubs and as with today's excitement, skylarks. Being stationery means I can listen and yes, there it was a Skylark rising up from the Marsh and singing to itself. Spring is a long way off, but that little birds song warmed the heart wonderfully.

One thing I find is being stationery for that long people come and chat while walking dogs, children, small horses and grandmothers. Today was no exception, a man with a Jack Russell type dog who liked to chase a rubber doll, the dog that is not the man; another guy who having given up a Rock n Roll career now lives in a Gypsy caravan behind the Bay and walking his Alsatian. Finally a guy with a very obedient Border Collie who looked bored to tears as we chatted about birds. The dog was very knowledgeable apparently. This latter guy had watched Sand Bay for 40 years and it was great to hear of the changes, as he said as the Marsh expands more into the Bay each year a fine mixed habitat is becoming available.

But there was one bird that failed to be ID. Out to sea was a huge seabird, barrel chested like a cigar on white wings. Overall impression was completely white with just the faintest hint of light grey on the back. Black wing tips, but no obvious mirrors, all white underneath, no black underwing. Flight was slow and laborious, maintained at wave height. No gliding, no change in direction, so riding the waves, just a powerful direct slow wing beat flight. Given this bird was easily visible at half a mile with the naked eye, it was big, and I'm stumped. So a call to you gull watchers out there any ideas?

And finally I've noticed the last two times I've been at Sand Bay, people are now collecting drift wood in vast quantities. I asked one guy today who had his whole family out there collecting, and he said with the cost of fuel, they're now burning driftwood to keep warm.

A sign of the times, sadly this picture reminds me of the dark dark days of the Miner's strike in the 1980's and people beachcombing in the North East for coal, driftwood and anything of value just to survive. Something I'd hoped never to see in the UK again.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

The Dark Side of Birding

Out and about before dawn today. I mentioned in a previous posting that listening to birds is as enjoyable as watching them. So this morning after getting up early, it being mild, I thought pop down to Sand Bay before dawn and see (or should that be hear) what was down there. And a bit of exercise of course before another day of excitement in the office.

If you feel comfortable being out on a mudflat in the dark, I'd recommend it as when the dawn begins, all one can hear is the wind, the waves and the plaintiff cries of invisible birds out there. It started though in the car park, blackbirds "chink" chink" in the shrubs. Down on the marsh Curlew were the loudest with their wonderfully bubbling call, Redshank as ever shouting out their alarm call, even the Dunlin were calling as they raced along the wave line. As the light advanced, dark shapes flew against the dark sky, only when calling could I confirm Carrion Crow. Another joy was seeing a Ringed Plover feeding. Actually I didn't really see what it was, just a silhouette run stop peck, run stop peck along a strand line.

All in all an enjoyable hour out there just listening to nature, alone on the marsh. Many older writers such as BB write poetically about wildfowling on the marshes. Their atmospheric descriptions of their experiences waiting for Geese to fly in are well worth reading. And if I'd not been out there, I'd not have seen a dark shape flying over me as I walked back to the car..... a Tawny Owl heading back to it's roost, bringing a tremendous end to being outdoors before anyone else and before dawn. Just myself and nature as one.


And so to the light Side of Birding :-)

A Couple of days ago, Theo Webb a recent Zoology graduate and budding wildlife cameraman sent me a note, which included snippets from Christmas and a line "seeing a very festive half amelanistic 'blackbird'. I was excitedly taking photos when an onlooker approached and told me he saw it everyday - there went my National Newspaper fame and glory hopes!!"

We had a bit of an e-mail discussion Leucistic Vs Amelanistic, as I'm not a good enough field biologist to identify this condition in the field. But following this he kindly sent me a photograph for me to post on the blog for all to see. Thanks Theo. A handsome bird.

Sunday, 11 January 2009

Like selling sweeties from the bairns...

An impulse buy - Quite Shocking!!

