Friday, April 28, 2006

A new chapter

I completed my digiscoping kit today and took my first snap of this House Sparrow bathing in the bird bath in my garden. It's a little out of focus but has highlighted to me what I can achieve in the coming months and years with a little patience!

The blog has been and will remain quiet for around a month as we've bought a house and are spending all of our spare time decorating and preparing to move in. The house itself has a much bigger garden than the current one, and I've already set up a feeding pole with 2 feeders to attract birds into the garden.

When we move in we'll start a new garden list to see what species we attract. In addition we'll be planting 100ft of native hedging including trees and I'll be posting a series of updates on The Hedge Project, as we hope this will have a significant benefit for the local birds in terms of habitat and food stocks, over the coming years.


Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Sussex Coast

We started off on bank Holiday Friday by heading down to Arundel, to do a short walk (from 1001 Walks in Britain published by AA publishing) around the Castle and the WWT reserve (, from there to a B&B in Selsey.

On Saturday morning a prompt start took us first to Pagham Harbour Nature Reserve ( followed by a dash to Selsey to see our first Wheatears and then on for a walk around Itchenor (again from the AA book) then a trip to Eastbourne.

Sunday included a walk through Abbot’s Wood then a circuit of Arlington Reservoir, although the weather was so dreadful there were very few birds around, so no snaps. Finally on Monday a visit to the Seven Sisters Country park (, the walk again duly provided by the AA.

We walked 24 miles in total over the weekend and got our UK bird list up to 127.

Seven Sisters Country Park

Bank Holiday Monday found us at Seven Sisters Country Park, where the Cuckmere River runs into the English Channel. We got to the park promptly, which was a good decision, the good weather had drawn a lot of people down to the coast and when we left there was a long queue just to park! From the visitor centre we headed down to the coast and then back on the far side of the valley, a short walk of some 3 miles, but definitely the best birding of the weekend.

The river meanders through the valley and there is a man-made channel dug to protect the valley from substantial flooding, which in turn keeps the park open for the public and protects the breeding birds.

Heading out to the beach and still in sunshine we were over-flown by an Oystercatcher:

Following the walk route took us along the left hand side of the valley heading out to sea. On the steep sloping fields to our left we spotted a number of Wheatears and a significant number of Sky Larks as well as a pair of Great Tits apparently nesting in a sand bank, which I hadn't expected.

Just before we got to the beach there's a protected area with a fence in front of it. I spotted what I thought was a Whinchat sat on the fence and immediately grabbed my fieldguide to confirm the sighting. When I looked up to confirm however, the Whinchat was no longer there, instead there was a Stonechat:

While I was watching the Stonechat variously perch and flit back and forth, a Meadow Pipit landed very close to me on a post and posed for a few snaps:

We continued to watch the Stonechat and Meadow Pipit and lo and behold the Whinchat popped back on to the fence, although further away than the others:

The birds continued to chop and change position for a good ten minutes before we decided to move on, but a brilliant experience! Also I was delighted as it was the first sighting in this area this year so it was recorded on to Park sightings board :)

We walked behind this protected area and watched more Stonechats and Wheatears, then headed back on the other side of the main river channel. On the water there were four Little Egrets feeding, I took a quick snap on the way back in:

There were also a significant quantity of Skylarks and Meadow Pipits together with smaller numbers of Sand Martins about, a loud Chiffchaff and some 'too fast to identify' warblers on the site. I would recommend this site to anyone interested in birding, particularly beginners like me.

Selsey Bill

A quick dash down from Pagham Harbour and reference to the local birders who were sea watching and bingo! First up a small flock of Turnstones being buffeted by the strong winds:

Then, along the coast a little and we found them, a number of pairs of Wheatears (another first!), resting on the shore. They were surprisingly tolerant of humans:

Male Wheatear:

A pair:

A female Wheatear:

In the end we saw at least 10 Wheatears, a very satisfying experience, as this was a bird I really wanted to see!

Monday, April 17, 2006

Pagham Harbour - Nature Reserve

A cold grey morning, with a biting wind blowing in from the sea and poor light all day. Also we’d believed the BBC weather forecast from the previous day, so were woefully under-prepared for the conditions, it was freezing! The tide was mostly out, so we walked down to where we’d been told a Long-eared Owl had been seen of late. The strong Easterly wind suggested we’d be very lucky to see it. On the way down to the Severals, we passed through Church Norton’s churchyard, where I got a couple of blurry snaps of some migrant warblers:

A Willow Warbler:

A Chiffchaff:

Also in the main hedgerow on the way to the churchyard we got a very clear view of a Cetti's Warbler, but he moved to quickly to snap, the way they hold their tail, like a Wren, is a real help in idenitification.

At one point we heard a Skylark close by and stood to watch it descend to sit a fence post no more than 30 yards away, too far for the camera but close enough to train the telescope and watch the wind ruffle its feathers. It took off and then came back to this post a couple more times, we suspect it was seeking to distract us from its nearby nest.

From here down to the Severals. With the wind still strong and our hands icy we headed inland to complete the circuit out of the wind. Here I heard and saw my first Blackcap. My field guide (Collins Bird Guide) suggests they have one of the finest songs, and I agree, both captivating and really quite enchanting:

In this part of the reserve we also saw our first House Martin, more Barn Swallows and Sand Martins. We cut back onto the harbour shoreline to see the tide racing in, and it really was racing... before spotting some unusual birds, which on reflection were probably female Wheatears, but never having seen these before we had no frame of reference.

