Saturday, December 30, 2006

Ravensthorpe & Hollowell

A short window of daylight before a forecast storm so time to head local. With the annual permit from Pitsford, we are able to access both Raventhorpe & Hollowell, which are less than 10 miles from us. We headed first for Ravensthorpe and had parked up by the fishing lodge ready to head round. A local ran up and informed us that Anglian often close the gates and advised we park on the other side of the reservoir. We walked round spotting a Goldcrest, and a Bullfinch but it was pretty quiet. The reservoir only takes about 40 minutes to walk all the way around but it's seriously muddy so boots/wellies are a must. On the road back to the car park, you can see the other section of the reservoir that isn't public access (no paths, no fishing). There was substantially more wildfowl here including Pochard, Wigeon, Tufted Duck, Cormorants, etc. Close to the road was this pair of Gadwalls, the male has the black beak and black bum:

One duck did catch my eye, as it was unfamiliar. Closer inspection showed this to be an adult female Red-Crested Pochard:

From Ravenshtorpe we drove to Hollowell. This reservoir had a better feel to it, probably as there were very few humans about and with the storm coming in had quite an eerie aspect.

We spotted a group of Long-Tailed Tits and a Goldcrest in the tree in the car park but the light was poor so nothing worth displaying. We walked along through the woodland and alongside the water to the far end and the closed car park. It didn't look like you can walk all the way round and with the rain starting to fall we headed back, at a sharp pace! En route we spotted these male Goldeneyes:

And managed to spook all these Coots from the land spit in the reservoir. Definately be going back to Hollowell again soon.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Boxing Day 2006

A heavy grey sky to greet the day, but we were determined to see some Wintering Swans, Bewick in particular. I tried to get opening information from the WWT website for Welney but the latest info on there related to Autumn 2006! Knowing there's other reserves around we headed up to Welney anyway. As we got closer it became apparent that the whole area had suffered from significant flooding - apparently a regular occurrence now, and one that is driving wading birds away.

Welney was open but the access to all bar the main hide was flooded so it was that or nothing. The were plenty of Pochards and Mute Swans waiting to be fed as well as a few Whooper Swans, including this one:

Alas there was no chance of getting close to a Bewick's as they tend to roost at the far end of the reserve, away from the main hide. A quick decision and off to the National Trust reserve, Wicken Fen which is about 20 minutes drive time from Welney.

Wicken Fen was very quiet except for dog walkers, very little bird activity at all. The Cormorants perching in the trees in the middle of the Mere were an amusing sight though:

It was good to get out and about but frustrating that I still haven't had a good view of a Bewick's swan... maybe next year, fingers crossed!

Saturday, December 23, 2006

In search of a Smew

The fog lifted! Thankfully, on the first day of the Christmas break, the fog has finally lifted after a miserable week. We decided to head out for a walk around our local nature reserve at Pitsford, as the Northants rare bird page ( had a Smew sighting that was 4 days old but nothing could have moved far in the fog.

Unfortunately we got there and realised we had forgotten our boots so it was 7.5 miles of slipping on mud in trainers, with progressively wetter and colder feet. Also the fog had gone but had been replaced by low dark cloud and to add to the miserable feeling there was the continuous sound of guns from a nearby farm, which is actually very depressing.

Still on with the walk. Within the first mile we saw a pair of these birds. At first I thought Twite due to the markings but I don't think the shape is right and the legs are too brightly coloured. One of the Northants bird club members (Terry) suggests a Meadow Pipit.

The birds were very nervous today. With the low cloud noise travelled a long way so we didn't see very many birds up close. We did see Treecreepers, a Bullfinch, Tree Sparrows and a large flock of Redwings but all skittish and at a distance.

This Great Crested Grebe, showing winter plumage was hunting near the shore. There were lots of Wigeon, quite a few Tufted Ducks, Pochards and a few Goldeneye around too.

We decided to stop for lunch at the last hide on the walk, the Rotary Club Hide. Approaching the hide I spotted the Smew Drake on the far bank and a female 'Redhead' Smew:

The light was appalling for snaps and the distance about as far as my camera can handle but this is a slightly better snap of the drake:

Finally the second Redhead Smew joined the pair:

This is only the second time we've seen Smew and it made the discomfort, continual gunfire and wet feet much more bearable!

Monday, December 18, 2006

Garden update

Lots of progress in the garden, but none with the hedge. As winter has yet to arrive there's no sign yet of the hedging plants so no progress. However this leaves plenty of time to dig a vegetable patch, which is just as well as there's 5 parts rubble, concrete, glass and sundry builders waste to 1 part topsoil. In fact for a reasonably sized vegetable patch I reckon we'll need a tonne of manure to replace the tonne of waste materials we'll have to extract!

Good news on the bird front though, as with the season drawing in and food becoming scarcer we are getting more concrentrated bird activity. We've hit 25 species in the garden now, the latest being 6 Long-tailed Tits which spent about 3 minutes in one tree last weekend. We are regularly seeing flocks of 30-40 Goldfinch, 50 + House Sparrows and 20+ Starlings. This weekend included 3 Robins, a Sparrowhawk, a Kestrel, 9 Magpies, 4 Wood Pigeon, 3 Collared Dove, 4 Dunnock, 6 Blue Tits and 4 Great Tits, 3 Blackbirds and a Crow!

I haven't taken many snaps recently but this one shows the braver Goldfinch feeding while I was standing close by:

We can't wait for the hedge to be in and growing as it'll provide ideal cover for the ground feeders and habitat and food for many more birds in the coming years.

Rutland Water

Yay! Finally after weekends of study and digging, digging and study we get to go out birdwatching again! To celebrate a weekend with two crisp clear days we dug on the first day and then headed to Rutland Water for the second. To be specific we went to the Rutland Water Nature Reserve ( There is a South Shore reserve and a West Shore reserve, we headed for the West Shore. Entry fee £4 each and 30p for a map. Also very friendly and helpful staff as I'd left my coat at home on a very cold day and having establshed there were no spare fleeces to purchase they lent me a jacket for the day!

We headed out to the hides and from the first hide we stopped in, in the main lagoon we watched 5 Goosander, 4 male and 1 female, busily diving and feeding. No photos as the distance was too great to attempt a snap but a first for us!

We then walked over Lax Hill to the far side to visit those hides before heading back around the hides to the visitor centre.

On the way down to the three hides we passed a tall hedge strewn with berries and got very close to a small flock of Fieldfares though obscured from snaps, they were excellent to see relatively close up. Where the path forks down to the Goosander and Goldeneye hides there was a Song Thrush in full voice and locally a flock of Redwings and another of Long-tailed Tits so we just hung around this area for ten minutes taking everything in, i'm biased but nothing beats this sort of moment when you're just surrounded by birds and there's song and movement everywhere!

We stopped in the Robin hide, where there are feeders sited. One of the first things you notice is the number of brown rats at the base of the feeders, picking up what the birds drop. It was an excellent location though. After five minutes you can hear birds walking on top of the hide and basically there's just so much going on. The light wasn't great so the Wren and Blue Tit on the reeds no more than 5 yards away didn't take well at all but I did manage to snap this Marsh Tit on one of the feeders:

I had initially identified Blackcaps but then I've been doing that (mistaking species) a lot recently. For some reason my brain seems to freeze when i'm watching birds, so I regularly need to check the field guide!

Snap of the day is this female Greater Spotted Woodpecker which spent a few minutes on the nut feeder:

We checked out all the other hides in this area but it was a quiet day on the water. No sign of the reported Great Northern Divers (apparently they were over by the bit we usually visit on the other side of the reservoir). Going via the visitor centre we headed out to the hides on the other side, in particular the lagoons, a likely spot for waders. We did spend some time in a hide watching a smattering of waders but nothing close by, so we went out onto the spit to see if we could get any closer. Opening the window in the last hide of the day, this Ruff was very close and took really well:

He headed out to a small Island where a Redshank (note those give away red legs) was also trying to fill-up for the long night. They didn't hang about long but I did manage this snap:

There were other species about, Water Rail and Snipe to name but two but nothing close enough to see with binoculars even, let alone a camera. Having not been out in a while though it was an excellent days birdwatching!!