Yesterday I went out to the local garden centre to buy some more bird food (mealworms to be precise). As often happens I had a bit of an amble about looking at the other stuff available to buy. I know, I'm sad, but always like wandering about garden centres. First off the block was a purchase of some Felco secateurs. I've been after a pair for years but the near £50 price tag has always put me off... usual thing, they may be good but can I justify the cost. Well yesterday, with the VAT reduction, I succumbed.... Thank you Mr Brown for producing the Credit Crunch. These secateurs were therefore a......... SNIP! (Drum roll please)

So in they went into my basket. Followed very quickly by a tub of mealworms. Then Andrew spied a very attractive looking stand, advertising wildlife camera kits. Everything from pond cams, to nest cams to this, a basic camera kit available in Black and White or Colour. After chatting to the knowledgeable (and erhumm quite attractive) lady assistant I discovered something which still confuses me. The above camera was £70. The nest cam kit, £199. The £129 difference? Seems just to be a wooden nest box as it's the same camera kit in the nest cam kit. Quite a nice FSC Nestbox, I grant you, but I bet you're now thinking exactly what I thought!!

So unsure why, but I had to have one. Even if I need further kit to record direct onto the Laptop, which is easy to install, this was much too much an exciting purchase to miss out on. And completely unplanned, hence the posting title (by the way bairns is Geordie for Children). So into the shopping basket that went. Onward to the tills and away home. Happy, but financially a lot lighter than an hour before. Why save money these days I say!!

This is the camera next to a £2 coin for size comparison. It's tiny and I have to say it's very good (actually it's a standard security camera and as such just a live feed optical device, but the clarity is brilliant). I pushed it out the window last night after dark and spied on the cul-de-sac outside. I have to say absolutely nothing happens outside my house on a Saturday night. Where is everyone? My current plan is to install it looking at a feeder, but we'll see, and once able to record I'll see what I can post on the blog. Boys and toys eh....... !!

That excitement was yesterday, but as I write this on Sunday evening, the wildlife programme Swarm is on BBC 1, starling flocking at the moment described by Neil Tennant as "a quicksilver of Starlings". Fame at last, ha ha.

Today was a much warmer day down here 8 degrees by mid afternoon. As such my drive to a friend allowed me to notice huge gull and corvid numbers talking advantage of the increasing wind and warmer weather. In particular Carrion Crows were wheeling in the air, with mixed species flocks of Jackdaw, Rook and Carrion Crow sharing melting pools of water to bathe, something they'll have struggled to do for weeks. Sadly every time I stopped the car to take a photo, they flew off. So this rubbish Rookie photo above is just a record shot to remind me of the day.

However 2 separate Ravens also hoved into view. The first flew off from a field to my left and tried to climb as it flew in front of and across the path of the car. However strong headwinds slowed it's ascent and gave me cracking views from only a few feet away, just showing how big these birds really are. In flight they are remarkably agile, this one in particular flipped it's wings to roll once it was high enough. The second Raven of the day was flying high about 5 miles further on into my journey.

These were in fact the third Raven I'd seen this weekend. Yesterday afternoon at Sand Bay I had scanned through about 50 Redshank, when there in front of me was a Spotted Redshank. Nice find, but while viewing this through the scope a tell tale Kruaak Krauaak alerted me to a bird behind me. Spotted Redshank scope-voyeurism was instantly abandoned and I watched the Raven through the bins as flew right overhead. Absolutely brilliant and I can never ever tire of these huge and brilliantly entertaining members of the Crow family. Always a thrill to see one, but three in one weekend is just "a Kind of Magic" as Queen sang.

Saturday, 10 January 2009

Must do better......

Today is a day for sitting in the house and looking out of the window. This was the conservatory at 8am today, minus 1 inside, -5 outside, and the windows were frosted up. Serves me right for closing it up this week to save heating it. But at least I managed to get some wildlife in the shot (blackbird, seen through door).

As the day progressed the usual suspects came into the garden, more Blackbirds, Robin, House Sparrows and Chaffinches a plenty, a Blackcap and half an hour ago 7 Long Tail Tit, which are now becoming regular visitors in this cold spell. I'll miss this weather when the wet and windy forecast for later in the weekend arrives.

So after breakfast, did a tally of the bird species seen in 2008. Which took a lot longer than planned as I'm absolutely rubbish at keeping lists, so had to re-count a few times. But the total for 2008 is 163 UK species sightings. Not very good really considering I'm out and about a lot, but in the summer I do tend to stop birdwatching completely between June and October.

I know a lot of people like year lists to look back upon, but I don't think I'll keep a year list anymore, sort of lost interest in it mid year, seemed bit too much like hard work, making notes in the field then having to come home and write it all up properly from the field notes. This year too I want to look at other wildlife, and go back to my first love Mustelids, as I didn't see an Otter all year.

If any of you have any good Mustelid (Otter, Badger, Stoat, Weasel etc) hot spots in the South West, I'd like to know. And I've never ever seen a Pine Marten..... so this is my Number 1 must see animal this year, so expect to see a tubby bearded bloke puffing up a hill in Scotland soon with a jar of fruit conserve, peanut butter and pheromone spray, and no I don't mean Bill Oddie.

Thursday, 8 January 2009

It must be spring....

Finally the sub zero temperatures are breaking, the night before last was minus 9 down here, and even my conservatory which I decided to close up to save heating it, was minus 1.... brr. Despite what the press say though, it's not that cold really, the coldest I've ever been was minus 21, in the Highlands of Scotland in the mid 1980's and boy oh boy you know it's cold at that temperature. Golden rule, never touch anything metal with bare hands at that temperature. Yes I learnt from experience.... I was only young, that's my excuse. Talking to a colleague recently who's just back from filming in the Antarctic, they experienced night time temperatures of minus 48, and that's in the summer !!!

I actually like cold temperatures, and not that good with hot weather, so being out in the field at this time of year I'm quite happy. Wildlife though has a different view. It may be mid-winter, and smaller birds may be feeding like mad to survive, but many birds are now beginning to pair up ready for breeding. In recent days I've noticed Rooks and Carrion Crows are now pairing up. And on Christmas Day a Collard Dove was gathering nesting material, but they're not the brightest bird in the park. If you notice when out and about Corvids, one of our earliest breeding birds, are sitting in cosy couplings on wires and trees. I also saw a Rook pair mating on Tuesday.

It's actually a bit lighter in the evening now than before Christmas, and this increase in day lenght (known as the Photoperiod) is triggering an ancient responce to breed, for northern Hemisphere wildlife. Likewise a reduction in photoperiod will cause things like Deer Rutting, hibernation and so on. Many wildlife life-cycles are triggered not by temperature but by increases in daylight length, which is why a prolonged cold snap in April can be disastrous for birds like blue tits if the emerging insect food source is delayed.

So with that in mind, when I'm out and about, it feels like Spring is just around the corner! Next time you look at a male blackbird look at it's eye, if it has a yellow ring, it's a UK bird, fit for purpose, and showing off to a lady. If it hasn't got one, chances are it's a Continental bird, and won't go into breeding colour for a few more week when it returns to foreign climes.

Finally, have a peek at Joe's Blog In the spirit of my last posting and encouraging young beginners, Joe has videoed a magpie in the bird bath and Santa gave him a video nestbox kit. Looking forward to seeing what moves in Joe. Which reminds me, don't forget to clean out nestboxes before too long, ready for the coming season.

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

How can I start birdwatching?

Taking part in the Bird Challenge this Festive period and generally while I'm out and about, people (it has to be said mainly ladies or families out for a walk) often ask; What are you doing? when I tell them, they say; how can I learn about the birds I see? often in the garden.

I love it when someone in a hide asks me what that bird is, after all we all started out with zero knowledge, so helping someone to enjoy wildlife is a pleasure. Sadly though there are a small minority of birders out there who remain stony faced and look aghast when someone dares to get a bird guide out and look at it... use a book, shocking!!! There is no shame in using one, honestly!!

This ignorant behaviour of the minority just doesn't help the image of an aloof exclusive hobby, practiced only by men. I remember talking to a lovely elderly couple a few years back who'd taken up birdwatching after retiring. They told a sad tale. Struggling to identify a female Mallard, a birder in the hide, dripping with kit and cameras shouted at them to bleep bleep shut up. Not helpful in the least, and surely his shouting was worse than their talking? All he had to say was what the bird was and they'd have gone home happy (maybe he didn't know himself?) Needless to say this couple nearly gave up birdwatching, and were very nervous of being in a hide with other "professional looking" people.

Joining societies such as the RSPB or a local bird club are excellent for starting out, but mainly wildlife watching is a solitary activity. So how would you start? There are thousands of bird books on the market, a bewildering array of titles. Many of you will read this posting and disagree, or have others to suggest, but the 3 books I would recommend to start out in the UK and then improve are.........