... before spotting some unusual birds, which on reflection were probably female Wheatears, but never having seen these before we had no frame of reference. However we did meet a couple who had just come from Selsey Bill where they had seen a large group of Wheatears, so we headed off there next…


Having grown up on the South Coast, I always wanted to visit the centre of Arundel, with its Castle and Cathedral, together with its role as friendly venue for visiting international cricket teams. The weather was grey and overcast but there was a Common Buzzard scouting the hills behind the castle, showing very clearly. It soon started to rain, so we headed in to the WWT centre for a cup of tea, before touring the grounds.

Once inside, besides the captive birds, we saw a Grey Wagtail (a first) and managed a few snaps, this being the pick:

I find it tricky to know what is captive and what is free at the WWT centres so don’t count any wildfowl I see there. However being Spring, there were both Mallard and Coot with hatchlings (the Coots were such attentive parents):

And a Mute Swan checking all the eggs were indeed still there:

Finally back in to the visitor centre for another cuppa, from where we could see this pair of Yellow-legged Gulls (another first, UK total now 117):

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Calke Abbey pt 2

We made our way towards the Visitor Centre (some loos and a small kiosk) and encountered a female Kestrel sat in a tree some 40 yards away. As we edged closer she flew down to a tree stump, grabbed an earthworm and flew off a little:

Having munched the earthworm she watched us edge closer,

before finally taking off:

The final snap from Calke Abbey is the Skylark, at a distance though as I had to have a good long look through my binoculars first!

Calke Abbey

Having been to Calke Abbey ( in early Autumn 2005 and noted the reasonable size of the place and it's surrounding access, we decided to head back and catch the start of Spring. It started off partly cloudy with some broken sunshine but ended up with the rain bouncing and a dash for shelter!

In terms of new birds it was a wash-out, with one exception, we have now both seen a Skylark! Still stuck at 115 UK birds though...

The walk took us from a car park by the stables, via the outskirts of Staunton Harold Reservoir and a small Severn Trent nature reserve en route, through the village of Melbourne, back via the reservoir centre and then looping back to the car park, roughly 7 miles. Highlights included being 'escorted' down a long stretch of hedgerow by a Long-tailed Tit, a group of Tree Sparrows in the Reservoir Car Park on the edge of the Calke Abbey estate (clearly an established feeding area - loads of birds there!) and a close encounters with both a Kestrel and a brief fly-by from a Common Buzzard chasing 2 Tits. These photos are from the first part of the walk, including the feeding area:

A Great Crested Grebe on the Reservoir:

My best snap of a Robin thus far:

A Blue Tit enjoys the sunshine:

Tree Sparrows:

Greenfinch in breeding plumage:

Monday, April 03, 2006

Pitsford Reservoir

Sunday afternoon was an unplanned walk around the nature reserve at Pitsford Reservoir. Seven miles around and no lunch - at least we decided no to lug the scope around! The weather consisted of heavy showers and strong winds so not ideal for photography, but having never walked this side of the causeway we gave it a go. It did prove rewarding, we found this Willow Warbler amongst trees on the far shoreline. Moved very quickly though so it proved very hard to capture, this is the best I could get:

A Grey Heron coming in to land:

After the Ruddy Duck cull earlier in the year (an EU wide project to eradicate Ruddy Duck - they are out competing the White-headed Duck) we'd heard the whole area was very quiet for wildlife, so left it a while before our visit. However, still very surprised to see this pair:

Interestingly this Ruddy Duck appears to be sharing some water with a Black-headed variant, White-headed Duck, so no active competition here ...!

Final snap of the walk, is another mystery... body shape suggests Little Grebe but colour, markings, etc. don't appear in any of my fieldguides, so answers on a postcard please!

New birds included a quick on its feet Grey Partridge, the Ducks, the Willow Warbler and a Skylark, which was in a field beyond the reservoir. Easy to hear but nearly impossible to pick out of the dark sky.

Brandon Marsh (Coventry)

Saturday was spent at Brandon Marsh, a nature reserve run (very well) by Warwickshire Wildlife Trust (and at £30 for an annual adult membership for 2, with 55 sites to visit - we joined!). Check out this link: Weather was changeable with some strong showers followed by gusty winds, but the dry spells brought some excellent sightings!

Additions to our list of UK birds were:

In the first (and only) hide we went in to, to shelter from a heavy shower, we watched a pair of Common Buzzards drifting over a marsh area and behind some trees. We have seen one before, but not two in such proximity.
Cetti's Warbler - a local expert pointed out the area they reside in and said 'of course you wont see them' we got there and briefly saw a pair. They darted around and out of sight before after a 5 minute or so wait one re-appeared, I tracked him for about a minute before he disappeared out of sight. The occasional burst of song was another giveaway!
Sand Martin - true I've seen lots of these before but they didn't count (nothing counted before we started counting, if that makes any sense!). Lots of Sand Martins about 'cricking' their way through the air, performing some remarkable acrobatics in the wind.
We were discussing the differences between Sand Martins, Swifts and Swallows - when a Barn Swallow appeared overhead to illustrate the point very clearly :)
Finally, heading out of the reserve to a well deserved cup of tea and in fading light, we found a small group of Lesser Redpoll's.

Managed to get some good snaps of some of the locals, including a Dunnock:

Sand Martin:

Great Tit:

Lesser Redpoll:

Long-tailed Tit: