Wednesday, 29 April 2009

First Whimbrel

Just a quick posting as I had a wonderful early morning stroll along my local patch, Sand Bay

I only ever seem to go down there when the tide is somewhere between Cardiff and the east coast of America. No matter how much I look at tide tables or throw a cod into the wind or rub two bits of seaweed together, or whatever one needs to do to predict high tide, when I have time to go, I can't see the sea. I can hear it, but it's not there.

But that doesn't matter, I love this place for it's rugged and messy charm. Recently someone has been creating driftwood shelters along the beach, if I'd had my camera with me you'd have had a nice photo. As it was I didn't so the photo above was taken in March, before the driftwood works of art appeared.

Today's bird count was meagre, but noteworthy. First off a Little Egret in a pool, then a fair number of Curlew and Shelduck, but then faffing about at the edge of the marsh, 3 Whimbrel, my first such birds this spring. Watched them for a bit, plus a fair number of Swallows which were skimming the marsh. Time to walk back, when I heard a cronk cronk... but couldn't see anything. There is was again a cronk cronk at which point I did indeed see the Raven flying along the coast, being harried by a Carrion Crow. Just made my morning. That and a cackling Green Woodpecker in the woods, which I think is the first one I've heard in the Bay.

Finally, to close this posting, a spot of blatant advertising for the Avon Wildlife Trust. One of the Trustees has spent a year getting a live feed from a Blue Tit nest box onto the web. So if you wish to view live Blue Tit's doing what live Blue Tits do in a nest box, click here.

Sunday, 26 April 2009

At last the Easter results

At last my laptop is working well and I can get the half a dozen Easter birding challenge results up and running. Apologies again, all to do with an update from Adobe, which threw a spanner in the works, literally.

It's been a pretty busy weekend so far, as yesterday I went to Grand Designs Live at the ExCel Centre in London's East End, a fabulous, if a very long day, but made all the more better by seeing 2 Red Kites near Oxford. And if you are into Grand Designs here's you man Kevin spouting forth. Though we agreed George Clark's talk was very inspirational.

Then this afternoon and evening I've been at that well known birder Stephen Moss's 49th birthday birdwatch followed by beer and chilli at his gaff on the Levels. Thankfully the weather stayed dry even though all around it looked like rain. A great afternoon birding at Shapwick Heath on the Somerset Levels with about 30 assorted friends, family small children etc. Highlights 16 Hobby's (one below), Gadwall, Ruff, Black Tail Godwits in cinnamon plumage, and hundreds of Swifts.

Also this week out of the blue, Diana Moore came across one of my images of Jackdaws on a chimney and asked me if I'd allow the image to be used by her for a poem she'd written about Jackdaws. Which is great stuff and so I agreed. If you'd like to see the poem and the image, it can be found here.


Thanks for all of you who took part. Not as many as at Christmas but that doesn't matter, it's all about a bit of fun, as I appreciate Easter is a very busy time for most people. And so as in all things, in reverse order.

First off the block,

Alan at Tales of the Wild with 21

Very credible Alan. His highlights included Greater-spotted woodpecker and Garden warbler However Alan added his own rule. He actually had to see the birds. As he said in hindsight it's been such a great weekend for birdsong that was probably a mistake and I could have probably added at least another half-dozen to my score, but rules are rules!

Goosey at Snowgoosey blog with 22

Highlights here included Yellowhammer, Spotted Flycatcher and Oystercatcher

Good to see you take part Goosey, have you hit your 100 birds this year yet?

Then comes me with 48

Mainly from the north east and my Easter trip. My list is here.

Joe at Joe's wildlife Garden with a very respectable 54,

Highlights were,Gadwall, Red Kite, Mediterranean Gull, Swallow, plus a Fulvous Whistling Duck (a rare non-resident seen at the Titchfield Haven).

His commoner misses were Coal Tit, Pheasant and Kestrel.

Great to see young entries. Thanks for taking part Joe, your Easter Eggs looked great too.

Warren Baker at Pittsood Birds upped the anti with 61

All of which came from his local patch, which always makes Warrens blog worth a read and shows the value of knowing your local area very well.

ST up in Northumberland a very good 62

Good stuff ST, as you noted your low was still waiting for Wheatear (hope you have that now), but highlights were Garganey, Swallow, Yellow wagtail and my last bird was a first for the year, Sand Martin.

And finally the Easter Winner is.......... !!!!!

Pete at Sheffield Birds had the winner with 69

Some nice birds in there Blackcap, Treecreeper, Willow Warbler, Dipper, Stock Dove and Gadwall And a few he missed Great Spotted Woodpecker, Little Ringed Plover, Sand Martin, Stonechat and Sparrowhawk.

Well done Pete and thank you again to all of you for taking part, even those of you who maybe did but didn't submit results. It's just good to get out there.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009


Just a quick note. For reasons which need no explanation (because I'm a technophobe and don't understand software fatal errors) I've not posted the results yet. Laptop is playing up. Apologies for that, the half a dozen results will be posted very soon. This one is from work, but no time to do a proper post.
Only birding of note this week has been a Tree Pipit at Badbury Rings in Dorset on Saturday, first one I've seen for years, though watching the many Skylarks singing was just as much of a treat, they're wonderful.

Friday, 17 April 2009

My 200th Post - Easter Bird Tally 48

Would you believe it, this is my 200th posting on this blog. Looking back I'm amazed at what I've written. Many people have said to me what I write is quite frankly........ unbelievable!!

And who am I to dispel the myth. And so to my Quicksilverbirds Easter Challenge results. There is still time to submit your entries, not as many compared to Christmas, but every one counts. But to get the ball rolling herewith my 48 species while not really doing any birding; drum roll please Mr Blackbird (who squawked his way through Easter non-stop in my parents garden, what a racket as they built a nest in the Holly Tree)

Good Friday 10.04.09

Parents Garden

1. Blackbird
2. Song Thrush
3. Collard Dove
4. Goldfinch
5. Wood Pigeon
6. Carrion Crow
7. Blue Tit
8. Dunnock

Houghall / Durham walk

9. Chiffchaff
10. Great Tit
11. Wren
12. Tree Sparrow
13. Magpie
14. Great Spotted Woodpecker
15. Green Woodpecker
16. Nuthatch
17. Robin
18. Mallard
19. Mute Swan
20. Herring Gull

Easter Saturday 11.04.09

Parents Garden

21. Jackdaw
22. House Sparrow
23. Starling
24. Rook
25. Skylark – singing overhead
26. House Martin

Herrington Park near Penshaw Monument

27. Canada Goose
28. Coot
29. Moorhen
30. Tufted Duck
31. Black Headed Gull

Boldon Flats Nature Reserve

32. Grey Heron
33. Wigeon (only two left)
34. Curlew
35. Lapwing
36. Chaffinch
37. Greenfinch
38. Yellowhammer
39. Pheasant
40. Wheatear (2)
41. Linnet
42. Teal
43. Snipe

Easter Sunday 11.04.09

44. Mistle Thrush – parents garden
45. Kittiwake – Newcastle Quayside

Easter Monday 12.04.09

Driving back south

46. Swallow – near Thirsk, North Yorkshire
47. Goldcrest – Clumber Park, Nottinghamshire
48. Buzzard – A46 in Leicestershire (my only Bird of Prey)

Quite interesting what one can see by really not looking, if that makes sense, as I was socialising a bit too much. Top spot had to be the Tree Sparrow at Houghall Farm, another one of those, always double check a LBJ, as I'd assumed it'd be a House Spuggy. Also the pair of Wheatears at Boldon Flats, which I spied just as I was about to get into the car and did a final sweep with the bins. A distinct lack of Birds of Prey though, in fact if I hadn't got that Buzzard at 7.30pm on the way home, I'd have had nowt.

I'll leave you with this photo of Leopard’s Bane Doronicum orientale which grows like a weed in my parents garden in great drifts. Nice and colourful way to end this posting.

I'll post all the results on Sunday Evening, once I'm back from Dorset.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

A Canny trip

Well I'm back from my trip up north and a good time was had by all. Sadly though due to pressing social engagements didn't really have time to go birdwatching, but still managed to clock up a respectable 50 ish (l'll post the results later as I've mislaid my list) while out and about doing other things.

Quite funny seeing this picture, as although I came from the North East, I never knew anyone who was involved with "the coal industry", so it was quite nice to learn what went on at Houghall Colliery, especially as in 1981-2 I attended Houghall Agricultural College as a spotty youth, and never knew there was a former pit next door...... too busy having shandies and chasing Sophie Kearns, where is she now eh? Mind you it was good to go back for a walk around the area, as at the Farm, a Tree Sparrow made a pleasant surprise.

By the way if anyone is reading this from my time at Houghall, this is Silage writing - remember me, get in tough if you do ....... and for anyone else, this is a very long story, I'll not even try to explain why I had that nick name, even with the lecturers.

And how this for a canny view of the best Cathedral in Europe, click to enlarge..... after all this is why it's become a World Heritage Site. This was taken from the Observatory Hill and I have to say I don't think I've ever seen this view of Durham Cathedral before on any brochures. A great way to spend a Good Friday, walk the Wear with friends, spot of food to follow and then an evening of social chit chat over a glass or two of vino d grape.

I do have to admit to doing some bird watching, actually I was off to see a mate and stopped at Boldon Flats for 15 minutes, nothing spectacular here, though some gloriously bright Yellowhammers, until I spied these two Wheatears just as I was about to get back in the car. Great find and a welcome sign of the gathering migration. Shame they weren't nearer mind you for a better photo.

Most of the weekend however was spent at the SAGE in Gateshead at the Fiddles on Fire weekend. I had a spell of playing the Fiddle a while back, but gave it up through lack of time; however going here made me really think about getting the old instrument out and twanging a few tunes out again. I think the SAGE is fabulous as a building, so on Sunday evening while waiting to see the Blazing Fiddles concert, I took a fair few artistic photos, while also watching the Kittiwakes which nest nearby. Maybe a painting in here one day, though I have already painted the Sage for my father.

Aly Bain and Phil Cunningham on Saturday night were excellent, but I have to say the 49 fiddlers from the Workshops, plus the 18 from Folkestra and then the finale of Blazing Fiddles kicking up a storm with 3 guest world class fiddlers, were absolutely fantastic. Mind you I'm getting old, a long walk on Friday followed by two late nights and the drive back yesterday, I'm a shadow of my former self. A red shadow as got sun burnt on Sunday as well.

And then you come outside to go home and greeted by the Millennium Bridge in all it's finery. Anyone who says the North East is grim should visit.

More on the Easter Challenge during the week, hope you all had a good time whether taking part or not.

Thursday, 9 April 2009

Where to go Wild in Britain; an Easter Challenge

A few weeks ago I was contacted by a member of the Dorling Kindersley publishing team out of the blue. Someone in the team had read my blog and I was e-mailed to see if I'd consider writing a review of a soon to be published book. I have to say no money is changing hands in this process, so after a few e-mails back and forth I agreed. I've now had a chance to read it and with Easter banging on the door for a well deserved break for many of you, it seemed apt to post the review today.

Where to go Wild in Britain; a month by month guide to the UK's best wildlife experiences is a substantial tome at 336 pages. ISBN 978-1-4053-3512-6

Dorling Kindersley are well known for producing well researched, clearly set out and easy to read books. This one, produced in co-operation with the RSPB is I have to say a little gem, well actually it's a big gem as it is a bit of a heavyweight. It's too big to taken into the field, but that's not really what it's for. This is a lavishly put together and well planned guide.

Mike Dilger, a friend of mine, writes the forward although I didn't know this before I received the book; in this he says "...a selection of the finest places and most extraordinary sights the British Isles has to offer". And that really sums up the aim of this book. There are a bewildering array of books on the market offering best places to visit in the UK; but I do have to say this one does seem to have pitched itself at the right level and found a niche. A book like this can only ever offer a selection of sites to visit, but having looked through some areas of the UK I know well, it does cover what I'd expect to see very well. This isn't however an identification guide. What I think this does well, is simply puts across where to go and what you'll see when you're there, in an easy to read guide for the family or the enthusiastic amateur naturalist alike.

One of the main things we in the "profession" overlook is that when beginning an interest in Wildlife watching it is often daunting to know where to go, not just to see nature, but to feel safe in the countryside. Often people feel intimidated asking someone for information when out in the field, we've all experienced the frosty look of an optic laden camoflaged wildlife watcher when asking what he's looking at. So this book should go some way to helping find that wildlife site near you, or what to see when on holiday or days out.

Clearely set out on a month by month basis, the beginning of each month gives a 2 page spread of where to go during that month. This is then followed by more in depth information about these places or individual species on the following pages. This is a boon for the beginner. Suggesting a visit to see the massed starlings on the Somerset Levels is one thing, but I've been asked numerous times in the summer months, will I see them today, only to see a crestfallen look as I say you'll need to come back in December or January. We often over look that many wildlife spectacles only happen for a short few weeks, or even days, such as Mayfly emergence. Knowing when to go, how to get there and just as importantly where it is safe to go and see this is well set out in this book.

The left hand column of the in depth pages gives a map of where this place is and clear information such as contact details, getting there, access, opening times and of course if there's a charge for visitors. The right hand column suggests other locations with similar wildlife around the UK. The bulk of the text gives just the right amount of information on the subject, though it would have been nice to have a further reading section on these pages for those wanting to know a bit more. But this is a very minor point.

There are also handy regional maps and a directory in the back of the book to source that piece of wildlife near you. As with all DK books the photographs are stunning and actually I just enjoyed reading through the book and looking at the images, and of course you just have to indulge me in using the Holy Island page as an example for the blog.

I actually liked this book very much (and remember I'm not getting paid for saying this either). It isn't an academic paper, or an identification guide, it is just what it says on the tin, or should that be cover; a guide to where to watch wildlife in the UK. Aimed at families and beginners to wildlife watching, I was surprised how many places I found I'd like to go to myself so would recommend it to everyone with a quest to discover something new out there. My only reservation is it's size, so really this is a stay at home coffee table book, and at £25 a grande cappuccino read. But I thoroughly enjoyed sitting with a glass of wine and planning a few days out with this book.

Wonderful though the photographs are, nothing beats being out there with nature. Go on it's Easter, put your wellies on and get out there......

......... which neatly brings me, now you are all out there doing it, to the Quicksilver Easter Bird Challenge. The rules are simple and this is just a bit of fun really, no prizes I'm afraid.

Details here

I'll do my best but will be travelling to the North East in an hour or so, so it will be interesting to see what I see as I drive around the UK. I'll post the results on the 19th April, so if you could get get your reports back to me by the 18th that'll be great. Unlike last time, please send them to my e-mail address, which is in my profile.

Which just leaves me to wish you all best of luck, wherever you are in the world reading this, a Happy Easter.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Birthday Dippers, you April Fool(s)

I had the day off yesterday as it was my 45th Birthday. And who better to spend it with I say than the one person you love the most, so I went for a coast walk on my own...ha ha! Well no one else can cope with my jokes for more than a few hours.

Boscastle in Cornwall was my destination and what a fabulous day which kicked off with an all day breakfast in a hotel and being me a long chat with the hotel owner. So long in fact half the breakfast was cold by the time it was devoured. Comestibles polished off a walk along the coast was required. Just a couple of photos from that, hope you have a head for heights???

I spent a long time here as this cove was packed with Jackdaws, Herring Gulls and a smattering of Fulmars, though most of the latter are found further out on a sea stack apparently. And above them all for a very brief moment, a Raven. Great stuff watching Jackdaws pairing up and also nest building. My guess is that only half of the nesting they flew in with actually made it to the nest, they're a bit butterfingers, or should that be butterbeaks.

And of course at this time of the year, Jackdaws are doing what comes naturally, best move on swiftly I think.

Nearly forgot this very obliging male Chaffinch. He sat next to me while I was admiring the view. Well it was a lovely day, so why not sit on a rock and have a rest. Often overlooked these are really stunning birds if one looks at the plumage properly.

Anyway after walking for a couple of hours, (took bit longer than planned as I was being text'd all through the day, thank you again for my Birthday messages if you are reading this, you know who you are) my circular route brought me back into Boscastle, and a leather shop. Now before you say anything, this was a leather goods shop, not something dark and mysterious...... however something mysterious did happen in there.

I was perusing the worked hide, when the phone rang. Shop owner answered and a conversation between mates happened, it was mate's birthday and they were planning a night on the tiles. So after the conversation I said to the owner, he's not the only one with a birthday today. Well "butter me" said the owner "that's really weird, what's your name?" Andrew I said. "Well "butter me twice" (presumably with a marmalade side order), my mates called Andrew. So he rang his mate back and eventually, Owner, myself and the other Andrew had a three way gawd this is odd, must mean something in a cosmic sort of way, chat. I then bought a kidney shaped purse and left.

So after all this excitement I had to steady the nerves with a "traditional" Cornish Pasty, spicy vegetable. This polished off, I then ventured up the Valency Valley for yet another walk, to Minster Church (where I met a couple, who told me it was Mrs couple's birthday as well.... that's three April Fools in Boscastle. Must mean something!!).

The Valency Valley was devastated during the floods of 2004 and I'd not walked up it since, though had done so many times before. 5 years after the floods one can still see the scars and makes you realise how much water must have come down that August day. But birdlife here was good, Chiffchaffs singing everywhere, usual smattering of Titmice, a pair of Grey Wagtails nest building and then...........I heard before then locating, 2 Dippers!!.

These fabulous little birds are wonderful, and when I lived "up't" north saw them all the time. But I've never seen a single one in 16 years of living down south, mainly as they prefer fast flowing streams with lots of gravel and stones to flick over hunting a morsel or two. Not many of those on the somerset Levels. These two were "an item" as the Male was doing a bit of flirting and the odd little butterfly flight they do to say to his chosen one, come on darling, look at me.

Sadly couldn't get any closer for a better shot, but a record photo of a wonderful little bird which has been missing off my Year list for a long while now. No wonder they're the national bird of Norway, just very cute, entertaining and live in nice places of course. I couldn't have asked for a better Birthday present than this.