I just think this is a brilliant book to start with. Just covering British birds, ignores rarities and all the difficult stuff and just concentrates on the premise, "what will I see if I'm out there and looking at a bird". The paintings aren't the best in the business but cover key features and the text by our National Treasure Bill Oddie is simple to read, states the obvious (which many guides fail to do so) such as "you'll not see these birds in the winter"

So you've read Bills book, but it's a bit heavy to use out in the field. This pocketbook lives in my car, and is always there for a reference check. I used to have the original version of this but it fell into a river and for years couldn't find a replacement. What I like about this book is again it's simple and the excellent illustrations are complemented by helpful pointers such as "white rump when flying"

So you want to know more? This is the book I'd recommend. One could begin with this book, however once you have some knowledge, this can expand that as it lists all European birds, not just in the UK. Covers sub species, races, vagrants, and life phases. Text is very informative, well laid out and given that 2 World class birders I know who write bird guides themselves carry this book with them when birding, need I say more.

Go on, New Years resolution..... put your wellies on, pop on a bobble hat and see what's out there.

Monday, 5 January 2009

Apologies to ST..... oops

ST of Ashington Northumberland - Bird count 80.
What can I say, this is terrible. ST posted his birds on Jan 1st, but didn't leave a comment on my blog so I've just found it in the rush. I've just looked and there is a fabulous score of 80. Great score ST, and forgive me for missing this. His last bird being a water rail, and birds not on list G.S.W., kingfisher and bittern. A bit of sea watching boosted the list.

View ST's blog here

Sunday, 4 January 2009

Bird Challenge 2008 - The Results

Well this was great fun, and I hope those of you who took part, whether you submitted a score or not enjoyed it. I enjoyed trying to co-ordinate this, quite strange when one doesn't know the people except on-line. In total 12 people took part, plus yours truly, which is great. Maybe I could organise another one next year, or even on one of the May Bank Holidays, slightly warmer and there would be some migrants about.

But I hope though the true nature and spirit of this challenge came out, some motivation and fun over the Christmas period, a good excuse to get out and away from that 400th chocolate and endless repeats of the Good Life.

And so, in true Oscars style, in reverse order (and for some reason, ladies first, come on girls where are you with the 50+ scores....)

Oldcrow – Newfoundland, Canada – Bird Count 9

Oldcrow begins this report with the prize for the lowest number of species recorded, but being “over the pond”, what a selection of exotics. Evening Grosbeaks, Juncos, Chick a Dees, Blue Jays (I can never get enough of these Jays), Downy Woodpeckers, Hairy Woodpeckers and American Gold Finches. And a Grouse. “The grouse was seen out in the middle of the road. I had to go and get him off to the side as they are quite heedless when it comes to cars or even people.”

Thanks for taking part Oldcrow, quality not quantity eh?

View Oldcrow's blog here

Robin - Indiana USA – Bird Count 15

Robin came to this challenge via Shirl's blog, so may get a bit of a surprise reading this. I have posted her comment on Shirl's blog for the summary. Welcome on board Robin, she has some stunning photos on her blog, not just birds.

Hi, Shirl! I keep seeing the same birds over and over. There are house finches, goldfinches, house sparrows, robins, blue jays, dark eyed juncos, doves, Cooper's hawk, great blue heron, Canadian geese, chickadee, starlings, downy woodpecker and American crow. That's 15 for me, actually more than I had thought it would be.

View Robin’s blog here

Snowgoosey – North Dorset – Bird Count 19

Goosey was working over Christmas so her 19 is a very credible score. Great you weren’t intimidated Goosey with the higher scores, and glad you took part, and you learnt to take the lens caps off those new bins - her words not mine :-). Have a look at her blog as she has some great stuff in there, including blowing up a gingerbread house...

View Goosey’s blog here

Tricia – Surrey – Bird Count 23 in a day

Tricia spotted a good score of 23 on New Year’s Day in her garden and at Kew Gardens, what happened to the rest of the challenge Tricia, were you on the G&T's?). Nice garden list included Blackcap, Ring Neck Parakeet and Great Spotted Woodpecker and a fox, the only non bird mentioned.
View Tricia’s blog here

Shirl – Perthshire, Scotland – Bird Count 25

Shirl runs a very popular blog from her garden, it’s well worth a look through the breeding season as she has nest-cams everywhere. A good score from her garden. As Shirls said "I am more than happy with my count as I really am in no way what you’d call a birder and I’ll be completely honest and say that pre-blog I probably could only have identified only half the birds in my count and probably missed seeing some completely. Now… that is a result!" Great to have you take part Shirl.

View Shirl’s blog here

Jane at Urban Extension - Bird Count 33

Jane is the co-ordinator of the Corfe Mullen Wildlife Group in Dorset and managed a very credible 33 from mainly around her garden in Corfe Mullen and around Wimborne. And I loved her 27th bird “Seagull - God knows what type (common ones!)” Cracking stuff Jane, very informative :-) Have a look at her blog, as it’s quite special and has been profiled in the BBC Countryfile Magazine. Jane has also found a huge Jackdaw roost, which pleases me, as they’re soon to be on video.

View Jane’s blog here

Chris – Sechelt, British Columbia, Canada – Bird Count 57

A welcome addition from Canada from a new visitor to my blog. As Chris says “a quick Google Earth visit will help give the lay of the land”. All the birds were from his area, and it seems he had snow, lots of snow. Some great birds, Stellars Jay, Double-crested Cormorant, Common Loon and Bald Eagle to name a few. Given most of my family live in Canada, a trip seems on the cards reading this.

Notable misses were Merlin, Red-breasted and Common Merganser, and Kingfisher, Highlights were a Mountain Chickadee (very rare visitor to the Coast) and huge numbers of Red-breasted Sapsuckers. Both birds were present here due to extreme winter conditions experienced throughout BC and Canada.

View Chris’s blog here

Warren Baker – Pittswood Blog - Bird Count 67

Starting to rise rapidly now. Warren managed 67 species around his area of Kent (not including the feral Pigeons so that’s 68 in my book if they were in the wild rather than a park). Some nice birds here, such as Marsh Tit and Bullfinch. As he said this was a better tally than in the whole of any other December! (7years). Good stuff Warren.

View Warren’s blog here

Pete – Sheffield Wildlife – Bird Count 77

Mainly in Sheffield and Cheshire. It was good of Pete to say "this has been a lot of fun and made me get up on my days off and get hunting for birds, resisting the temptation for lie-ins and the lure of Guitar Hero 4… It’s also driven me to get two lifers out of it, which can’t be sniffed at"

Personally guitar Hero 4 sounds more alluring given this week’s cold weather. His Highlights - Green-winged Teal, Water Rail (both lifers), Bittern (first decent views), Waxwing (first self-found!). Biggest dips - Redshank, little owl, yellowhammer, linnet, raven, both partridges, peregrine.

View Pete’s blog here

Alastair – Whitby Birding - Bird Score 80

A serious and very credible 80 from the Whitby area. He got some good birds in there, Red Throated Diver, Red Grouse (almost extinct down here), Woodcock, Mediterranean Gull and Crossbill. Close calls were Black-throated Diver (not seen well enough), Merlin (very brief views). Amazed he didn't see one - Song Thrush, Stonechat, Rock Pipit.

View Alastair’s blog here

Andrew @ Quicksilverbirds – Bird Score 90

I’m just glad I lost, would have been truly embarrassing otherwise, and really I started this for the NHU's challenge at work, which I've lost as well. My lowlights were loads of commoner birds missed this year, Dipper, Ring Plover, Peregrine, Merlin, all Owls, most Swans and Geese, Raven, Grey Wagtail, quite a few Waders (not even a Grey Plover!!) and , Kingfisher. Must get out more.

You’re reading my blog, have you nothing better to do?

Dean – Mostly Macro – Bird Score 93

Now we're getting serious, a fantastic score. As Dean said, not bad considering that 83 of them were seen without the aid of transport. So Dean wins for the most environmental birding score. Certainly better than my 3 tanks of petrol !! Loads of good birds there, Iceland Gull, Green Winged Teal and Waxwing.

View Dean’s blog here


Stewart at Boulmer Birder – Bird Count 98

Well done Stewart, you win this years Birding Challenge with a very credible 98. Considering there’s only about 130-140 birds possible in the winter, apart from real rarities, this is a top score. Well done and thank you for helping publicise this via your blog.

His easiest 'misses' were Ringed Plover, Shag, Common Scoter, Guillemot, Razorbill, Tawny Owl, Skylark, Siskin, Crossbill and Snow Bunting. Slav and Red necked Grebes and Brent Geese are also not difficult if a visit to the North of the county could be made

View Stewart's Blog here

Border Reiver is no more !!

Given that it's a New Year and I was awake at 4am, I've revamped my blog. Which means Border Reiver RIP.... I had this nom-d-plume to protect my identity when I began this blogging business, but most people know me now as either Andrew or Quicksilver (or variations on that theme). So this morning I did my last piece of Reivering from the South West, and now will be posting just as Andrew at Quicksilverbirds. I own a lot of domain names with a Quicksilversuffix, such as whistle for my art, birds for my wildlife and so on, so it seemed sensible to use my domain name for postings.

Speaking of which, given that I know there are some bloggers out there who haven't submitted their bird challenge results yet, I've decided to extend the deadline to midnight tonight. I hope this is okay with everyone. I hope then to post the results early next week. Please post your results on this posting - click here.

Finally as a few comments came in re my winter pictures, I've added some more to my art blog, click here.

Mendip Winter Wonderland

Following on from a posting on my wildlife blog, I've added some more images of the hoar frost on the Mendips, Somerset on January 2nd. Hope you like them.

Saturday, 3 January 2009

Keep your birding reports coming....

For those of you taking part in the bird challenge, please leave a comment on this posting, when you have your tally ready, which also includes my list. If you can do this by noon/early pm tomorrow I'll have a summary up and running by Sunday night.
Yesterday, as I had a day off thought I'd do a bit of birding on the Mendips, then back down to the Somerset Levels. The following set of photos explain why my bird tally for the Mendips was............. a Robin.

It wasn't that cold up there mid morning, the thermometer on the car said minus 3, but freezing fog is a strange beast. It was silent, no bird song, no cars, couldn't really see more than 30 feet. Weirdly like being in a dream, just me and my thoughts in an absolutely stunning landscape.

We've had about 4 days of freezing fog and sub zero daytime temperatures above 200 feet in Somerset and Dorset, apparently in Devon too after a text from a friend on holiday there. Consequently the amount of hoar frost has increased day by day until it now resembles snow.

These photos can never show the full beauty of this weather phenomena. And of course if the sun had come out, all would have been lost. More images can be seen on my Art Blog.

I did see a farmer trudging over a field to feed some sheep, it brought back happy memories of my younger days on the land, remembering that frost is the farmers friend. Why? Well it locks up all that mud for a while and makes life bearable, no getting bogged down in gateways, heifers up to their udders in clarts, it's a blessing. Well apart from having to continually defrost all the water troughs.

But even though this landscape was enchanting, and although the temperatures were only minus 3, spending 2 hours outdoors in this sort of environment (remembering that hoar frost is an air frost), even with my polar Musto on I'd had enough, my fingers had stopped working, the camera was beginning to play up, so I needed warmth.

Which came in the shape of Wells. As I drove off the Mendips, it was like another day, sun was out, no frost of course, but glorious. There'd been a report on the SOS website that Dippers had been seen regularly in the city. After a fruitless search for this bird, I headed off for a wonderfully restorative fish pie in the Cathedral's cafe.

Walking back to the car was like spring around the Bishop's Palace, Black Headed Gulls loafing about, willow in bud burst, had I really been in sub zero temperatures only an hour or two before? So off to the Somerset Levels.

When I got there, it was just beginning to get dark. As the sun set staggering numbers of Starlings flew towards Westhay a rough guess 2 huge flocks of 200,000 + followed by numerous smaller flocks. They didn't seem to be displaying, but as I was about 2 miles away watching an equally impressive but smaller sized Jackdaw roost, they may have been.

But a Peregrine caught my eye, as it flew across a flock of Carrion Crow in a field then perched on a Pylon. Nothing remarkable about that and for 5 minutes nothing happened. A second Peregrine flew past, the one perched flew off and the pair began a cat and mouse chase of singles of Carrion Crow as they flew into a roost. 2 super dives from a height, one splitting 5 Crows in blind panic, and one remarkable "up and under" which almost worked. Sadly after half a dozen failed attempts the Peregrine pair flew off as it was nearly dark by now.

I know Peregrines will take prey as big as Crows, but with the huge numbers of starling about, this seemed hard work to me, but then one Crow would make a good feast. Fantastic behaviour to watch though, especially as this was silhouetted against a wonderful sunset, and a perfect end to a perfect day out in the glorious Wessex countryside.... I'll leave you with that image.